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Bye 2013. Hello 2014.

Dear 2013.

As I requested, you were nothing like I could have expected, but better than I’d hoped. Thanks for making my head spin, and bringing me back home to my center. I have nothing but gratitude for everything that I’ve received from you this past year.


Dear 2014.

I greet you with open arms. Where I remained open to what 2013 had to show me,  I’ll take what I’ve learned from that year and apply it with focus and clarity in the decisions that I make, and the actions I’ll take. Where 2013 rewarded me for remaining open, you’ll reward me for knowing when to say yes, and when to say no. It’s time to build on the foundation we laid, and create something ambitious in the next 365. 



The Cynefin Framework for Modeling Business Decisions

Tonight, I discovered the Cynefin Framework for decision-making. I recognized intuitively a lot of the lessons that this model illustrates when it comes to analyzing and orienting to properly make decisions and act in a business, or otherwise complicated environment. Prior to watching the video, I could not have articulated any of that intuitive understanding, which really means I didn’t have anywhere close to a full grasp of that intuition yet. If you can’t articulate something, you don’t understand it well enough. 

What struck me as worth noting about the video is the following. 

The Cynefin Model is a sense-making model, not a categorization model. A categorization model would be the typical 2×2 “up and to the right” model that consultants use, where the framework proceeds the data. The categorization model allows you to easily categorize data and make a decision, but the 2×2 model, for example, might not have been appropriate to perform the analysis required to make the right decision. It was rigid, so it made for quick decision-making, but that doesn’t leave room for creative or innovative ways of thinking that are essential to success in business these days.

A sense-making model, like the Cynefin model, is where the data precede the framework. The framework for action and decisions is then allowed to emerge with the data, not the other way around. The inherent assumption with the Cynefin is that a one-size fits all decision-making model may not be sufficient for all problems. With that in mind, we need a model we can use to orient ourselves to the situation at hand, analyze, and act according to model that emerges from data, not the other way around.

This fits in well with the ideas I’m working on about the importance of Social business, because the challenges of Social are creating new situations and challenging that may confound the old ways that large organizations manage and take action. In order to respond to Social, our organizations require new models for decision-making, and my sense is that the Cynefin Framework recognizes the causal differences between systems of action and decision-making, and gives us a structured method to deal with and communicate about ambiguity in a fast-moving, sometimes chaotic environment.

I think that many people are comfortable with the ambiguity, but it’s helpful to have a reputable model that can withstand the rigors of a fast-moving business.

Watch the short video.

I went off the deep end a bit here. 

I still hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Social Media: A Trailing Indicator of Customer Experience

Social Media: A Trailing Indicator of Customer Experience

Contrary to popular belief, customers complain on social media as a last resort. Customers will give your brand the benefit of the doubt before they jump on Twitter, or write one of those scathing Yelp reviews. We want to have a great experience, and don’t see picking a fight on Facebook as the best first option when something goes wrong. We’ll try and contact the brand first. Only when that fails do we get out the megaphone and shout in the commons.

Take Canadian musician Dave Carroll, for example. In 2008, Dave was on a layover a Chicago O’Hare International Airport, flying United Airlines (yep, I’m going there), a company that frankly has spent the last decade or so developing a reputation for less than stellar customer service. Dave was about to become one the most legendary examples of how one moment of poor customer service can impact everything about an organization, including its stock price.

As Dave waited for his connecting flight, he heard a fellow passenger exclaiming that the United baggage handlers were throwing guitars out on the runway. Rightly assuming that they might be trashing his very expensive Taylor guitar, he notified three separate stony-faced United representatives at the gate who did absolutely nothing.

You know where this is going.

Dave arrived at his destination to find his $3,500 Taylor guitar smashed inside the case.

When Dave made his claim on the guitar, United rejected it on a technicality, saying they were not responsible for the damage done to his guitar because he didn’t file his report within 24 hours of the event.

Dave then embarked upon a year-long process to find someone inside United Airlines who would accept some responsibility and buy Dave a new guitar. After a year of working his way through all layers of United Airlines, all he found were people willing to pass the buck.

After a year, Dave was ready to hold United accountable.

He wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars,” posted the music video to YouTube, and stepped back to watch the fireworks.

Buying Dave a new Taylor for $3,500 was about to look like a bargain for United.

The song took off. Within 4 days, the music video had racked up so many YouTube views that United’s stock price fell 10%, costing shareholders right around $180 million.

Suddenly, Dave Carroll’s phone is blowing up with folks from United who want to get a hold of him to remove the video. Too little, too late. Dave didn’t take it down, and the song lives on on YouTube. Today, it has more than 13,000,000 views, a reminder to the company that social media now allows customers to hold them accountable for their customer experience against their future revenue.

The song is so well-known, that it’s become a part of Dave’s online marketing strategy. Google him, and see how much SEO juice is also directed at his hit single.

google dave carroll

Dave’s milked the popularity of a song, and even wrote a book, titled, United Breaks Guitars, which I think I may have to read because it’s about the power of social media and customer experience.

It’s hard to grok the power of a YouTube video to bring a company’s stock down hundreds of millions of dollars in a few days. But it makes sense when you understand that social media allows consumers like Dave the power to tell future customers exactly what the experience of buying from a company is like so that they know whether or not to do business with that company.

For example, here is how Taylor Guitars handled the situation.

Search for any brand on social media, and you’ll get an up to the minute sense of how well they treat their customers. Since organizations cannot massage the messages their customers send, the only way they can ensure that people say nice things about them is to deliver excellent customer experiences every single time.

All this is on my mind, in no small part because I had another set of delayed United Airlines experiences over the weekend.

This was the 4th and 5th time (in a row) that I’ve had minor to massive delays on a United flight. With the amount of flying I do, things are statistically bound to happen, but there was too much of a pattern going on for me to keep quiet.

Because I know what the receiving end of this feels like, I had resisted doing what so many customers do when they have a bad customer experience: I went on social media to rip United.

Their responses (which I assume were robo-tweets) ranged from lame:

To insulting:

To “are you even paying attention?”

It’s clear nobody was paying attention on their social channels, which means they’re missing a huge opportunity to engage and listen to their customers. Social media is an important trailing indicator of your customer experience, and smart brands are aware of this and picking up on it.

[ASIDE: As the social media person for WP Engine, I hope I don’t bring bad karma on myself for yelling at them on Twitter, but frankly, I was at a breaking point, and that’s one of the things social media is good for: allowing customers to hold brands and companies accountable for their service, good and bad. Social media means it’s the first time in history an individual customer had enough leverage to complain and have a company listen.]

Now, no company, no matter how beloved can maintain 100% customer satisfaction with 100% of their customers. There will always be things that can go wrong, and some customers are simply harder to please than others. However, the more a company does to deliver on their brand promises behind the scenes, the more positive things their customers will say about them in public.

It’s easy to identify the organizations that get this. Do a Twitter search for @VirginAmerica for one of my favorite examples. They have testimonials and stories about positive experiences from customers raving about how much they love flying with them. People even tweet about how they’ve actually made an entertaining pre-flight safety video. Customers are delighted with the entire Virgin experience, and they aren’t shy about saying it.

What’s more, the whole organization “gets it.” Earlier this year, I met a Virgin America pilot wearing Google Glass who now follows me on Twitter.

As more and more consumers continue to adopt social, more and more brands will realize that they can use social as a way to measure sentiment, and evaluate how empowered their staff are to thrill customers. An accurate picture of an organization’s customer experience, either positive like Virgin, or negative like United, will take shape over time on social media.

More succinctly: social media is a trailing indicator of your organization’s customer experience.

Organizations that get this, empower their employees with the latitude to deliver excellent customer interactions, and to engage with their customers on social media.

Customers like Dave Carroll don’t show up at the airport itching unleash social media wrath on their airlines. But they will if monolithic company processes restrict employees from taking initiative to solve the customer’s pain. United Airlines isn’t made up of a bunch of heartless robots who wanted customers like Dave to have broken guitars.

But the company is made up of antiquated processes that leave very little room for employees to take initiative and over-deliver for an unhappy customer. Those antiquated processes don’t take into account how social media gives individual customers leverage against a billion-dollar company. They also don’t take into account how powerfully social word of mouth affects purchase decisions.

Some Metrics to Drive This Home

According to Nielsen, 70% of consumers will trust the independent opinion of online strangers that they haven’t met, and 92% trust the opinion of people they know. What’s more, we’ve seen consumer trust in earned media, like social, increase 18% since 2007. Those numbers mean that customers are beginning to believe that social media will show them exactly what it’s like to buy from you, and they are using social to guide their purchase decisions.

If you’re not actively monitoring and tracking your customer experience on social media, you should start yesterday. In this era, social media should help organizations differentiate themselves, not by broadcasting their message, but by showing customers that they care. Social media gives you a channel to listen and begin tracking your social customer experience metrics. Once you’ve got those metrics in a spreadsheet, suddenly you have the power to make improvements across the entire organization to affect everything from customer cost to acquire, retention, support, in addition to marketing and branding.

What Can You Do?

Here’s a list of metrics and questions and that will give you a place to start thinking about your company’s social media presence, and help you identify ways to improve your customer experience.

Compare the number of positive interactions to the number of negative interactions on social. Are testimonials more common than complaints?

  • How many social conversations per week are you having?
  • Which social networks are your customers most active on?
  • How often do your customers use social media to get support? To complain?
  • How many social referrals do you get each week?
  • Do customers interact with your brand about more than just your product? Do they tweet photos wearing your swag, make inside jokes, or create memes about your product? If not, there’s a good chance they don’t love you as much as they could.
  • Will current customers stand up for you on social, or do they pile on when someone has a problem?
  • How frequently do customers engage on social?
  • When customers need support on social, how quickly do you respond?

I’d love to read more about these in the comments. The first step is simply to begin measuring what you see your customers doing on social media each week. Only after you have a picture of their normal behavior should you worry about coming up with a plan of action that will help you increase positive interactions, and decrease negative ones.

I’ll be digging into those topics in future blog posts. For example, there are ways to increase positive social interactions, and encourage testimonials by socially rewarding your customers for interacting with you positively to on social media by featuring their positive posts, and making sure they know you *hear* their negative tweets, which are meant to be constructive.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence is Still Progress

conscious incompetence on the horizon

Last year, I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla Roadster around Austin. I remember being absolutely blown away by the power of the car, and feeling eager to see what it was capable of, and to milk this rare experience for all the joy I could. Never mind, I didn’t have much experience driving high-performance super cars to get behind the wheel with as much earnest as I did. I just wanted to push the cars limits.

You know where this is going. I almost wrecked the car, and didn’t realize how close I came until later.

Supercars, like the Tesla, push a lot of power (torque) to the rear wheels, which allows the car to get up and go incredibly fast. The more power, the easier to make the tires spin, burn rubber, and lose traction if you press the accelerator to the floor.

But if you spin the tires as you go into a turn, the rear wheels can lose grip and send the car into a tailspin.

Fortunately, all modern sports cars have a safety feature called “dynamic traction control,” or “dynamic skid control.” Basically, there are computers and sensors plugged into the tires of the car that monitor when the driver is at risk of losing control of the vehicle. If you start to spin the wheels, the computers reduce the torque to the rear wheels so they don’t lose traction, and you stay on the road instead of wrapping the car around a pole.

If you lose control of the car, something like this can happen.

You’ll never guess what I do almost as soon as I hop in the Tesla.

I floor it around a corner in a West Austin neighborhood. My margin for error was about 18 feet across to the other side of the street where someone had parked a Volvo. Of course, nothing happened because the Tesla had skid control on and protected me from the $130,000 catastrophe I was a few foot pounds of torque away from.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and it almost burned me.

After driving my MX-5 in the rain enough – which has a much smaller engine, but is light and can easily go into a fishtail – I have a lot more respect for the nuance and control needed to drive a powerful car like the Tesla Roadster.

Ignorance in Business can be just as dangerous

In the last 6 months, I’ve begun to learn how much I don’t know about business and startups. The shape of my own ignorance is revealing itself to me. As if the sun were rising to reveal a new point on the horizon that had appeared suddenly the night before. It’s still far off, but I can see what I couldn’t 6 months ago.

I can’t yet describe it to you here. It’s still nebulous. But I know there is something for me to learn. There is evidence all around in the incredible effects of knowledge and experience from the new folks who are joining our company. Their experience, put to work, is having an incredible impact, and it’s clear that they are bringing things to the table completely unique to their experience and superpowers. And I wasn’t even aware of what was possible before they came on board.

Writing this down makes me think, “Well duh, Austin. Of course other people who have worked in startups longer than you have more experience to bring to the table.” All the same, it’s amazing to see the effects of their work and to admire the accomplishments of the team that wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t working together. I’ll confess that I a few months ago, I didn’t have much perspective about what could be possible. That ignorance could have gotten me in trouble.

This is encouraging. Despite the seemingly dispiriting dawn of awareness of my own ignorance, it actually means that I am making progress. When we are still unaware of it, our ignorance can be dangerous if we act as if we are totally in control. We can climb out of the Tesla without realizing how close we came to wrapping it around a station wagon.

I take heart in the knowledge that beginning to identify the shape of my own ignorance is a good sign of progress. I suppose it’s the classic process of “unconscious incompetence” transforming itself into “conscious incompetence” hard at work inside of me. Hopefully “conscious competence” is on the horizon soon.

As I reflect on what we’ve all had the chance to witness at the company in the past 6-8 months, all the growth, maturity, and progress that has been made as a result of the amazing leadership we’re bringing in, I find myself in awe of what excellence looks like, and in awe of how I basically had zero concept of the vision our executive team could bring to bear, and in such a short period of time. It’s a testament to their skill and experience that the company continues to live up to its promise, and exceed expectations.

The post isn’t really about what the people I get to work with are able to accomplish, other than to celebrate them as an example of high-achievers who serve as a horizon-broadening example of amazing vision, as well as what excellence and execution look like.

Instead, this blog post is mostly a way for me to publicly confess my own ignorance, in recognition of how much there is to learn. And then to remind myself that staying willing to learn means we can keep making progress day after day.

One of my beliefs is that if you have the ability to visualize something you want to achieve, then your mind has the capacity to achieve it. I don’t believe as humans we are able to conceive of things we cannot achieve. When we begin to recognize our own ignorance, it means we are beginning to identify the steps between where we are and where we want to be.

And as long as we don’t burn ourselves too bad along the way – and don’t crash $130,000 supercars – chances are, we’ll achieve what we’re after.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter





Hiring a Social Media Rep? Here are 6 Qualities to Look For

Recently, I’ve had several folks ask me what it takes to hire someone to manage and direct their digital, social, and content marketing. They’ve been trying to hire someone who can naturally do the top of the funnel and branding work that connects markets with customers to companies with products.

I’m always really happy to get one of these questions, because sometimes the content and social can be ignored. Not every company realizes how much time is invested into developing a strong brand on social media. It’s just Facebook and Twitter, right? How hard is it to set up?

“Social” tends to have a problem developing credibility inside of a large organization. As  my friend Chris Heuer put it on Brian Solis’ blog recently:

“The problem [with calling it “social” business] is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit.”

I agree with the branding problem that the word “social” has in a professional environment. I constantly feel a cultural pull against calling anything I do “social media.” The word social doesn’t seem to endow my work with much credibility. What’s “social” about what happens in a successful, well-oiled company? Isn’t it serious business? Aren’t we supposed to sit quietly behind our cubicle walls and stare dutifully at our spreadsheets?

In the same blog post, Chris goes on and explains exactly what effective “social businesses” accomplish, and why cutting-edge companies see the value and are incorporating people who can execute these strategies into their ranks:

“By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization. By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with our peers and our clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo.”

Authenticity and transparency create trust with partners and clients. Social media gives organizations the means to connect readily with customers 24/7, and it turns out customers like being connected with the companies they buy things from.

Social media can become the front door for your organization. Every conceivable relationship, from support, to sales, to partnerships, to VIP relationships can and will begin on social media. Every tweet is an opportunity, and every like has significance.

But it takes a unique sort of person to thrive on managing the volume of interaction happening via those social channels. It’s hard to find a pre-existing job description that calls out to that person who wants to manage all those conversations.

Once Facebook and Twitter are set up, and you begin to build an audience, how should you begin to look for that communicator to put at the helm of your social presence? Here’s a list of qualities to look for in your Digital / Social Media / Community person to get you started.

1. Takes initiative to develop relationships

Social media is a channel where opportunities walk in the door all the time. Every person who interacts with your brand has their own following, their own relationships, and their own sphere of influence. In my career, Twitter has put me in contact with everyone from venture capitalists, Fortune 500 CEOs, influential bloggers. Done right, those initial interactions on social bring influential people in your front door to stay.

Because social media is a low-investment medium, it’s easier to begin a relationship on social than via email or a cold call. For example, 140 characters is “cheap” in terms of the opportunity costs for someone of influence to make contact with you, or for you to make contact with them.

140 characters takes 20 seconds to read – no big deal. On the one hand, that makes social a trivial medium, something you take as seriously as reality TV. On the other hand, because it’s a trivial medium, it’s easier for a potential customer to reach out than picking up the phone. And if you reach out to them, they’re less likely to ignore you, because, hell, it’s only 140 characters.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how social media can generate hundreds of tiny connections with your customers and your audience every day. That’s hundreds of tiny opportunities to connect with the folks who are the true lifeblood of your business – your customers. The best community people are born with an innate ability to take the smallest connection with an influencer,and turn it into a long-term relationship that benefits all involved. That’s the person you want at your organization’s front door.

2. Is a natural evangelist and self-promoter

A self-promoter is never off the clock. They’re always selling you on their new venture, or the new fad they’re into We all know that guy who never shuts up until you’ve tried whatever it is they’ve discovered that week.

A confession: In my social circles, I’m usually that guy.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about yerba maté, a South American tea that I drink instead of coffee. Maté has a number of health benefits that I obsessively researched, and shared in the blog post. I wanted to share the tea with my followers because I believe it’s superior than drinking coffee in almost every way, and I backed it up with evidence that I had after months of researching the tea when I first started drinking it.

In the month after I shared the blog post, two-dozen people tweeted and shared Facebook photos of themselves buying the brand of yerba maté I recommended to them. It was a simple post promoting a seemingly trivial part of my lifestyle, but I cared about sharing it with the readers of my blog, who took action and spent money based on my recommendation.

You want to find someone who naturally promotes the things that they’re passionate about. They can’t help but share things that they think are cool with everyone who will listen. If you have an amazing product, and customer experience, they won’t be able to sharing their passion about the company mission they get to be part of, and they’ll find ways to share it in almost every interaction that they have.

3. Is self-aware enough to build trust

The flip-side of being a good self-promoter is being self-aware. Self-awareness combats the negative connotation that comes with being known as a “self-promoter.” Usually the person who earns that title incessantly repeats the same elevator pitch to you every time you talk. They don’t know when to just shut up. You sort of hate them.

The truth is, effective promotion is rarely about being the loudest, or even the most persistent about delivering a message. The loudest, most incessant people on social media are the ones who get blocked the fastest.

In reality, the most successful self-promoters I know are aware that evangelizing an idea starts with developing trust first, and they know trust is earned over time. Earning your audience’s trust means when you recommend something, they’re likely to take you at your word. World-class community evangelists have a natural awareness of when to talk and when to listen. They *just know* when they’ve build up a cache of trust with your audience, and can ask for a testimonial, or send them to a salesperson.

4. Loves people…at scale

Social media, is just that: Social interactions, but at scale.

Over time your social media channels will become non-stop conversations. Everything from testimonials, to customer support, to sales questions, to partnership interactions will come in via social media. For a very long time, I’ve had all those interactions pushed directly to my smartphone. In effect, that means that every customer our organizations works with has the ability to text me 24/7. I love the work we do, so it doesn’t *feel* as much like work to me, but if you’re thinking “perish the thought” I don’t blame you.

Imagine 10,000+ customers, each of whom has a direct line to your cell phone. Social media doesn’t have a shut-off valve. You can’t clock out. If your customers can interact with your product 24/7, they’ll find a reason to tweet you 24/7.  Even when I’m technically “done for the day,” I keep my phone on me in case one of our customers needs help. I want to be there for them. The pre-eminent example of this is Rob La Gesse, who leads the customer support at Rackspace. He’s famous for giving out his cellphone number to customers on his Twitter profile. Frankly, I believe he sincerely loves every time they give him a call.

Life is too short to be the social media person and not love working with customers to ensure their success.

5. They know how to sell, but they don’t have a need to

Everyone needs to buy stuff, but nobody wants to be sold. If you can avoid dealing with a salesperson, you usually do. If there’s a self-service option, more and more customers will take it.  A recent study by Google and CEB found that today’s business buyers are making their way through 57% of the purchase process before they ever reach out to a sales person. That means Google is finding 57% of the information your customers need to buy rather than your sales team.

It doesn’t matter if the question is answered in a blog, or on Twitter, it just needs to be indexed in Google for a customer to find. But social media is almost never an appropriate place to close a sale, so the person manning the Twitter account needs to know the difference between “selling” and “helping someone buy.”

Content marketing and social media is essential to help potential customers answer their own questions, and qualify themselves as potential customers. This means that by the time your sales team ever connects with a prospect, your content and social team have had a huge opportunity to warm them up for the sale. Unless it’s an enterprise sale, by the time a customer calls in, they should have their credit card in-hand.

6. Their writing and “social work” shows up everywhere

The final thing to always look for in good community people is that they’re putting their work out there on the internet. If I were hiring someone to manage my social channels, and they didn’t have a decent body of work that you can find with a simple Google search, then I would immediately begin to question them.

This ties into the idea that your social media person should be a self-promoting sort of person. They’ve naturally got ideas, and the creative energy to launch them into the wild, you’re just harnessing and focusing that energy within your product.

So while you’re on Google, match the sort of work they naturally do with the social networks where your company needs to develop its presence.

If you’re doing technology sales, or have a need for social customer service, Twitter and Facebook are going to be two of your major networks. Look for their followings on both networks, and look for an active blog where you can evaluate their writing. If you’re a consumer brand, you’ll probably be on Instagram and Pinterest because those give you the best opportunity to showcase your products. Look for folks who have active accounts there. Each social network develops its own etiquette and social mores – the natives can tell when you’re new and when you’re native.


I’m hoping to expand on this list in the next few months, so please feel free to weigh in with your own ideas and suggestions for what makes a good Social / Digital / Community evangelist. There needs to be a good resource for organizations looking to hire these folks, and for these folks who are looking to be hired.

And yes, if you disagree with any of the above, please do let me know as well.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


Relationship Remnants

As I was making breakfast this morning (I make a fairly consistent breakfast every day), I was struck by the fact that I basically inherited the contents of the food I was preparing from an ex-girlfriend. It seemed like a funny thing for me to continue carrying on from a previous relationship, but there I was preparing the same thing she would make for me. It’s a protein-heavy, paleo-inspired thing she concocted for me one weekend: turkey bacon, corn tortillas, spinach, and refried black beans. I loved it then, and I still love it today, breakup or no.

It’s not about the meal. The meal is trivial, but it’s a meal that is unmistakably her contribution to my life. And it’s a contribution that I revisit almost every day. I did not go to work or go about my business without carrying a piece of what she gave to me at every step.

It made me think that every relationship is like that. Every smile, intimacy and trust we share with someone creates trails of their gifts to us whether we like that or not.

The breakfast I make is unmistakably hers, and so I think about the relationship from time to time while it cooks. If it weren’t for those reminders, I’d not think to remember the past that way. As it stands, this morning, I got this picture of what my life looks like as a result of our time together. The meal is a symbol of a reality that I cannot escape. As painful as a breakup can be, and as much as you can sometimes hate a person or never want to speak with them again, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice all these pieces of what you shared lying around that you’re actually really happy to have. They remind you that the relationship was rich, and lots of it, you wouldn’t trade for almost anything.

Of course breakfast isn’t the thing I took away from being with her. It’s just a symbol of all the things I learned, but wouldn’t otherwise remember. I learned how to start loving myself then, but that’s not something any of us think about every day. I just notice that I’m a better person, and more at peace today than I was 2 years ago. I know how to express myself better in a fight. I’m not as quick to run away from my emotions.

There’s a million things like that, which represent the love we shared.

Listening to the bacon cook, I was taking this all in and thinking about the relationships that I have had and will have in my life. How will the women that I connect with continue to leave traces of themselves in my life. Will I be as pleased to discover them as I am to find hair on my pillow, or notes on my mirror? Will I look back on a particular event in a relationship and wish it gone completely? Will a mistake that I make turn every reminder into a dagger?

Of course, this is true not just for all of us, and not just the people we allow ourselves to fall in love with. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve made some amazing friends. They’ve all brought new things into my life, and I’m quite sure that I won’t recognize many contributions for what they are until I’m making a new breakfast or ordering a drink that someone introduced me to. And then that act will serve as a reminder of the part of that person that they gave freely.

All this made me realize that we never really know in advance what gifts someone will bring to us. And once those gifts have been given, it’s impossible for them to be taken back. That relationship has ended, and new ones have taken its place, and I’m the product of all of them along the way.

It’s a great mystery worth celebrating how someone will affect us. From the people we work with to the friends we get drunk with to the lovers we share intimate moments with.

As I was thinking about that, I realized that my heart was full and my life was beautiful. I had nothing to take for granted, but everything to share. Hopefully I’ll be remembered fondly along the way as well.

Hopefully we all will.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Presentation: Building Something your Users Want to Buy (Video)

This talk is a version of the post I wrote on Smashing Mag called “Building Something Your Users Actually Want to Buy.” It’s an application of Nir Eyal‘s Hooked Framework, using it to design a process to interview customers and validate a product idea prior to investing time and energy in development. It’s not a new idea, I’ve pulled from several very good sources, in addition to Nir to put the process together.

The basic idea is that habit-forming products like Facebook and Instagram send users through the same 4 step process over and over again on their way to becoming a part of the user’s life.

  1. The Trigger
  2. The Action
  3. Variable Rewards
  4. Commitment / Investment

The way that I’ve broken the Hooked Model down offers a repeatable process to evaluate how well a product idea will satisfy each of the four steps, and drive the user into multiple iterations of the model, and ideally bring them back to use your product happily again and again.

You can grab the slides here.

Drinking Yerba Maté over Coffee


Yerba Mate over Coffee

Che Guevara Knows

During college, I all but refused to drink coffee. The only exception I made was during finals week when I was pushing myself writing papers and taking exams. The rest of the year, I could spring out of bed as soon as my alarm went off, and I didn’t see the need for coffee.

Philosophically, I wanted to make sure I was using caffeine as a tool rather than a crutch. I figured that I’d get more out of my caffeine intake if I drank it only a few times a year. I’d consume it intensely during finals week and then suffer a mild headache for a day or two during winter break as I weaned myself back off.

I remember watching friends of mine at 18, 19, 20 years old nursing giant Starbucks cups every morning, and I thought it was lame to have what I thought at the time was a crippling addiction. Yes, it’s definitely a physiological addiction that I now share with my former classmates, but I find it a bit less crippling in hindsight.

Discovering Yerba Maté in South America

I maintained my “no caffeine” discipline until my second stint living in Latin America. In 2007, I spent 6 months in Santiago, Chile, and came back with a habit for the South American traditional tea, Yerba Maté. It wasn’t until I started drinking Maté that I finally succumbed to a caffeine habit. When I came back to the US, I had a few friends that I would drink Maté with who had also lived in South America, so I had the right social reinforcement to reinforce the behavior. I would get up in the morning, pack the Maté gourd with about an ounce of tea, wait for the water to boil, and then get to drinking it. I’d go through 2-3 32 oz thermoses of hot water, and 2-3 oz of tea every day.

And as I drank Maté more and more, I noticed that my memory and recall were increasing dramatically. My ability to remember and apply the research I was doing at the time for my senior honors thesis improved dramatically on the Maté. It was like somebody lent me 20 extra IQ points every time I brewed the tea.

Using the mental performance as a justification, I started letting Yerba Maté become a part of my life and my routine, and I got a bit obsessed about why I felt so much better drinking it than I ever did drinking coffee. I wanted to know why it was so much more effective. Turns out there are a series of ingredients in Maté that coffee just doesn’t have, including three different types of caffeines.

Nerdy Stuff: The Xanthine Stimulants

Caffeine belongs to a chemical subset of xanthines, organic chemical stimulants. There are three major sources of xanthines in a typical Western diet: coffee, tea, and chocolate.

  • Coffee has caffeine. Turns out, all caffeine does is keep you awake. It doesn’t actually help you think more clearly or anything of note. But if you need to feel awake, it will do the trick.
  • Chocolate has theobromine. Theobromine is the awesome stuff in chocolate that makes you feel somewhat euphoric after you eat some. It’s also a stimulant, and increases heart rate, but isn’t as addictive as caffeine, nor is it quite as extreme on your adrenal system.
  • Tea has theophylline. Theophylline is a strong mental stimulant that occurs in most teas, and does good things for your brain and ability to focus. Again, not as hard on your adrenal system.

The Unholy Stimulant Trinity

All three of those xanthines occur naturally in Yerba Maté. I like to say that it contains the unholy trinity of stimulants. One of the things that I noticed after drinking Maté for a while was that I never got jittery like I would when I drank too much coffee. If you drank too much Maté, you’d get amped up, but you could eat some carbs or drink a little red wine to tone it down pretty quickly. Maté made it really easy to control and optimize my physical and mental state. Plus, I could drink it all night while I was writing, and as soon as I was ready to sleep, it didn’t keep me awake.

Part of the reason that you don’t get jittery on the stuff is because it contains 15 amino acids and 24 vitamins and minerals. It’s nutritious, as far as stimulants go, which I feel like helps balance the stimulants out as they metabolize. The real money shot is that Maté contains significant levels of magnesium, which relaxes your muscle tissue. So while the xanthines are at work spiking your mind’s potential, and giving you pleasant feeling of dark-chocolate euphoria, the magnesium is working to relax your muscle tissue, driving stress from your body. You get the best of both worlds: an alert mind, as well as a relaxed body.

Yes. They do call Maté a superfood.

Today, I still make a big batch of Maté every morning. I stopped using my gourd a few years back because I got a fancy consulting job where I had to wear slacks and stuff every day, and they didn’t appreciate the international flavor of drinking Maté straight out of a gourd in the office. I started making it in a French Press and pouring in a big thermos that could just as easy hold coffee.

Today, I’ll fill the thermos with Maté and then add a tablespoon or two of local honey. It lasts between one hour and right up till lunchtime.


The best part is that I don’t have major addictive issues with Maté. If I don’t drink any for a few days, I don’t notice much of a headache until about the third day, and that lasts an hour or two. It makes it easy to cycle-on and cycle-off when I want to cleanse myself from caffeine. That also appeals to my philosophical need to not be chained to a chemical addiction that doesn’t add to my daily functioning.

Get it.

I have a couple of sources for Yerba Maté, and I typically mailorder it by the kilo(gram). No, the reason is NOT because it’s fun to have a package arrive and tell people that your kilos from South America have finally arrived.

Canarias from – This is far and away my favorite Maté brand. It’s a very traditional Uruguayan brand that is super full flavored. In college, I’d order about 50 lbs of this stuff at a time, and go through all of it in 3-4 months.

Nativa or Guayaki at Whole Foods – The link I’ve shared has Yerba Maté in a bottle, just like the iced coffees that Starbucks will sell you. I love those in a pinch when I can’t make my own tea. However, I’d still recommend you buy a big bag of it and make the Maté in a French Press. It’s easy and more cost-effective. A pound of espresso costs anywhere from $8-$15, and 2 pounds of Maté will run you about $12. The Maté will last you for a good bit longer than the espresso will, even if you drink as much as I do.

Don’t get me wrong. I love drinking espresso. When I’m out and about, or having an early breakfast with someone, you’ll see me drinking a cappuccino with my meal. After living in SF long enough, I’ve developed a taste for good coffee. Espresso is delicious, and Matè can be hard to find in most restaurants.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re a fellow Yerba Maté drinker. If you live in SF, we’ll have to get together and make a batch.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


Your customer experience begins on Twitter

Every time I go to a conference, there is a long list of people that I’m planning on meeting and connecting with for the first time. A big goal of every conference I attend is to create new relationships of value with folks in my industry, and I work hard to maximize that value by careful research before the conference starts.

Before I ever step foot at the conference venue and into physical proximity of those people I’m hoping to meet, I make a point of doing as much research as possible. This usually involves asking people in my network what they can tell me about those folks I plan to connect with. What are they like in person? What are their values? How much should I invest in them? And on.

Doing a bit of advance research makes it much easier to create real connections between folks that I look up to and want to collaborate with.

Of course, the other thing that I do is look them up on social media. What people share on Twitter and Facebook will tell you a lot about what they do and think. You can also get a sense for how much value they provide to their communities by the way they give back on social media. An online presence has become the new first impression, which is often simply confirmed when you actually meet in person.

We can spend 2o minutes on our computers doing research without ever having to talk to the person in real life. Social media is a frictionless way to get to know someone.

Your Brand’s First Impression is on Social

Of course, companies and brands make the same first impressions on social media, and consumers do the same online research. Doing a little research of a company on Twitter is easier than calling them up to talk with a sales rep. The sales rep is going to have an agenda, but the Twitter account isn’t. Customers want to learn about your company in the simplest way possible. As much as possible, they want to draw their own conclusions about whether or not to buy. Social media gives them this simple way to learn about your company before engaging your sales process.

It’s no wonder that, according to Google, customers have gone through 57% of the sales funnel before they ever engage a sales person. Today, customers have access to all sorts of information via their computers and smartphones that they had to engage a salesperson for a decade ago. This empowers customers them to test-drive the customer experience of your company without first becoming a customer.

In the same way that you or I want to do research on one another before we meet and greet at a conference, customers want to learn as much as possible about your company and your product before they even consider buying from you. And they want to learn about you out in the wild, where you can’t carefully control the experience and the message.

In other words, they want the honest truth about your company, not the party line.

This isn’t a trend that we can fight. Nor should we. In fact, as marketers (and we are all marketers in this age), we can seize this trend as an opportunity and provide breadcrumbs of content and digital marketing that make it easy for customers to build relationships with us from their first interactions on social media.

Customers are looking for information about us online. It’s our responsibility to give it to them. If we don’t someone else will.

Elements of your Customer Experience

There’s nothing worse than navigating over to a company’s blog or Twitter handle to find nobody is home. If that happens, people are likely to leave and not become customers.

You need to keep a constant stream of content flowing for them.

It’s important that you have a carefully produced strategy that articulates which aspects of your customer experience you want to share with your customers. You have the opportunity to highlight the best parts of doing business with you and nudge the customer closer to a sale with every tweet and every blog post. Here’s a few things you want shared in your digital marketing:

  1. Company Values – Now, more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that share their values. Make it painfully obvious what yours are, and you’ll draw the right customers in.
  2. The Support Experience – Companies have different styles of support, but consumers are increasingly taking to social media with support concerns before they ever pick up the phone or send an email. Make sure that you provide the same level of support on social that you do elsewhere.
  3. Thought Leadership – How is your company leading the innovation and growth in the marketplace? Keep a constant stream of blog posts coming that illustrate this.
  4. Community Engagement – Does your company give back to its community? Share those experiences on social media, and engage with key community members who are social media savvy as well.
  5. Humor – Social media is a fantastic place to let customers know your company has a healthy sense of humor, so let your hair down a bit.
  6. Your Product – Are you sharing content that is related to your product and its benefits? Relevant news surrounding your industry develops massive credibility over time. Fashion brands should talk about new releases; API Platforms should talk about industry developments; Open-source companies should share the latest community news.

Think about the different ways you can share this sort of content with your users, and the people in your company who are well-placed to produce this sort of content. It can make all the difference between a sale and striking out.

I remember the first time a girl I was dating told me her friends had decided to Google me after our second or third date. She told me the story with a bit of pride in her voice because when her friends put “Austin Gunter” into Google, they saw pages of results that had my face on them. My status went up immediately because I had already done the work to create breadcrumbs of “competency” that her girlfriends could follow to the obvious conclusion that I was a guy worth dating.

Of course, I’d done all that work to impress future employers, but I knew that it would work to impress future girlfriends as well. Now I had proof.

Go forth, Tweet, and impress your customers.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Life itself is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. Intellectually this is very frustrating.

Non-linear logic

To “make sense” has ordinarily meant to be definable in terms that are linear – logical and rational. But the process, and therefor the experience, of life itself, is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. This is the source of man’s inescapable intellectual frustration.

-David R. Hawkins, M.D. PhD, from Power vs. Force, the hidden determinants of human behavior

There are two different ways that human beings draw conclusions. By deductive reasoning, which involves a step-by-step, sequential process of applying specific forms of logic to rationally arrive at a single conclusion based on observable evidence and “facts.” We may also arrive at conclusions via inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning springs upon us in the shower, or somewhere between the first gin and tonic and the second. It’s the sort of reasoning that happens completely out of order, at the unconscious level. We are aware of the truth of our conclusion, but sequential backtracking may not happen immediately.

Those among us who one might describe as intuitive are familiar with the second form of reasoning, and the frustrations that come along with trying to explain something when the rationale behind an idea arose from the ether.

Malcolm Gladwell’s research in his book, Blink, describes this phenomenon of when we arrive at the conclusion in an instant, and then must spend arduous months retracing our steps to find proof.

As people in business, I find that deductive proof is often the most valuable currency available to us in meetings and business deals. Despite this reality, however I spend hours every week meditating. Sometimes my brain surprises me with great ideas when I’m least expecting it.