Friend(ly) Feedback: What’s the Right Way?

I consider myself a product marketer. Because of my former role as an Information Architect MANY moons ago, I approach marketing with this UX background in mind. I view how, where and why you communicate with your users as experienced from their point of view. (Which is likely why I’m on my self-determined quest to rid the world of “Login” used incorrectly as a verb, one website at a time. Facebook, you’re welcome.) So, as someone who not just uses these products but is also in a role where I help build and market them, I’ve been thinking recently about the best way to give feedback. This is especially tricky when a) it’s not your – or your company’s – product and b) the people whose product it is are your friends.

Recently, Foursquare made a change to their mobile app and while beautiful, one small tweak (the removal of the “Local” filter) has made this product really challenging for me to use. I *WANT* to use it; in fact, Foursquare is one of the apps I use the most, especially as someone newer to NYC & still finding my way around both the city & the friend circle. It’s been tremendously helpful for me to see where my friends are convening on any given night (*cough* Tom & Jerry’s *cough*) in case I wanted to join. But as a long-time user of the product, I have more friends on it in San Francisco & other places of the country, so being able to see where my local friends are is really challenging now that this filter is removed. It’s a minor change that probably affects a small number of users, though I’d argue that many of those affected are “power users” with numerous Foursquare connections in multiple cities, like me. 

Upon noticing these changes, I posted a question about them on Twitter. And then immediately wondered if that was the right medium. I had a few questions about the change, and tagged @Foursquare hoping to get an answer. I chose that method for a few reasons: I figured it would be the quickest way to get an answer as I had seen a lot of other people using the new release, and I didn’t want to bug my friends that worked there. Namely because they are the Founder & Sr. Software guy (Hi, Dens & Harry!) and I could only imagine the influx of messages they were getting, plus they’re generally super busy guys…me bugging them about product questions would only add to their likely already-full Inbox. 

BUT. Did I just inadvertently throw my friends under the bus? As a marketer, I am acutely aware of how criticism can spiral into a PR nightmare (see: Uber New Years Pricing, which is another story entirely and one I believe they ended up handling relatively well in the long run). Was my choice to ask the masses – genuinely not knowing the response – and following up with my frustration that one of my favorite products became nearly impossible to use hurting more than helping? I genuinely try to suggest solutions every time I surface a problem. In this case, I was hoping to add visibility that some of their power users weren’t able to use the product as they did before. But was it the right forum?

I’m not sure. I tend to have a pretty thick skin myself, but do know that negative feedback on something people have invested so much time, thought, energy, and care in can affect morale. And that it hurts more when it comes from your friends. Was I just a gigantic asshole (and am I exacerbating it by posting this piece?)

I hope not. I genuinely am interested in hearing everyone’s opinions on the best way to handle this in a world where we often look first to public forums vs. private notes. Forget that they’re friends; we should be considerate of this whether or not we know the people behind the product or company. So please, weigh in. What’s the best way – and where is the right forum – to offer constructive feedback?

Changing the Conversation, Not Just the Ratio

I’m a biology major. I concentrated in genetics, and had planned to be a genetic counselor. Instead, I went to graduate school for a new program at Georgetown entitled ‘Communications, Culture & Technology’, and twelve years later, here I am.

I mention this because over the course of the past few years, I’ve found myself sharing these facts a lot. I share this as some sort of de facto justification of my background, usually when talking about the field that I’m in: Marketing and Communications. And each time I say it, I’m surprised that I feel the need to. That I was intentionally communicating my ‘pedigree’, per se, in case this wasn’t inherently understood based on the role I play in technology. Because sadly, I don’t think it is. Despite the fact that I’ve worked at some of the best technology companies in the world, my role is perceived not as someone in tech, but someone in “tech light”. Which to me, where the issue of women in technology is often discussed these days – Rachel Sklar’s “Change the Ratio” movement & others come to mind – the conversation that I want to have is different. It’s not as much a gender issue, to me at least, as much as it is a job function issue and why some jobs – many of which are traditionally held by women – are perceived as less important than others.

Here’s the situation: Women are in tech in a very prevalent manner. I’ve seen this in every company I’ve worked for; from my first interactive agency to Booz Allen Hamilton, to Google, to Digg, to AOL to Facebook…I can go on. There are a LOT of women working in technology. Yet they’re often in a less “technical” role, serving as account managers and sales and in PR and marketing and communications. (I know this is a sweeping generalization, but it’s what I’ve seen in the industry for the last twelve years.) And just how there’s often the struggle between developers and sales, the “We make the product you sell, so you have a job” vs. the “we sell the product you make, so YOU have a job”, there also remains an understated perception of the value of the various roles. The fact that I want to emphasize is that all of these roles are needed. Developers. Designers. Sales. Marketing. Account Services. Administration. The very success of a product and a company requires all of these fields & functions to work together. 

How do we begin to change these perceptions, many of which have existed for years? I feel the first step is communication, thus this post. It’s not a finger-pointing exercise; instead, it’s sharing the knowledge of what each of these functions actually DOES. Yes, I think there can be much to be gained from learning to code, but I’d also suggest that raising awareness about the hard skills needed in a sales or marketing role – which yes, do exist – is also beneficial to the organization as a whole. To note, when I presented our company’s new messaging a few weeks back, I held a lunch & learn to the entire organization, and gave visibility on HOW we got to the resulting new messaging. This helps raise awareness across the team about not just the outcome of what we’re doing – especially in a role where the perception can be that we have the fun jobs or that we just eat up the majority of the budget – but also emphasizes the process that was taken to get there. 

I want to keep talking about this. I WILL keep talking about this. It’s not meant to be contradictory to working towards increasing the number of women in technical jobs; that is also something I highly support. And will continue to. But broadening the issue a bit, trying to get to the underlying issues that often get overlooked when the conversation turns to just one about gender, I feel will help get our industry in a place where there is better need, respect, and appreciation for all contributions to a team, gender notwithstanding.


Western Affairs – Laura

Seems like a fitting band name for a group from Washington, DC. Lead man Alex Lee drives the hammond organ through this breakup ballad, calling Laura back for one more try. More than a few of you out there who will sing along to this lonely heartbreak.

Get their 2000 EP, a quick follow up to the “1999” single (duh) on their Bndcmp.

Life as I (hope to) know it.

I’ve found myself a bit irritated with people lately, and thought of perhaps writing a “How to deal with Aubrey to stay on her good side” post. Then, thinking further, figured I could expand it to “How to treat people” because, really, these aren’t huge life lessons. Nor are they independent to me. But there ones that in our daily life, often get forgotten or misplaced or looked over as we’re inundated with work and life and tasks and OMFG it is so hot outside right now. I get it, we’re busy, me included. And this is normal; I believe we all intend to treat people well, but sometimes we overcommit and lose sight of priorities and all of the other things that happen in daily life. And God knows I’m guilty of violating every single one of these suggestions, so know that this serves as a reminder for me more than anything else. So, on this hot nearly-summer NYC day, a quick reminder. 

Keep your plans. If you say you’re going to go to dinner with a friend, go to dinner with that friend. Make plans, and keep them. Disorganized? There’s this thing called a calendar. Adopt it. Make it your friend. It will help you. Of course, there are occasions when you will have to cancel (a mandatory work meeting, you’re sick, etc.) but try to make that the exception, not the rule. And if you’re prone to overcommitting, as I am, block out a few hours or a few nights a week for you. You can always change and ADD plans, but people’s feelings get hurt when they are getting cancelled upon. Makes them feel unimportant. Nobody likes that. 

Be on time. After you’ve upheld your plans with your friend, show up when you say you will. Many of us live in big cities with subway delays, traffic, unforeseen situations that will make you tardy. It happens, I get it. But account for that…leave 10 minutes earlier. Bring a book. Read your Twitter stream. Pretend it’s a job interview and act like you won’t get the job if you’re late. It’s always better to be early and bored than late & have irritated your friend. Constant tardiness makes it appear that you think your time is more important than theirs. Again, nobody likes that.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. This one is one I struggle with myself, as I – similar to most people – experience situations from our standpoint. We are the recipient of someone else’s behaviour. But what we’re actually seeing is merely one side of the story; for all we know, their dog may be sick. They may be running late for something. They may have gotten fired today. If someone is not kind or not courteous, try – and it’s HARD AS HELL – to assume the best in them and that they’re getting through the day the best they can. Instead of snapping at them, smile, and show them the kindness that you wish they had afforded to you.

Be honest. Nobody likes a liar. Yes, difficult conversations are termed that for a reason…they’re not easy. And yes, you may have to bend the truth many times a day. But then there’s the blatant lies…those are unnecessary. And they usually center around the fear of either having the conversation or the other person’s reaction. But if you’re worried about someone or upset with someone or frustrated with someone, have that conversation. As my friend told me today, people don’t always know what’s going on in your head. It’s your job to give them that insight, as difficult as it may be.

Have the hard conversations. I’ll share a little story. When I was younger (um, as recent as 3 years ago) I was petrified to have the DTR. You know, the Defining the Relationship conversation. What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if I was all vulnerable and opened up and said I cared for him only to feel stupid if he wasn’t interested in what I was? I far preferred the alternative; i.e., the nebulous, let’s keep moving forward and perhaps *he’ll* initiate the conversation when HE knows he is into me enough. Oh, silly Aubrey from three years ago, the time and sadness you could have saved yourself. Basically, trade the possible immediate pain and embarrassment for languishing months in a relationship when one of the people really wasn’t into it. You’re wasting your – and their – time. Time you could be using to do lots of other, better, more exciting things. (Or people. Heh.)

Don’t play games. Especially not with someone’s heart. Enough said.

Be present. Guilty as charged, my iPhone is often at the table during dinner or drinks. I urge you, as I’m trying to do, PUT. IT. AWAY. You are spending time with someone because you want to have conversations with them, want to be there with them. So BE THERE WITH THEM. Your iPhone can wait. That Tweet? Can wait. It’s a distraction. It chips away at the authenticity of your interaction. Try. Then try harder.

And last, but not least, Be kind. Be good. Try to do the right thing. Try to act like you are the role model for your child, even if you don’t have one yet. Act like your behaviour could be reported on the front page of the New York Times. Be thoughtful and proud of your actions. All of which are 100% impossible to do 100% of the time. But try to strive towards acting with integrity more frequently. Try to do better. Try to BE better. That’s something I’m working on myself, and by approaching life that way, I hope that the above tenets fade away and become inherent in the life I’m trying to lead. 


Exciting stuff to report about my new company, Sherpaa

First, I’m super happy to say that Cheryl Swirnow (Greenhill) has joined me as a co-founder of Sherpaa. Cheryl was head of HR at The Barbarian Group so she knows pretty much everything to know about health insurance for companies. Prior to that, she worked at Quintessentially, a 24/7 global concierge service. So she pretty much knows everything about making things happen. She’s awesome and I’m honored to be working with her on building Sherpaa.

In the past four months, we’ve learned a ton about companies and health. We’re universally seeing that most companies are overinsured and spending way too much on health insurance. Here are some numbers to back that up. Seventy-five percent of all-comers will spend less than $2,000 on medical expenses per year. Ninety-six percent will spend less than $10,000 per year. These stats are for all-comers, not the typical tech and creative companies we’re focusing on here in NYC. Therefore, it just makes sense for these kinds of companies to have a high deductible health plan with a deductible of at least $2,000. 

And then here’s the kicker. We’re recommending that companies then give their employees a debit card with $2,000 loaded on it (that’s a health reimbursement account). At the end of the year, whatever the employee doesn’t spend gets rolled back into the company. Essentially, it’s the poor man’s version of self-insurance.

But by doing this we’re finding that we can save companies up to $4,000 per year per employee. And that, my friends, is wonderful news. It’s extremely frightening to peer in to the backend of healthcare and realize there is just so much unnecessary waste.

And then…on top of saving companies a ton of money, we then give each of their employees 24/7 access to our doctors. So when any of their employees have a health issue, they contact us via email or phone and we then do everything we can to solve their problem. About 70% of the time, we’re solving the problem over email. For the other 30%, we personally connect them with one of our carefully chosen specialists here in NYC. Or sometimes we send them to the urgent care center or the ER. It’s basically like having a 24/7 doctor on your side who’s trying to save you as much hassle as possible. 

So, to sum it all up, we analyze your company’s health strategy, secure the best health insurance plan for your company, and then give you 24/7 access to our group of doctors. We save companies a ton of money and offer them an amazing service.

We’re off to a great start and signing up multiple companies a week. I can’t wait to report more good news.

My friend Jay is shaking things up again. Would love our company to use Sherpaa!


Kitty Pryde – Okay Cupid

This song! Wow. Got white-hot in 0.2 hype seconds for good reason. Not ashamed to love it, catchy and fresh as hell.

Props to Tyler’s PRTLS post + interview for mining this three weeks ago.


produced directed filmed everything by bryan mckay and shannen ortale

song produced by beautiful lou

STARRING britney m and annie t

i should have washed my hair first

maybe got my makeup done. w/e

I wanted to hate this. It’s impossible to…”I wait for your drunk dials at 3:30am” is so insanely catchy.

What’s next.

Seven months ago, I left San Francisco. I moved to New York for a lot of reasons, but mostly, because it was time to try something new. To be uncomfortable in my surroundings, to challenge myself with a newer (to me), harsher, harder city. To fulfill my desire to live in Manhattan before I got all domestic and did things like “settle down”, get myself hitched and have lots of babies. (LOTS.) I wanted to live in this city to see if I could do it.

I left a fabulous job at Facebook to fulfill this dream. Since then, I’ve chosen to try something new, to take on a consulting role at a large company (NASDAQ) and to start working with a handful of startups to guide them on their marketing & communications. I’ve enjoyed this; nay, I’ve loved it. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to work with talented, driven people to help build their product & community, to see the value & importance that they place in marketing. It’s been rewarding and it’s been fun and it’s been challenging and it’s been awesome. It taught me so much about how to start my own company while working with people who were starting their own as well. It reminded me how much I enjoyed working for startups in the past; I often wax poetic about the ‘good ol’ days’ at Digg. And so it was in that spirit that I decided to halt my plans to build out my marketing consultancy and chose to join a startup myself.

Today is my second day as the VP of Marketing for Sailthru, a New York startup who has built an unparalleled behavioural communications platform. As a marketer, I have personally gone through the drudgery of choosing & installing an email service provider. It’s timely, costly, and often you don’t get all of the features you were promised. (Lots of smoke & mirrors in this industry.) As an individual, I’m inundated by marketing emails that clutter up my inbox; there’s only a handful of them that I open, and the ones that I do are solely based on their relevancy to me (i.e., opt-in for concert reminders, awesome product curation from Fab, etc.) So when I was introduced to Neil Capel & we talked about what his team & company were building, I was immediately intrigued. In short, Sailthru is smart. REALLY smart. (So is Neil, and he has a lovely British accent, to boot.) Sailthru provides a platform for companies to communicate with their customers, and does so in a way that makes it relevant to them via email, on their websites & more. It solves my need as a marketer for efficient communication methods and solves my frustration as an individual because the content I’m consuming is actually relevant to me. In a world where we are quick to condemn email as a vile timesuck, I’d challenge that it’s not the communication method, but the content itself, that needs addressing. And as someone who makes her livelihood by helping to simplify & clarify communications, I’m psyched to be working with a platform that’s leading the industry to help do just that.

So this is what’s next, my next big adventure here in the greatest city in the world. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve always been a single person…well, at least musically. Guns ‘n Roses’ “Patience”? Tape single. (Actually, two of them…7th grade birthday party fail.) “More Than Words” by Extreme? Had my first kiss to that tape single, which I manually flipped every 4:14 seconds. Only took around seven plays to get Jon McConnell to finally kiss me, a feat he performed most likely to stop the annoying strains of Nuno Bettencourt. (HIS NAME WAS NUNO??) With a handful of exceptions – The National, Frightened Rabbit, Bon Iver – I usually get hooked by a song from a band, buy the entire album, and then listen to a few songs on it. 

So it’s especially noted when an album comes along that I like in its entirety, as I do with Bad Veins’ much-anticipated release, “This Mess We Made”. It officially came out today, but I’ve had it for a few months and have been counting down the weeks until I could feature it on my site or add a song to my mix. I’ve heard the new tunes performed live twice in the past few months, and the energy that Benjamin Davis & Sebastien Schultz bring to a live show is infectious. (Seb has actually broken a cymbal on stage – twice – from his performance.) Their first album was strong but this, THIS is a whole new level. The first song – “Dancing on TV” – is a catchy ditty that has you tapping your feet and finding yourself humming the tune all day. “Don’t Run” is my current favorite, though “Chasing” often wins top billing on my near-daily listen. It’s unique in that the lyrics affect me (and I find myself quoting them) but don’t interfere with the music so that it’s one of the few albums that I can listen to on repeat when writing. 

Check it out; you can stream the album on Spinner for the next week, and by then it’ll be in your rotation that you can’t imagine not purchasing it in its entirety (Spotify & RDIO for you cloud-dwellers)…which is also how it deserves to be consumed.