Category: entrepreneurship

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and Swapfish has undergone a partial tweaking of the model.  I won’t reveal what we have in the works just yet, but, it disrupts an entire industry– very exciting!

Earlier this week I was sitting in a Starbucks in Boston and had asked the woman next to me if she could glance at a few versions of a product page we were working on and tell me her thoughts.  She was in her late fifties and was a pharmaceutical research consultant.  She had previously been working on a crossword puzzle before I tried to engage her in conversation.  I expected a brief exchange and then us to go back to what we were working on.  What followed instead was a huge motivator…she began asking me about the company and spent probably 20 minutes asking me questions on how it works and telling me how much she needed it right now with the bag of clothes sitting in her trunk.  We stopped talking for awhile, and then she did something really great. As she went to leave, she broke the silence by pulling out a small notepad and pen, and said “I’m really sorry for interrupting you again, but I want to make sure I write this down so I remember to sign up when I get home and tell my daughters about it so they can save their stuff. What is the name of the site again?”

She probably has no idea how much of an impact that had, but it was big.  Doing scripted market and user testing is one thing, but, having someone fall in love with the idea enough to take the time to ask about it a second time, write it down, and then offer to share it is a feeling that never gets old.  Plus, now we have another reason to hit our launch date…Maureen the pharmaceutical research consultant from Boston needs to clean out her closet.  I promised we’d help.

Encouragement comes in the most unlikely places sometimes, but I’m thankful for it.

As a law student I spent almost every Tuesday night for three years pretending I was a giant prehistoric crab, tending sheep in a pasture in Denmark, being part of secret spy missions, falling in love in less than a minute, holding a breakdancing pose until it hurt, or panicking in various states of distress. Thankfully, these were all in scenes with my improv troupe and not real life occurrences (student life was crazy, but not quite THAT crazy), but, in those moments, the stories we explored seemed as true as anything we were learning in the classroom.

I never expected that improv would be what taught me the most valuable piece of information I learned while I was a student at Harvard Law, but the rule of “yes, and…” has proven to be vitally important in both building a company and building my life.

The “yes, and…” rule in improv is one of the founding principles of building a great scene.  It means that you never negate what your partner suggests, instead, you assume it is true and then think “if this is true, what else is likely to be true?” and build the story from there.  In an improv game it goes something like this:

Improver 1: “The mashed potatoes are finally ready for Nana’s 98th birthday party!” 

Improver 2: “Yes and, I just picked up my favorite pants suit from the cleaners for the occasion”

The point of “yes, and…” is to agree and add something to the scene that helps define it, solve it, or brings new information into the story (i.e. Improver 2 is still in the early 90’s era of the pants suit).  To me, “yes, and…” in the context of the start-up world means to approach every idea from the perspective of “yes we can, and if we did, what would it look like?”.  Starting from yes is a way of exploring, vetting ideas, and finding simple solutions in a positive environment that encourages innovation.  That doesn’t mean you always say yes at the end of the day (we still subscribe to the lean startup and minimum viable product mentality), but it means that every idea at least gets a chance to be heard.  “Yes, and…” doesn’t always mean adding features, it sometimes means taking them away as well.  Such as “what if we didn’t do _____” and exploring what that looks like.

It’s an interesting experiment to take a day and approach everything from the “yes, and…” perspective.  For me, it makes me realize that sometimes barriers are really only constructs in my own mind, and that the world is full of a myriad of possibilities waiting to be explored.  With Swapfish, the “yes, and…” culture has led to an amazing feature set and an innovative and exciting business model.

We’ve all been in meetings with people who start from “no, because…” and with every idea rattle off the million reasons why it can’t work.  There are always a million reasons something can’t work, the trick is to find the one or two reasons why it can.

That’s the power of  “yes, and…”.




Last night at the Local H concert there were probably around 150 people packed into a small venue watching the band.  Almost everyone had smartphones and cameras, and the most devout fans would occasionally snap photos or shoot quick videos.  However, with so much jumping and fist pumping going on, it was hard work (trust me- I almost got knocked over once).

I was struck by the opportunity the band had to leverage the 150 people in attendance to spread their music and message.  They had 150 fans, who all liked them enough to pay money to see them, standing there as a captive audience, likely each with a social network of around 500 people. If, at some point in the show, they would have asked everyone to help them make it big by taking out their phones and recording a video or photo of the band and tweet it/facebook it right then, they could have instantly had their music exposed to roughly 75,000 people last night! Multiply that by the 21 shows on their tour, and that’s nearly 1.6 million people who could have heard about Local H. Even assuming a 1% conversion rate, that’s 15,000 new fans!

Companies do this all the time, you go to a website and it prompts you to share to facebook and twitter.  Most of the time, bands will do this on their website as well.  However, visual media is much more powerful than just reading “John bought tickets to Local H”.  In fact, I showed up to the concert because two of my friends had shared a video on their facebook page of Local H awhile back.  Bands should learn from great companies and use their fan base at every moment to share the message.

Plus, that way I could shoot photos of the band while the big guy next to me is also safely using his phone, and not thrashing wildly in my direction. : )

I love this idea for bringing entrepreneurs and investors together!