Interns Can Run Your Business: How to hire interns that ROCK!

We’ve all been there. Your projects are taking off and there’s a ton of work to be done. Important work. You need to hire more people. You request a new headcount but you’re told that unfortunately there’s no budget for full-time hires. You’ll need to get things done with the people you have…or hire interns.

Let’s face it. None of us likes to hear that. Most of us don’t think important work can be done by interns. How can someone who’s only with the company for three months be effective, anyway, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I totally understand where you’re coming from and that you’re wrong. If you hire the right intern, they could potentially run your business in three months. For real.

Over a year ago, I needed help with API community management and outreach as well as the development of code samples to expedite the API on-boarding process at Edmunds.com. Like you, I had no budget for a full-time headcount and interns were my only option to scale. At first, I wasn’t really happy with the thought of an intern managing a community of developers, communicating with potential strategic partners, and writing quality SDKs. But that’s exactly what I needed help with, so I went for it with very low expectations.

Fast forward to today, I couldn’t be happier!

The Process

I started the search with a list of minimum requirements a potential hire must have (intern or otherwise). I knew I wanted someone who a) coded for fun, b) had experience with REST APIs, and c) was personable, humble and engaging. Simply put, I wanted someone who was demonstratively interested in the tech and business of APIs.

So I worked with HR on crafting the job listing. I set the bar really high. I wanted someone who was coding on Github because it’s fun, not because they had to. Someone engaged on Twitter, Stackoverflow and Quora because they have something to add to the conversation. Someone who was having conversations.

API evangelists are a special breed of developers. The good ones are experienced and possess excellent people skills. This made it even harder to find a candidate amongst the pile of resumes sent in by students trying to get a paid internship to meet some school requirement.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, almost 6 months. I got resumes from students with stellar academic credentials in computer science and math but with zero presence on Github, Twitter and forums. Some hadn’t even heard of APIs until they saw the job listing on their school’s bulletin board.

The Result

When the search was finally over, I hired @MichaelRBock, and boy am I glad I did! Michael’s been with us for over 6 months now, even while he’s doing a semester abroad …in Singapore.

Michael and I clicked right away. He’s smart, easy to talk to and very personable. Most importantly, he was extremely interested in our world of car open data APIs and their business impact.

Michael quickly proved himself an invaluable member of the team. Almost everyone who’s worked with him was shocked to learn that he’s just interning with us. He was all caught up with our systems, challenges and roadmap in a couple of days and by the end of the first week, he was knee deep helping developers with their API questions.

He sat on business development meetings and partner discussions on the second week of his hire. He built our Python SDK and was updating the Developer Portal on daily basis during our DX Certification process with Mashery.

Michael saw the potential in some of our API developers and brought them to my attention. He’s been great at handling difficult developers as well. All in all, he’s been fantastic at everything he’s done.

We’re Hiring!

Sadly, Michael’s time with us is about to end at the end of May ☹ If you or someone you know is interested in APIs and want to have a summer internship with us, let’s chat! There’s some big shoes to fill, which is always a good place to be.

Car Salesmen Should be More Like Real Estate Agents

I was on Trulia the other day helping my partner set up an ad campaign for his real estate business. The experience, which I’ll go over in just a bit, made me realize that the real estate business has already addressed some customer experience pain-points that exist yet remain unresolved in the car shopping process.

The Trulia Experience

When we landed on Trulia’s homepage, we immediately got what the site was about: real estate property search. Being location-aware, the site displayed the latest activities in the Los Angeles area, including local forum questions, local listings and recommended agents.

trulia

On the top right corner of the page was a grey button that read, “For Professionals”. We clicked on it and it took us to Trulia’s agent experience flow. It’s where agents sign up for an account on Trulia, manage their profile, add their listings, ..etc.

Before creating an account, we were presented with a persuading argument of why we should be advertising on Trulia. We were offered several products ranging from the Trulia Pro that helps agents promote their listings and generate more leads to the Mobile Ads that promises to put the agent in touch with “transnaction-ready” clients.

We pretty quickly decided on the Mobile Ads product. It was a no-brainer really since we all know that people spend way more time on their phones and ipads than they do on their computers.

mobileads

The Agent Experience on Trulia

After creating an account, we selected the zipcode(s) we wanted to advertise in and called Trulia to activate the ad campaign. The agent service representative, Jake, was very nice and extremely informative and helped us pick the right plan for us. We paid and and in 15 minutes, our ad was live.

We filled out the profile page, uploaded a picture and tweeted out the link to the newly minted profile. For every single one of those actions we received points, which would eventually earn us badges and get us more exposure on the site. It’s Trulia’s way of gamifying the experience and making engagement with the site fun and rewarding for agents. The points are accrued and after a certain amount you get to have a “VIP” badge next to your name.

One way of getting a quick 100 points is through client recommendation so we asked previous clients to write a review. As the reviews grew in number, so did the points.

Another way to earn points is through blogging and engaging in forums. Trulia’s forum is called Voices. The more you participate in Voices, the more points you accrue and the faster you get to sport that exclusive “VIP’ badge.

voices

In the first three days of launching the ad campaign, we received over 12 leads. Trulia gets on average 20 million unique visitors a month as of February 2012. It’s too early to tell, but so far it’s been working as promised.

Trulia for Car Salesmen

This fun experience got me thinking about the parallels in the automotive industry. I work at Edmunds.com and just recently we held a hackathon around rethinking the car shopping experience. It just so happened that the two winning teams, MyMotive and TEGRITY, focused on solving the biggest pain point in the car shopping experience: the car salesman.

There’s no trust or connection between car buyers and the dealership. Buyers are leery that they will get screwed by the salesman. The biggest part of the problem is that car buyers have no idea who’s a good salesperson and who’s shady. They have no way right now of differentiating between the two so they walk into a random dealership with a defensive attitude and the expectation that they would be badgered, lied to and gypped.

What both MyMotive and TEGRITY proposed was a client recommendation system for car salesmen. They wanted to give the power back to the consumer to decide which salesman they want to engage with based on previous client ratings, which is very similar to what Trulia has done.

On Trulia, real estate agents are free to promote themselves and set themselves apart from the competition through client recommendations, answering forums, checking in at open houses, writing blog posts, reviewing a neighborhood, …etc, in order to get more and better leads. But the most important of all is the client recommendation piece. It’s been shown that consumer reviews play a critical role in our buying decision and I do believe the same applies to choosing a real estate agent or a car salesman.

If I were MyMotive or TEGRITY, I’d take a look at how Trulia (and Zillow, Redfin and others) promote real estate agents and copy a page from their book. Both ideas focused on rating the car salesmen but not on empowering them to manage their own brand on the website.

If we empower the car salesmen with tools similar to the ones Trulia has for real estate agents, I believe we could lessen if not totally eliminate the pain-points associated with walking into a dealership to buy a car.

Hackomotive is Not Your Daddy’s Hackathon

After running internal hackathons at Edmunds.com for the past four years, I got to run my very first public hackathon at the company last week: Hackomotive: Reinventing the Car Shopping Experience. Our goal was to reinvent the car shopping process to make consumers love buying cars the way they do an iPhone or an item off of Amazon: simple, pleasurable and easy.

Hackomotive wasn’t going to be your typical hackathon where the participants needed to build a software prototype in order to win. This was going to be a business focused hackathon where prototypes of any kind, software or otherwise, were permissible as long as they told the story behind the proposed solution.

It was also going to be an Edmunds-sponsored hackathon. Translation: it’s going to be first class. This wasn’t going to be your daddy’s typical hackathon. This was going to be an event.

And it was 🙂

The idea for Hackomotive was born on June 11, 2012, after I got back from frog’s Reinvent Business Hackathon in San Francisco. I was so inspired by that event that I suggested to the Chairman of Edmunds.com, Peter Steinlauf, that we hold a similar event at Edmunds but narrow the scope to the car shopping experience and open it up to the public.

He loved the idea. Six months later, Hackomotive happened:

Thursday, Dec 20th – Hackomotive Announced!
Tuesday, Feb 26th – Evening Reception
Wednesday, Feb 27th – Day1
Thursday, Feb 28th – Day2

The event was a big success with folks already asking about when the next one will take place. I was humbled by the passion, commitment and positive spirit everyone brought to the event. There was a buzz in the air, and on the last day, the event crescendoed into a very high note when two teams, Tegrity and MyMotive, were crowned top winners and walking away with $10K each.

Needless to say, the event didn’t just happen.

It was the result of months of long and thorough planning by the following core team members that have grown to be my family at work during the past six months:

And Phillip Potloff, the senior executive who made sure we got what we needed to make it all happen.

The event literally wouldn’t have turned out the way it did had it not been for the dedication and thoughtfulness of the aforementioned talents. There was never any drama or unhealthy stress going on throughout both the planning and execution phases of the event. I learned so much about event planning from each and every one of them. I can’t wait for us to work together on something else very soon because I know it will be, dare I say, perfect.

Lesson learned: Want to put on a stellar event? Start with the core team. (thank you, Phil.)

Car shopping is an experience that affects us all and solving it is in our collective best interest. Everyone was welcome, as long as they were excited to join us and passionate about re-imagining the car shopping experience. As a result, we ended up with an incredibly diverse group of people for whom many this was their very first hackathon. Ever.

I’m not even going to cover the details of Hackomotive in this post because someone has already done that better than I ever could.

Matthew May, Hackomotive’s master of ceremonies, wrote a three-part article on the event starting with the evening reception and going into the first day where teams were formed and problem statements declared, and finally ending with coverage of the last day where judges deliberated and the winners were announced.

To stay abreast of everything that happens next, follow us on Twitter: @Hackomotive

Hackomotive for me was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional career. My hope is that it inspires other hackathons the way frog’s inspired it. Finding solutions that work for issues that matter is best done when a diverse group of creative minds physically converge on a single location to innovate for a very short, but intense, amount of time. I would love to see the same event happen in industries that haven’t been disrupted yet, like Travel, Housing, Government, and Finance. If you run one, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Here’s to the next hackathon that inspires us all!

Edmunds.com API: Driving Innovation and Partnership with Open Data

I gave a talk at Mashery’s BAPI NY conference last week on the success of the open data initiative at Edmunds.com.  I gave a webinar a few months back on the same subject.  You can find the Edmunds API here. This is only the beginning 🙂

Lean Innovation: How to Become an Effective Innovator [UPDATED]

Yesterday, I gave a talk on Lean Innovation at the very first Edmunds Tech Conference. Before I started my talk, I played this Louis C.K. video:

Very funny, but it also set the tone for my talk. We do take innovation for granted. We do so because our expectations are continuously resetting and normalizing that unless we start teleporting people tomorrow, no one is impressed.

My talk defines innovation by stating what it is and what it is not, and how lean innovation is different. At my job at Edmunds, I took on two projects with highly uncertain business values: the open APIs and Facebook Timeline integration. Through the process of implementing both, I learned a lot about bringing highly uncertain products to customers and making them work. I felt I needed to share that with my colleagues and now with you.

Most importantly, I truly believe that if you cannot recognize innovation you can never create innovation. 

Innovation has four cornerstones:

  1. Creativity: vision and ideas are impetus of innovation.
  2. Execution: acting on those ideas is the realization of innovation.
  3. Business Value: what separates innovation from invention is how the value proposition that consumers adopt.
  4. Evolution: innovation is iterative. If you’re not iterating, you’re not innovating.

What makes innovation lean is the high uncertainty surrounding the business value of the innovation. When you think you know what people want but you don’t really know. That’s when you have to innovate the lean way.

Effective innovators are:

  1. Dreamers: You gotta dream and dream big. Tune out the naysayers and the eye-rollers. Dare to see things differently and believe in your vision.
  2. Fighters: Armchair and fair-weather innovators are what gives innovation a bad rap. You need to fight for your vision.
  3. Doers: You can dream all you want but if you don’t do something about it, you’re not innovating.

Here’s how to ensure your lean innovation is effective:

  1. Set Daily Outcomes: when you’re innovating, time is not on your side. You need to test your hypotheses and validate them quickly. You can’t think in weeks or months. You need to think in hours and days. Set a daily outcome that you have to deliver on. You’ll be more productive, much happier as a person, and well .. more innovative!
  2. Know Your Tools: You cannot innovate without knowing how to build, test, deploy, market and measure your innovation!
  3. Measure Everything: Since you’re dealing with high uncertainty, you need to measure everything you can possibly measure. Otherwise, your results might be skewed (invalidating a valid guess or validating and invalid guess) and in turn your product won’t be successful.
  4. Find Your Allies: Like anything else, you cannot do anything worthwhile alone. Find people you trust to collaborate with you.
  5. Do It: If you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter. Doing can take on various forms. You can code or put together a team that does. Whatever it is, you need to do by being involved and ensuring that the project is moving forward.
  6. Sell It: Storytelling can make or break any innovation. If you can’t tell an engaging, compelling story of why this innovation makes sense, you failed.

You can see the entire talk in these four video installments:

I’d love to get a conversation going about Lean Innovation within companies. Feel free to post a comment below of tweet me at @ielshareef. Looking forward to it!

UPDATE (June 20, 2012): You can now watch my Lean Innovation talk here.

Google Tech Talk: How Edmunds Reduced Page Load Time by 80%!

I was invited to speak at Google on some of the work I’ve done at Edmunds. The crowd was engaged and the questions were great. It’s very humbling to be surrounded by really smart people that like what you do.

Update Feb 13, 2011: Great feedback on the YouTube page. Please join in the conversation 🙂

Razorgator Announces New Vice President Of Technology

Excited about the possibilities ahead.

Razorgator Announces New Vice President Of Technology

Razorgator, a leader in secondary-market live entertainment ticketing, is proud to announce the hiring of Ismail Elshareef as their new Vice President of Technology.

Razorgator, a leader in secondary-market live entertainment ticketing, is proud to announce the hiring of Ismail Elshareef as their new Vice President of Technology.

Elshareef joins Razorgator with 15 years of experience in large-scale web-based software architecture and development. In his role as VP of Technology, Elshareef will provide hands-on oversight of Razorgator’s technology group.

Elshareef, a self-proclaimed “techie with people skills,” plans to not only significantly improve Razorgator.com’s performance, but to open up new avenues and methods for ticket purchasing. “Razorgator’s embrace of creativity and innovation are apparent and I’m enthusiastic to start turning ideas into reality,” said Elshareef. “I eventually want Razorgator to enable people to buy any sports or concert ticket available on the market in as little as one click via as many different portals as possible—particularly mobile and social.”

“Ismail combines a passion for technology with strong leadership and mentoring qualities,” said Razorgator CEO Brendan Ross. “His ability to drive implementation of new ideas through both technological expertise and motivation of others is perfectly suited to our corporate vision and established goals.”

Elshareef was recently a featured speaker at the Velocity 2010 Web Performance and Operations Conference in Santa Clara, CA where he discussed the importance of mitigating advertising impact on page performance. Prior to joining Razorgator, Elshareef was the Director of Front-End Engineering at Edmunds where he provided hands-on design and development for the company’s web-based operations, specializing in JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and Flash for the purposes of ensuring optimal performance.    

About Razorgator 
Razorgator is the leader in Hard-To-Get® tickets for sports and entertainment events worldwide. Razorgator Interactive Group, which operates Razorgator, PrimeSport, and TicketOS, is a privately held company headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in Atlanta and Phoenix. Official partnerships with professional sports organizations include the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, the NCAA® – Men’s Division I Basketball Championship Tournament, NCAA Men’s Final Four®, NCAA Women’s Final Four®, NCAA College World Series®, NCAA Men’s Frozen Four®, Rose Bowl® and UFC®. For more information, visit www.razorgator.com or call 1-800-542-4466.