Stephen's Thoughts

Husband, Father, Entrepreneur, Experience Designer, Motorcycle Rider, Cook and Believer. Founder of Atrack and Co-Founder of Startup Ignite. This blog is (mostly) dedicated to my thoughts on UX, technology and entrepreneurship. Follow me.

March 20, 2014 at 9:45am
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My answer to “Cold emailing a VC without an intro?”

Here is my answer to “Cold emailing a VC without an intro?" on Bright Journey. 

I’ve cold emailed “A list” investors before and gotten responses from more than I expected. All of them were very polite and direct about their interest. Some of them even went back and forth with me for a bit. It was more that I expected - so I would considered it a “success”.

As you eluded to in your question, the general wisdom is to get an introduction. Intro’s are the best way to go for sure, however, if you are going to cold email, here are my tips:

Get to the point, quickly. Your first sentences should be and intro to your product. The goal is to pique their interest without being obscure about what you are doing.
Offer demo login credentials to your app so they can explore it on their own time. This is essential as it means you have a working prototype ready to show. Remember you are cold pitching and want to increase your odds. This shows them that you are a “doer” without you having to say it.
Link to a more detailed summary of your company. I offered a link to an executive summary (1 page long) that they can open in their browser if they wanted to know more. I also tracked who clicked the link it so I knew who opened it.
Follow up on the email if you don’t hear back from them. I followed up at most twice with a 2-3 week gap in-between each follow up. I did get responses from follow up emails so I think it’s worth doing.
Relationships lead to investments - cold emails can lead to relationships. As a general rule - a goal of the cold email is to figure out how to start forming a relationship. It’s not as simple as just sending an email - what are you going to do to stay in touch with them?
Here is an example of an email I would send:


Hi, my name is John Smith and I’m building a product that helps people find friends and family online. Friend Finder uses a proprietary algorithm that searches all social networks and the general internet to find potential friends and family that you are not already connected with.

I’ve set up a demo account for you to try it out yourself.
u: demo58
p: yellowcars

Below is a link to my executive summary for you to learn more about what we do and our plans for the future.
[link to the document]

I would love any feedback that you might have - or to continue the conversation if you feel this might be a good investment fit.

John Smith
<link to social profiles>
<phone number and email address>


Everyone who replied I followed up with “Thanks for taking the time to reply. Would you mind if I kept you in the loop with my progress over the upcoming months.” All of them subsequently replied with a “yes”. The progress updates is your time to prove even more that you continue to execute. This is where you might begin to form relationships - even if it’s one sided.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

By the way, check out Bright Journey for useful questions and answers regarding Startups.

March 29, 2013 at 9:59pm
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My Citizenship Speech


I became a U.S. citizen this week. Not only was it an honor, but I also had the pleasure of speaking at the ceremony. There were over 250 people becoming citizens from over 60 countries and all of their family members present. Seeing that I only had a day to prepare, I think it went ok. Below is the speech I gave.

Good morning. When I got the call two days ago to give the speech today I wondered what I would do. If you know me well enough you know that I decided to wing it. After telling my wife this plan she politely suggested I write something. For your sake, I took her advice. Please forgive me if I occasionally look down.

First off, I would like to thank the district director, Mario Ortiz and his staff. I did not have a single bad experience through out the entire naturalization process.

When I was asked to speak about what it meant to become a US citizen, one word immediately came to mind - opportunity. More on this in a moment.

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Stephen Young and I’m here today with my beautiful wife, Vanessa, daughter, Trinity, and a very very active infant son, Zane. Luckily, at the moment, he does not have a hammer - if he did, no one will be safe. Anyhow, I was born and raised in the beautiful caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago. I left my parents home 10 years ago at the age of 18 and moved to Southern California alone to pursue a degree in Advertising. Little did I suspect, soon after I fell in love. Eight years ago I convinced Vanessa that if she married me she will be forever “Young” - she agreed. It’s possible she didn’t understand a word I said - just nodded and said yes as she did many times when we first met. We moved to Texas about 6 years ago to get away from the in-laws…I mean…because the cost of living was much better here.

All joking aside, what I’ve grown to realize and love about America is the opportunity that each and everyone has. Even though I work full time at my current job, I’ve had the opportunity to pursue other businesses - specifically technology startups. I’ve started, tested and stopped many business ideas over the last few years. I have friends that have done the same thing too. Some even becoming profitable enough to hire employees and continue to grow year over year. Some even raised venture capital to accelerate their growth. There are high school students that build tech companies and sell them for millions. In fact, just this week a 17 year old, who hasn’t even finished high school, sold his company to Yahoo, an american company, for 30 million dollars. Though he is not american, he will be moving to america as part of the deal. I suspect that he will be experiencing what we are experiencing today at some point in the future. Why? Because of the opportunity that exist in America.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not just the ability to dream big, and have disproportionate success like he has that makes America great. In fact, I’m less excited about that than I am about the everyday opportunities that exist. No matter where you come from, what race, what religion, what political beliefs you hold, what unfortunate circumstances you might have been born into, what neighborhood you grew up in - you will have many opportunities to work hard, get an education and make an honest living. Yes, your path might be harder than your neighbors, but the opportunity is there none the less. 

The same is not true for many countries around the world.

It’s not just the economic opportunity that exist either. It’s the opportunity to travel and experience many unique places with out leaving America. The opportunity to eat many types of cuisines…and yes, God bless the breakfast taco. The opportunity to help and be helped by others. The opportunity to simply sit down on an evening, fire up the the bar-b-q pit and catch up with friends. I’m clearly not only an American now, but a Texan too.

My hope and pray for each and everyone of us is to take advantage of and enjoy the various opportunities that cross our paths in the upcoming years. And remember, you are not part of America for yourself, we are here as a collective group to help and create opportunities for each other.

Thank you.

February 18, 2013 at 8:04pm
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Earning a commission while having a website.

imageThis is not Peggy, but if it were, I would buy a couch from her too.

This weekend I did some shopping at Mr. Big Box furniture store. First I looked at their site, decided what I wanted to look at in the store and then went to the store to look at it. Reasonable, rite? After all, it is furniture and I’m not going to buy it online without sitting in it first. 

A lovely, elderly sales woman helped us sort through the mess of “models” we wanted to look at - I think her name was Peggy. Peggy was awesome.

And then it happened. I decided not to pull the trigger, but to go back home and make sure I would not have buyers remorse on which model I settled on. I would use their web site again to help with this. I didn’t want to subject Peggy to my indecisiveness more than I already had. Strangely she kept “pushing” us to take some action before we left. She even made “special” arrangements for us to make a down payment to guarantee delivery on time. Then it hit me - Peggy works off of commission and she was afraid of loosing the deal. 

What a terrible situation for both myself and Peggy. I feel pressure to buy from her and she is in fear of losing a commission - all because I want to utilize their web site more. Shame on you Mr. Big Box. 

I’ll forgo the obvious route of saying that you are doing it wrong, very very wrong and give you a suggestion. Implement this and I guarantee happier customers and more productive employees. Give Peggy the ability to enter my order into the system (which she did already in anticipation of my purchase) and then give me an order number, or perhaps a short URL. Peggy will then inform me that I can go online to do more research for the models I choose and even purchase it there, if it’s convenient for me. If I purchase, she still gets her commission because the online order was associated with her. On the flip side, you know I have intent to by. When I visit that url Peggy gave me, and my order is magically in my shopping cart, you should be doing everything in the book to get me to close that deal. Up sell, cross sell and more importantly - give me advice. Goodness, you know that I’m buying a couch - tell me some useful couch-kung-fu knowledge and impress me so much I come back to you for all my couch needs. 

Not everyone has a physical presence like you do. Don’t make the employees in them work against your web site. Make your website work for them.

October 5, 2012 at 6:41am
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Forget your MVP, build a MCP.

Maybe the scents make it compelling? Or is it that the scents are flavors?

A Minimum Viable Product has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more. … It is a strategy targeted at avoiding building products that customers do not want … “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” The definition’s use of the words maximum and minimum means it is decidedly not formulaic. It requires judgment to figure out, for any given context, what MVP makes sense.

Source: Wikipedia

That’s a wonderfull explanation of what an MVP is supposed to be. You know what the problem is? The “It requires judgment to figure out…” part. If you are not a (good) product person it’s very easy to get your MVP wrong, or even, not understand what an MVP is. Especially, when the term gets thrown around a lot without proper explanation. News Flash: Most people building products, especially in the tech industry, are not product people. Even the so-called “business person” is most definitly NOT a prodcut person. For this reason, I do not like to use the term Minimun Viable Product.

Read More

September 29, 2012 at 10:39pm
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My comment on “A User Experience is greater than the sum of it’s Touchpoints”.

My comment to Richard’s blog post “A User Experience is greater than the sum of it’s Touchpoints”.

I would also add the aspect of taking into context a users emotional state. Their emotions, whatever it is, might not be a result of the experience you defined (past or present; single or multiple touch points) but might be “baggage” they bring to the table. So, in the end it would look like: their baggage + your UX = the final user experience.

September 18, 2012 at 7:14am
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Hiring and retaining great employees

Vegetarian chicken, just as ironic as your employee retention strategy.

Employee turnover, it sucks, especially when it’s your top talent. Despite management’s concern and (genuine?) efforts it happens more often than it should. In today’s world, when good UX and front/back end developers can get jobs fairly easily, hiring and retaining rock star employees should be a top priority.

Some thoughts on how to accomplish this …

  • Promote for work done, not for their political game. Everyone knows when an promotion email is full of political bull. Instead, drop the business lingo and try your best to be genuine. It’s a time to inspire others to rise to the occasion, not make them throw up in their mouth.
  • Allow them to interact with the industry while representing you. Encourage them to speak at conferences, organize events or simply contribute to a blog. Figure out ways to extract lessons learned internally without exposing proprietary information and have them use it for their content. Most importantly, give them the companies blessing to do all of this. This means putting aside time during business hours to work on these efforts.
  • Give them difficult problems to to solve. Boring, meaningless work is possibly the worst thing you can give a talented person to do. Give them something that others have failed at, tell them it’s impossible to do and chuckle at them as they leave the room for being so dumb to “think about” taking it on. Trust me, this type of challenge makes a truly talented person’s brain trick. When their brain is engaged they become satisfied and fulfilled. Even if the outcome is possible failure.
  • Pay them well. Goodness, how obvious is this. That rock star employee is at a minimum worth 2 normal employees, sometimes even 3 or 4. I’m not saying to pay them double or triple, but damn, tell your HR rep to shut up and give them more money. When enough of them leave, you are going to wish you had paid all of them an extra $10k. And no, it’s not all about the money, but some people do have families to provide for or toys to buy.

What does this have to do with hiring?

First off, because you’ve allowed your current employees to interact with the industry there is a great chance that other people know who your company is (free marketing and PR, baby!). Not only do they know who you are, but they know that you allow your employees to interact, in a meaningful way, with the industry. Whoa, I just got dizzy, that was too much common sense at once. Do you see how this is all coming back to benefit you, Mr. Company?

Secondly, when asked “So, how is it working at Big Co?” the prospect is then slapped in the face with a passionate, genuine answer from your employee. Not the usual smile-on-your-face-bla-bla-bla-yawn-lets-not-get-a-beer-because-my-true-feelings-might-come-out answer. Oh, and now you can get rid of that waste of time recruiter because you will actually have resumes coming directly to you.

Thirdly, you’ve set the bar really high for future employees. If these rockstars are the face of your company in X industry, do you think Mr. Lazy-Future-Employee is going to even want to step inside of your building? What about the ones who want a challenge and a meaningful place to work, what are they going to conclude when someone from your company just kicked ass with a presentation in front of 500 people?

But maybe your company isn’t about hiring and retaining great employees. In that case, ignore what I’ve said and go along with your lovely day picking low hanging fruit for quick wins.