How we adopted a baby on the dawn of our Indiegogo launch!

One month ago, right before pressing the ‘launch’ button on our crowdfudning campaign on Indiegogo, I got a phone call we had waited for four years, a phone call we had given up on long ago,

“There is a newborn waiting for you at the San Francisco General Hospital”.

“A new born? We did not ask for a new born, we wanted a 3 year old boy, remember?” that was probably not an answer our social worker appreciated to hear, but I am not exactly known for my diplomacy.

With a growing number of infertility issues in the world, more people are interested in adopting newborns, and all I ever wanted to do was to help a child in need, somehow I felt I am not helping as much since newborns are considered such hot commodities. Besides, how realistic was it to launch a startup and to care for a newborn at the same time?

I asked our social worker if I could have some time to think about it, and she said, of course, call me back in 20 minutes with your decision!!

My husband was out of town, as I frantically tried to get him on the phone, I tried to remember what is the closest store where I could buy a car seat. My neighbor called to ask if I could watch her kids while she ran to the gym, and it felt unreal hearing myself say, “I am sorry Claire, but I am busy right now trying to prepare our house for a baby”.

Within an hour or two, Claire and Lisa my front door neighbor, showered me with baby clothes, a bassinet, bath, and yes a car seat. We set up the entire nursery in a few hours.

As I broke the news to Delarai, my five year old, upon picking her up from school, she started jumping up and down with joy, then said: “Mummy, mummy, you see I was a good girl and Santa finally brought me what I had really wanted for Christmas”.

My husband flew back immediately and the three of us drove to San Francisco to pick up the baby. During the one-hour drive my husband and I discussed our uncertainties: what did we really know about raising an African American child? Did we still remember how to feed a baby? How often do they wake up during the night? Will the baby be healthy? Should we give her a Farsi, French, or African American name? Will I need to quit my startup to be a good Mom? Is my Indiegogo campaign going to be a failure now that I won’t be able to dedicate all of my time to it? Will my in-laws be disappointed with another girl in the family?

Once in the hospital, we noticed the baby was placed under the critical care unit. As we followed the nurse, my body was trembling, especially after passing each baby connected to a life support systems. The short 5-minute walk seemed like an eternity until we finally reached the last crib in the room. As we walked towards the baby, she turned around and smiled at me!! Yes, a real smile. Now I know this does not sound logical or realistic, but there is no Dr. in the world that will convince me this was just reflex.

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As I held her in my arms, all of my doubts seemed so distant and far away. I looked at my husband and daughter who also had tears in their eyes, and I know the perfect line here would be to say, “Nothing else mattered”, but as I mentioned I am not diplomatic enough, so I will say the truth instead: “I felt a great love for her immediately as well as a mysterious strength assuring me that I could make sense of it all, and still launch my campaign.

That night we had fancy dinner plans with our friends, Noushin and Nick Ivanitsky and Merima and Alec Bicic.  as I called to cancell, they insisted we share this joyous affair with them and prepared us an unforgettable feast, while assuring us of their support in both parenthood and entrepreunership journey.

Both couples made generous contributions towards our campaign and showered us with gifts for the baby.  We are far away from our goal, but that is because much of our love and attention has been focused elsewhere these days.  Based on the amount of support friends and community have shown so far, we feel strongly that entrepreneurship and adoption can have a beautiful marriage!

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We invite you to Check Out Our Campaign and show your support if you care about creating a more healthy and delicious lifestyle for all kids:

Thank you Claire Lee and Lisa Ly for all of your support with the adoption, and Noushin and Nick, Merima and Alic for your help with the launch! We would not have made it this far without you.

“How does Fashion & Design matter for company, product, career and your personal brand?”

I started my professional career at Duty Free Shops, became one of the first employees at eLuxury.com and moved on to the Paris headquarters to work at Christian Dior Couture.

Sure my life had its glamorous moments, the occasional private sales, the training tours to Louis Vuitton’s boutique on Rodeo Drive, running into Galliano at his atelier in Paris, visiting Harrods in London for the very first time, receiving enough makeup for the rest of my life—but it also involved a lot of pressure. Making sure you always dressed in the current collection (on a very modest salary).

After about five years, I had a chat with my immediate supervisor, and asked her advise about growing my role. She looked at me and laughed, “Your name is Layla (It sounds very Middle-Eastern), you speak French with a foreign accent, and you are still carrying a handbag from two seasons ago—basically your chances are non-existent”.

Three months later, I moved to the US to produce a book about the empowerment of women. While getting ready to present the project at the United Nations, my immediate manager came to my hotel room and saw me in a fabulous Fendi navy wool suit (that I had purchased at a private employee sale) and in a very upset tone said: “Layla, I AM the Director and you are only the Production Manager, why is it that all of your suits look nicer than mine?”

After that experience (which made me feel anything but empowered) I settled in Silicon Valley, gained a lot of extra pounds, and embraced motherhood. I began to care less and less about my appearance and personal brand. Working for tech companies where HR sends out an email to candidates encouraging them to dress casual for the interview, I figured it was best to lay low-key. My designer handbags were sold on eBay and replaced with the free bags I received in trade shows, and I basically gave up on hills after my daughter’s birth.

And then I started noticing the promotions passing me by.  Although people praised me for my work and often used me as an example to motivate others, they did not consider me for some of the promotions that were an obvious fit.  Before leaving my last position, I finally built my courage up to ask for feedback from my manager, and she was kind enough to give me a candid answer:

“Show your confidence and remember to dress for the role you want—the one I know you are capable of!  Perception is reality”.

That conversation, inspired me to host this upcoming panel:

How does Fashion & Design matter for company, product, career and your personal brand?

I am moderating the panel and would love to include any questions you might have from our distinguished panelists from Tory Burch, eBay, Google and Glam Media. So please send me your questions as soon as possible.

Also we will have an interactive fashion show to which you can participate by downloading My Runway application.

Funny Requests while applying for Online Community Manager Roles in 2011

Hi Everyone:

It has been a while since I dropped a note on this blog, I know….I know….shame on me.  But I have been busy becoming a mother and writing corporate blogs for Yahoo!

Here I am, however, once again, back on the job market, and I have to say, applying for jobs as a Community Manager in 2011 is kind of fun.  Here is the latest request a prospect employee asked me:

Could you describe how you would teach our customers how to make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich?  I decided the easiest way would be to do a video, what do you guys think?

Interviewing for Community/Social Media roles in 2009

In 2009, just as online communities have transitioned from simple discussion forums to full-featured, customizable social networks, interviewing questions are evolving to “How often do you blog? How many followers do you have on Twitter, how do you plan to market our products using social Media?

While the nature of organizations seeking online communities vary widely, the main interview question is “How do you plan to engage and involve our customers?”

I thought it would be a constructive project to share some of the recent questions I have been asked in my 2009 interviews –along with my responses, and get your feedback on how to improve them.  I greatly appreciate your perspective.

1.    Tell me about yourself? I grew up in Iran and since then have lived, worked and studied in 5 different countries. I am passionate about meeting and connecting people to each other, learning foreign languages and cultures. Naturally, being a Community Manager is more than a job for me, it is a true passion. I have a MA in International Relations with a focus on Global Marketing, and began my professional career in customer relations and online commerce.  Since then, I have held many roles and worn many hats, but mostly enjoyed creative positions in which I was involved with Market Research, Product Development, Event Marketing, Social Media and Public Relations.

2.    What do you think you can bring to our company/community that is unique or sets you apart from other candidates? As an avid community member and brand I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the expectations your customers have from your company as well as the Community. With my online community experience working with diverse demographics, I have what it takes to take your community to the next level and meet the needs of your customers.

3.    What information would you include in the ‘member profile’? Social networking has the ability to make important connections between the consumers and the company brand. Prior to crafting the profile portion, I would determine what I want to learn about those specific members. I would ensure a place for an avatar, and a place for personal interests.

4.    How do you monitor what people are saying about you? I often Google keywords related to the topic and the company name and visit the links that come up. I also frequent communities that I know are interested in the company or products .

5.    How do you go about pitching bloggers? I would start by reading some of Subject Matter Expert’s blogs, begin commenting and communicating with the ones whom I would like to pitch, and build relationships. I would then blog about the topic myself and ask those bloggers to share their opinion.

6.    How do you measure the success of a community? I set the industry standard parameters such as: the number of page views per day, the number of registered users, the amount time spent on site, etc.. to have a general understanding of my community’s activity and the growing trends, I think the real success of the community is based upon whether or not the members enjoyed their time spent on the site, and whether they obtained the information they wanted. Also, would customers recommend the community to their friends, and would they purchase more products/services based on the recommendations they received through the site.  I measure these parameters through regular surveys and polls.

7.    Why do you think certain online communities fail? According to Forester Research, office politics play a major role. In my experience, the communities that tend to have failed are due to lack of proper goal setting, and not having defined objectives in place.  Most marketing fails when the company strives for company needs in lieu of the customers – particularly true for social marketing. When a community only pushes sales and not the value-add to the customer, it is bound to fail.

Once again, I truly appreciate your feedback on the quality of my answers, and how to better answer these questions. You may want to refer to Dave Fleet’s post on what not to answer.  Feel free to also add in your own questions to this list.

Yahoo 360

These days you don’t have to be a Silicon Valley Social Media Expert to wake up every morning with an urge to update your status on Facebook or follow the latest Tweets on your startup of choice.  But what happens if you actually are a Social Media devotee who lives in Iran, a county in which most online communities are forbidden and offline community events (unless religiously focused) are strongly discouraged?

As an Iranian Social Media professional I was particularly curious about this question—knowing that despite government restrictions, Iran’s online presence continues to grow. With over 100,000 active weblogs, Iran is the third largest blogging country in the world.  Enthusiasts actively search and find ways to access forbidden and filtered sites such as Orkut, MySpace and Facebook using various methods and proxies.  It was really interesting for me to identify the most common alternative to the challenge of forbidden social tools: Yahoo 360! (A personal communication portal operated by Yahoo, right here in Silicon Valley).

Yahoo 360 is one of the few social networking sites that is not filtered in Iran. Almost every single Iranian online community aficionado I spoke to boasted about their usage of a Yahoo 360 account–many as the main tool for sharing their photos, some as a means of networking, and the majority using it as their main blogging platform. I personally had never taken the time to fully complete my Yahoo 360 account, knowing that all development has actually ended and supposedly the site would be abandoned by 2008.

2009 has arrived and Yahoo 360 is still here (much to the relief of Iranian users), but the site continues to be featured as ‘beta’ with no recent formal announcements from Yahoo regarding its future.  For the sake of 360 enthusiasts, I hope Yahoo does not do away with the tool and instead focuses on developing its features and addressing some of the bugs.

Here is an example of some of the conversations I had in Iran regarding Yahoo360:

Silicon Valley Community Strategist and leaders share their secrets to success

In the era of ‘almost post Web 2.0’, creation of new online communities is relatively easy to start.  In fact it seems that in every conversation these days you encounter company representatives who are launching new online communities, and when you dig deep and ask them the reason, the answer is too often a simple ‘why not?’  It is true that the technology is now widely available, and more and more customers want and need communities to answer their questions. However, it is important to remember that successful communities are more than just ad hoc technology projects, and in fact 50% of all new communities fail.

During the months of October and November, I participated in knowledge-sharing conversations with Community Strategists and practitioners from 5 prosperous online support communities to find out what are the commonalities for success. It is no surprise that all of them have support—and accountability—at the very top of their organizations, with a clearly defined mission and an Executive Champion or Business Owner who takes an active interest in the success of their community.

My leanings concluded that despite a variety of creative approaches, each successful online support community benefits from the following:

  • An Executive Champion, who owns Community, is fully supportive of the vision and strategy of the Community manager. The Executive Champion often sets, approves and oversees the budget, and regularly visits the community vision to ensure it remains relevant to the company’s overall strategic vision.
  • A social Community manager who is a people person in every sense, and has the ability to seed discussions and build positive relationships with the community and internal staff. The ideal CM has a knack for creating unique events and promotions that keep the active users motivated, engaged and involved.
  • A flexible and up to date platform that offers the community manager with a wide range of administration and configuration tools to manage community growth. An effective platform eliminates expensive and recurrent requests for engineering resources.
  • One or two savvy moderators, who set the tone, enforce rules, provide guidance and acknowledgement, and ensure a positive and productive environment for community members on a daily basis.
  • Good placement of the Community on the home page support home page, navigation, and product pages.  A user friendly interface for the community where navigation is intuitive and enjoyable.
  • Sustained, on-going promotional activities, videos and podcasts, contests and other special promotions. (Promotions truly help attract new members as well as reinvigorate the existing members).
  • Participation in conversations from the CEO, Executives, and Product Managers.
  • Outstanding member recognition and reward programs, and special programs such as vigorous reputation systems in place to thank the ‘Super-users’, or ‘Most active users’. All of the companies I spoke to either already hold or are in the process of creating ‘Most Valued Contributors’ programs that offer semi-annual offline gatherings and rewards for their Super-users as a token of appreciation.
  • A space reserved for members to offer their product insight/feedback and the company’s prompt and active response to the offered suggestions.

Community Leaders who generously shared their expertise and experience:

  • Apple: Joe Hines (English Community Forums Manager) and Eric Wiens (Global Knowledge Sharing Manager)
  • Juniper Networks Anton Chiang (Community Manager), Tawnee Kendall (Sr. Specialist, Social Media)
  • Linksys: Tarik Mahmoud (Sr. Manager, Community eSupport & Service Technology)
  • Symantec Corporation: Lars Kongshem (Director, Online Marketing & Customer Experience) and Peter Mckellar (Community Manager)
  • VMware: Robert Dell’Immagine (Director of Community)

Community Metrics

When it comes to demonstrating the importance of an active community to a company, there are far too many executives who are not completely convinced until you prove the ROI by showing some serious numbers.   That was my first goal when I decided to begin measuring our community’s growth.  Understanding community traffic and visitor clickstream behavior is crucial to gaining insight into a community.  So far Metrics have helped me identify important pages, learn about member behavior, and adjust strategies according to what seems to work.  My biggest challenge when I begun my metrics analysis was deciding on which parameters to set as a measure.  After some research, I have come up with a short list that I feel are the most important factors to take into consideration when setting up my community analytics.

 

Learning a new language with Myngle

Living in Silicon Valley and hearing about the latest technology news from local sources, it is easy to forget about what is happening in the rest of the world!  However, being a foreign languages aficionado and having worked in Community Development with Egbert Van Keulen, I continued to follow up with his latest ventures as he worked on Myngle: the global online language e-learning platform, connecting people and cultures from all over the world.  I knew Egbert was extremely bright from hearing his input on Community, but did not expect he would have up to 20,000 users in less than 7 months, not to mention the 800.000 euros raised already!! Myngle has proved to be one of the most promising ICT companies in Benelux.

 

Although personally I prefer to learn languages through in person human interaction, if I did have to choose an online method, Myngle would certainly be my top choice.  Since December 2007, Myngle has brought together language teachers and students from all over the world, enabling live lessons or conversational practice over the Internet. Myngle offers a solution that provides the possibility of teaching or receiving live one-on-one classes from the comfort of your home for practically any language and level from any type of teacher.

 

Myngle brilliantly removes the physical dimension to learning a new language, and allows students and teachers to get together for real time lessons in the best possible combinations, at the most convenient times, and – crucially – between any two points in the world. Students are able to find teachers online for any language, and a method that meets their individual needs.

 

Myngle is unique as it has developed the first in online education special search algorithm that matches the student’s needs with the right courses, and already offers about 900 different teacher/course combinations students can choose from. Teachers (and even offline language schools) are able to reach students anywhere in the world, and showcase their abilities and services to a much wider audience.

 

How do teachers and students communicate?

 

Myngle offers a toolkit for synchronous learning, which consists of VoIP (Skype) plus own integrated whiteboard, payment systems (Paypal), feedback and a community environment. Myngle’s feedback system is made up of comments and ratings left by students who were taught by the relevant teacher. These comments and ratings are available in the public Feedback Profile of each member. Extra features will gradually be added to enrich the learning experience, such as podcasts, homework, 3D virtual reality classroom / role plays etc.

 

The most exciting features of Myngle, Virtual Classroom, will be launching sometimes next week.

 

This Virtual Classroom will empower teachers and students’ full interactivity in a lesson. Besides file sharing and Skype integration it will have:

 

  • Desktop sharing
  • Marking tools right above the lesson slides, or with a blank whiteboard (so that users can draw or write real-time);
  • Video feed (teachers can turn on/off when they wish to interact visually with the student);
  • Integrated chat;
  • Enabling lessons with several students;

 There will be a few surprise features we will have to wait until Thursday to discover.

 

Myngle’s team is composed of experienced Community and Foreign language devotees, formerly employees of eBay and Berlitz, and including all types of nationalities such as The Netherlands, Italy, Hong Kong, Brazil, Ukraine, England, and Indonesia!

 

For additional information, screenshots, or photos feel free to contact:

 

Myngle.com

Egbert van Keulen

tel: ++31-617704408

Skype: egbertvankeulen

e-mail: egbert@myngle.com

 

As the Dutch say, “Veel plezier met leren”

Wisheo!!

After a year of long distance planning, stressful negotiations with my fiance’s parents, and virtual decision makings, my husband and I finally said our wedding vows in Valbonne France.  Following a short and adventurous honeymoon, we began the most amusing task of all: opening the gifts and writing thank you cards. We live in a one bedroom apartment and our friends proved to be far greater in numbers and generosity than we expected, the gifts kept rolling and we ran out of places for storing them.  The obvious solution seemed returning some of the gifts, and as we began standing in long lines in Crate and Barrel, I could not help but wish that, Wisheo had been launched a year earlier so we could have taken advantage of it for our wedding.

 

Wisheo is a new group gift application that allows you to setup group gifts for your friends and family, and the organizer can collect money from the participants via paypal. It eliminates the usual hassles and forcing the organizer to have to constantly remind everyone to pay their share as Wisheo takes care of this automatically. It is pretty easy to use, and has a wide selection of items to select from. It also allows you to personalize the invitation with pictures and text. We’ll be sure to use Wisheo as our registry for our next special occasion, (hopefully a housewarming party!!)

 

To find out more about Wisheo, visit their website:

 

http://www.wisheo.com

 

Wisheo is also founded by some of the coolest people I know:

 

Stefan Pongratz – Marketing
Stefan is one of the kindest people I know.  He is half Swedish and half Chilean and has the best qualities from both words. He has more than eight years of varied RF experience and brings five years of product management experience to the group. Not only does he hold a BSEE and MSEE, he is currently working on his MBA at UC Davis.

 

Benjamin Bigaut – Graphics-User Experience

Benjamin has a strong interest in graphic arts and digital photography and is fluent in Photoshop. His artistic skills and experience will provide Wisheo’s users with the best graphical interface. Benjamin is currently working as a manufacturing manager at Anritsu and holds a BSEE from Virginia Tech.  Benjamin is also a great chef and a great catch for any single ladies out there.  His French accent alone will melt your heart.

 

Matthias Zeitler – Technology
Matthias is a pioneer in global content lifecycles and translation process automation with lots of international business experience after leading an offshore software development organization in Russia and working in multiple countries. He currently works as a business consultant at SDL international. He holds a BS in CS and is currently working on his MBA at SCU.

What exactly is an online community?

After two months of soul searching, some time in Central America, and a few nervous breakdowns caused by my upcoming wedding preparation, I decided to take refuge in a job I have grown to love: Community Management.

 

One of the things I love about being a Community Manager is that unless working in some type of Web 2.0 setting, the average cocktail party attendee will not have the slightest clue on what a Community Manager does, and thus a lengthy conversation begins.  Thankfully by now, I have my answer prepared: An online community is like any other community: an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest: technology, fashion or traveling. It’s also one of the most effective vehicles a company can utilize for customer retention, market research and viral marketing.  I’ll be looking out for some of my favorite communities out there, and will be sure to blog about them.