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3 ways to incentivize free marketing for your SaaS product

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Did you know we have an online conference about digital marketing coming up? Re:Brand will share strategies on how brands can still succeed in these unprecedented times.  

Capiche is a secret society for SaaS power users, building a new community of people who care about software to make the SaaS industry more transparent, together. This essay was written by Matthew Guay, Capiche‘s founding editor and former senior writer at Zapier.

When Wirecutter set out in 2011 to review and recommend the best gadgets, it was only natural they’d send prospective buyers to Amazon. With its promise to stock “everything, from A to Z,” Amazon carries most products Wirecutter recommends. And if you send customers to Amazon, they’re happy to send you a percentage of what those customers spend.

It’s a business model unique to and nearly as old as the internet, one both popularized by Amazon and part of how Amazon became so popular. When you sell nearly every product on earth and share a percentage of sales, your site is where everyone will link. The more people link to your site, the more authoritative Google thinks it is, and your site becomes the first result for searches most likely to turn into a sale.

It helped Amazon become one of the largest global retailers. Now that they’re king of the hill, though, they might not need the help so much—shown by their gradual cuts to affiliate commissions over the years. The same dollars that helped build their SEO moat in previous decades could, perhaps, build their Alexa or Prime TV moat instead.

Amazon’s not alone. Affiliate programs were one of the most popular original ways to incentivize free coverage of early SaaS. Today those programs are more scarce, replaced by partner programs that incentivize experts to sell more mature software.

We checked. Of the 100 of the top business software on Capiche, partnership programs are the primary way SaaS companies incentivize promoting their products today. Goodbye affiliates, hello sales.

Virtual shelf space

Early software recommendations from the The Whole Earth Catalog in 1985

Software before the internet meant a trip to the store at best, a mail order and check at worst. Without the internet, there were few ways to discover new software from your desk.

Thus publishers, retailers, and distributors, the App Stores of their day. The best to find software was magazines like Byte and The Whole Earth Software Catalog. Developers needed traditional paper-and-ink publishers to put their software in front of prospective buyers. They also needed software publishers—the early software equivalent of what Penguin Random House is for books—to burn their software on disks and distribute them in boxes to retailers. That was a good enough business to fund SoftBank into the telecom and investment giant it is today after distributing around 50% of Japan’s software in the early ‘90’s.

Then came the internet and its unlimited digital inventory. No more boxed software and print magazines on shelves, nor trying to find a publisher to put your software in a box in the first place. Anyone could discover and download software in a few clicks.

And suddenly, discovery became the problem all over again.

Affiliates: Incentivize people to link to your site

[Salesforce’s original affiliate program in the early 2000's, via Wayback Machine

Google to-do list app and you’ll get 5.6 billion results, of which at least a few hundred are unique software options. If you want your new to-do list app to be the top result, you need a lot of people linking to your product when writing about to-do list apps.

Thus affiliates. They were the perfect fit for the burgeoning blog scene in the early 2000’s. Software vendors needed traffic and links to their products; bloggers needed a way to make revenue from their articles. Much like how retailers would take a cut of the retail price, affiliate programs let you take a cut if you sent a new customer to a product.

What is an affiliate program?

Affiliate programs let anyone sign up to get a unique referral link where, when someone clicks that link and buys the product, the company will pay a set price or percentage back to the affiliate program member.

Affiliates make the most sense when you want a large number of people to promote your product, as perhaps they’ll link to you versus the competition since you’re paying. It’s nearly free marketing for software vendors. And it’s a genius way to build traffic to a marketplace like Amazon, since their single affiliate program covered so many products.

Except, not quite. Affiliate links encourage anyone to link to your product—fans and foes and forgettable alike. The software company and affiliate members’ interests are only aligned in that both want revenue, but both could find it elsewhere. There’s no product loyalty. And affiliate links may not even help your product’s search rankings, as Google increasingly scrutinizes the quality of linked sites.

The state of software affiliate programs today

Perhaps that’s why affiliate programs for software are increasingly less common, with GitHub, Zoom, Basecamp, Ahrefs, Apple’s App Store, and more having closed their affiliate programs over the years. From our survey of 100 popular business SaaS products, today only 21% offer affiliate programs.

Software affiliates today give an average 27% commission typically for the first month’s payment, from a low of 10% for PandaDoc and QuickBooks to a high of 83% for Adobe Creative Cloud. Or they pay a flat rate per sale, where $20 is most common (ranging from a base of $5 for Office 365 and Freshworks to “up to” $1000 per customer for HubSpot).

But what if there’s a better way to spread your product than paying people who talk about it?

Enter Dropbox.

Credit: Incentivize users to share your product with friends

Early Dropbox onboarding screenshot

When Dropbox launched in 2008, the best way to share files was to send them as an email attachment, or copy them to a flash drive and physically hand it to your colleague. Dropbox said “what if you could just share a whole folder, and everything you put in that folder automatically shows up on your colleague’s computer,” and it was so.

Dropbox was perhaps the perfect business tool to spread by word of mouth. You’d need to send someone a file, and so would persuade them to install Dropbox to make it easier. Much like a social network, the more people that use Dropbox, the more you’re likely to use it.

Then you’d fill up your Dropbox storage and would either need to pay or stop using Dropbox. Dropbox would prefer the former, but perhaps it’d take a bit more time to convince you of the value. Thus the Dropbox credit program offering more storage for free.

What is a credit program?

Credit programs let users earn credit for performing tasks in an app or inviting friends and colleagues to use the software. They encourage people to use advanced features in a product and nudge them to eventually pay for the product by making the initial upgrade cheaper.

For Dropbox, credit came in the form of extra storage. Within months after launching, Dropbox had a referral program where if you invited someone to Dropbox, you got 500Mb extra storage for free. And if you performed onboarding tasks—such as installing Dropbox on your computer—you’d get another storage bonus. That incentivizes you to try Dropbox features and get your friends to install it.

Notion's credit for perfomring tasks

Notion today offers a similar program linked to in-app cash. Each time you perform an onboarding task like importing Evernote notes or invite a friend, you get $5 in-app credit. Then if you buy a paid Notion plan—something increasingly likely the longer you use Notion, as your free space fills up—your first few months will be free or cheaper.

Dropbox credit gave you something extra today. Notion credit pushes you towards taking an action in the future. Both reward existing users for sharing and use that as a carrot to push the activities that are most likely to generate revenue for the company in the long term.

The state of software credit programs today

Credit programs are most common in buzzy, prosumer apps—software like Notion and Dropbox where you might use them at work and home. And while they may live on in Dropbox, they’re most common in the early years of a product’s life.

A discount off Salesforce or extra Jira features for free wouldn’t incentivize most people to share as their company pays for the software. But free Dropbox storage and Notion credit might encourage sharing, as you’re more likely to pay for an account yourself.

Credit programs are so often talked about, they seem more common than they actually are. Only 9% of the top hundred products we checked offer credit programs, including Dropbox, Notion, Airtable, Trello, DigitalOcean, Todoist, Harvest, and more. The typical credit program offers $10 or a month of the paid plan for free, per person you refer. They’re often capped, too—Dropbox only gives credit for the first 32 people you invite.

Then there are variants. Hotjar and Drift, for instance, offers hoodies and other swag if you refer enough people—something to encourage fans to share the product, even if their company pays for the product. Then, Referral programs—offered by 4 of the products we checked, including Help Scout and Copper—fit right between affiliate and credit promotions. Refer a friend to the product, and referral programs pay you cash (or an Amazon gift card, in Help Scout’s case), again to incentivize sharing even if you don’t pay.

Dropbox turned casual users into people who started saving everything to Dropbox. Notion got friends to tell friends about it to save on their subscription. And Help Scout turns support team members into evangelists that let colleagues in other companies know why their software is great.

What if you had people doing that full-time, for free?

Partners: Incentivize experts to promote your product

Salesforce partnership

Thus the partnership program, the most popular way for SaaS to incentivize sharing their product. It’s so common, 42% of the SaaS we surveyed offer partner programs, the majority with revenue share.

Salesforce popularized the software-as-a-service model and had one of the earliest affiliate programs to promote it, but by 2006 had already started shifting to promoting partnerships instead. And the world of SaaS has followed suit.

Say someone builds eCommerce sites or sets up CRMs for customers. Turn them into a partner, and they’re more likely to build sites using your eCommerce platform or suggest they use your CRM.

It’s the perfect fit, a pure win/win if you believe the marketing. Google Cloud’s partnership page claims “the best solutions are born from collaboration.” Salesforce says their “Salesforce Partner Program enables partners to build and grow successful businesses while delivering customer success.” HubSpot promises “You don’t have to do everything for your clients if you can enable anything.”

What are software partnership programs?

Software partnership programs get product experts—who typically have passed certification or have a consulting business in your industry—to sell your software. They’re similar to affiliate programs in that they typically pay a percentage of sales revenue to people who promote the product. The difference is, partner programs are built around experts, and are only open to people who pass certification (such as Salesforce, with several program levels and varying payment structures depending on your certification), have a related business in your industry, or who pay for access (a notable requirement to join HubSpot’s partnership program).

The value software companies offer their partners vary too. Stripe and Zapier, for instance, list partners in a partner directory, but don’t offer revenue share. Others, including Salesforce and HubSpot, share revenue and offer priority support. Shopify even offers ongoing revenue share, encouraging partners to both help their customers launch on Shopify and keep their store running over the long term.

At a minimum, partnership programs help software companies build an army of salespeople that are paid solely on commission. They’re trained in how to use the product, get some support in selling it, but otherwise are on their own.

At the best, though, partnership programs encourage people to build businesses around your product, through services and add-ons, turning your product into an ecosystem. According to a Digiday article on Shopify, partners brought in 18,000 new customers to Shopify, and generated $800 million revenue compared to Shopify’s own $673 million in revenue in 2017. That’s similar to how Microsoft founder Bill Gates defined a platform, in what Statechery author Ben Thompson called The Bill Gates Line, based on a quote from Gates himself: “A platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it, exceeds the value of the company that creates it.” When partnership programs drive that much revenue, there’s a mutually beneficial relationship that’s incentivized for the long haul.

If a partnership program can turn your software into a platform, the net effect can be far more valuable than affiliate links or community sharing could build on their own.

Quality versus quantity

Here’s the confusing thing: Many software promotion programs are named incorrectly. Dropbox calls their credit program a referral program; ClickUp calls their affiliate program a partner program. Here’s what makes them different:

  • Affiliate programs pay anyone who signs up a percentage of software sales they send in.
  • Credit programs give in-app credit or unlock features for existing users who share the software.
  • Partnership programs share revenue with (or at least help send business to) product experts who pass training or certification and help their customers use the software.

And each program works better for specific business models and maturity stages:

  • Affiliate programs work well for one-time sales in highly competitive, consumer-driven software markets that need a high volume of leads. They build a content ecosystem recommending the product.
  • Credit programs work well for prosumer software where the product works better the more people that use it, and where users may pay for it on their own and thus are incentivized to earn credit. They build a community of engaged users.
  • Partnership programs work well for business and enterprise software with a longer sales process that need more qualified leads and 3rd party services to assist adoption. They build an ecosystem of add-ons and services around a product.

Which perhaps is why they change over time. A product might need a credit program to accelerate early adoption initially, or an affiliate program to boost referral traffic, but as it matures and goes upmarket, quality leads and support matter more.

In a world of rising software prices and increasingly obscured software plans, a partner team that makes the case for your product to customers may be more valuable than ever before.

Published May 21, 2020 — 13:00 UTC

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Hey snoozy Susan, here’s how to stop falling asleep at work

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It’s 3pm on a Friday and you’ve had enough. Or maybe it’s just after 9am on a Monday and you’re struggling to get started, or even 12pm on a Tuesday and you’re falling asleep.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably used to the overwhelming struggle that is trying to stay awake at your desk when you really just want to fall asleep.

If it’s any consolation, you’re far from being alone. That’s why I’ve put together these few pointers to help you stay engaged, active, and awake while you’re at work.

[Read: The weirdo’s guide to WFH productivity: Sanity shower, squats, and snacks]

Get your steps in

Getting your morning routine right will undoubtedly set you up for a productive day and stop you from falling asleep.

Morning exercise is a good way of waking up your body and mind. If you can, go for a walk before you start work and get some fresh air.

You’ll feel more awake, and what’s even better, you’ll get your dreaded workout out of the way first thing.

Coffee isn’t the answer

Coffee is wonderful, it really is.

A good cup of the stuff can turn the worst of days into the best of days — but you shouldn’t abuse it.

If you’re going to be friends with caffeine, make sure you limit your intake because too much of it can leave you feeling lethargic.

I would recommend having one, or two (at most) cups of  in the morning and sticking to water for the rest of the day, which brings me on to my next point.

Stay hydrated

Water really is your best friend, especially when it comes to staying awake.

Dehydration can lead to fatigue because it impacts the flow of oxygen to the brain and can cause your heart to work harder to pump oxygen to all your organs, thus making you more tired and less alert.

Water can also help reduce stress. In fact, studies have show that dehydration can also lead to higher cortisol levels — the stress hormone — making it even harder to deal with daily problems.

You’ll need daylight

Natural daylight — or the lack of it — can have a huge impact on how you feel at work.

I used to work in a windowless office in a London co-working space and I’d find myself getting increasingly sleepy and restless throughout the day. I eventually realized this was mostly due to the lack of natural light — and it seems my conclusion wasn’t unfounded.

A study conducted by a US professor found that workers in day lit office environments reported an 84% drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms all of which can detract from productivity and potentially lead to sleepiness.

Snack away

I don’t know about you but I used to experience an early afternoon drop in productivity and would start to fall asleep, particularly in the colder, drearier months — and then I started snacking.

It turns out this afternoon slump was probably caused by a drop in blood glucose levels and the good news is that I managed to solve this problem by keeping several healthy snacks within arm’s reach or just a short walk away.

Time yourself

Whether you’re working on an ongoing project or you want to tend to your overflowing inbox, own your productivity and hold yourself accountable by timing yourself.

Here’s a familiar scenario: You need to prepare a report by the end of the day but it’s 4PM and you’re struggling to stay awake. Stop what you’re doing, take a moment, breathe in, and set a timer on your phone. Give yourself a deadline and motivate yourself with the possibility of a nap once your work is submitted.

Get the hard stuff out of the way

Only you know when you feel more awake, so keep this at the forefront of your mind when you’re planning your day.

If you feel less sleepy in the morning, take care of the hardest, most boring tasks then and keep the fun stuff for later. If you’re more alert in the afternoon or evening, then save the most menial tasks until then.

There’s no hard science and if you’re fortunate enough to work somewhere that offers flexible working, you should use this to your advantage.

Let music be the food of love productivity

Lastly, but by no means least, I have to be honest with you: I can’t do anything without listening to music and while my taste may be questionable, that’s besides the point.

If you’re working from home or are lucky enough to have your own private office, why not sing along?

It’ll perk you up, you won’t fall asleep, and if you’re as bad a singer as I am, well, no one will hear you!

Published June 5, 2020 — 09:00 UTC

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A step-by-step guide to becoming a better engineering manager

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The typical job description for many engineering manager roles is action-packed. It is a mix of hands-on coding, technical leadership and decision making, process and project management, product oversight, people management, finding and hiring talent… the list goes on.

In our work, we deal with both technical and people systems: we support individual engineers’ growth; help teams become successful; and make the organization more productive, functional, and innovative. Above all, an engineering manager is a service or support role across these various layers.

Perhaps most fascinating and difficult is the high-level of ambiguity that comes with engineering management. Many problems or questions don’t have straightforward answers. There aren’t absolute answers to what it means to be a good engineering manager either, but there are certain values and guideposts to follow.

In this post, I look at what can shape our thinking about our role as engineering managers and how to effectively support individual engineers, teams, and organizations.

What do engineers need to thrive at work?

It helps to start shaping engineering management roles by understanding what engineers need, and the environment in which they thrive. Research from performance coach and trainer Paloma Medina exposes six core needs humans have (including at work). She calls this research the BICEPS model:

  • Belonging. As humans, we strive to be part of a community of like-minded people where we understand and support each other. We also want to feel as if we are not being discriminated against or marginalized. Belonging is really important to me personally: I love working as part of a distributed team, but I also really enjoy seeing people in person every once in a while. It makes me feel more connected to them.
  • Improvement. We also seek to continuously learn, improve, and grow in areas that matter to us, as well as to our team or company.
  • Choice. We want to have choice, control, and autonomy over important parts of our lives. In one of my previous roles, I took on a lot of work to drive organizational change. But ultimately, the control I had over my domain was limited due to organizational issues – which led me to leave the company.
  • Equality. We want to know that our access to information, money, time, and other resources is fair and equal for everyone – not just for ourselves, but also for the people around us. Everyone’s needs should be treated as equally important.
  • Predictability. We look for certainty, safety, and stability in our lives. We also want goals, strategy, and direction to be consistent – and to not change too quickly. I’ve been leading teams in fast-growing startups for the last couple of years, and when there’s a lot of change happening, it’s a challenge to instill predictability in teams.
  • Significance. Deep down, all of us seek meaning, importance, and status. We also want to be appreciated for our work by people whose opinions mean something to us.

If our core needs are threatened, people resort to fight-or-flight modes of reaction, which are very stressful. The failure to meet core needs has high costs for organizations by harming people on our teams. So how can engineering managers put the BICEPS model into action to help their teams thrive?

Using trust-based relationships to help engineers grow

The foundation of being a good engineering manager is getting to know our teammates and understanding what is important to them. Here are a few places to start building trust within your team.

1. Ask questions

One of the most powerful tools managers have is asking good questions. The basis for doing our jobs well is listening, observing, taking note of what motivates our teammates, and really digging into their responses to our questions. I usually gather questions before I meet with my teammates one-on-one, so I am prepared and I can guide the conversation towards understanding them better.

Over time, I have built a kit of one-on-one questions that I pull out when I need some inspiration for these conversations. Asking questions helps us adjust our leadership style to the people we are leading. It also ensures that they feel understood and heard, which are really important pillars of inclusion and belonging.

2. Be curious

People are full of surprises, and sometimes our teammates’ reactions may be completely different from what we expected. I once received a message from an engineer on my team who was deeply upset about the specific wording used in a product-release note to customers.

At first I did not understand their strong reaction. But when we talked, I learned the engineer had been overruled by someone with more power, making them feel helpless, and threatening their core need for choice and equality.

What managers might perceive as no big deal can be enormous threats to other people. Cases where we’re surprised by our teammates’ reactions are good opportunities to focus on human-centric responses, like giving people the opportunity to talk through their feelings.

3. Connect to the bigger picture

Creating an impact is a very good motivator for all of us, so helping engineers understand how their work connects to the bigger picture (how it helps users or supports other teams) is an extremely important and strategic skill for managers.

While goal-setting frameworks like OKRs can help, it is also crucial to align engineering initiatives with higher-level goals, and connect them clearly with user value.

4. Involve engineers in decision making

Feeling that decisions are fair and equitable is an important component of the BICEPS model. When we make decisions, it is helpful to ask everyone for their opinions first, and take their opinions into account.

It is not always possible to go with what everyone wants. But we can still do a good job at contextualizing the decisions we make, and helping people understand that their feedback was considered.

5. Give feedback for growth

One of the best things we get to do as engineering managers is support engineers’ growth. Give feedback regularly to help the people on your team understand where they are at and grow – by course-correcting where needed, as well as by doing more in the areas in which they are already doing great. Managers need feedback as well: it’s important to regularly ask your team for feedback so you can make adjustments.

6. Coach engineers

Coaching helps people find answers themselves, improves their problem-solving and leadership skills, and increases learning, resilience, and self-management.

7. Sponsor engineers

Think back on your career, and whether you have had a mentor who connected you with someone, put your name forward, and used their influence to make a difference in your career. Be that person for someone else: invest in their growth, lift them up, and put your weight behind their success. Supporting your team’s success can make a real difference for them.

This is the foundation of our work as engineering managers.

Driving a culture of trust and continuous improvement on teams

The next important building block in our work as engineering managers is the team. According to research, high-performing teams need the following elements.

  • Psychological safety. This is about believing that we will not be rejected, and feeling free to express our work-related thoughts and feelings to the people around us. It also means believing that others won’t think less of us if we make a well-intentioned mistake or ask for help.
  • Structure and clarity. Everyone on the team should understand expectations, goals, and accountability.
  • Meaning and impact. High-performing teams find a sense of purpose in their work, and know that their work has an impact.

Luckily for managers, this research neatly aligns with the BICEPS model. All human core needs are represented and have impact at the team level as well. By understanding and responding to people’s motivations, leaders create the basis for teams to express themselves – and provide the structure, meaning, and impact they need.

1. Build trust

The first step in creating structure is building relationships. For our distributed teams at CircleCI, we’ve built different structures to help teammates do that, such as regular pair programming rotations and engineering talks.

2. Structure around how we collaborate

Our engineering department has doubled in size for three years in a row. Over this time, we’ve moved to a more streamlined engineering delivery process for all teams. But we still leave it to the teams to decide how to implement t day-to-day processes, including daily standup meetings, planning sessions, or collaboration. Every team has specific needs, and they know best how to address them.

3. Remove blockers

Structures can also help mitigate the impact of getting blocked at work. We all know how frustrating it is to be stuck. Putting up pathways to help people get unblocked can be really important – for example, setting up regular pair programming rotations, investing in self-serve information access, supporting each other across teams, putting up escalation paths for people to get help when they need it, or helping people support each other through knowledge-sharing.

4. Continuously improve

We can use retrospectives to discuss and improve how we work together. Blameless postmortems are also a great tool to help understand problems and drive towards solutions. Code reviews, mentoring, or knowledge sharing can help team members learn from each other.

The way we talk about learning matters – especially the way we discuss mistakes. These decisions will fundamentally shape the culture of our teams, and determine whether people feel safe or threatened in their core needs.

5. Drive toward alignment

Communicate strategy, direction, and relevant tactical details to your teams – and remember it’s almost impossible to over-communicate these details. Always repeat what’s important.

As engineering managers, we are like mortar: we connect structures, teams, and people. We hold them together, but also identify and fill gaps as needed. Handling ambiguity is one of the most important and difficult aspects of engineering management. For a lot of work in our field, there are no straightforward answers, let alone resolutions.

Our work isn’t so much about us; it’s about the people, teams, and organizations we support. We build structures to help others shine.

Supporting organizational change

Lastly, creating environments in which engineers can thrive is about supporting our organization. We need to use our power as managers to drive organizational change, no matter the size of our businesses.

1. Advocate for change

To be effective as managers, we need to push for organizational change to improve the larger structures around us. For example, we may need to advocate for more clarity around engineering manager roles, have conversations about what engineering management should be like in our company, and determine requirements for hiring engineering managers.

2. Manage up

Managing our own managers is a useful but difficult skill. Driving organizational change also means making sure that our engineers’ concerns are heard at the highest levels, and that we use our power to make sure engineers have a voice in the rest of the organization.

3. Build frameworks and standards

While it is always important to make room for individual needs, structures and frameworks for managers help us hold each other accountable. They also help level the playing field and build in equality for the people on our teams.

On my current team, every quarter we pick some high-priority projects to improve how we work as an organization. Most recently, we’ve worked on our hiring process and incident remediation; last year, we developed an internal career growth framework for engineers.

Growing as a leader

Being a good engineering manager isn’t always a straightforward path; a lot depends on where we are at in our careers and where we are looking to go, as well as the growth stage, size, and needs of our organizations. In our daily work, we hold vast amounts of uncertainty while also trying to make progress.

An overarching theme in my work in engineering management has been growth and improvement. We rarely deal with greenfield projects or are able to build a team or department from scratch. Even when we do, we build on existing structures in our organization. I believe our supporting role largely means helping engineers grow, supporting teams at continuously learning, and helping organizations become better.

As engineering managers, we frequently face questions that don’t clear right or wrong answers. Many years ago, my leadership coach encouraged me to use those kinds of uncertain situations to ask myself, “What kind of leader do I want to be?”

I want to leave the last call to growth and improvement with you (and me): no matter what your role or company is like, work on shaping your approach to engineering management. Get to know the people that you work with, and use feedback to help them course-correct. Build teams that are psychologically safe places, where people find meaning in a shared purpose. 

And use your power and privilege to drive change in your organization. Make people the center and focus of your work, and build on that foundation to create an environment in which they can thrive. Always push to continuously improve. Lead with humbleness, empathy, and lots of curiosity.

Published June 5, 2020 — 06:30 UTC

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Why entrepreneurs need to find their ‘inner clown’

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Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

Contrary to what many people may think, learning how to be a clown is not part of a circus school curriculum. I know, because I dropped out of school when I was 15, signed up for circus school, and graduated as a professional juggler three years later. 

Circus school was very much about specializing in one skill, spending countless hours practicing, and building an act around that. Becoming a clown, however, followed a completely different process.

Clowns, all joking aside, take being a clown very seriously. The thing is, you can’t just train eight hours a day for it and then eventually succeed, like with juggling. A real clown IS a clown. He or she isn’t acting. The clown is already there, hidden inside of us, and the course focused on finding your inner clown and peeling away the layers of respectability, rather than trying to make you simply act like one. 

Be authentic

Many years ago I knew a young entrepreneur who was always hustling. When he found an opportunity to make money, he went for it. He had no specific interest or hobby and was just interested in doing business. He’d buy and sell and make a margin and that was enough for him. I recently bumped into him and he’s now rich and successful and still hustling buying and selling ever more expensive things. 

[Read: Working from home is great — until your co-workers show up]

While this is clearly a success — he’s happy and rich and he has achieved his goals and dreams — I personally find it hard to be positive about what he achieved. I can’t relate because my starting point was always my interest in technology and innovation, building upon who I was at my core. Only caring about wealth is a very specific kind of poverty. 

I do realize that’s a very privileged thing to say, but if you can, try to unpeel your traditionalist layers and find out who you really are. Nothing can beat authenticity.

I heard a comedian describe once how he developed his act. At first, he began looking for jokes in the world around him, but soon he realized the best jokes were to be found within. 

When he felt uncomfortable about something, he discovered it paid off to poke and prod at it and build the joke around the discomfort it caused him. The deeper he went, the more personal and funnier his routine became, and also more distinctive. 

I guess we all have our inner clown to discover. And my inner clown is a very specific one. I couldn’t play a different clown and care about the things I don’t care about. Now let me ask you, who’s your inner clown?

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for TNW’s newsletters here.

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As more and more organizations embrace a DevOps approach to software development, engineers are expected to design, build, and patch products faster than ever. Join AWS and DevOps Institute to discover how to simplify your delivery toolchain and create more meaningful next-level software experiences for your customers. We’ll explore the benefits that a continuous improvement mindset can bring to your organization and discover helpful software solutions in AWS Marketplace.

WHEN: JUNE 16, 2020, 11:00 AM PT (2:00 PM ET)

Published June 4, 2020 — 15:00 UTC

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