communication

How to Kick-off the Year Right

start_the_new_year_off_rightLast week, I wrote about how I spent the last few weeks of December working through our strategic plan for FY2015. As I started the new year, I felt prepared and confident about the road ahead. But when you run a company, it’s not good enough for YOU to understand the plan. Your most important job is making sure ALL of your employees and contractors understand the plan too.

To kick-off the year right, I think there are four things that you have to do:

1) Preview your plan with a few employees: When you kick-off the year, you want to make sure that you have a few people in the room that have heard part of the story ahead of time. Choose a couple of people from your organization, and tell them a little about the plan. In my case, I made sure that the Executive Team was all on the same page, and I spoke ahead of time with a few other people. You don’t need to provide all of the details in these meetings. Just share enough so that the important pieces aren’t a total surprise to everyone in the room. This will go a long way towards helping you build consensus and momentum among the whole team.

2) Hold a kick-off meeting: At Punchbowl, I hold kickoff meetings for each quarter. But none is more important than the fiscal year kickoff. I spend several weeks preparing for our yearly kickoff meeting, and I think about the kinds of questions that I might be asked. The kick-off meeting is important to me as a leader, and I know that employees value it too. Consider this feedback I got recently from an employee, “Our quarterly meetings are one of my favorite things about working at Punchbowl. After working for a company where the priorities were never articulated, and I never understood the motivation behind any major decisions, this time we spend together as a team, getting on the same page, is something I really value.”

3) Set the company bonus: Once you communicate the strategy for the year, I believe it’s important to set a bonus for employees that aligns with your strategy. At Punchbowl, we offer a cash bonus of 10% of your base salary based on achieving the goals. I split the bonus between the quarterly priorities (50%) and year-long goals (50%). For each quarter, there are 3 business priorities and 3 product priorities. That’s a total of 24 priorities for the year. In addition, we set out ambitious objectives based on our company’s strategy. This methodology helps align what employees do everyday with their bonus, and also ensures that employees succeed when the company succeeds.

4) Ask for feedback: The last part of your kick-off plan is to ask your team for feedback about the kick-off meeting and strategy. Include questions like “What did you think of the kick-off meeting? Are you clear on our fiscal year strategy? Why or why not?” and “What components of our strategy are you most/least excited about?” You’ll find that certain people who don’t have much to say in a group setting have a lot to say over email. And you’ll also see commonalities among what people think. Finally, it’s an opportunity to learn what parts of your strategy still need to be emphasized in future team meetings.

SWAMI SAYS: As a small company CEO, it’s critical to kick-off the year right. If you follow my plan, you will have everything you need to get your team on the same page and be successful for the year. As I write this post, it’s still early January — so it’s not too late to kick-off the year right. There’s nothing else on your plate that’s more important.

Six Things I Want to Teach My Dog about Work

Dharmesh Shah recently wrote a blog post about the lessons of entrepreneurship that he wants to teach his son called “12 Things I Want to Teach my Toddler about Work.”  It was an neat post which offered his typically pithy insights, with the twist that it was directed at his three-year-old son. After reading the post, I started making my own list of things I would like to teach my four-year-old daughter. I came back to the list recently to add a few items. As I was making notes, my dog Roxxee interrupted, and wanted me to take her for a walk. In typical fashion, she sauntered into my office and with her tongue sticking out and her tail wagging so hard it hit the walls.

So I took her for her afternoon walk and the fresh air gave me some new perspective. As we walked (and I spoke to her), I thought to about the things that I wish I could teach my dog about work . (In case you’re wondering, yes, I do talk to Roxxee as if she would respond to me). In the five years I’ve been bringing her to work, she’s heard and seen EVERYTHING at my office. Here are six of the most important things I want to teach my dog (and my readers) about work:

1. Always be loyal – In the business world, loyalty is arguably the most important trait. Roxxee is usually loyal, but sometimes she can be distracted or lazy. At times, she can appear like she just can’t be bothered (like when I tell her it’s time to go home at the end of the day). Employees look for loyal employers and partners look for loyal counterparts. Don’t let complacency or laziness get in way of always being loyal to your colleagues and partners. If you get a reputation of not being devoted and steadfast, no one is going to want to work (or play) with you.

2. Greet everyone in the same way – This does not mean sneak up behind your guests to sniff their…uh…shoes. It means welcome your guests and greet them all with the same level of energy regardless of how tired you are or how tasty the bone you’re chewing. You never know if the person you’re greeting is going to be someone important in your life (or perhaps your new dog walker). Make that first impression really count.

3. Focus on long-term goals (not just short-term ones) – Roxxee (like most dogs) has a one-track mind. She’s does what she has to in order to get treats. But unlike this Pavlovian response, building a company is a series of short-term goals (i.e. treats) that lead to long-term successes. Real progress isn’t accomplished by only achieving short-term goals. You’ll find success by viewing those short-term goals as stepping stones to larger, more meaningful goals down the road. Don’t just focus on the treats!

4. Get fresh air everyday – One of the reasons I love having Roxxee in the office is because she forces me to take a break in the afternoon. But I don’t check  out from work on those walks. The fresh air wakes up my mind and helps me think differently. I usually ask if anyone wants to catch up with me and they join me on a walk. The fresh air helps foster some great conversations. Whether you have a dog or not, I recommend stepping out of the office at least once a day to get some fresh air.

5. Sleep when it’s time to sleep, work when it’s time to work – Roxxee often sleeps most of the day away, and if she were an employee that would be a serious problem. To be productive, everyone needs to get 6-8 hours of sleep every night in order to be ready for work. My worst days at work are when I’m tired and sometimes the only solution is sleep. Rather than continuing the vicious cycle, the best way to be productive is to reset your body so that you can work efficiently. And when it’s time to work, you need to be alert, engaged and ready. Roxxee might need to learn to sleep a bit less during the day.

6. Only wag your tail when you mean it – Like most dogs, when Roxxee is happy, she wags her tail. It’s her way of telling someone that she appreciated a treat, a walk, or a pat on the head. But sometimes Roxxee wags her tail as an innate reaction, and not as a response to something positive. I think it’s important to provide positive feedback to employees, but not unless you really mean it. Too often managers provide positive feedback for insignificant and inconsequential milestones. It’s important to only recognize meaningful moments so that employees know what matters and what doesn’t.

SWAMI SAYS: They say that dogs are “man’s best friend” — and Roxxee is no exception. I treat her like a member of the team at my company. And while she’s an important fixture in the office, she could stand to learn a few things about work. Can I teach this dog some new tricks? Probably not. But perhaps the things I would teach her might be helpful in your startup or company.

Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Punchbowl.com. Follow@mattdouglas on Twitter. 

How to write great email subject lines


Like many people, I gets lots and lots of email everyday. I spend several hours a day in my email inbox, and consequently I see a lot of email subject lines. In my opinion, an email subject line is very important for a number of reasons. It communicates the importance of the issue, helps orient the reader, and can convey a lot of information in just a few characters. Think of your email subject line as the “hook” that grabs the attention of your recipient. Given the volume of email I get on a daily basis, I know that I’m much more likely to respond to an email when it has a clear and concise subject line. (more…)

Completely disconnected: a tech-free week

By the time you read this, I’m a few days into the one week of the year that I try to completely disconnect from all technology. Some people can’t believe that I’m able to do this (and think that I won’t actually disconnect), and this year I’ve found it to be harder than ever to wrap everything up before I disconnect. Nevertheless, after a lot of preparation, I have completely disconnected. (more…)

My $5,000 domain name challenge

I subscribe to Google Alerts so that I see any mentions of MyPunchbowl on the Internet. As you can imagine, most of these alerts are fairly innocuous, but once in a while I come across something that grabs my attention. That happened a couple of weeks ago (I would have written this post sooner but I’ve been traveling and then sick).

Anyway, here was the post on Twitter that caught my eye: “If only MyPunchbowl didn’t have such a ridiculous name, I would totally start using it.”This was written by Mike Davidson @mikeindustries the Founder of Newsvine. He has over 3,000 followers on Twitter. He’s a respected entrepreneur and he’s been in the trenches. And even though he’s acknowledging that MyPunchbowl is a superior site, he’s saying that he’s not going to use it. That’s not what I would expect from someone who has started their own company. (more…)

Oh, Kontain

Most consumer internet CEO’s (like me) dream of getting a game changing press hit. Poor Kontain. They got their 15 minutes of fame today with a HUGE front page article on CNN.com. This isn’t a run of the mill press hit — this is the big kahuna. The equivalent of Oprah getting excited about a product on her show and telling her followers to go check it out.

But Kontain.com can’t handle the traffic. Hey Kontain! Send your traffic to MyPunchbowl! We can handle it…

I can’t kontain my sadness for David Martin, the CEO.

Sell umbrellas, not rain

Today I had a meeting about the MyPunchbowl numbers so far this month. As you would expect, one of the metrics that we keep a close eye on is the number of events planned on the site each month. During the meeting, we were discussing ways we can increase the total number of events planned on the site. After discussing a variety of possibilities, I blurted out something that I think is relevant about a lot of businesses: “Our job is to sell umbrellas on every street corner when it is raining. We can’t make it rain.” (more…)