Leo Ehrlich is a multi-Cannes Lions awarded Brazilian art director and designer, currently based in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). We have happened also to have worked together in multiple agencies in two different continents.
Company speed dating for hackers
We recently spotted HackMatch company profile while browsing on AngelList. It was featured in the Trending with Customers section so we dove right into it. HackMatch is a very basic marketplace idea, where developers/hackers/programmers are shown a carousel of potential startup companies that might be a good fit for work/collaboration. They aptly describe themselves as "Tinder for Hackers". Some of the startups featured in the site's "scrolling browsing" were Matter.io (3D printing), Layer (like Twillio but for video and chat) and MakerBot (3D printing). After the user has found a startup, they can click on the "Hell Yeah" button to start a direct connection with the startup. I'd assume only startups with open positions are listed. Simple yet useful.
Mecenato currently accepts Bitcoin in exchange for all of our list of services: digital strategy, mobile design, social strategy, etc. As far as we know, we are one of the first creative services providers to do that.
Care to start a growth project for your business or brand? Email us now.
A user story describing a tool we’d love to bring to life
Thomas Koulopoulos writes these words in his 2012 book “Cloud Surfing: A New Way to Think about Risk, Innovation, Scale, and Success”:
“The cloud is exponential in its impact; it has a multiplier effect that goes well beyond the power of any collection of individual skills. What we lack is not brains but the ability to connect them.”
I’ll prepare the ground for this post by meshing up the thought above with another one from Josh Kauffman on his book “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business”:
“The best businesses in the world find ways to attract the attention of qualified prospects quickly and inexpensively.”
Now having read these statements, I’d like you to picture a day in the life of Mark. Mark is a group creative director in a global advertising agency in Madison Avenue. He manages the work for a group of very known, international brands. But he’s constantly frustrated about the overall quality of his team’s output. He has great people under him, but he thinks that the agency is too slow to find and hire the kind of diversified expertise that he now constantly needs for his ideas (programmers, 3D artists, sound designers, motion graphics experts, icon designers and/or illustrators with a very specific style). It’s just not in the business model of his agency to sustain these hires, and he would only need them on a per-job basis anyway.
Mark dreams of a tool that would help him with that.
Now imagine Mark comes across a tool called “Hand Shaker”. Hand Shaker is a cloud tool that allows Mark to define his current creative problem, starting with defining which client he’s working for at the moment.
The first battle with the agency’s IT team was won already, and Hand Shaker was adopted by him and his team. Hand Shaker is now integrated with the agency’s CRM and time sheeting system, so Mark doesn’t have to input the data of the client from scratch, or worry about manually keeping track of his time in this job.
The first thing Mark needs to do is define the situation at hand. He does that by creating a new “Project”. In this project, which acts just like a case folder. He drags and drops the contacts from the client’s team that are involved in the decision-making of this particular creative project. To lower a bit the communication overhead, Mark also adds in the creative team assigned by him to this “Project”. From now on, major milestone, highlights and important messages around this project will be sent via transactional emails to all people involved. Mark also writes a one-paragraph description of the brief to be solved. He also assigns a category to the project, let’s say “Product Launch”. His agency’s account team has already listed down a proposed budget inside the CRM, so he knows how long his airstrip is for this creative project.
At this point, Hand Shaker starts to do some magic for him. Because Hand Shaker is already hooked up to his Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail and IMAP (work email) APIs, it loads for him all the interactions he and his team has had with any of the client’s contacts. The client’s contacts are also loaded with interesting information, because Hand Shaker has reached out for that in those same APIs. Things like Klout Score and latest tweets for each person are also available. He knows automatically who talked to whom, when and what’s the topic and content of the conversation.
Hand Shaker also helps out Mark by automatically looking at Behance andDribbble’s APIs for any projects done for the same client or brand. It does that by looking at the client’s information and searching these databases. It also lists all the people that have worked on these projects, so now Mark has direct access to a range of people with experience on this brand.
The project is at a stage that will need to share with client a Non-Disclosure Agreement and proceed to work on a Statement of Work document. Hand Shaker has an integrated PDF engine that pulls the client data to generate the files for those automatically, already loaded with the client’s information, and based on a template that had to be created only once. For the SoW, Hand Shaker generates a landing page on the web for the client to see and approve. Analytics tracking knows if the client has seen the document or not.
Mark now proceeds to set some project milestones, like meetings and presentation dates. Everyone involved is automatically notified, and a calendar is generated.
Hand Shaker keeps on doing its magic. It knows the client is based in a certain location (based on the address located in the CRM’s contact entry) so it goes snooping in at Sharedesk’s API for available workspaces near the client and plots all the information into a new Google Map (using the Maps API). To this map, any geographical information is constantly added, like the addresses to contacted suppliers or proposed meeting locations.
Mark has now brainstormed a bit about the creative solution to the project, so he updates the brief and writes down in Hand Shaker a few keywords based on the resources he will need: “social media strategist”, “motion graphics artist”. At this point, Hand Shaker gets Mark’s current location and reaches out to LinkedIn, Behance, Dribbble and oDesk APIs. The result is a dashboard of people that might be of help on this project. Hand Shaker’s algorithm here could evolve to start understanding better and recommending users based on a series of factors (in the future).
Mark goes on to shortlist relevant people using a simple Yes/No system. Users marked Yes are automatically sent an introductory email from Mark’s email address, containing a request for a chat and some basic information about the project. A drip emailing program keeps reaching out for users until they make contact.
All along this time, time sheeting has been automatically done using Hand Shaker’s desktop and mobile app widgets. The personnel costs for this project are being automatically tracked and deducted from the initial budget set by the account team, and invoices are generated accordingly, just waiting for the time to be sent out for the relevant client contact. Any important expenses can be added by the team as the project evolves.
Mark selects a few collaborators from the cloud, proceeds to add them into Hand Shaker with a special authorization level, and they are now shown the relevant material they need to get the work done. All working files are stored using Google Drive API, so everyone has access to everything at the same time, from just one cloud repository.
Hand Shaker uses Google Hangouts API to integrate video chatting between remote users, so they can all see their online statuses and chat with a click of the button. And so they do, until the designs, code files, iconography and copy for this new “Product Launch” project is finished.
Mark reviews it all, takes it to the client, and gets a good response from the client. The project is approved with minor issues.
Mark goes back to Hand Shaker and assigns the project as finished. At that point, invoices are shipped out to the client, and payments to collaborators are issued using either Paypal or Stripe API. The funding is debited from the project’s budget, and an hour and expenses report is generated.
Everyone de-briefs on these, and happily move on to create another project inside Hand Shaker.
This essay was originally published on December 1st on Medium
Mecenato is two months shy of the first birthday and we have tons to share
Our very public experiment of crafting what could be the next generation of a communications agency is now ten months old. So in the best “Lean Startup” fashion, I’d like to take you through the assumptions, learnings and validations that we have collected so far.
Here we go:
Physical presence is still necessary;
No Skype, Google Hangout, BBM or WhatsApp will ever solve that. Unless your portfolio is smoking hot and your recommendations come from the best brands in the world, no client will ever start a relationship with you without a strong referral, a lunch, a meeting or a chat over coffee. Conferences play a role here. It’s good to meet potential clients, and you can also use it as a place to gather your remote team for a get together.
Track your cash flow at all times;
The length of the runway, it’s called. Target Monthly Revenue (TMR) andCash Burn Rate (CBR) are probably the most important things we’ve learned so far. Every maker or entrepreneur out there should get to know these things. Check ‘The Personal MBA’ book for a quick introduction to these topics.
Less anxiety, more work, please;
With ultimate freedom comes ultimate anxiety. It’s very hard to deal with this one. We are still learning.
Yet, clients are ready if you are;
You’d think that clients would find it hard to trust an agency that doesn’t have an office, with a staff they can’t see or control. You’d be wrong. Clients are pretty much like meat eaters. They don’t want to see the slaughtering, they just want the juicy steak! As long as you have a good value and show them the goods (at or before the deadline), our experience is that the lack of all the rest has no negative effects on the perception of the agency. We’ve just done a complete interaction design job for a client in Saudi Arabia without ever hearing their voice. The work was entirely managed via a mix of Basecamp, email and our dedicated client area on our own website.
Working with agencies is still the quickest path to cash;
You call it freelacing. I call it interactive consulting. We would be talking about the same thing. Traditional advertising agencies have been our quickest path to cash by far, and working with them on interactive projects for their client’s list has been the easiest so far. The downside of it is that we build no public portfolio of our own. Yes, I do talk about the work we’ve done for Nike, Coke, Nokia, Emirates, HSBC in private meetings, but I can never publish these ideas as our own in our website. This is an issue.
I will be adding more insights and learnings as we go.
How to use software to bring transparency to the act of donating
To donate is to basically cast a vote in favor of a better future. In much the same way as voting, the current method of donating pretty much everywhere is highly based on trust. Trust that the donation funds will be used wisely, effectively and produce tangible benefits for the communities that they are intended for. However, there is absolutely no mechanism in place that guarantees that. This fact — added to the frequent media coverage on corruption cases, embezzlement and misuse of funds — creates a scenario where most potential donors shy away from donating. But there are ways we can help change that that scenario.
Let’s work on a solution that brings full accountability and transparency to the flow of donated funds. It needs to be a simple idea and it needs to be easy for all stakeholders to adhere to: donors, NGOs and community representatives.
I would like to share the concept of a ‘Donation Tracking API’:
“It’s a free, open-sourced global accountability Application Programming Interface for metadata assignment and tracking of donation funds”.
How does it work?
It’s basically a piece of middleware software that sits in between the user’s donation and the destination NGO’s fund system, through which all donations are automatically tagged with relevant metadata (unique id, origin, amount, project, GPS location, etc) that allows the donation to be fully tracked from its origin to its final destination, be it communities in need, NGO operations, etc. Much like web data packets and shipment boxes, donations will now be assigned unique traceable codes that will show the donors where they have been used and to what purpose they were assigned for.
Why would the involved stakeholders adhere to it?
• For the donor, it won’t require any additional effort, and they will be rewarded the added security of tracking their donations at any point they would like, in the same way you can when tracking a parcel through a logistics company’s website;
• For the NGO, adhering to this new standard will grant them a seal of approval from a global community that is bound to attract more donors because of its enhanced accountability;
• For the local community representatives, it will ensure that funds earmarked by NGOs operating in their areas reach their agreed final destination. Currently, without the transparency that this system will now provide, the communities are not part of the process of accountability for the projects that they have a crucial stake in.
Why do we expect to succeed?
It would be the first time the idea of an application programming interface is applied to the issue of donation (we think), and we feel that a community-owned, open sourced approach would guarantee that all stakeholders feel like they are part of the solution. By applying code and software expertise to this problem, we might be close to shifting the sector to a complete new paradigm of transparency and accountability.
How do we expect to make this happen?
First, a public-facing website;
This deliverable will make the donation tracking API available and explains the overall concept behind it, who are the stakeholders and companies behind the effort and what are the measures to consider this project a success; This website will also be the main awareness element of the campaign, to which all people will be directed to for more information, updated content, sign up and engagement;
Second, the code development of the application programming interface solution itself;
This part will demand most of the development team’s effort: we will need to first research how NGOs are commonly using accounting methods and mold a solution that doesn’t create a huge disruption from their current methods, which is critical for the success of the idea.
Third, we need to prototype and test the web tool;
Conceptually it works in a similar fashion to a web payment gateway like PayPal, Stripe or Google Checkout, with the additional element of marking and tracking the path of the donation fund throughout its entire lifecycle. This can be done by assigning unique metadata to each system input, and making sure that the funds can only be outputted by the NGOs if proper objectives are assigned. The community representatives will play the role of auditors in this process.
What kind of feedback are we looking for?
• We’d like to map out detailed scenarios on how different NGOs manipulate, receive, extract and keep track of their available funds;
• We’d like to create a database of international NGOs (and their representatives) that might be interested in testing out the donation tracking application first hand;
• We’d like to have the donation tracking application tested by a selection of donors and measure their response to this new approach in comparison to donors who have relied on current donation systems.
What would be the next steps?
• To fully build the donation tracking system and make it available to a larger audience through the website;
• To scope and plan for launch in additional languages;
• To generate and execute a communication awareness plan for this new application and its website;
• To enlist a handful of large, high-visibility NGOs to sign up for the system and vouch for it;
Liked the idea? Please share your feedback with me or interact with our quick survey below.
This essay was originally published on November 8th on Medium
I have always been a fan of the work of Rafa Soto and his team at HerraizSoto in Barcelona, Spain. Starting with Ommwriter, a writing tool that has been part of my creative toolkit for more than two years, and was written by Oriol Ferrer Messià , a programming genius I was privileged to have worked with while at Fabrica in Italy. They have just released Notegraphy, a mobile and web application, and I decided to try it out by designing a few interesting business quotes into their template system. These were originally posted in our Facebook feed.
This year Mecenato had the privilege of attending the Web Summit in Dublin, an event that wraps web, startup and entrepreneurship into one. Below are some photos of our participation.
I know you’ve faced this problem too. You’ve worn out your favorite pair of jeans, or finally had to let go of that special shirt, and you wish that you could go back to the same store and buy the same exact item. Yet the fashion business model dictates that you shouldn’t be able to do something as simple as that.
So what if one of the major fashion players out there started sharing the refabrication instructions (material choices, layouts, designs, cutting instructions, assembly) into a free online repository?
It could initially apply only for past collections but maybe based on the goodwill and popularity of the platform, could even include the current season designs. Possibly this would evolve into a whole ecology of companies that would be able to fulfill deliveries on top of these instructions, of users hacking and upgrading the designs, of online stores selling raw materials (all viable startup ideas for these major fashion conglomerates).
Who will take the first step?
Check out these lab experiments:
The solution is in the cloud
Sometimes we come across readings that are worth mentioning, for one reason or another. Our topics are usually around the intersection of technology, human behavior and business. In our first post of this sort, we will mention Thomas Koulopoulos' Cloud Surfing. Thomas has been involved in the tech world for a while, and his take on the benefits of the cloud are numerous.
While we at Mecenato are obvious pushers of the concept of decentralization, organized remote work and the usage of collaboration tools in the cloud, we have been slightly more aware recently of the far-reaching consequences of a life of data in the cloud. For those, Thomas ever optimistic and solutionist tone might be much.
Even so, this book is a good read for those in business, especially IT managers and C-level marketers with an intent of better understanding this deluge of information regarding "the cloud". The definition of private and public clouds is also helpful for the fearful among us.
For counter balancing purposes, we recommend everyone Evgeny Mozorov's "To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism" as your follow-up read.
Let’s usher in the era of marketing communication services up in the cloud
In the following words, I will try to convince you that all advertising agencies out there should get rid of their swanky offices, fire every single one of their staff (with the exception of the relationship owners and the creatives), and move all their Excels, Powerpoints and Photoshop files to Google Drive.
But before I’ll start by saying this: there’s no other industry I know that has a higher concentration of effective problem-solvers than the advertising industry. Maybe third-world brain surgeons are up there too.
So what’s all this grudge I have with the ad world?
First, there’s an issue with incentives. Institutions are motivated to sustain the problem to which they are the solution, and the advertising agency business is no different. Agencies are still keen on keeping the media-buying model that James Walter Thompson helped make popular around 1877 (yes, that old). There are no incentives to change that, and still (as far as I know), there isn’t an automated online marketplace for traditional advertising space. Google, hello?
Second, a traditional agency is usually two steps behind true innovation. In general, they only start working when their clients have reached out for them in the form of a brief. The folks issuing briefs, on the other hand, are incentivized to play it safe. Any marketing manager I’ve presented campaigns to throughout my carreer will rather choose constant 3% sales growth year-on-year than the possibility of 30% growth if there’s also chance of market loss.
Third, it’s a highly concentrated business. Four or five of the holding companies control the agencies that manage almost the entirety of the available communication budgets out there. I’ve worked for three of these, and I can assure you, they are trying as hard as they can to persuade clients that they are still the best service provider out there.
So what does the future hold?
A completely new business model for ad agencies. One that relies on only the two pieces that deliver true strategic value to clients: the relationship owners and the vision shapers. That’s it. All the rest is superflous. The secretary? Ditch her. Accounts payable? Harvest can automate that for you. When you remove all the fat of an agency, all that remains is the guy who truly understands the business problem, and the other guy who can solve it.
I’m currently trying to turn this concept into a reality through a collective I’ve founded called Mecenato. We have no offices, and never will. We’re just a bunch of business and creative people scattered around the world bearing web-connected laptops. We all worked in big agencies before. All our finance, cash flow, time sheeting, file management and production systems are up in the cloud (right now as a big mash-up of different web services, but ideally a cohesive software offering that will be our first digital product we can sell to the very ad agencies we now want to destroy).
The fallback plan has always been to go back to work in an agency if this experiment fails. After all, they are everywhere, they work in the exact same way, use the same jargons and their offices are identical in their belief that they are all different. Thinking again, maybe I should change the post title.
This essay was originally published on July 21st on Medium
Our quasi-official launch
This year marked the 60th anniversary of what is recognized as the most prestigious advertising festival in the world: Cannes Lions, held in the Côte d'Azur every June. This year we rented out a nice balcony apartment for the duration of the festival, and temporarily moved our operations to the beach. Not bad.
This weekend Mecenato was center stage in Dubai's Behance Portfolio Reviews. The event took place at MAKE Business Hub, a co-working environment located near the JBR Walk (and one of our personal favorites when working down there). Our founder delivered a very personal presentation called "All the Things I've Done Terribly Wrong So Far". Here a few pictures from the event:
It's been a couple of months, but we would still like to take the time to go over a few projects that stood out at the 2013 Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity.
Turn small change into tiny mobile phone credit. Add to that an Egyptian market that is dependent on small shops and petit change and you have a direct impact on your sales. An idea can't be simpler than this. Wish I had done it.
Agency: JWT Cairo
ITB Live Egyptian broadcast
I'm a sucker for interactive installations and I have no idea how many times I have proposed live feeds coming from far away places, shown in a big screen. These guys managed to do it. And I salute them.
Agency: JWT Cairo
Cretivedash, the makers of the famous UI8.net downloadable templates, are a creative agency based in San Francisco, USA.
This week, the Mecenato team helped pushed live a new collaborative initiative in the Middle East: the web presence of the Society of Middle Eastern Digital Agencies (SoMEDA).
SoMEDA started out as a simple Facebook group and a way for collaborators of interactive agencies in the Middle East to share knowledge, collaborate on industry-wide initiatives, and generally meet each other and speak freely. It was born under our faith that there's definitely room for every agency out there to learn, grow and expand, without the cut-throat environment that is usual between competitor agencies.
Our plan is to make this initiative grow, with agencies pitching in to help this site be a repository of template documents, Middle Eastern digital data, jobs board and more, all under a Creative Commons license.
If you are an interactive agency in the Middle East and would like to help on this project, please get in touch with us.
Mecenato is attending this year's Dubai Lynx Awards. Unfortunately we are too young as a network and we don't have any work in contention for this year. However, we aim to make the most out of it, so reach out for us during the three days of the festival at Madinat Jumeirah and let's talk.
It's been a month now. An unusually short one since we're in February. Anyhow, we got some things done – we shipped a new website, we tweaked our sales credentials a little bit (it's on version 2 now) and we met with a few prospects. Here's what we have to share:
On launching the new website
mcnto.com has existed as a domain for close to three years now. During all that period, we had the first version of our logo, a description paragraph and an email id slapped on a static home page. We never got a single contact out of this during this whole time. But that is understandable. Who would want to contact this shady network of people without first knowing who they are, where they are located and what kind of services they do? I wouldn't. Hence why at website change was much need. We chose SquareSpace as our CMS (content management system) of choice, and we don't regret the decision. The CMS is powerful and somewhat intimidating at first, but after you get a hang for it, it's extremely powerful and user-friendly. It allows you to hook up your social feeds easily (good for content). Pages are built through dragging and dropping content blocks. Forms have built-in validation and are easily hooked up to a Google Drive account (the best thing if you're not a PHP-database wizard). For eight dollars a month, we're quite happy with it.
On e-commerce, shopping carts and PayPal
This week I was able to upgrade my personal PayPal account to a Business account and got to hook up PayPal Website Payments to my Harvest (getharvest.com) invoicing app. I now have the ability of having clients pay for invoices in US dollars with credit cards, all inside the same page. This is a major leap for us. Still working on getting the money out of PayPal, though. UAE is still not one of the countries you can export the values to a bank account. You are limited to sending it to a Visa credit card or a bank account in the US.
On qualified feedback on our offerings
I've read and absorbed from reading Lean Startup that the fastest way to find a business model that is sustainable is to put it out there for the scrutiny of people. This week was the start of that. We had some good feedback and response on the site, but we've also met one-on-one with a few people. The chat with Peter Bidenko, the Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett Dubai was pretty enlightening. He had some good pointers to share and we appreciate that.
On printing cards with Moo.com and other possibilities
Our first batch of business cards were printed this week. We used the Luxe Business Cards from the folks at moo.com. They were kind enough to alert us that the copy we had set in gray was too low on K (black) and that it might not come out so well. So we cranked up the K. In the meantime, they got our respect for their attention to detail. There's also a reason why we are using a somewhat pricey cloud service for printing business cards. If this network grows like we are hoping it does, it would be nice not to worry too much about shipping out cards for people scattered all over the world. With moo.com we can have them delivered with a few clicks. We're also seeing how we can make use of their greeting cards and stickers for business processes. A few ideas: send out a printed greeting card for clients after they pay an invoice. Print all service descriptions as separate cards and leave them behind for clients after meetings. Use custom-made stickers for brief reviews and approvals, and to slap into envelopes.
On maintaining momentum
To keep any momentum in a project, you have to ship. Anything will do. An estimate, a proposal, a service level agreement, a sales pitch deck, a blog post. Well, almost anything. Meetings and emails do not count. Most of the meetings you participate in or emails you send out will never make you come any closer to building and sharing anything. Remember to ship and celebrate the small wins.
What are we reading now?
Just finished with "The Personal MBA", by Josh Kaufmann. The book has an awesome premise of saving you around 150K dollars on an MBA education. But that's beside the point. A book that costs less than ten bucks on a Kindle and gives you snippets of all the major topics discussed in MBA courses is definitely worth it. We're off now to a re-read of Rework, the book produced by the folks at 37signals.