When an ecosystem can’t or won’t reject bad actors

How much of what we see online is real?

It’s a question we’re all facing - made worse by the fact that people often fail to look closely at the information they consume, and sometimes quickly fire it back into the world without looking at all.

In the case of millions of fake accounts and bots described by the New York Times over the weekend, the problem has reached such massive levels that if social media giants gave the same treatment to showing the impacts of bots and fake audiences as they are to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, it’s doubtful it would show that anyone has gone without at least one fake retweet or favorite.

In nature, a healthy ecosystem by definition rejects or minimizes bad actors to ensure variation and longevity. But in the case of social media platforms this problem can be deceptive, because most tech startups are optimized for growth and growth alone.

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You can't control an ecosystem

Last week marked my ninth year of being on Twitter, matching nearly a decade that I’ve worked in / around tech and The Web.

In that decade I’ve dug into a vast array of projects, including managing design + development, building a brand from scratch, researching/reporting on stories as a journalist, creating my own startups, and mentoring entrepreneurs.

While this has been an intense year, it has also reinforced a bunch of lessons from that time, many of which I’ve written about here on this blog. That includes things like taking the time to do work correctlydesigning a good creative processletting people chart their own course, and negotiating more than just salary.

When I named this site Ecosystems and Entrepreneurs in 2015, I was thinking a lot about how structure works…both good and bad.

2017 has turned out to be all about looking at structure and power, revealing what’s been hidden in some cases for hundreds of years. One of the overarching lessons right now is that you have to be willing to give up power in order to actually see change.

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When (and how) to outsource marketing in a startup

One of the most interesting problems early-stage startups run into is when to actually invest in marketing. 

There's no one size fits all answer, but there are tested and true approaches. Most importantly, if you're a founder or early employee, the starting point is to assess where you are...

"We are working on an idea and have some early customers / users of our product"
"We have a company that’s making money (revenue positive) on a consistent basis, and has a clear business model and path to growth"

For early-stage startups, outsourcing marketing is almost always a mistake. This is because you haven't identified your market(s), and built enough of a community or customer base to withstand changes.

Rand Fishkin of MOZ, recently published a deck on all the ways startups suck at marketing, and how to avoid them. In some ways the conversation is similar to hiring a sales team before you're ready to scale: you have to actually do the work yourself first.

But the crucial point Rand makes, and that many people miss when they're busy encouraging you to outsource your marketing, is that marketing in a startup is a mix of strategic and tactical work. 

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How to describe what you're working on vs. who you are

This past week marked year 4 of the Creative Startups accelerator in Albuquerque. 

I went through the very first year of the program in 2014 with a local news startup, and although I'd already worked in and around startups (including a rapidly growing venture backed company in San Francisco), the experience provided a ton of knowledge about what it's like to build a business model in the early stages.

One thing that stuck with me: the toughest problem a founder faces in the early going mimics something we all face as individuals...what is your company? And who is it for? 

Whether you're growing / building / experimenting as a company or as an individual, that's a central question, more broadly phrased as: Who are you? And who are you for? 

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The connection between creatives, value, and survival

A few weeks ago I gave a talk for CreativeMornings on survival, being a child of immigrants, and what I've learned about networks and value. 

I rarely give public talks like this one, but it got me thinking about how we tend to frame startups, founders and tech as creating and uncovering value, while art, music, writing and other forms of creative work need "support," or are tagged as philanthropic activities instead of core parts of both our society and economy. 

We recently conducted a survey for ABQ Creates (which I've been running for about a year) that covered responses from 369 creatives in a variety of industries. 40-percent of respondents listed their total household income as $35,000 or less, with 25-percent making $25,000 or less.

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