Ways to Trick Out Your Startup’s Office Environment

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Last week we showed you some of the startup world’s most creative office spaces. These colorful environments with airy floor plans and comfortable conference rooms put the cubicle to shame — but before you start shelling out for employee skate parks and rock climbing walls, consider that not all office luxuries will serve your workspace equally well.

Mashable spoke with several startup employees to find out what they loved about their unconventional office spaces, and the results were fairly unanimous: An open floor plan and quirky extras encourage communication, collaboration and general satisfaction far more than cramped cubicles.

“The more comfortable our employees feel in the office environment, the more comfortable they are to speak up and share their opinions and insights with the team,” ZocDoc CFO Netta Samroengraja says in an e-mail.

Most startups have certain crucial design elements in common. These include employee lounge areas with cozy seating and colorful accents, snack-filled kitchens where employees can chat as they refuel and TV monitors used for everything from video-conferencing to gaming.

Startups with enough square footage also tend to shell out for recreational spaces — ZocDoc has a game room outfitted with beanbag chairs, a ping-pong table and an acoustic guitar — that contribute to a playful work environment that’s not just about punching the clock.

Some office add-ons will make sense for only a small segment of businesses; TastingTable, for instance, rents a test kitchen and dining room staffed with two full-time chefs near its SoHo offices. The extra kitchen space is a boon for the food-and-drink newsletter, but is probably a less prudent investment for a software firm.

At Zazzle’s sprawling Redwood City headquarters, everything from the communal desks to the wallpaper was custom-made to reflect the company’s design-it-yourself ethic, according to co-founder and CTO Bobby Beaver. Likewise, Etsy takes a DIY approach to office design with colorful knickknacks, quilts and plushies, all made by Etsy sellers. “My apartment is so boring compared to the office,” says Sarah Starpoli, Etsy’s Employment Experience Manager.

Quirky office additions such as HowAboutWe’s popcorn machine — which one employee assures us is regularly put to good use — or Zazzle’s ping-pong table may not rank as “strictly necessary” for your startup, but they undoubtedly contribute to a more welcoming work environment. “Go to your local IRS office to get a taste of the dark side of an office landscape,”Squarespace’s director of interface, Michael Heilemann, suggests.

There is, however, a fine line between a morale-boosting office perk and a misallocation of your startup’s precious funds. So, when you’re decorating that new exposed-brick loft space, go the more sensible route and avoid the 10 extravagant accessories in the gallery below — ball pits, bike repair shops and Bengal tigers are on the list — that only Google and Facebook can really afford, at least until you’ve made your first million.


Your Favourite Moments in 2013 are Highlighted in Facebook

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Last year, Facebook gave users their own personal Year in Review. This year, the social network is turning the spotlight on users’ friends.

Facebook added a separate Year in Review feature that highlights the top 30 moments and life events from users’ Facebook friends.

SEE ALSO: What Does Facebook Profile Tell Us About You

Users can check out their own Year in Review by clicking on a “See Your 2013 Year in Review” button located below their profile picture. Once a user is at their own Year in Review page, they can click on a button labeled “Your Friends in 2013” to see the top moments from their Facebook friends.

Facebook uses a different algorithm than the one that surfaces News Feed content. The Year in Review is made up exclusively of “life events and popular posts,” according to a spokesperson. The “popular posts” are determined based on engagement like comments and Likes.

Users can also click on images of their friends featured at the top of the page in order to see that friend’s personal collection of moments and posts. If a friend visits your Year in Review page, they will only be able to see the moments and posts that were shared with them throughout the year.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

How to Slant Yourself as Handy in Media

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A friend of mine recently called and said she was about to draft a pitch promoting herself as a food expert to several broadcast outlets. She asked if I would take a look once she was done. Several days later, her email popped up. The subject? “This feels so weird.”

You don’t need to be a PR expert to know that it’s much easier to tout a product than it is to tout yourself. But if you’re just getting your company, business or blog up and running, you likely don’t have the resources to recruit a full-time PR person or agency support. Which leaves the PRing — along with most other things — to you.

VISIT ALSO: Innovating a Ample Startups Name

As a PR professional who has happily pitched clients’ products and uncomfortably pitched my own brain, I can tell you: It doesn’t ever stop feeling weird. But it does get easier. If you’re struggling with how to promote yourself, keep these tips in mind.

Be Professional,

Pitching yourself will likely evoke a whole spectrum of emotions, but when it comes to the actual pitch, keep it business-appropriate. Most importantly: Don’t be overly casual (or no one will take you seriously), don’t be too verbose (or no one will read your email), and don’t be rude, arrogant, or obnoxiously self-promotional.

This may sound obvious, but there’s an important differentiation between pitching yourself and pitching a product: When you’re pitching yourself,

the booking producer not only needs to like what you have to say. He also needs to like you.

Back it Up,

If you’re new on the speaking circuit or just looking to book your first interview, you’re going to need to really convince the booking producer or journalist that you’ve got the smarts they’re looking for. So beyond introducing yourself and your expertise, include relevant stats, articles and anecdotes to support your narrative. Explain what differentiates your expertise from other people talking about a similar subject — maybe it’s the research you’ve recently conducted or the access you have to key influencers in the industry — as well as why your expertise is especially relevant to the outlet you’re pitching.

Each pitch differs, but here’s a general framework to consider:

  • In 2-3 sentences, introduce who you are, your expertise and what you’re pitching (e.g., to be considered for future food segments on the Today Show).
  • Add 2-5 bullet points about why your narrative is relevant, compelling and timely.
  • Add 1-2 sentences about why you’re perfectly positioned to be talking about this subject to this specific outlet.
  • Add a brief bio with your high-level accomplishments, your availability and ways for people to reach you.

Be Confident,

No matter what your expertise, there are likely topics or themes within that industry that you’re not as well-versed on as others. If you’re a food expert, like my friend, you may not be as knowledgeable about French cuisine as you are about Italian. Maybe your vegetarian recipes are lacking. But here’s the deal: No one needs to know that but you.

When pitching yourself as an expert, you need to convince whomever you’re pitching that you are, actually, an expert. So tell your various and wide-ranging insecurities to shush, and put forward your smartest, most confident self.

But Don’t Oversell,

Remember that confirming an interview is not the end game — successfully promoting your brand is. So while you want to come across as confident and knowledgeable, you don’t want to B.S. your whole pitch. If you do, you’re only going to end up hurting your reputation — and future opportunities — by sounding silly on-air or getting blacklisted by the booking department. Instead, give yourself a bit more time to get up to speed on your industry.

Be Prepared,

Once you send that pitch out, consider yourself on-call — especially when pitching yourself to broadcast outlets. One way to not make friends with the booking department? Pitch yourself as an expert on a story, like the government shutdown, and then not make yourself available for interviews while the government is actually shut down.

Also, make sure you’re 110% comfortable and ready to speak on whatever information you include in your pitch. If there are stats you cite, make sure they’re legitimate. If you’re offering exclusive information to one outlet, don’t talk to any other reporters about it. You want people to be impressed by what you’re offering and then more impressed once they meet you — not less so.

Promoting yourself as an expert is a really effective way to raise your own profile and that of your brand. But there’s no getting around it: It’s tricky, awkward, and, as my friend pointed out, totally weird. But don’t let the icky feelings deter you: You are uniquely positioned to share what you know. As long as you don’t creep people out in the process, we’ll be seeing you on the Today Show (or in the New York Times) soon enough.

Now Your Classes into Google Glasses

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“I’m not really sure whether my dog helped me become a Glass explorer,” Dr. William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, said. He was being serious. “In my pitch to Google to be part of its Glass Explorer program, I said I would share the social global classroom. But I also said I’d bring my dog — Ty the Wonder Dog — into it.”

Ward is making good on that pitch to Google and teaching two classes this semester, Social Media for Communicators and Social Media Theory and Practice, in which Google Glass doesn’t just augment learning — it’s the focus of the curriculum.

VISIT ALSO: Now Your Photos are Into Paint Chips with Google Glass Apps

The class involves one semester-long assignment: Try out Google Glass, dream up ideas for useful apps, develop those ideas in teams and use social media to garner votes for the best concepts. The winning ideas will be developed into actual Google Glass app prototypes.

Last week, students had 10 minutes each to pitch their Glass app ideas before a panel of expert judges, comprised of startup founders and professors, who offer constructive feedback. One app promised to help children with autism learn through videos; another would interface with restaurants to find out accurate wait times; yet another would allow “time travel,” to show what an area looked like 50 years ago (“Ancestry.com meets real life,” the student developers called it).

Now, students are refining their concepts and preparing to launch them on a slew of social networks to see which ideas gain traction and which ones flop.

This feedback, from millions of strangers on Twitter, Vine, InstagramFacebook and Google+, will be the ultimate determining factor of success. Ward puts great faith in the wisdom of the crowd.

“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,”

“Companies are trying to figure out Glass and mobile, and here are students figuring out solutions and solving problems on their own,” Ward said. Glass is expected to be a $3 billion-plus market. “Hopefully, that experience helps them prepare to jump into a company grappling with those issues — or start their own business.”

The class then rallies around the “winning” apps — the ones that receive the most positive feedback, Likes and shares on social platforms — and helps to build them into prototypes, perhaps eventually launching them on Kickstarter. (At that point, Ward said, they’ll reach out to alumni to help with funding.) App development takes up the rest of the semester; a developer at the university will provide coding assistance.

But this doesn’t mean a ton of tweets equals an A for the semester. Grades aren’t based on the final product; students’ projects are scored along the way.

“They’re rated on how well they tell [their app’s] story,” Ward said. “If you can’t convince people of your idea’s merits, you’ll never get it off the ground.”