Founder’s Chronicle: Danny Boice of Speek

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)



Danny-Boice-SpeekBriefly tell us about Speek.

Speek is a way to make super-simple, free, visual conference calls. Choose an easy-to-remember personal link (e.g., for your calls instead of fumbling for a traditional phone number and PIN.

You then click the link to start or join a call from your phone, Web or mobile browser, VOIP or SMS. Once you're on the call, know who’s joined and who’s talking, you can share files, view social profiles, comment, mute and add/remove participants.

There's nothing to download and no elevator music.

What (in your experience) has been the most effective marketing tool for introducing a new brand to the market?

We are distributing Speek through marketing and business development partnerships, paid advertising and most importantly, the product itself is a marketing engine. When one user organizes a call, all of the participants on the call are introduced to Speek and sign up for the service as well. Over time, this will be the primary marketing vehicle for our service as it is a free form of word-of-mouth marketing. To reach scale, we are striking partnerships and building up our marketing capabilities to promote ourselves via press, paid advertising, events, SEO, social media and other means. However, more than anything else, the key is to build a great product, give it a great marketing message and name, and people will talk about it and share it with their friends and co-workers. Speek’s growth is primarily driven by those two factors.

How big of a role does data play in making decisions on launching or changing the focus of a product/service?

We leverage a healthy blend of qualitative and quantitative data in every decision we make. For example, when we are considering a new feature, we will do customer development in the form of customer interviews and surveys (qualitative data). We then use those findings to whittle the options as to how we implement that feature down to two or three. From there, we typically will do a "fake gate" or another similar tactic inside our product. We also analyze funnels and usage data (quantitative data) to ultimately decide how the feature should be implemented.

What’s one thing you look for in an agency partner?

I am typically hesitant to work with agency partners — the sole reason being that the structure of these relationships immediately puts the client and vendor at odds with one another. The agency is inherently motivated to deliver to the letter of the requirements (in a fixed-price contract) rather than acting as a true partner to the company it is engaged with. It is motivated to spend as little time as possible to maximize profits on the project. More often than not, this turns into an exercise in arguing about scope. It’s like pulling teeth trying to get the vendor to do what's in the client's best interest. Every agency or development shop I've worked with always throws around the term "partner." All this really means is that it wants to lock you into some long-term contract with a dedicated team so that it can more easily book your revenue. It doesn't actually add value to you as a client.

If possible, I would love to be able to find an agency or dev shop vendor that can actually be a partner. I'm not sure exactly how that would work — and I have yet to see it work — but it would be nice.

How should agencies apply startup principles to operate effectively and create breakthrough work?

I think the problem lies in the contract structure. If I am engaging an agency or dev shop on a fixed price/fixed scope contract, then I expect them to do exactly what I want as quickly and cheaply as possible without sacrificing quality. However, this typically only works for certain projects and situations. If I am engaging an agency or a dev shop as an extension of my team in a fixed, recurring manner, then that is different. It would typically have to be either for a short-term staff augmentation or because that agency/shop is filling some need that I can't hire for.

In the latter situation, I would always expect the agency to follow an iterative process — break work into two-week chunks and only define enough requirements in detail to make up the next two-week iteration. The “Lean Startup” validation steps would likely make up work that fits into those iterations if applicable.

Having said that, I have worked with a lot of agencies in my life, and I have yet to see a top UX and design agency that's capable of applying lean UX principles in any way, shape or form. Every agency I've ever worked with was waterfall, with or without iterations, whether they called it that or not.

What is your advice for retaining young, technologically savvy employees?

There are a few recurring themes I have noticed in retaining young talent:

1. Give them enough slack to try new and emerging technologies and tools. Don't force them into a given toolset or stack.
2. Don't micromanage, but don't ignore them. Finding the right level of guidance and management oversight is tricky and takes time to figure out. Too much management and you'll drive them away. Too little management and execution will likely suffer.
3. Make them part of decisions. Great employees don't want to be order-takers. They want to be leaders and be part of the decisions that result in work for them to do.

Many advertising professionals find themselves interested in entrepreneurship. What advice would you give to someone with marketing skills interested in starting a new venture?

Don't talk about it; be about it.

Jump in and do it full time. Wantrepreneurs moonlight. Big girls and big boys jump right in, feet to the fire, and make shit happen.

You can’t change the world on nights and weekends.

Danny-Boice-HeadshotDanny Boice is the CTO of Speek — a 500 Startups-funded company that lets users do conference calls with a simple link ( rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and in the ’90s. Danny founded his first company, Jaxara, in the early 2000s (exited via acquisition). Danny attended Harvard and is a guest contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Fast Company and Pando Daily as an expert on startups, product, technology and user experience. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.


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