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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Ring Nishioka’s Philosophy On Interviewing

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Many of the companies I’m an investor in are hiring a lot of people right now. For a current view, take a look at the Foundry Group jobs page. I’ve interviewed and hired a lot of people over the year and I’ve developed my own perspective and philosophy on the best way to do this. However, I don’t feel like I have all the answers so I asked a few people that I respect a lot (and fit in my definition of VP of People) to weigh in with their thoughts.

Ring Nishioka from BigDoor is up first. I’ve loved working with Ring over the past year as he’s helped grow the BigDoor team from five people when I first invested to the 20 or so people it is today. Ring totally gets it, has a great interviewing philosophy, and also has a fun blog called HRNasty. Enjoy.

Interviewing sets the tone of the culture to everyone that comes into the company.  This is the very first exposure to the company. It can be an effective tool to use to not only set the culture with new hires but to reinforce the culture to existing hires involved during interviews.  If you want a culture of teamwork, reinforce that during the interview process.  If you want a culture of “always closing” reinforce that.  Ring the bell during an interview and let the candidate know you celebrate closers.

I believe that everyone who comes into contact with a candidate should go through interview training.  Even if the person doing the interviewing is a senior person, they should hear from the HR department what the company’s interviewing philosophy is.  Just because they understand the Microsoft interviewing philosophy and conducted interviews there for 10 years doesn’t mean they know how to interview at a small startup, or what that start up is looking for.  Interviewers should understand exactly what the company is looking for in the position, what specific questions need to be asked and how to represent the culture.  If your company uses Behavioral Interviewing, that should be shared.

The candidate should have a consistent experience between interviews.  Interviews hopefully consist of the following:

  • Introduction from the person doing the interview including name, role, and tenure, and what they like about working with the company.
  • Offer of a beverage and the opportunity to use the restroom.
  • Explanation of what will happen during the interview.  (We have some questions for you, I’d like to be able to answer any questions you have at the end, HR will tell you what your next steps are)

When I worked in Corporate America, we would dedicate an entire day to interview training through an interviewing class.  A long time you think?  This is the vehicle that will vet out the folks that you are going to pay 1000’s of dollars a year, maybe 100’s of thousands.  Why wouldn’t you invest a little time into interview training?  This will be way too long for most startups, but again, interview training can reinforce the culture.  We had a lot of exercises including mock interviews in this class.  We wanted folks to complete six mock interviews before letting them loose on our next potential candidate and chasing them to the competition. At BigDoor, I spend about one hour explaining our philosophy and then follow up with candidate specific training.

Even if the candidate is not qualified, you don’t want the candidate walking out of the interview feeling crushed, dumb, or stupid.  Even if they are dumb or stupid you want them to walk out of the interview wanting to work with your company.  Sometimes, when folks are not able to answer an interview question, the person doing the interview feels like they are wasting their time and body language conveys this.  There is nothing worse than feeling put out while going through an interview process.

If the candidate isn’t a fit now, they may be a fit for another position in six months or two years.  You want the candidate feeling like your company is a great place to work and remembering the experience as one of the best, especially if they made it through a few rounds.  You want them telling their friends and family about your company, your openings, your products and especially your team.  Just like we all share are car buying stories, we all share our interview stories.  This is free advertising and the person that you are interviewing probably has friends with similar interests.

Most of our initial interviews are at a local coffee shop.  I am trying to create a situation where the candidate is a little less nervous, and it is a more of a personal atmosphere.  I want to create a personal connection between our company and the candidate.  This isn’t something that most recruiters at the larger companies will do, and can set us apart.  I want to see the best in a candidate; I don’t want to see their “nervous worst.” Some folks will feel like if they aren’t able to perform in a job interview, they won’t perform in the work environment.  I believe that if you have the support of your peers, you know what is expected of you, you will perform better.  You don’t have either of these in a sterile interview room.

Introducing BigDoor’s New Cost Per Quest Ad Format

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I love watching our portfolio companies iterate on their products, especially when they are in the early days.  Initial efforts often provide nothing more than learnings, but turning those learnings into an improved product offering is a huge part of what being an early stage company is all about.

BigDoor has been going through that iteration process over this past year and this last week they quietly launched a pilot of a new feature called “Quests” on UGO.com and a dozen other sites.  BigDoor partnered with the talented folks at SpectrumDNA to bring Quests to life. At first blush Quests may just appear to be the addition of a directed-engagement type game mechanic, but what is going on behind the scenes is really interesting.

The BigDoor team believes strongly that gamification should be a profit-center for web publishers and app developers, not a cost-center.  As a result, they don’t charge for the usage of their API or their widgets.  However, in order to fulfill their vision of providing a free gamification platform as well as sending checks to publishers, they’ve known that they needed a solution that worked not only for publishers and end-users, but also for advertisers as well.

Just in time for ad:tech, BigDoor’s Quests allow advertisers to create a series of tasks that direct users to visit multiple sites/pages and in the process deeply engage those users into their brand.  The user earns rewards (badges, virtual currency and discounts) for completing quests, and the publisher makes money every time a quest is completed.

UGO YourHighness screen v2

Any solution that gives advertisers traffic, publishers money, and users rewards has the promise of being a big win.  It’s too early to tell yet if this first iteration of Quests will accomplish all of that, but the early numbers look promising. Across all of their pilot partners BigDoor is already seeing that 35% of initiated Quests are completed (a Quest requires a user to visit and interact with five different websites), and 40% of users who complete a Quest tweet or share their accomplishment.

Having worked with the BigDoor team since mid-year last year, I know they will listen to their advertisers and publishers, watch the metrics, learn from this pilot, and then iterate and improve before they make Quests available to all publishers and advertisers sometime this summer.  If you want to check out what Quests look like now, visit UGO.com and “Start Your Quest Now.”  If you are an advertiser or a publisher who is interested in participating in the Quests pilot, feel free to contact the BigDoor team to see if there is a fit.

Update on Feld Gelt

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Wow – that was cool. Thanks for the help with the experiment in the post How To Score 30 Minutes With Me. Tons of great feedback – both in the comments, by tweets, and by email.

In case you missed the post, I decided to offer one 30 minute session with me per week for the next four weeks in exchange for 10,000 Feld Gelt. At least one person found the “Purchase Feld Gelt” option (which I’ve since disabled, at least for now) and bought 9,995 Feld Gelt’s for $10 valuing my time at around $20.01 / hour! Oops.

I was surprised that the slot for the first week of running this was purchased within eight hours (I posted last night – by the time I woke up it was gone.) It’s also super interesting to me to see the movement on the leaderboard (via the detailed BigDoor stats that publishers get to see) which just reinforces the importance of having more options here (e.g. daily leaderboard, biggest movers).

The next 30 minute session goes on sale in “about a week” which means you need to check back periodically in the BigDeal section to see if it’s active. In the mean time, activity on Feld Thoughts earns you more Feld Gelt, as does activity on my partners blogs (Jason Mendelson, Seth Levine, and Ryan McIntyre) and activity on the Foundry Group blog. Yup – the Minibar works across blog networks!

I’m still getting my mind around how to integrate Feld Gelt with Brad Feld’s Amazing Deals. I’m also contemplating getting a pet unicorn.

How To Score 30 Minutes With Me

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Long ago I concluded that life is just a video game. We fly on airplanes to get mileage points so we can get free stuff and or level up to get more priority. We used to get green stamps (when I was a kid) whenever we bought stuff so we could get free stuff (most of it shitty, but free). Our credit cards have points programs (and lots of free miles), we get credit (implicit and explicit) eating at the same restaurants over and over ago, and when you buy a dozen cups of coffee at the coffee shop down the street from my (they still keep track of it with note cards and one of those funny metal punch things) you get the next one free.

I love the current concept of gamification. This isn’t just my inner investor speaking; I really believe as a society we’ve embraced this completely (Forbes 400 list anyone?) Gamification is more than just flinging pissed off birds at ramshackle construction sites on your iPhone; we all set some out-of-the-way goals and try to reach them because we want to feel like we’ve accomplished something special, get something free, or receive recognition for our activity. And, yes, I own up to plenty of farming and citybuiding in order to share the results.

In the spirit of learning by doing, I want to try an experiment over the next thirty days. In conjunction with my friends at BigDoor who provide the “minibar” you see anchored at the bottom of Feld Thoughts,

BigDoor Minibar

I’d like to offer 30 minutes of my time as a prize for anyone who wants to exchange 10,000 Feld Gelt for that opportunity. You may ask yourself, “How do I earn this fashionable currency?” There are currently five easy ways:

  • Check in when you visit my site.
  • Add a comment to any blog post.
  • Share or tweet posts you like.
  • Like any post from the minibar.
  • The best way of all to earn Feld Gelt is when people click on links you share or Like links in your Facebook activity feed.

If you can put ten grand in Feld Gelt together, you can trade them in for 30 minutes with me in person in Boulder (if you’re in town) or Skype, or by phone if you are old fashioned*. Just click on the BigDeal button in the minibar.

I’d like to see whether the usual activities you do when visiting the site will be amplified once you’ve got an incentive beyond the content and conversation already found here. Plus I’m also eager to connect with those of you who may stop by here regularly but haven’t met me out in the physical world yet. So start working your way up that Leaderboard and just maybe I’ll be see you in a Boulder coffee shop, or on a Skype chat, sometime soon.

If you want your own minibar on your site, Oh – and please comment on what you think of this and the implementation (good and bad). You’ll earn some points for doing it.

* The fine print (or mouse print if you prefer): One appointment per person.  I’m only “selling” one session per week (a total of four), so act fast.  I’m going to commit to testing this for a month, and then decide if I have the spare 30 minutes in future weeks. I reserve the right to reschedule or even refuse service.

Update: Wow – that was fast. The deal sold out in about two hours. I’ll review the data tomorrow and figure out a new deal soon! Of course, your Feld Gelt will be useful for that deal also so keep earning it.

The BigDoor MiniBar

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If you are reading this on my website you’ll see a new bar popup at the bottom of your browser.  It’s the BigDoor MiniBar.  If you are a regular reader of Feld Thoughts, check in and join the community.

BigDoor MiniBar

We invested in BigDoor earlier this year as part of our Distribution theme.  BigDoor’s goal is to “gamify” any website.  They’ve built a very deep and rich set of functionality around game mechanics via a programmable API – things like checkins, points, badges, trophies, levels, and a virtual economy.  For an example of a deep integration, take a look at Devhub or the summary article on TechCrunch titled DevHub Now Turns Building A Website Into A Game.

Three months ago at a board dinner in Seattle we discussed the idea of creating a much lighter weight implementation – basically something that a publisher like me could implement on my site without having to write any code.  This lighter weight implementation, now called the MiniBar, actually uses the full BigDoor API but has a UX for configuration and implementation in front of it that makes it easy to set up BigDoor on your site within five minutes.

I’ve been an investor in a number of publisher-enabling businesses and have learned a lot over the past five or so years.  I learned the most from FeedBurner, which was one of the first publisher-enabling businesses I invested in.  They did a remarkable job of providing both a five minute implementation as well as a very deep programmatic API that allowed a publisher to control many aspects of the system. They encapsulated this in a brilliantly executed UX that made it easy to implement a variety of complex features with simple choices.  This UX also allowed FeedBurner to regularly roll out new features without impacting the old UX.

With the release of the MiniBar, BigDoor is taking a page from the FeedBurner playbook.  Now any web site, from a single blogger to a high end multi-site international media property or high volume ecommerce site can quickly (in under five minutes) implement a full game mechanic system, while preserving the ability to manipulate any aspect of it, either through the MiniBar UX (which will continue to evolve with every two week sprint) or the rich BigDoor game mechanic API.

The first MiniBar implementation includes Facebook Connect, an XP (experience point) system, a checkin system (throttled to allow checkins every 30 minutes), badges, a leaderboard, a daily deal (purchased with virtual currency – Feld Gelt – that you can earn or buy), and site sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and via email.

You’ll see this evolve regularly.  BigDoor runs on a two-week sprint with a full release every two weeks.  I’ve seen the next version of the MiniBar due in mid-January – there’s much more UI configuration control along with several new features.

If you are a publisher or blogger and want to gamify your site, give the BigDoor MiniBar a try – I’d love to hear your feedback (and check in on your site).  And – if you want a direct connect with the company, just email me.

Build something great with me