TIME advice

7 Tips for Handling Your First Lawsuit

Lawsuit
Courtney Keating—Getty Images

Step 1: stay calm

startupcollective

This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

It was January 26, 2012 and I was having a great morning — until I was abruptly confronted by a joint lawsuit filed by Facebook and the Washington Attorney General for several serious claims against our company. Before I even learned the details of the suit, they hosted an elaborate press conference that was all over the news. My first reaction was an adrenaline rush akin to being cornered by the king of the jungle at the end of a cliff. I did not sleep that night. Or the next.

This was my first lawsuit, and the gravity of the suit and its consequences left me nearly paralyzed. I knew none of the allegations were true, but I didn’t know what was going to happen next. The coming months were an insane roller coaster teetering between stress, anxiety and fear over the rising costs and uncertainty of it all. I just did not understand how it worked. Fortunately, by May 2012, we had wrapped up both lawsuits with very favorable outcomes. The Attorney General withdrew two-thirds of their claims after we threatened to dismiss the complaint, and the settlement shortly thereafter only served to cover their attorney fees and reinforce compliance steps we had taken long before the lawsuit.

Although it felt crazy at the time, I made it out of my first lawsuit alive and we came back stronger than ever. If you’re up against your first lawsuit, here are a few tips that will hopefully make life easier:

  1. Get a competent lawyer NOW. If you don’t already have a lawyer on retainer, this is what you need to work on immediately. Do not do anything before you hire a lawyer. And do not compromise on the lawyer you pick. It goes without saying that a great, experienced lawyer will greatly affect the outcome of a suit. In my opinion, you can find the best lawyers from referrals.
  2. Go crazy (but not too crazy). Give yourself a few days to feel everything you have to feel. It’s going to feel like a punch in the stomach at best and like the world is ending at worst. But the only way out is through. By dealing with your fear and emotions upfront, you will be able to remain productive and continue to manage your company while dealing with your lawsuit.
  3. Turn to your support system. Stay balanced by turning to your support system of friends and family who will be able to help you get through this mentally. To know that you have the support of your loved ones and can, to some extent, share this burden makes life so much easier.
  4. Learn how lawsuits work. Chances are, no one has told you that lawsuits don’t work exactly as you might think. It’s not necessarily about right and wrong, and the system doesn’t really care. It is unaffordable to fight right and wrong unless you have an unlimited cash reserve. Instead, it’s about finding an outcome that makes the most business sense for you. It is generally agreed that 95 percent of lawsuits settle prior to trial. In a lawsuit, there are usually multiple options for you to explore that will resolve or settle the case.
  5. Remain calm. During the lawsuit, the plaintiff may try to strong-arm you into a tight spot with fancy legalese. It has happened to me, and it throws me off every time. That is, until my lawyer told me they were blowing smoke. Expect to be thrown off and do your best to remain calm and stand your ground so you don’t make any hasty decisions.
  6. Be extra frugal. Unfortunately, a very painful part of a lawsuit is the cost. It is important to hope for the best but plan for the worst. That means if you don’t already have a significant cash reserve, start building one immediately and find ways you might be able to cut unnecessary expenses in the business.
  7. Don’t forget to rebuild. Once your first lawsuit is over, another difficult part of the journey begins. For me, it was rebuilding my brand and myself. I took a step back and reevaluated what I was building towards until I was happy with the answer. Fortunately, nothing changed aside from an increased level of determination and a passion to take my company to new heights. We also thanked those clients who stood by us during the lawsuit, who had helped further strengthen our position in the industry even while facing these serious charges.

At the end of the day, unyielding perseverance and determination will allow you to overcome whatever you’re up against. The first lawsuit will make you feel like the world is set against you; however, once you’re done with this battle you’ll realize it’s just a normal part of business. Welcome to the big leagues — you’ve been noticed.

Fehzan Ali is the co-founder & CEO of Adscend Media and is responsible for driving and implementing the strategic vision of the Company. He is an industry thought leader, providing editorial content about innovative ad-based solutions.

TIME Startups

5 Reasons You Want to Become a ‘Growth Hacker’

Startup
Hero Images—Getty Images/Hero Images

Short answer: dramatic impact on business growth

startupcollective

This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

I’m elbow to elbow with everyone in a room packed with around 180 people, and all I can hear is the dizzying murmur of words like “SEM” and “User Acquisition Costs.” One person I meet is an engineer at a company that is changing the mattress industry by selling directly online to the consumer. Another person is a communications professional from England who recently moved to New York City to find opportunities as a marketer for startups.

We’re all here, at a GrowHack meetup in New York City hosted by Conrad Wadowski, to hear Sean Ellis speak about growth hacking. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we all want to learn about the little things we can do that can have a dramatic impact on business growth. Sean was the first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout, Xobni, and led marketing teams at companies like LogMeIn and Uproar through IPO filings. He now runs a successful data insights startup called Qualaroo, and is credited with coining the term “growth hacker” in his post, Find a Growth Hacker for your Startup.

Sean revealed unique insights about growth strategies and reassurance to all those working hard every day to grow their business.

First, Hustle to Get Traction

There was natural curiosity about how Dropbox became what it is today. Sean revealed that in the beginning, it was all about hustling. Drew Houston first created a video with some clever tongue-in-cheek humor that caught on with the tech crowd. They also gamed Digg and Reddit to get more exposure. In fact, their efforts landed them on the front page of Digg, which in its heyday, could drive meaningful traffic to a site.

Such hustle is not uncommon among startup stories. Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of Tinder, visited sororities to get girls on Tinder. Shortly after, she went to their neighboring fraternities, which then gladly joined. The founders of Flickr commented on photos regularly in order to create an engaged community.

Our first product, EasyBib, now has 40 million yearly users. We started without any in 2001. We invaded AOL chatrooms to talk about our product, spammed thousands of teachers individually, and sent emails to dozens of publications. We ended up being published on the front page of the business section of the Chicago Tribune.

Optimize Your Product for Marketing

Sean talked about how Dropbox had a strong focus on making their product do the marketing for them. In particular, they introduced the concept of a dual reward: When you invite someone to access your Dropbox, they receive 250MB of free space, and so do you. Therefore, the more people used Dropbox, the more beneficial it was.

But the Dropbox team made their product even stickier. When someone you shared a Dropbox folder with created an account, you would be pleasantly notified that you have more memory. If you’re familiar with Nir Eyal’s hook methodology, such variable rewards keep you highly engaged in a product. Seeing the success of the referral program, the Dropbox team doubled down on the idea by strategically placing prompts to share throughout the product, testing what would make it more shareable.

Do Whatever It Takes to Learn About Your Users

Sean advocated that every marketer should be surveying their audience. At his past companies, he didn’t think on his own how to position the product. Instead, he would ask users how they would describe it to a friend, and what one word they would use to describe the product. Having gained this insight, he would then test and iterate on messaging.

Surveying goes beyond the purpose of understanding messaging. Sean would look at a user funnel and identify where drop-offs existed. He would then reach out to those who dropped off at a particular point to understand why. He cited an example where LogMeIn users from a new channel were dropping off on a free offer. It turns out they they thought the offer was too good to be true. As result, Sean’s team created an option to download a trial of the premium version or download the free version, which increased conversion by the tune of 300 percent.

More importantly, Sean would survey to benchmark whether users found value in the product, and why or why not. He would utilize that information to better demonstrate the product’s value, and survey again to gauge if his changes were improving upon the initial benchmark.

In my experience, talking to the customer is invaluable. When we show someone our new GetCourse product, we ask how they would describe the product, and why they would recommend it to a friend. These questions have helped us understand how we should position the product. To learn more about surveying, ConversionXL has a great post on the best questions to ask.

Think Beyond Content

Sean created a community website to drive conversation around the plethora of great marketing content circulating the Internet. His ultimate goal was to educate readers of GrowthHackers about his Qualaroo product. What’s fascinating is that Sean realized that in order to make Qualaroo stand out, he would have to go beyond pumping out content like all his peers in the space. He could distinguish his efforts through curation and technology.

GrowthHackers exceeded expectations. Not only did it provide exposure to Qualaroo as intended, but the community that rallied around it became so strong that GrowthHackers has the potential of becoming it’s own business. Sean now hosts conferences with the Growth Hackers brand.

Indeed, the future of content marketing is thinking beyond content. Above all else, Sean constantly reminded the audience of the importance of testing your ideas, which is a core tenant of growth hacking. His lessons aren’t textbook, they’re tested.

Neal Taparia is Co-CEO of Imagine Easy Solutions. This post originally appeared on the author’s Forbes column.

TIME Time management

6 Ways to Take Control of Your Schedule

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Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Reduce your stress levels with these important tips

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 9.57.31 AM

This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

By Jordana Jaffe

Way too often, we feel like our days and hours guide us, rather than vice versa. Our schedules are the master and we their abiding servants.

But not only does that arrangement not feel great, it can also only last so long. When you and your energy, needs, or desires aren’t aligned with your schedule, you will crash and burn sooner rather than later. To help you avoid that crash, or even better, to stop the madness once and for all, here are some things that you can start doing right now to finally feel in control of your time.

1. Take inventory.

Get super clear on what’s going on in your day right now. If you already have an organized calendar, get clear on where your time is spent. If you don’t, spend the next few days keeping a time journal: write down everything you do and to the minute how long each task takes you. It may feel a bit tedious, but the results will astound you.

2. Identify what’s not working.

Where is too much of your time being spent? What do you absolutely dread doing? What are the time wasters in your calendar? Make a note of all of these things and also jot down how much time you currently spend on all of them.

3. Write down what you would rather be doing.

Have you been craving going to that yoga class? Are you longing to catch up on weeks’ worth of your favorite shows on DVR? Write a list of all of the things you would love to start including in your schedule as well as the time commitment for each.

4. Reevaluate.

Now it’s time to make some changes. Look back to what’s not working in your schedule: how can you delegate or outsource some of these things?

Here are two great resources for outsourcing:

  • Fancy Hands: For $45/month, you are given 15 virtual tasks that you can delegate. From setting up doctor’s appointments to booking tickets for a show to researching where to find that dress you love, this resource is a must (note: it may seem like all of these tasks shouldn’t take you very long, but trust me, they add up).
  • Task Rabbit: This is for all of those tasks that you need an actual person to help you with. For example, building the baby’s crib, dropping those envelopes at FedEx, or even picking up groceries.

Now think about all of the time wasters you can eliminate all together. If you’re having a problem prying yourself off of Facebook, ask yourself why. What is Facebook giving you? Entertainment? Connection? Consider seeking those feelings from something more fulfilling.

5. Makeover time.

Now it’s time to start including all of that stuff you’ve actually been wanting to do. Fit these activities in the white space you now have thanks to eliminating the time wasters and outsourcing everything you don’t absolutely need to be doing.

6. Live into it.

Making a change takes time, no matter how badly you may want it. See how your new schedule is working out. Figure out what is working really well and what needs to be adjusted, and then shift things accordingly. Above all, make sure to be gentle with yourself. Progress always trumps perfection.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways to Drastically Improve Your Brainstorming

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Noel Hendrickson—Getty Images

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 9.57.31 AM This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

If you expected rain, you would bring an umbrella, right? The same preparedness applies to brainstorming. If you want a hurricane of ideas, you’ll need the right variables. It all begins with a rain dance — you have to inspire others to channel the right energy. As soon as it starts to storm, break out that paper and soak up the flood of ideas. Most importantly, allow the storm cloud to travel beyond the office. That is often when the most powerful lightning will strike.

Brainstorming sessions, when done correctly, can be one of the most powerful tools in your business. Oftentimes, however, a meeting held with the intention of generating groundbreaking ideas turns into an hour of wasted time and you’re left scratching your head over what went wrong. Here at Brandberry, we make it rain cats and dogs, so we thought we’d share what it is that makes our sessions so successful.

  1. Switch things up. The most productive brainstorming sessions occur when there is a vibrant and palpable energy in the room. Creative juices rarely flow on command, especially after a day filled with emails and packed to-do lists. This is why transforming your workplace is vital. Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Go off site for your session, incorporate props, magazines, or other inspiring visuals. And turn off those cell phones. You want your team to be 100 percent present.
  2. Warm up the room. Do you remember when your favorite elementary school teacher would begin the day with a hands-on activity? We may not be kids anymore, but that same concept still applies. Every now and then, we could use an interruption from the routine. Start your sessions off with a warm up exercise. Get creative; have your team compile a list of the five worst things to discover in the trunk your car, or play a wild round of Mad Libs. Make them laugh and get their blood flowing. You’re guaranteed to see those mental gears begin to churn.
  3. Write everything down. Everyone should be taking notes. The faster the ideas begin to flow, the more difficult it can become for each opinion to be heard, so encourage your team to write down any and all thoughts they have for future reference. Make it fun by incorporating unconventional ways to jot down ideas. Go ahead and cover the table with a roll of paper or plaster giant sticky notes on the wall to be inscribed upon with oversize markers. Remember, imagination breeds ingenuity, so don’t discourage doodling. Some of Brandberry’s best ideas have derived from the random scribblings drawn during team meetings.
  4. Set the tone. While it is important to arrange certain parameters in order to ensure productive meetings, avoid making too many rules. This can restrict innovation. Urge participation from all levels of the company. If you limit your contributors to a room full of senior executives, you will likely miss out on a multitude of valuable opinions and diverse perspectives. Set the tone from the beginning to be that of a relaxed, think tank assembly. Don’t make it competitive but rather create a safe space for any and all ideas to be shared. Sometimes the best ideas are the craziest ones.
  5. Allow it to continue. The ideas don’t have to stop flowing the second the meeting is over. Some of the best ideas originate in the shower, before you go to bed, or while driving — basically any time you’re not working. This is why digital platforms that allow the conversation to continue past the original brainstorm session are so valuable.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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