Create a SquareOff, Not Just Another Poll



We are squaring off here.

The days of writing a mini book report to poll your readers is over. You’re now able to take your online polls to the next level, beyond the text and radio button.

People are busy. Engage them on an emotional level and they can become your biggest fans. Be relevant and shareable. Buzzfeed knows this well. Just look at their clever The 20 Coolest Hybrid Animals campaign they did for Toyota. Relevant and sharable with everybody from the cute animal loving set to the sustainable consumer crowd.


The best SquareOffs spark and spread an ongoing conversation around your content. They will enhance the social interaction on your site and generate more impressions for your brand. One-sided debates are not exciting. Remember, we are squaring off here.

Get to the point! Are you talking about something too obscure? Keep it simple. If you must add some detail for your readers, do it in the side defense area not in the front page of the SquareOff.

Zebroid (photo credit: Buzzfeed via,1020,904914,00.jpg)

Even a Zebroid has two sides.

Choose subject matter that is topical or contentious. Look at your own content across your site. What are your writers writing about? What are your readers talking about? And don’t underestimate the power of Local. If you’re a local news operation, tap into the trends happening on the ground.

For further inspiration, check out Google Trends or what’s trending now on Twitter. This will help boost your reach as people share their votes out to social networks and bringing new readers back to your site.


Check out some live examples and contact SquareOffs to get it on your website.


Spring Forward Like Pacman



Never give up.

What a busy winter season. Holiday crush, end of year rush always has me looking forward to Q2 on the calendar. It’s Spring time and love of fresh tech startups is in the air with all the conferences, including South by Southwest and the inaugural Big Kansas City.

The picture you see is courtesy of one of my favorite blogs, Austin, Texas Daily Photo. The caption says it all. Go for the Pacman food, and don’t look back.

Time to recap and get this blog revving again…

I spent a considerable amount of writing bandwidth on my contributions to Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs’ stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check out some of my work there:

South by Southwest
Checked in at “halftime” on Sunday, just in time for a solid three-day plan of tech parties, customer meetings, and the usual serendipity. Brief rundown:

  • #ShowMeSXSW
  • Paid a total of $7 for parking, not bad if you’re with car in ATX during SXSW.
  • SoCo, Joe’s, Annie’s, food truckology, and so forth.
  • Hung out with The Real Lean Startup
  • Badgeless with purpose in the Hilton lobbies
  • Ate a Casino El Camino burger and saw some Music + Film (thanks Kate!)
  • Met Bing Gordon on 6th Street (thanks to Jeff)
  • Hosted a kick-ass party with SquareOffs

I made a few “Un-Predictions” for 2013. Things that won’t change…
Brandifying, Google Plush, Byte Sizing, 2xfoursquare, Impressions, KISS

Tao of Bhanu Returns
Not only did he bust this blog’s record for Facebook likes, but he wrote another impassioned post on startups. Startup Investments and E-Commerce asks some tough questions on funding and urges tech entrepreneurs to take a pledge.

And finally…


All the way from Columbus.

Sometimes the best offense IS a good offense.

Congrats to the Louisville Cardinals for outlasting the amazingly talented scoring machine of the Michigan Wolverines. This game, this Final Four (Shockers) and tourney was everything the Spring Classic should always be — Competition + Class — and one to remember.



Startup Investments and E-Commerce


Investments come in many different colors.

I have been following lots of startups and angel investment news these days and I never understand why so many e-commerce sites get funded … and with millions of dollars. If e-commerce sites are backed by big investment companies, they seem to get traction.  But, what about other small size investment companies which are investing in e-commerce, especially in clothing?

I have asked a few friends lately who frequently shop online about some of the sites which got a few hundred thousand dollars.  When I ask about those sites, they say they’ve never heard of them. I ask them to look them over and if they would ever use them.  Their answer is almost always a “No.”  A typical response is, “Why should I change when current popular sites are offering wide variety of products?”  In fact, they are not finding anything new, but still these companies seem to easily receive investment compared to a lot of other companies with great products which are struggling a lot.  I don’t know what exactly these investors are seeing in the companies they are choosing, but I can’t imagine what they are thinking starting these companies.  I sense that entrepreneurs are losing honesty. Their only intention is to start something, press their luck with investors, try to move forward, and ultimately sell their company.

Are you offering anything new? Where is your strength of conviction?

I have a service-based company and we’ve worked on at least five e-commerce startups related to clothing.  I still get a lot of emails asking to build more, but I stopped taking on new ones if they don’t offer anything new. I even give them links and ask them if they offer anything new and none of them seem to come up with a valid reason.

I am not trying to speak down on anyone, but how some of the early investors are funding such startups when there are so many amazing products out there looking for funding is unfathomable.  I have been working on a great product for quite some time and the company has been working on getting funding.  In the meantime, I’ve seen many worthless companies receive funding.  It is disheartening to see funding for this great company continue to be delayed.

I feel sometimes people with money are trying to invest simply by following big investment companies, who continue to invest in e-commerce. These days, I feel a lot of people are starting companies just for the name, the fame, and just to try their luck.  In this essence of business, the startups are losing.

There seems to be a very small set of companies that are getting started for a cause or to make the world a better place.  A lot of people are just trying to start companies without passion or conviction.  This is why many, many well-funded companies are shutting down and will continue to fail.

Take a pledge

How often do you see this kind of pledge from a younger generation of entrepreneurs?

I am talking mostly about early investors and please look for change.  There is lot more out there than e-commerce and photos.  Don’t follow others.  Don’t invest just because others are investing in similar startups.

Also, entrepreneurs, don’t begin a startup just to sell.  Keep longer, more meaningful goals.  If selling is the only thing it can do after some particular point in time, then do it.  Take a pledge and then begin your journey.


About the Author | Bhanu Prasad Madala

Bhanu is CEO at Ruby on Rails Software Kitchen. He resides in Hyderabad Area, India. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

To Badge or Not to Badge at #SXSW




I wrote a piece for my friends over at Entrepreneurs Unpluggd last fall on this topic. With just over a month before our annual Spring Break for Geeks  road trip, we’d like to get your opinion on the matter. Join us for a pint on @SquareOffs in Austin on Sunday night, March 10th. We’ll be at Fado Irish Pub on 4th St.

March will be here before you know it and that means “South by” time in Austin. And if you’re like me and haven’t bought your badge yet for SXSW Interactive, you may want to keep it that way. I recently saw a Tweet that got me thinking about the idea of going badgeless. There’s a bit of a badgeless movement going on lately, even a Facebook page devoted to it. It’s clearly a stated alternative, not a knock against the organizers of the conference. Read on…


So, if you’re headed to SXSW in Austin, are you considering going badgeless? Pick a side and tell us why!



Un-Predictions 2013


Bark park

Off the leash.


With so many predictions flying around out there, I’m taking a page from the unconventional and making this post about the things that I believe will not be changing — the “un-predictions”  for 2013.

I heard once in a great talk from Jason Fried of 37signals quoting Bezos wisdom, ‘focus on things that don’t change in your business.’ For example, a product needs to be slower and harder to use…said no customer ever! You get the idea. It’s in these tiny oft-overlooked realisms that we find our focus and keep delivering value.

My New Year’s gift to you:…

Companies will continue to pop onto the scene with these uber crazy tech sounding names. If they’ve actually got something then these cheeky monikers will help them stand out for a little while. After their coolifyness wears off they’ll need to be tenacious about reinforcing their brand and value as more pop-up around them. Or, worse, this might happen. It’s true that slowly and certaintly the universe of possible legit sounding dot com domain names are dwindling down. But companies that opt for the other side of creativity — the bold and abstract, utilitarian, or sometimes ironic — still have a place in the market without going all creatify on it.

G+ Identity Crisis?

The tech press will continue to beat the living Internet out of Google for their supposed FAIL on an unrelenting effort to create an alternative to the Facebook social network. What will also continue over at the “Gplex” is their undying focus on building great context into networking and productivity tools for account holders of their service. The digital world is largely an impressions economy, not a winner-take-all moat. Information and people will always find ways to move about their pipes freely. We want context. It’s not about the plus one. It’s about the plus done!

Small Keeps Winning

Somebody asked me recently to sum up the “mobile revolution” and what it means for content. I politely mea culpa’d that I’m probably not the best person to answer that question despite being an early adopter at most things tech. Here’s one simple idea. Content makers will need to continue taking a hard look at how many impressions they can get from content that’s smaller versus bigger, longer form, etc. The context of how and where people are consuming information is constantly changing…and that will not change.

foursquare Quietly Eats the Physical World

“Excuse me while I check-in before we order” is NOT what foursquare is all about, or what makes it still very much relevant. To paraquote its founder, Dennis Crowley, foursquare is ‘making the world around us easier to use.’ It’s a discovery tool  for people that get out of the house and want to experience the world around them. foursquare’s new UI is slick for sure, but two enhancements pushed out this year are a sign of more goodness to come. Users can now synch an AMEX card with their account and get the deal auto-magically when using the credit card at those venues — check-ins not necessary. This takes foursquare more mainstream and further closes the data loop so many deal sites have been struggling with to date. There’s also a slew of new services presenting foursquare businesses with a customer dashboard where they can make quick decisions on data and push out relevance to their best customers. This is customer enchantment at its finest, and signals a sustained focus on value-add for their most active users and the businesses they frequent.

Impressions Not Emails

I’m on a bit of an email crusade these days. I’m both fighting it and on the hunt to improve it. It’s an odd pursuit trying to justify the value of something that’s still very practical but yet has become increasingly irrelevant in my connected life. Which leads me to a brief thought on marketing. How much value are you really creating in your audience’s inbox? Did they convert because of your email, or because it was just one of many impressions that collectively moved them to take action?  I ask this question of every marketer from the tenacious blog owner to the big brander. I’m almost not sold anymore on the email “subscriber” model of online marketing. #11 of on this prediction list especially got my attention. These are important and honest questions we will continue to tackle together in the coming year.

Simple Explanations Rule!

Need a New Year’s resolution? How about practicing explaining complex things in simple ways to non-techy people. It’s fun and challenging. It will ultimately help you become a better communicator. Most of all, it’s a great gift to offer those among us that haven’t yet figured all this new stuff out yet. Here’s a free sampler. Mom: “What’s the point of PayPal anyway?” Me: “It’s so I don’t have to do this every time I want to pay for something”…as a I pull my wallet out of my pocket. The people that fervently push SIMPLE on a complex world will continue to lead the pack of ideas in 2013 and beyond.



Personal Branding: Are You @GaryVee or The Stealth Bomber?


Say something.


[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Founder to CEO: Mastering the Unnatural" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

This is a quick post about branding. Personal branding. I’m not going to cover the “what” of personal branding, i.e. tools, techniques, etc. Instead, I’m going to talk briefly about the HOW. Use this as a quick gut check on where you are with your own personal branding.

Let’s talk goals first. Are you looking to get a lift in your job search and networking? Become a better thought leader in your space of learning and expertise? Get the word out about your new startup? The main question you must constantly ask yourself is, “What am I comfortable with out in the wild?” For some, it’s a series of baby steps, walks or skips. For others, it’s big leaps at every turn. Virtually all of us are looking for the same thing. We want our message to be seen and heard by people who care.

Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two approaches, blend them at times, depending on the challenge or opportunity that’s in front of us. This is practicing situational awareness. I’m fairly new to personal branding and admittedly still finding the right mix. And that’s ok. The problem comes when your goals, expectations, and aspirations are out of alignment with your approach. For example, if you’re a soft-spoken entrepreneur and have big, lofty expectations for your idea in the marketplace you want to seriously consider turning up the volume on your personal branding even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean you will instantly gravitate to either extreme outlined below. But it does mean that when you decide to say something big, you should consider how big you want to say it. You’ll need to eventually put most of your personal branding chips into one of these two pots.

The Stealth Bomber

You’re a bit of a lurker. You smartly poke around different environments and platforms making incremental gains in building up your sphere of influence and network. You might even take center stage sometimes. Not a bad play. When played right, this strategy allows you to fly under-the-radar but still be visible when you need to be. You’re usually well-connected. It’s also handy for using the element of surprise when the right opportunity presents itself. You strike when the iron is hot, and do so decisively.

“…featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.” — The Stealth Bomber

Personal branders should always strive for congruence. How you say something should align well with how you actually are — your authentic true self. Let’s say you’re known as somebody that doesn’t speak up much, but when you do, you do so confidently and decisively. Your personal branding should reflect this. That’s an example of being congruent. Conversely, if the same person is all over the map and offers no conviction in their personal branding, they are out of alignment with their true authentic self — and it will show. This is where being a stealth bomber can blow up on you. Let authenticity be your watchword with this approach.


If you follow social marketing trends and aren’t familiar with @GaryVee of Vayner Media and Wine Library TV, get on Twitter or YouTube right now.  He advises some of the biggest consumer brands in their world on their customer engagement and marketing strategies. What sets him apart is his ability to put himself virtually/completely out there for mass consumption in his personal branding. It’s an integral part of his business branding too. This is a far cry from the stealthy approach outlined above. This approach requires a unique set of attributes, featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition. You must be comfortable in your level of exposure out in the wild being somewhere higher than the moon and stars.

“…featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition.”

I think you get the point with this approach. You’re putting your personal stamp on just about everything you’re putting out to the world. And you’re doing it in a very BIG and memorable way. If you buy into this approach, you are telling the world you’re confident that your message will persuade them to move in your direction.

The biggest difference between this approach and the previous one? In the @GaryVee approach, you’re putting all your chips into this pot, ALL the time. There is very little, if any, filter when it comes to your strength of conviction. Congruence is equally important with this approach to personal branding. But if you currently fall into this camp or are contemplating it, chances are you’re already the type of person that can pull this off.

Your Homework

To get you warmed up and inspired for how you’ll tackle personal branding in the New Year, watch this short video on marketing by the late Steve Jobs. In it, Mr. Jobs explains that ‘this is a noisy world, be clear on what you are about.’ It will challenge you to think differently about what you are currently doing. To say nothing is no longer an option.