4 Things I Learned in my 4 Months After Graduation

My friend Mike Defilippis decided to call me out on his under construction website for not writing a post since February 7th. Since he’s about to graduate and I took the jump into the real world 4 months ago, I decided to write this post in his honor. Below are 4 things I learned in my 4 months after graduation.

  1. The most important thing at your first job is the people who you work with: I’ve spoken with folks who had really interesting positions at the same time I graduated in January, but later confided in me that their boss was a douche. I saw someone else face a shitstorm of negativity from their boss when they left their job to work at another company. Follow the people first, then the company and role. You want to work for managers and with peers who will empower you to succeed and make you bring your A-game. You’ll go farther that way.
  2. Internship experience != job experience: Even if you had amazing opportunities, being somewhere for three months is a much different experience than knowing you’ll be somewhere for a longer time. It’s kind of hard to explain, but you’ll understand this better after your first couple of months working. There’s no beginning, middle or end. Just a long beginning and an abrupt end.
  3. Executing on the operational stuff is such an important part of your first job (and probably every job): It’s the boring stuff you probably wish you didn’t have to do, but it’s these operational tasks (i.e. the grunt work) that let you get to the awesome work that made you take your gig in the first place. As a millennial, I think we all feel entitled and above the mundane, mindless work, but it’s a part of any role. It’s been a part of work since the dawn of time. Your friends may lie to you and say they never have to “take out the trash” (metaphorically speaking), but their probably doing the same shit you are. And, from what I’ve seen, they don’t talk about the stuff they don’t like or how much they really hate their job, until they have one foot out the door and into their next opportunity.
  4. Even if you’ve done everything right in college, you’ve only been prepared to land the job; you haven’t been prepared for what to expect next: This is probably the biggest thing I’ve learned. College can, at it’s best prepare you to get a job, but it cannot prepare you for the actual expectations of the real world. The jump from high school to college is a lot more seamless than from college to work. There’s no real way to prepare for what’s coming next.

I’m sure I’ll learn more as time goes on, but these 4 are the ones that stick out at this moment. Good luck graduating!

Content Marketing and Why CS Majors Won’t Take Over the Marketing Industry

Recently, I was working on promoting an organization to students at my alma mater (whoa, weird to say!) called Boston Content. The organization, run by my friend Jay Acunzo, provides education, and inspires creativity for content creators, strategists & marketers.

I’m a firm believer in content advertising and content marketing – I think it’s the future of the web.

As more blogs switch from display advertising to more native advertising, good writing will become even more important – potentially, this could even mean journalists stealing a lot of the jobs marketing students will be going after.

However, when I promoted this organization on Facebook, I got a really interesting comment from a BU student majoring in Computer Science. Continue reading

The most important lesson I learned about networking

A funny thing happened on the way to the dining hall Saturday afternoon. A sophomore I didn’t know called out my name, said he was in the advertising program like me, and mentioned he really enjoyed the speakers I had brought in and events I had run for Digital Media Club this semester.

I ended up sitting down with him during lunch as a barrage of questions came my way:

  • What classes do you recommend I take?
  • What made you choose to study advertising?
  • What suggestions do you have for getting an internship?
  • How do I stand out from other students to potential employers?
  • How did you meet all of those speakers?
  • How can I build my network?
  • What skills should I know?

I walked away laughing from the conversation, because not too long ago, I was that sophomore. I had those seniors who I seeked for advice when I needed help or wanted to better understand what I should and shouldn’t be doing.

As my last semester at BU comes to a close, I’ve reflected on a lot of the decisions I’ve made — the classes I chose, the people I became friends with, the nights I went out, the internships I had, and how those decisions have shaped me as the person I am today.

Looking back, I think the most important area to my success these past three and a half years is in the relationships I’ve built and the strength of the network I’ve created for myself. I didn’t aim to build a network of contacts. I aimed to build a network of friends.

You’ll often hear people tell you to get out and network, go to events and just meet people. The truth is, networking, at its core, is just a shallow way to meet people. You go to an event introduce yourself, and swap business cards.

Nobody wants to be that guy who just goes to networking events and hands out their business card to every single person they meet. They exist and, frankly, they’re not doing it right.

Instead focus on the relationships in college that can become friendships. You want to help those who you care about and they want to help you just as much.

They’re willing to give you the advice you need to hear, not the advice you want to hear.

Three and a half years later, the people who have helped me the most are not the ones I met at a random networking event. That’s not how I got my internships and that’s not how I was introduced to the people who’ve helped me along the way.

I’m not sure if I told this to the sophomore I met on Saturday. But if he’s reading this, I hope it helps.

Teaching Programming to an Ad Student

Company Complaints HomepageI recently read an article by Mindy McAdams, a professor of online journalism at the University of Florida that got me really thinking about learning programming as a communications student.

Mindy’s article, Teaching programming to journalists, explains how she can only get her students interest in coding if they believe they can do it. The problem is, she doesn’t know how.

I’m not a journalism student, and I’m not sure I have the answer to Mindy’s question. However, I understand where she’s coming from and hopefully, can shed some light on my own experiences learning about programming as a non-programmer.

Since freshman year, I’ve become enamored by the way the web is disrupting people’s consumption of media. It didn’t take me long to realize I would end up studying advertising, a field I felt had a better grasp on how the Internet was effecting it’s profession than say, film and television or public relations.

In addition to studying advertising, I chose to take a computer science course in the College of Arts and Sciences during my fall semester of sophomore year. I knew I needed to learn programming to become a better online advertising student. Even if I chose to not become a developer myself, I’d still have the ability to think like one and have a better grasp on product.

It was a disaster. I had chosen the intro class for CompSci majors — the one meant to weed out the pretenders. I had also chosen to overload that semester and taking an extra course in computer science wasn’t the best decision.

So, midway through, I dropped the course and received a ‘W’ on my transcript. I had good grades in the class and enjoyed learning about the intricacies of Java. However, my performance in my other classes was slipping as I spent more and more time trying to understand concepts for an elective course.

I decided while learning programming interested me, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it.

Fast-forward to today. I’m finishing up something I said I couldn’t do two years ago and am 98% of the way done with my first web application.

What happened in between and what I decided to do differently helped me realize that not only could I do programming, but I enjoyed it too.

So how did I stay motivated despite a minor hiccup my sophomore year? Continue reading

Go Wide and Deep

As a marketing student, I’m scared. For the first time, there are other students who are better suited to take a job in marketing over myself: journalism and computer science majors. Before you start calling me insane, let me explain.

As online marketing starts to really spread out into two paths of content-driven marketing and product-driven marketing, people with those areas of experience will be better suited for the roles students like myself are going after. Who better than a journalism major well versed in writing feature stories or an undergrad with a deep knowledge of building web applications?

It’s true that most journalism students will still try their luck at writing for a publication and many computer science students wouldn’t even consider marketing as a career. However, there will be a few in each field of study who will venture towards marketing (at some point) and those are the ones I’m worried about.

These students may not be marketers at heart, but they have a deep knowledge for areas greatly needed to drive sales and ROI at most businesses today. And what they lack in marketing depth, they can make up for in marketing breadth. They understand, or learn to understand, a wide amount about marketing, but may not necessarily be the best at marketing there is (a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak).

Marketing Breadth

I see what Coke’s attempting to do by creating their own publication and how companies like Dropbox are using referral models like The Great Space Race to get students using there software or a freemium model to get people to upgrade to a paid service. Continue reading

Building Creative Ideas for the Real World

ViralityAs I mentioned in a previous post, I built a website with a few other BU students to help our peers find better on-campus housing. The experience was a great learning experience for us in how to build a product and how to acquire users.

More importantly, the project taught me that while conceptual work can be cool, it isn’t as satisfying as creating something real and tangible — something you can get results from and show to a potential employer.

I bring this point up, because I notice a lot of my friends – those who want to go into the ad industry – are building out portfolios of creative work they’ve done for brands – conceptual work that, to be honest, tends to stay in their binder and not go much further.

This problem is also encouraged through the academic model. Even in vocational-based programs like business or communication schools, classwork is very much theoretical and doesn’t leave the walls of the institution.

Business schools still for the most part, emphasize the business plan competition but don’t actually emphasize the more important part – the execution. At BU, students simulate building a fake product and company through a cross-functional curriculum. When the semester’s over, so is the fake company.

Communications programs in the advertising area provide students with an education built on theoretical work and producing campaigns that never end up being used by their theoretical clients.

Instead, what these programs should be doing is incorporating more real world assignments – things that can be measured with real results like page views, referral traffic, or if you’re in business school, pre-orders and/or sales.

(Although I love business, for the sake of keeping this post shorter, I’ll only be talking about what I think students in the advertising world should be doing. The truth, is it’s a bit harder to get the capital needed to make a business product a reality. However, media, for the most part, can be created for next to nothing. )

Web 2.0 has made it easy for those with amazing content to get recognized. Nowadays, those who create interesting Tumblr’s (like Texts from Hillary Clinton) or cool videos (like my friend Eric’s Mad Men/Facebook mashup) will be more in demand. If you’re content is great and you know how to get the right key people to see it initially, you can make magic happen.

Times have changed.

We don’t need to rely on creating stuff that only you and your professor see because we now have this much larger audience we can use to help us gauge our progress and talent.

From the educational perspective, imagine not being evaluated on a holistic scale by your teacher and instead being graded by something much grander and tangible. How cool would it be to be to receive a grade based on how many page views your work got? Or how many social referrals? Or the influencers who saw it and commended it? Or the press you were able to receive?

All of a sudden, that work matters a lot more. It’s made an impact past the class room.

From a career perspective, that work will mean more too. Now, instead of showing that theoretical Miracle Whip print ad you created, you can show a potential employer a meme series you made of Jersey Shore’s Pauly D hawking the mayo-product. And unlike the ad that you’re still unsure would be a real world hit, you have proof you’re talented through insane page view metrics, great referral traffic, and countless imitators on Reddit.

I’m not saying you still shouldn’t put you’re fake Miracle Whip print ad in your portfolio. By all means, go ahead. However, the superstar hires, the people every agency wants, will be those who have already achieved success in a measurable way.

Because at the end of the day, success isn’t about the theoretical. It’s about those who can create something and make results happen in the real world.


*Photo taken with permission from Eric Leist

BU Room Swap: Building a Website To Solve a Problem

Last semester, myself and a couple of other students (Matt Auerbach, Guy Aridor) set out to build BURoomSwap, a website we thought could help those on our college campus who were looking to switch to a new dorm if they didn’t like where they were living or weren’t getting along with their roommate.

The BU process for swapping involves going to housing, filling out a card with your information and then flipping through a binder of countless others looking for a new living arrangement. And if that seems like enough, you can also put up a card at each dorm you’re interested in switching into.

This archaic process is a pain in the ass – I know from first hand experience of having to go to the housing office and the dorms multiple times to re-check the binder for new postings.

Our solution was a simple website where you post where you currently live and where you want to live. From there we easily match you to someone who wants what you have and you can chose to propose swapping with them or not. Simple. Easy. Solves the problem.

BURoomSwap.com

We weren’t really sure if people would use the site or not, but with over 300 submissions (and a solid number of room accepts) in only a couple of weeks, we know we’ve probably done a better job then what’s currently available.

A few of things I learned while building it that I think are helpful to other students interested in entrepreneurship:

  • You don’t have to build the next big thing to learn about being entrepreneurial. We didn’t set out to build a business. We just set out to solve a problem. It is a small problem, but it’s still a problem and one we felt we could fix. Working on this small venture though still taught us a lot about building something from scratch, working with others who had complimentary skills, and trying to get someone to use something they don’t necessarily have to.
  • You don’t have to be technical to be a product manager, but you do have to understand product and what’s technically possible. Well, the truth is, there are certain times where you do have to be technical in order to be a product manager. But in many cases, as long as you understand product and get the ramifications of what is and isn’t technically possible, you can still act as a product manager. Even though I can’t code (I’m learning…), my ability to wireframe and come up with user flow as well as managing conflicts and building out a timeline were integral to the site being built. Continue reading

On Facebook, Embrace Your Fans for Ideas and Think Small(er) For Development

On Friday, I finished my first week interning in Facebook’s New York City Office.  I figured I’d share two lessons I picked up about social marketing this week and how I applied those learnings in building a simple Chrome Facebook Extension for McDonald’s.

  1. Use your fans as guides in building your social campaign: While you need to build your content to help shape how you want your audience to perceive your brand, there’s a lot of good to be had from also adapting to what your fans want.  One of the case studies we were shown was for Lacta, a Greek chocolate brand that noticed a lot of their fans were comparing their loved ones to the candy bar.  Lacta decided to embrace this trend by building an app that allowed users to create a chocolate bar with their friend’s name.  The messages were shared to the wall with the photo as well as appearing in their photo albums with the person’s name tagged.  This simple idea blew up in Greece as over 135,000 users sent nearly 300,000 virtual Lacta bars out to their friends.  Unlike many other brands, Lacta saw their fans as an inspirational tool in how to build their marketing efforts.  Because they listened to for ideas on how to cater to their followers, they were able to get huge returns on their campaign. 
  2. Think small (in both action and development cost): Many advertisers on Facebook think they should be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook to build complex apps (or as I like to call them, microsites that just happen to be on Facebook).  They expect that once there, users will go through all of the ridiculous steps that are expected of them.  In reality, Facebook is better suited for lightweight actions like the app Lacta chose to build or the creative content Starbucks shares with their fans.  It’s fun (not frustrating) and makes you want to like, comment, share and in the case of the Lacta app, do.  Instead of spending a lot of your money building complex apps and asking your fans to give back so much in return, build something simple — they’ll be a lot more likely to return the favor.  (One of the problems that happens is advertisers spend a lot more money developing apps instead of spending that money to market them on the site. If you don’t pay for media to reach those fans, chances are they won’t see it.)Starbucks Facebook Creative

The Facebook “I’m Lovin’ It” Button (download here)

Taking these two lessons into account, I ended up building a simple Google Chrome extension for McDonalds’ fans on Facebook (although build is too generous a verb — thanks to Ben Schaecter, whoever you are, for posting your source code on GitHub and giving me the opportunity to modify it!).

I was noticing a bit of a trend on a couple of the McDonald’s posts where users were commenting “I’m lovin’ it,”  the Mickey D’s-style way of saying “Like” on Facebook.

I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if I could somehow replace the “Like” with an “I’m Lovin’ It” button?  Like with Lacta, it’s a simple idea.  More importantly, it isn’t a whole complex ordeal for the user to accomplish on the other end — and, if it was, I only wasted an hour and $5 building the extension.

From "Like" to "I'm Lovin' It"

Even though this idea is simple, there still are a number of flaws with this deliverable — mostly, that it isn’t that social.  Users download the extension, but Facebook won’t tell your friends via the News Feed that you downloaded the “I’m Lovin’ It” button for your browser.  That means, unless your friends think this is extremely cool and worthy of sharing, there’s a really good chance something like this wouldn’t be seen by others.

(I do think this concept could definitely be adapted into better creative that’s more inherently social and probably not a Chrome extension. However, I knew I could easily build this application as a non-developer and that was extremely important to me.  It’s a half-baked idea at best.)

Regardless, I’d be much more willing to try my chances with this low-cost, low-effort extension over a highly expensive microsite on Facebook.  Why?  Because although a complex app built on Facebook has the automatic functionality of posting to the News Feed and may be cool in concept, if no one wants to use it, nothing will ever get shared. And, because as Lacta, Starbucks and countless others have shown us, simple can be a lot more sticky (and viral) with users — that type of return is the exact reason we all market on Facebook in the first place.

5 Steps for Marketers to Become “Growth Hackers”

There was a really awesome post on Andrew Chen’s blog the other day on how Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing. Basically, the gist of it was that marketers today need to be a hybrid marketer and coder, particularly in the startup world.

While I do believe we will see a number of developers helping on the marketing side, I think that this role will be mostly taken on by the marketing types.  The problem is there simply aren’t enough developers. It doesn’t make sense for a company to make an all-technical growth team instead of putting those folks on product where they’re more essential. Also, marketers will be better marketers than engineers will — it’s just a difference in how both types think.   Lastly, I think engineers who are also growth hackers are more of the entrepreneurial type — they’re probably already building there own company.

So what do marketers need to do in order to become growth hackers? I think there are a few steps.

  1. Get analytical and know how to optimize: You need to be thinking in terms of ROI or the bottom line or how to move the needle.  If you aren’t able to figure out how many people who clicked on A button caused X number of people to buy Y, that’s a bit of a problem.  It’s really important to not only understand how to track this information, but also to be able to optimize it for better results.  So for example, figure out why only Z number of people clicked on A when you expected Y and understand how you can fix the problem.
  2. Understand API’s and their capabilities: The digital marketer (and engineer’s) best friend is the API.  It not only can take out a lot of the hassle in building your product, but can also help enhance it and and help it grow.  Nowaday’s, nearly every growing startup has an API.  My suggestion would be to look at those sites API sections, see what their capable of, and read case uses.  It’ll give you a better understanding of how you can leverage that API for your own company.  I had this crazy idea I wanted to implement in school for my marketing friends called APIron Chef.  Essentially it would be like the Food Network show: you have to create an application using a secret ingredient (i.e. the main API) as the main flavor.  You can certainly use other ingredients (i.e. different API’s), but your main ingredient still needs to be the main API. In my friends case, we’d create wireframe mockups for our app idea — I kind of think of it as a hackathon for non-technical folks. (I actually am going to be doing this next semester, so if you go to BU and are interested in participating, stay tuned).
  3. Learn how to build (without technical skills):  There are some really awesome websites out there that can actually help you do your marketing much easier.  If you don’t know how to build a landing page yet or easily set up a blog, that’s a problem.  You should know about tools like LaunchRock and understand how to use them. Once you do, you want know how you lived without them.
  4. Attend a Hackathon, or hang out with some engineers: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in regards to the way engineers work compared to marketers, it’s this – time is valuable.  It sounds so logical and yet in ad agencies they sit there endlessly trying to come up with new headlines to use for days until they finally come up with one great one.  An engineer thinks “How much value will I get out of the time and effort I put in?”  Unlike an advertiser, they’d spend 20 minutes brainstorming different headlines with one other person, pick the five best and then A/B test them in display ads online or on their website until they’ve found the most impactful message. Try attending a hackathon or working with some engineers — it’ll give you new insights on how you can work and be more productive in your job. How does this relate to growth hacking? The more time you don’t waste, the more time you can use to market effectively — it’s all about being efficient.
  5. Learn to Code: I know it’s scary, but it’s super important if you want to become a better growth hacker.  Seriously. Check out this post if you don’t believe me.

There’s a new digital line being created from social media savvy to hard core hacker.  You don’t necessarily need to be a technical wunderkind, but if you’re a marketer and you’re not willing to do at least bullet points 1-4, that may be a problem.  The new era of marketing is not coming, it’s here now.

(Side note: please don’t ever call yourself a Growth Hacker.  I really hope the term goes the way of Rockstars and Ninjas) 

Facebook and The [Student] Interest Graph

For those not currently in college or avid readers of AllFacebook.com, Zuck’s social network recently released Groups for Schools, a new way for students to participate in groups built around their classes, clubs, school years, etc.

When it first came out, I’ll admit I was a bit annoyed — I’m now a part of about 10 new groups including Events and Parties, Class of 2013, Startups, Advertising, Interactive/Digital Media, to name a few.  ”This is gonna create so much noise,” I thought.

Then something funny started happening.  I found other students on my campus who we’re also interested in the same things I was, namely: Startups, Advertising, and Interactive/Digital Media.  People I had never met on my campus had started to step forward to express their love for all these topics.

Prior to these groups, I had always found Boston University to be an extremely un-entrepreneurial school with very few digitally forward thinking students (compared to Harvard, MIT, Babson, and Northeastern). But Facebook had helped me unearth something — people similar to me, and even better, tied to my location. Sure, I had known a few folks, but I never realized there more of us than the vocal few.

Things I never would have been able to accomplish on my own started to develop:

  • A group of students interested in taking a field trip to TechStars Boston’s Demo Day
  • A group of students interested in setting up weekly workshops in areas like Google AdWords, logo design, and website building
  • A group students interested in laying the groundwork in building an incubator program/think tank at BU (the first project were working on can be found here)

You see, Facebook may have created these groups to get back to their roots as a network for college students, but the byproduct they created is far more valuable.  Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy has been to make the world more open and connected – the new Groups for School feature has actually made our college campus more connected than BU ever could. It has tied students not only by their academic affiliation, but also their common interests.

Boston University has actually tried to take our largely fragmented campus and unite it across schools to create “One BU.”  So far it’s been taking a lot longer than it should (as anything in academia typically does).  That’s what makes Facebook’s acceleration of this seemingly impossible vision all the more amazing.

I have some predictions of what this means for Facebook, but I’ll save that for another post.