The Best Is Yet To Come

One year ago, I joined the team because I was excited to help build an organization that helps companies invest in their most important asset – their PEOPLE.

And in just over 12 months, we’re thrilled to have hit some serious milestones, witnessed just how meaningful it is for companies to show their employees they’re invested in their success, and discovered a real hunger for learning at all levels of of the startups we’ve served.

Here are just a few of our major wins from the last 365 days:

  • Enrolled 135 managers in Exchange, our program that helps new managers be great managers.
  • Helped 27 startups build a pipeline of talent with Exchange (see the full list here).
  • Created relationships with our venue hosts and fellow community builders: WeWork, MassChallenge, District Hall, and CIC Boston.
  • Hired a Content & Community Specialist to help us do more, faster.
  • Launched our Leadership + Libations event series to bring our community together to learn from some of our city’s best.

And, now…drumroll, please…

Please help me welcome Gabriela McManus, our new Director of Learning & Development!

AGabriela McManus New England native, Gabriela has focused her career on strategically building a leadership bench inside hyper-growth companies. Three years ago she entered the tech community by joining the inaugural people team at Infusionsoft (#13 Fortune Best Medium-sized Companies to Work For) to build their flagship Leadership Academy and much more in Arizona. She returned to the Northeast with her family in 2014 and is ready to drive Boston’s talent forward!

Gabriela knows what it takes to attract, retain, train and develop PEOPLE in high growth companies and is already hitting the ground running, ready to lead our seventh Exchange program in June. As we continue to grow, Gabriela will help identify and develop new program opportunities to help our partners win at every level.

Spoiler alert: stay tuned for more about EMERGE, a new one-day conference this July for individual contributors to learn ‘A-player’ leadership skills.

More to come about what’s on deck from Gabriela soon!

Jennifer Fremont-Smith, CEO of Smarterer, on Hiring Interns

Creating a startup from scratch is not small feat. You sure can’t go it alone, but limited initial funding can cause huge headaches when looking to hire cream-of-the-crop talent. So where to turn when looking to hire a stellar team? The answer? INTERNS!

Interns, often looked at as the coffee-runners and copy-makers of offices, can serve as the foundation for a star-studded team, helping a new startup excel. More colleges and universities are incorporating internships into their requirements for graduation nowadays than ever before, producing a huge pool of qualified students, jumping at the chance to get their hands on one a coveted experiential learning opportunities. It’s truly a win-win for all.

So, where to start, and how to leverage interns to help your startup to succeed? Jennifer Fremont-Smith, cofounder of Smarterer, has the answers in her class, How to Hire an Army of Interns To Build Your Business. We spoke earlier this week to talk about her experience working with teams of interns, and what students can expect from her class. Check out our conversation below:

I.LY: You’re a repeat founder and serial entrepreneur. What challenges are you tackling now at Smarterer?

JFS: The big challenges we’re tackling every day at Smarterer tend to be around our product and our go-to-market. What’s cool is that interns get to work on all of these things. Here are the initiatives that are top of mind for everyone at Smarterer right now:

• How to build a great product that attracts and engages users, and delivers real value to customers.

• How to ensure we have great, high quality content in our system at all times, and how to leverage users to accomplish this.

• How to create massive scale

I.LY: Managing a team of interns for success can be easier said than done. How are interns helping you Smarterer progress?

JFS: I’m a huge believer in the importance of experiential learning for students. A lot of what is wrong with our higher educational system could be solved if more students gained practical experience through internships and apprenticeships. We practice what we preach by giving interns at Smarterer real world problems to solve, like how to crowd-source more great content on Smarterer, how to get the word out about our product to recruiters, and how to turn our blog into the world’s premier destination for people who care about learning practical skills and furthering their career. By working on these things they help create huge forward motion every day!

Also, and perhaps most important – having energetic, bright, and eager interns around makes everyone happy – and helping them gain practical, marketable skills reminds us all of the important work we’re doing at Smarterer by giving people a way to validate their skills and level the playing field.

I.LY: What are typical qualities you look for in interns?

JFS: When hiring interns look for three things: intelligence, great attitude, and digital skills. We don’t expect our interns to know everything – they’re still students – but we do expect them to have the intelligence to figure lots of stuff out. They don’t need tons of experience – again, being interns they are here to learn. But we absolutely require that they’re comfortable with a baseline of software tools that they’ll need to do their job, and the ability to quickly pick up new skills.  And last of all, they have to be bright, positive people ready to learn. Our very best interns are always the ones who ask the most questions – who start with the attitude of “I have no idea how to do this but I am going to ask questions and figure it out!”

I.LY: How have you successfully utilized interns in your other companies?

JFS: Other startups I’ve been involved in have used a similar approach to Smarterer in working with interns – recruit bright, passionate people, give them some gnarly challenges they can sink their teeth into, and they can do amazing things for the company – and learn a lot at the same time.

I.LY: What can students hope to learn during your class next week?

JFS: Every student who comes to the class with leave with an actionable roadmap for designing a high-impact internship program. We’ll cover our secrets for how to recruit a pipeline of candidates, an amazing process for identifying the very best candidates, how to on-board them, what kind of work to give them –  in short, everything you need to know to create an astoundingly successful internship program!

Don’t miss out! Make sure to register by clicking here! We’ll see you in class!

How to Take Your Company’s Lean Marketing to the Next Level

There comes a point in the life of every startup where its ready to ditch the diapers and start walking on its own two feet. But although the revenue stream may be maturing, the company’s marketing efforts may not necessarily always be in tow. The tactics that worked at the beginning may not be the same ones that work later on, and it takes a great deal of execution and implementation to bring the organization to the next level.

This week, Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at Kinvey, and Elle Woulfe, VP of Marketing at Backupify stopped by to share what’s worked to help them take their own companies from a startup using lean marketing to full fledged business. We gathered up some of the best tidbits from their class tweeted by students and have included them below, in addition to their slide deck. Enjoy!


Practical Tips for Your First Startup

Launching a startup is like walking into uncharted territory. There are so many unknowns and forces that can work against you, that it sometimes helps to have a guide to illuminate the path along the way. Aaron White, cofounder and former CTO of Boundless, helped shine a light for students in his class, Practical Tips for Your First Startup, offering many helpful tidbits of guidance. In case you missed it, we’ve gathered up a few gems that some of our students tweeted, in addition to posting Aaron’s slides below. Enjoy!

Twitter Gems

Aaron’s Slides:

Why Game Design Isn’t Just For Engineers

Seth Sivak, Game DesignWe’ve all heard the buzzword. It’s a trend that’s sweeping through the business world and has taken new product design by storm. It’s transforming the way we learn, play, and exercise. It’s called gamification, and there’s a reason why it’s so hot right now. Incorporating gaming principles into products makes them more engaging for users and keeps them coming back for more. By including achievements like leveling up or collecting badges, users have goals to achieve, making it ever more enticing to play the game again.

So how can marketers and product managers apply these same concepts in their own fields of work? is bringing in Seth Sivak, CEO of Proletariat, a local game design company to teach you game design fundamentals. Seth has an impressive resume with extensive experience in the gaming industry, having been a former executive producer at Zynga, and graduating from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. He gave us the scoop this week on the basics of how to incorporate game design principles into your product.

I.LY: What are some important factors to keep in mind when designing a game?

S.S.: The two most important factors to keep in mind is the audience and the promise that you, as the designer, are making to them. It is easy to fall into a trap of assuming that the designer knows exactly what the audience wants, but the only way to know for sure is to test it. Any assumption we make on paper we try to test out as quickly as we can because if too many unproven assumptions stack up the entire concept can quickly collapse.

I.LY: We’ve seen gamification become a pretty hot topic over the last few years. How can companies incorporate these same principles into their own products or services?

S.S.: Gamification is all about creating a strong feedback loop. Players (or users) want to be given a goal, something that they clearly understand how to attain. Then they want to get feedback on their progress towards this goal and finally when they reach the goal they want a reward.

To use the example of foursquare, the goal is to check in at as many different places as possible and to try and become the mayor by checking in the most times. Foursquare does a great job of giving feedback each time a user checks in at a location and gives rewards (which are sometimes a surprise) to the player in the form of badges.

I.LY: You’ve been in the gaming industry for several years now, working for Zynga and even starting your own company. How has gaming changed on a design level with the introduction of new devices and software?

S.S.: The new devices in platforms are drastically changing both the way we design games and the games themselves. The rise of social platforms, mobile and tablet have unlocked entirely new markets of gamers that used to be inaccessible to developers, and these audiences have different tastes. These new platforms also evolve the way core gamers want to interact and that is all about delivering a traditional experience in a fresh new way.

I.LY: Although gaming principles may not directly relate to one’s company or product, how can an entrepreneur or a marketer apply them to their everyday jobs?

S.S.: At the end of the day games are just really complicated products with the challenge of delivering something as nebulous as “fun”. I would bet that developing a game is very close to developing a product like Twitter, where there is no clear evolution from an existing service. The amount of experimentation and iteration that went into understand Twitter and how the audience would interact with it is exactly like developing a game.

We are all trying to create experiences for our customers, so there is plenty of overlap between entertainment products like games and traditional products, especially with the rise of gamification.

I.LY: If you could learn any skill in the world by tomorrow, what would it be?

S.S.: Wow, this is a great question. Probably learn a new language, like Japanese.

Interested in learning more from Seth? Attend his class by signing up today!