By Sarah Daigle and Jennifer McCool
At Currant Technology Group, we talk about STEM a lot. As we prepare for the upcoming Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit in Rogers, AR on October 7th, we look back to the groups we've spoken to, the conferences we've supported, and the children in our community we hope we have influenced.
Hour of Code
In December 0f 2015, the Women's Foundation of Arkansas, as part of the #ARkidscancode initiative, sponsored the first ever Girls of Promise Coding Summit. The Governor's Mansion served as the backdrop for this inaugural event, which included a portion called the Hour of Code. We were fortunate enough to be present as an instructor. We spoke to the girls, grades ranging from the seventh to senior, about technology jobs available in Arkansas and how women in technical careers are beneficial to the state's economy.
The Northwest Arkansas Community College has a program called Upward Bound. This program is focused on high schools students, from lower income families, to complete their high school education and continue on to college. The students are encouraged and motivated while attending workshops, participating in classes in a college atmosphere, and listening to local businesses speak about the opportunities in our community. We had the honor of speaking to a group in July about the start-up business world. Students were interested in means of communication and the possibilities and venues for pursuing business ideas they already had formulated. Discussing the start-up business atmosphere with these students was enlightening on both sides of the conversation.
10 Ways to Spend $20 in Northwest Arkansas (because you’re awesome and saved $20 on early registration for the 2016 NWA Technology Summit)
By Jennifer McCool, Operations Consultant
The NWA Technology Summit is kind of a big deal. With over 40 break-out sessions and a keynote speaker who knows a few things from his time as COO at Microsoft, it would be a shame to miss it. I mean, you have your tickets already – right? Ahem. Well, if not, then you’re in luck! Until July 31, 2016, tickets are $20 off of their original price of $139. You can register online, get more information, and peruse the speakers at our website. Just in case you aren’t from around here, we’ve included a helpful list of ways to spend that $20 you saved. Or you know, you could wait and not get your tickets at a discount…but who’s going to do that?!
By Jennifer McCool, Operations Consultant
I am not a tech person. I feel that I owe this disclaimer up front. As a matter of fact, I once broke the little feet off a keyboard after getting frustrated; I just used post-it note pads to prop it up for a while. I am; however, a professional organizer that specializes in businesses. As such, I love efficiency.
When I was asked to shadow a client while she gave a presentation to a project management group, the Northwest Arkansas Project Management Institute, I said yes but secretly I wondered how I would take notes on a subject that I am not familiar with? (I didn’t do very well-my notes were pretty sparse.) Even so, by the end of the evening I had come to the conclusion that project management is tech organizing and actually pretty interesting. Here’s what happened:
I arrived early, got out my laptop and tried to look like I knew what was going on. Psssh, I got this. People started arriving, and good crowd started to accumulate. Not surprisingly, most of the attendees came from our favorite local retailer. My client, Sarah Daigle, the Founder and CTO of Currant Technology Group, got up to speak and I was prepared to be confused.
She started with her background and what her company does for their clients. She spoke about SMART audits and referring out versus subcontracting, and explaining how to decided when something is a good fit and when something is not a good fit. Then she said she had a video to show, an Introduction to Scrum. This sounded promising since usually when something is an introduction it’s written for the inexperienced. Seven minutes later, the video was over and I was in love.
Scrum is a project development methodology meant to be faster and more flexible that the traditional process by working in short, overlapping stages. The scrum process is meant to be more responsive to changes during the process, which is divided in to sprints.
By working in short bursts, on specific deliverables, that go to completion in that manageable timeframe, scrum is not unlike organizing. Take a large project, set smaller, specific goals, work one goal to completion, then go to the next specific goal. You have something to show for your work immediately, can adapt to a client changing their mind mid-project, and can easily correct errors without unraveling the whole project or having to start over. YES! Efficiency is sexy, people!
The meeting was supposed to be over at 7:30 but most of the attendees stayed late to participate in an exercise, using scrum to plan a backyard BBQ. I sat back and listened intently to the details and stories, amused by the interactions. Yes, scrum is for software development … and planning a great party.
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By Sarah Daigle and Jennifer McCool
Take a minute and think back to your childhood, specifically the eighth grade. What kind of person were you? What did you think about? If you were like me, you thought about boys and teasing your bangs into a rat’s nest. You might have thought about more than that (hopefully) but were you thinking about your high school and college education and maybe even your future career? Doubtful.
That is a very awkward time in a person’s life. Any person’s life. But what if you were an eighth grade girl who really enjoyed technology? Excelled at a field, traditionally, made up of boys? Where is your outlet? Who do you talk to about things like that; where do you get reassurance that you can be a coder or engineer if that’s what you really want?
Luckily, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas has a plan. A two-day conference held for 150 eighth grade girls, from all over Arkansas, aimed at exposing girls to all the facets of careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The girls who wish to attend this event apply by answering essay questions. One of the questions asks about the students’ short term and long term education goals. It may be an effort to apply but if chosen, these girls can learn from women with the same drive and interests. Women who can reassure them that it is okay to be interested, excel, and kick butt in these traditionally male-oriented fields. Smart, successful women who have made their way and are passing their experiences on.
Girls of Promise is meant to inspire young girls and help nurture this budding interest. This free conference has speakers, learning activities, and opportunity. These young ladies spend time building websites, applications, and going to museums – with other girls like them. A promise is made at the end of the conference by each attendee. In one year, those promises will be sent back to the girls as a reminder, a connection. You are smart; you are capable; you can do this.
This year, my session included some basic HTML and CSS to build web pages. We did it the ‘hard’ way with old fashioned text editor. When you progress to building larger sites, there are amazing tools to speed up the work. Think about using pencil and paper versus a calculator.
Using some elements of curriculum by Chad Williamson of Noble Impact, the girls shared some of their aspirations, accomplishments, and style.
Lastly, we gave them a taste of what coding means to the interactive world through the fun video-guided lessons with Star Wars’ Rey and Leia from Code.org, fun for all ages 6 to 106.
Take a few minutes and solve your first puzzle. You might just get addicted!
Know a girl who’d love this event? Subscribe to the email list, and we’ll notify you when the registration opens for the 2017 event.
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By Sarah Daigle and Jennifer McCool
As Currant Tech grows, there is enough work to lead me to revisit if all the work is being done by the right person. As the principal in my firm, I am often essential to the client work, but not necessarily essential to every part of running the business.
To my delight, I've lucked into an organized nut and operational consultant in one in Jennifer McCool. .
As we were reviewing where I could be more productive, have me, Sarah focus on the right tasks and empower my team to run projects and serve clients directly.
One questions we had was, "What work could / should be done by someone not involved in the day to day representation of Currant Tech?". Some days, this seems clear and obvious; though other days I"m daunted by the task of onboarding someone into the nitty gritty. With Jennifer's support, we are going to work take time to decide if, what and how we would use a virtual assistant.
Follow us in our journey to try out a virtual assistant or two this summer.
We reviewed four companies that offer virtual administrative/executive assistants: eaHELP, UassistME, Time Etc., and Worldwide 101 and discovered that hiring a virtual assistant is much like hiring an in-house assistant. Observe:
1. Decide what you want them to do (job description).
Piece out the specific things you are looking for in an assistant. These companies offer everything from email management and travel arrangements to social media management and graphic design.
2. Decide on your budget.
Figure out how much you would be willing to pay for the services and have a good idea of how many hours of work the tasks will take. Also, decide that having a virtual assistant is worth paying more (upfront) than an in-house assistant. The per hour pay of a virtual assistant roughly averages to $35. This has many variables such as level of tasks assigned, country the company is based in, and whether you have a designated assistant or not. Though that may seem steep, keep in mind that an in-house assistant will use your electricity, drink your coffee, socialize, and may require training which will take time. Many people do not factor this into the per-hour rate of an in-house assistant.
3. Research the companies and what they offer (the talent search).
Now that you have your job description and a budget, it’s time to conduct the job interviews. Three of the companies we reviewed had their services and pricing detailed on the website (eaHELP did not list their pricing). This means you can research which companies offer the tasks you want completed, the hours you need, and how much this will cost you. The tasks offered by each company are very similar and the pricing structure will give you flexibility. Some offer as low as three hours a month to around forty hours a month. You can inquire for larger packages.
4. Read the reviews (job references).
Since each of the companies reviewed offered similar products and comparable pricing (again, based on varying factors), reading reviews of these services is going to be important. Luckily for you someone has done a comparison of the majority of the companies and has this information at http://www.virtualassistantassistant.com. They’re like the scrubbing bubbles – they do the work so you don’t have to!
5. Getting Started (hiring)
Much like a new employee has a trial phase, some of these companies offer a free trial of their services while others will allow you to change your “plan” at any time. Most of these companies also bill monthly and do not lock you into a contract. In addition, some offer rollover of the hours unused – a nice perk if you are uncertain at first of how much time you will need an assistant.
And there you have it! Hopefully, I and my VA will live in digital harmony together.
Wish us luck!
by Madelynne Jones, Content Strategist
This last weekend, we traveled down to Little Rock for the annual Little Rock Tech Fest, a fantastic gathering of geeks and code. Sessions ranged from soft talks on theories and ideas to the hard code behind some powerful applications.
I (Madelynne) attended a session with Duncan Jimbo entitled “Signs of the times: What road signs taught me about web design.” Here’s some insight I gathered from an excellent session:
Focus on your content more than your design
Content, after all, is why your readers are there. Readers don’t often come to your website to look at how pretty it is (though it helps), but rather to gain information from visiting it. “Your design must aid your content,” Jimbo said.
Design for permanence: a sign of the times
The 60s were no doubt a time of revolution, and two designers took the sign of upcoming change quite literally. Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir took ten years to redesign British road signage, meticulously choosing the most classic, utilitarian and consistent typography and images they could for posterity.
“We were designing for permanence. We were designing for something that wouldn’t look dated in 5 to 10 years.” - Margaret Calvert
This should be a sign to our websites, Jimbo said. Design for posterity. Let what you create be classic, useful and consistent, not confusing or jumbled or so quickly outdated that you will have to redo it. Think about why that client was most likely coming to you in the beginning anyway–because they need their website revamped and/or because they want a website that will last.
Design for the user
What does your audience need? Will they know to scroll up, down, left, right, click here or hover there?
“It’s all about asking the right questions and knowing for whom you are designing–it’s not always only about putting your personality into a particular design.” - Margaret Calvert
If you/your client wants to scroll down the page, make it obvious. Use arrows to point to edges where the user should scroll or have an automatic scroll. Make your designs intuitive so that your user doesn’t have to think, but has a natural reaction. For example, if you wanted content to swipe horizontally across the front page, or for the user to interact with it and cause it to swipe horizontally, then have photos and content extend beyond normal margins so that the content almost falls off the page, making the reader’s eye draw to the side, so that they naturally want to scroll horizontally to see more of it. This echoes real-life: when you see half of a huge billboard or wrap-around advertisement, you walk farther or bend your head to see more of it.
On that note, do your research and know how most people respond. According to Jimbo, most people do not respond well to horizontal sliders that they have to interact with. People respond well to scrolling up and down.
Test in different situations
Just like there are different driving conditions, there are different conditions in which people access your site. Test your site or app on multiple devices and browsers at multiple times and days. Test all the variables! (Otherwise you’re a bad scientist.) Did you know Google has colorblind settings and low backlight settings?
“Design products to be aesthetic and useable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.” - Ronald L Mace on Universal Design
Also, break conventions carefully. If you're going to break them, test to make sure the user can still figure out how to navigate your site and content.
Draw from real-life experiences
Calvert and Kinneir took inspiration from the world around them, Jimbo said. The committee decided to use universal symbols rather than words to prevent language barriers. A cow on Calvert’s relative’s Warwickshire farm was the inspiration for the red triangular sign warning drivers of wandering farm animals. And the children in the school crossing sign were modelled after a picture of Calvert as a child. A man working construction was modelled after Kennier.
So, Jimbo concluded to a room full of eager geeks, we should make our websites and designs so intuitive that users don’t have to think, so that it comes as natural and easy to them as driving.
Today, along with one of my client's project team, we are giving a whole day to moving an idea into fruition. You may see "Startup Weekends" or "Hackathons" marketed to the hard-core geek types and programmers; though the model works for businesses that have a back-burner project that is ready for some real attention.
We are not likely to write a ton of code, though we are going to hack together the bits and pieces of ideas, try out complicated software, plug in our configurations, creative words & pictures. The goal is to build just enough of the platform to answer any big questions, test our assumptions, and clarify the product purpose.
The 5 of us: CEO, COO, CTO, Marketing Director, Lead Developer will come together to bring a mix of priorities and vision to validate our solution.
I expect we will start with some healthy fruit and granola, a couple of fresh white boards, assign a bunch of tasks, and put on our headphones to crank out some results. Eventually, refuel with a sandwich, regroup then devolve as the brain becomes mush and land in the glass of a great big beer!
The photo above is what our day looks like in my mind... though the following picture is more like the reality. However, I'm putting my 'war room' focus on... wish us luck on our mission!
In order to be successful, we spent some time getting really focused on our agenda, created shared space using Trello to narrow our agenda, dump ideas, and as and set a couple of clear goals and hope to use them as a mantra to stay focused when we fall into the the rabbit holes .
If you think that a "Hackathon" style work day would help your team let me help you!
Let's Plan a Hack Day Together
We’ve got a fresh look! Like it?
Event: We love attending events in our local community. Check out this blog post about StartUp Junkie and Hayseed’s Lecture Series. The first talk with John James of Hayseed Ventures (and formerly of Acumen Brands) covered customer acquisition. There’s another one coming in September! (We also posted it on LinkedIn!)
What the Color of Your Logo Says About Your Company
Top 10 Trusted Brands: What Brands Do Male and Female Consumers Trust the Most?
Facebook Gets a Lift
Traveling: Sarah traveled to Hot Springs last weekend for the annual Arkansas Women Bloggers conference (#AWBU) where she was able to gather with a great Tribe of Women bloggers and talk business while strengthening friendships.
Girl Power: An inspiring list of women world-wide making a difference just this month!
Listening: The Fayetteville Roots Festival was last weekend. Our in-house music aficionado Madelynne was able to attend Saturday’s lineup. It’s one of the best weekends in Fayetteville, welcoming the coming autumn and getting down with some great bluegrass roots. This year’s headliners were members of one of Madelynne’s favorite musicians: The Punch Brothers and Sara Watkins of I’m With Her. Check them out on Spotify below. We’ve had them on repeat!
by Madelynne Jones
When a group of geeks gather in a basement, something big is about to happen. Hayseed Ventures hosted its kickoff lecture series in the basement of the old Fayetteville post office building August 19, with Hayseed founder John James, formerly of Acumen brands.
Future dates and speakers will be released via Hayseed’s Facebook page.
James opened the lecture series by speaking about his customer acquisition model.
There are five places to place ads today, James began: search, social, display, re-targeting, and ad buys.
“Don’t even bother with display” James said, crossing it off the list. Banner ads seldom perform on their own, he added. After re-targeting, banners are definitely affective, retaining the customer’s awareness of the product. Cookies should also be dropped after the customer has visited your website. But not directly after or else the customer will be freaked out. The sweet spot, James said, is to send the customer an email shortly after they visited your site (about 10 minutes) and entered their email, and then drop cookies a few days later in banner ads.
James found the sweet spot of adwords back in college, when simple and vague adwords were really cheap. Nowadays that’s a lot harder, he said. He recommends buying more specific words that you can tie to your brand.
For example, when James first started, he could buy a word like “grill” for dirt cheap. This allowed him to buy a cheap word and build a product around it. Anytime someone searched those broad terms, his product was one of the first items the searcher saw. James first cornered the grill market with his brother in the early 2000’s, becoming one of the largest online grill distributors. He repeated success again by discovering the vast and eager-to-purchase demographic behind those searching for “cowboy boots,” “boots” or “red boots.” This demographic–white, middle-aged, country women who liked country music and rodeos–were likely to search and purchase products associated with the adwords he had bought.
Once James captured someone searching for a product and they accessed his site, he then made the site only accessible if they gave an email address. “A lot of people said no one would ever do that (give up their email before entering a site),” James said, “but they did!” This allowed James to have direct contact with a customer’s inbox, their very home online. And it made a huge difference, increasing sales and overall lifetime purchases.
The best way to acquire customers is through emails, James said. His former company, Country Outfitter, a cowboy boots retailer, gained a huge following through email acquisition, which, he said, essentially made the customer offer their “home online address” also known as a personal email, and gave them direct access to customers.
The most difficult part was finding the edge where people will stop opening emails, James said. But then he found new way–through cadence and cascade. Those who were most interested and opened frequently got more emails and deals, those less interested were dropped into an “uninterested/never email me again” pile, James joked. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty big chunk, he said. But those that often open emails are even more likely to make multiple life-time purchases.
James placed most of his trust in a volatile formula which focused on placing a greater value on lifetime purchase value than customer acquisition. After a long explanation of the mechanics behind his formula, James conceded the secret is really in the ratio. “You really want a 1:2.5 ratio of customer acquisition to lifetime value,” James said, meaning one should put more effort into encouraging a lifetime value of customer purchases rather than acquiring customers. A business person should be more concerned about the quality of a loyal customer rather than a quantity of one-purchase customers.
“Your biggest mistake is not having the ratio correct,” James said, “bidding too much on keywords, broad matching keywords, or not tracking your keywords. So often people don’t track what they’re doing.”
Though this model is used for James’ customers, he says he stole it from business-to-business models, which take longer to track and often rely on lead generation and conversion rate, but with clients more so than customers. Follow up is the most import part of the process, James said.
When asked about social network’s role in commerce, James said e-commerce through social networks like Instagram and Pinterest is the next big thing. But right now, it’s a tricky beast that everyone is still trying to figure out.
“Look for arbitrage opportunities,” James said of an overall secret to success. “Find the hole and fill it.”
Louis Patler, PhD., a New York Times best-selling author spoke at the Elevate Performance Speaker Series Tuesday morning at the Fayetteville Pryor Center on Center Street located in quaint downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Patler, a San Francisco native, spoke about innovation within the communications and leadership realm.
Patler works to bring together pioneering technologies for identifying emerging business and consumer trends, organizational culture, and strategic initiatives to Fortune 500 companies, multi-national corporations, and foreign governments.
He serves as the Chairman of Near Bridge Inc., an international consulting, trend analysis, and strategic research company. He has been Director of M Squared Consulting, Inc.(formerly, M Squared Inc.) since January 2002 and serves as a Director of Collabrus, Inc.
His books often delve deep into the data journalism behind emerging trends and practices. Patler’s next book focuses on entrepreneurship through the eyes of surfers, who often ride the literal and metaphorical waves of business.
“We should focus on innovators, rather than innovation,” Patler said at the lecture. Companies and businesses must focus on the character they are developing, rather than the product and idea of innovation.
Alluding to his “surfer’s rule” (the main inspiration behind his next book) Patler said that innovators, in addition to being comfortable with change are also comfortable with metaphors. Thus, why the metaphors of the waves of business are so familiar to surfers. Surfers must be able to anticipate pushback, usually from large 50-foot waves. Entrepreneurs must also be able to anticipate a challenge.
“The more you anticipate pushback, the better you will do,” Patler said.
Innovators must think like a beginner, Patler said. He told a story of his daughter, who was shown a puzzle in her kindergarten class and told her answer was wrong. When asked what letter didn’t belong, she interpreted the cross that intersected a set of letters as a “T” and said that it did not belong. This kind of thinking was simply unconventional and not necessarily incorrect. Patler encourages entrepreneurs to step back and look at the whole picture, and “find the T.”
Most of Patler’s solutions are found through quirky stories like these, in which people think outside the box. Patler believes these stories are what led Steve Jobs to recommend his books.
Patler also stressed the importance of “doing your homework.”
“Many readers don't do their homework or check out the competition,” Patler said. “People get myopic. Innovators that were most successful were able to do the due diligence above and beyond the norm.”
From the beginning, leaders must be able to see the monetary benefits of their success and know how to sell their solutions. Leaders must be able to see all employees and colleagues as innovators, create a culture that encourages and rewards innovation, and align a company of innovators with a culture of innovators, Patler said.
Innovators also must beware of the inevitable fear of chasing an idea, fire hosing from co-workers or bosses, and “sacred cows” or those things that companies are unwilling to part with for the sake of innovation.
By nature, innovators must be sustainable, looking into the future at both the short and long term effects, solutions and resources. They should look to collaborate with those that offer trust, fresh ideas, and harness all available resources.