A bit of creative inspiration for you. by Monika Kanokova

kickstarterDE

Today, Kickstarter launched in Germany and I feel incredibly fortunate I was part of the team that made it happen. If you’d like to read the full story of why and how I’m supporting Kickstarter during their German launch, you can find the story here.

What I would really like to do in this email is to introduce you to some of my favourite projects that have launched today:

If you’d like to save the world twice a day, you should consider getting sustainable toothbrushes from TIO. Designed by two great designers, TIO is a combination of everything Germany is known for: structure, efficiency, and great German engineering.

The wonderful blog, Notes of Berlin, is currently being turned into a movie. The storyline looks so incredibly promising, so don’t miss out on being one of the first people in the audience.

If you love tea AND design, you definitely want to take a look at Miito. Instead of restyling kettles, the designers have rethought the entire process of heating water.

If you have a hidden or not so hidden nerdy side, you want to take a closer look at The Future Chronicles, a great publication about the history of the Internet.

.. and if you’d like to try some vegan cheese, I’d love to recommend Happy Cheese to you. I’m very excited about getting this cashew-nuts-goodness straight into my belly.

If you are based in Germany and have an idea for a Kickstarter project, don’t hesitate and let me know. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge to help creatives build their project pages and also their communities.

Without excitement, you’re exchangeable. by Monika Kanokova

FullSizeRender.jpg

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was rejected after a job interview. I listened to her and the way she talked about the position and suddenly I realised why they didn’t consider her: she wasn't excited about the role. When looking for work, or even freelance jobs, there are three things that truly matter: skills, vision, and excitement. In addition, you need proof of all three.

It might take a lot of self-reflection to figure out what you're really excited about; to figure out what makes your heart sing and your eyes sparkle. But how do you expect to convince anyone that you’re the right person for a job if they don’t see that you’re head over heels? It's not enough to be excited; you have to be able to show that you are. 

The best way to convince someone you're a good fit for a job is to have proof of your excitement. Have you seen the movie The Rebound? (Probably not.) When the main actress wants to get a job in sports journalism, she shows the interviewer a (physical) map with sports result she's been tracking for years - results and statistics she's been writing down without anyone asking her to, let alone paying her to. She didn’t need formal education. She could prove she was the right candidate. 

This is why, in the age of the social web, it makes sense to share your excitement publicly. Once you do and keep doing it, people (and it’s very likely it’s going to be the right people) will notice and approach you. I got my first real job offer because I had a blog where I wrote about the things I found interesting. No one cared that I only had experience as a waitress. I was excited and I made people aware of that.

I don’t know what you’re excited about in particular, but whatever it is, start showing and sharing your excitement today. On Instagram, on Tumblr or on your personal blog. It’s about time! 

It's a wrap! April by Monika Kanokova

kickstarterDE

For a change, April wasn’t a month in which I split my time between client work and client acquisition. Instead, it was a month that I spent fully focused on one of the biggest projects I have ever been trusted to work on: helping Kickstarter launch in Germany. (Yay!)

Once again I packed my bags and left for Austria’s big brother. While Berlin is the city where I have spent most of the month, I have also traveled to Hamburg, Munich, Würzburg, Cologne and Leipzig. I spoke at events or organised one-on-one meetings with some of the most creative people I've ever met. It’s been fascinating to talk to them about the ideas and projects they work on. 

Some of the people who really touched my heart this month were Kaleb Wentzel-Fisher, Benjamin Beck, Chris Wilson, Carina Schichl, Jewell Sparks and Nicole Trojer. If you’d like to be part of my next month, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Also, if you’d like to know where I’ll be giving public talks about Kickstarter, check out http://kickstarter.com/germany

What really matters when you tell a story? by Monika Kanokova

storytelling

Have you ever thought about why some people tell much better stories than others? And why some books are better than others? 

When I decided to start writing longer pieces, I first read the book, No Plot? No Problem!. The author asked all these questions that made me actively think about what stories I enjoy. As you can imagine, pinning it down took a while, but I now know that I don’t like to read long descriptions of surroundings where the author forces me to see ‘his' world through his eyes. Instead, I want authors to focus on the plot while giving me the freedom to fantasize about the setting.

It’s utterly different when I listen to people's holiday stories; that’s when I want to hear all the subjective judgements. I’m not at all interested in where a person went or what they’ve done. I want to hear about their personal impressions of the places and what they felt in the moments. I hardly ever know what or where exactly the places are that they’re telling me about. What I want to know is why I should visit. 

You might now question the professional context here; why am I trying to make you reflect on books and then talking wildly about people’s ability to tell a good story of their last vacation trip? Bear with me, I’m getting there. 

Yesterday I downloaded the book Talk Like TED, because for me, TED speakers are the most engaging storytellers. I did so, because I’ll be speaking at the re:publicanext week and will give a talk called "Community Power: From Prototype to Market.” For the first time I’m actually nervous. It’s not that I haven’t spoken at events before, it’s just that this time it feels different. So far I've analyzed three kinds of talks: the ones that teach something new, the ones you do to represent a company to explain what the company does, and the ones that are supposed to change people's perspectives on a topic.

The TED book mentions that when preparing for a talk, you should start asking the right questions. The right questions don't include, “What do you do?" It’s not even, “What are you passionate about?” The real question to answer when speaking at events is, “What is it about the industry/this idea/this company that makes your heart sing?” or in other words, “Why does it matter?” 

I’ll now go back to reading and preparing my slides for next week. I would love to hear from you and learn what makes your heart sing these days, what you’re working on and why it excites you.

Enjoyed the read? It's one of my newsletters. Get these posts into your mailbox.

What can happen when you leave your phone at home by Monika Kanokova

theartofconversation

Do you ever leave your phone at home? Do you leave it in your bag when you’re out with friends, or do you keep it on the table? Often, my phone ends up being on the table and when it vibrates, it distracts me from the person I am talking to. Usually the person who is sitting opposite of me also has their phone on the table. And when their phone vibrates, they become distracted, too. 

When I got to Germany two weeks ago, I ordered a sim card, but because of the long Easter weekend, it had not arrived for twelve days. And so, once again, I took a break from having a phone and making myself available to people at all times, trying to be in touch with everyone around the clock.

Sure, I couldn’t get half of the things done that I’d usually do on the go. At the same time, knowing that I couldn’t catch up with people online, I could focus on the conversations I was having in that very moment. I could focus on the people fully. They noticed. And suddenly, they also left their phones in their pockets. It was like a pleasant social phenomena; setting technology aside and being present.

 These past ten days were filled with various business meetings, but also with an unusually high number of intense, hour-long conversations; exchanges that went much deeper than the usual intermezzos we seem to be capable off these days; before, once again, we get distracted by our phones. It was a time filled with conversations where you might run out of topics, but because you don’t look for distraction in your phone, you manage to pick up another topic and surf the wave of unexpected ideas. Maybe you might appreciate the read about the Art of Conversation from last year’s December issue of the New Yorker. 

Next time you go out, think of me and leave your phone in your bag or at home. Enjoy what happens next. Silence is ok too.

Enjoyed the read? It's one of my newsletters. Get these posts into your mailbox.

What’s important when building digital plugins for partner websites? by Monika Kanokova

sched

It’s not unusual to handle the most diverse tasks when working with startups. When Taylor asked me to support him with the concept for a SCHED plugin for Eventbrite.com, I was very excited about having another opportunity to work directly on a digital product, and so, we kicked off January together.

For everyone who doesn’t know what SCHED is, it's the perfect software for every event organiser who wants to give their attendees a personalised schedule on their mobile device. When SCHED was founded, their MVP was to give every event organiser a mobile app. Now, years later, the service SCHED replaces the need for a separate web presence. Their product is sophisticated, customizable, and simple to use. In short, SCHED offers everything you need when organising a conference, educational gathering, or any other event. 

When Eventbrite approached the team at SCHED to provide a plugin, it was an incredible opportunity for SCHED to grow their user base by doing what they do best; building a great service for people in the event business. SCHED was asked to provide two features – the iconic feature for organisers to upload thumbnails of speakers to make their event pages look better and a customisable toolbox to visualise session calendars. While both of these features eventually make the event pages look better, they serve a different purpose. When Taylor and I discussed SCHED’s product features, we figured that it didn’t make much sense to provide both of them under one and the same name in the menu, originally planned as the “SCHED plugin.”

When building digital products, names play a significant role. They must be intuitive and immediately give the user a clue what to expect. I didn’t see much sense in trying to combine both of SCHED’s services. Can you think of a digital service that succeeded because it could do it all and could do it all from the beginning? 

When you start building a digital product, it’s important for it to have one feature that works really well. You need to be able to summarise the use of your product in one sentence. On Wunderlist, you can create to-do lists. With Mailchimp, you can send beautiful emails to a large group of people. On Kickstarter, you can realise creative products. Do you see my point? These companies don’t try to pitch to you all the small services they provide: when you see their name, you know what these products are useful for.

Ok, let’s go from a macro-perspective and look at the micro-perspective of digital products, such as a website’s directory. When you click on ‘about,' you expect to get a description of what a company does. When you click on ‘references,’ you want to know who the team has worked with in the past. You have expectations and probably no patience to ‘search’ for content you cannot find immediately. 

For the reasons described above, when Taylor and I conceptualised SCHED’s plugin for Eventbrite, we decided to make two single purpose plugins. We knew that the Eventbrite team might not want to give us two menu referrals immediately, but we had a clear explanation why it made more sense to only focus on one feature at a time. 

Knowing we would build two separate concepts, it gave us the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time – “SpeakerList by SCHED” and “Visual Schedule by SCHED”. Two names that immediately tell you what to expect even before you click and read the copy. And let’s be honest here, how many of us really read the descriptions on websites? 

With the possibility of having a permanent link to one’s service on such a great website such as Eventbrite, we knew we wanted to be one of the teams Eventbrite always mentions when explaining why they collaborate with third-party services. There were several other companies Eventbrite could mention in their announcement, so what did we do to have Eventbrite choose SCHED as one of their top plugin partners? 

It’s a very simple idea…we did everything to make them look better: our entire approach to building a feature was to make it as seamless and as native as possible. It was important to us to give Eventbrite everything that would make their users feel even better about using Eventbrite. Every decision we made was completely user-centered while respecting this user to be Eventbrite’s user and not SCHED’s user (yet). If you follow Eventbrite’s blog or their newsletters, you might have already noticed that our approach has worked. 

When you build a plugin for a third party service, you of course want to increase your user base, too. Everyone who installs SCHED’s plugin on Eventbrite and agrees to share their details with SCHED automatically creates a free account on SCHED. In the first instance, our aim was to have as many people as possible install SCHED’s plugin. Our next aim was to have a number of these new users upgrade to the paid version of SCHED. We decided to follow up with everyone via email and showcase how upgrading to SCHED’s full version would benefit them and their attendees. We knew all our efforts paid off when Eventbrite suggested another collaboration that will eventually benefit both sides. Of course, also financially.

I am still plugged into SCHED’s back-end and receive daily reminders of the increasing number of signups. Another project we have worked on together with Taylor was a communication cycle to keep these users looped in, which I’ll blog about another time. Now, to summarise what I’d recommend to consider when building third-party plugins, here are three bullet points:

x) When choosing names, make it obvious for the user what to expect. Your company’s name won’t make the cut.

x) Make your plugin look as native as possible to the website where it’s featured.

x) Whoever the partner website is, make them look better to impress their users. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

I hope my take on building digital products for third-party websites has inspired you in one way or another. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out: monikanicolettaATgmail.com

It’s a wrap! March by Monika Kanokova

taliaystudio

March was exceptionally good. I had the chance to work with taliaYstudio and help them revamp their entire communication strategy. Funny how it seems to be an almost impossible task to confront oneself and look at the communication of one’s company objectively. Sometimes, help’s needed, which is why Talia Radford hired me for a month of intensive consulting. Together, with Talia and Catalina from the collaborative studio, we had a series of workshops to figure out the positioning, messaging, and branding of the company. You can see parts of our efforts here.

In March, Raven & Finch has launched the first issue of Sonor, their agency’s magazine on sound branding. I feel lucky for having had the chance to materialise Max Kickinger’s thoughts and write the copy for the digital and the print issue of the quarterly paper. Sound experience design and sound branding are topics many brands haven’t discovered for themselves just yet. I highly recommend to every brand manager to sign up for their mailing list to receive the next issues. 

My side project, the book, This Year Will Be Different: the insightful guide to becoming a freelancer was featured on the “As the Bird Flies” blog. I also had a chance to give an interview about the book on Fritz, the regional Berlin-Brandenburg radio station. 

I must say, I’m really glad I realised #TYWBD. Not only because I loved seeing all the pictures from people who have received one of the books funded through Kickstarter (here, here, here) but also because I’ve signed a contract to work on a very exciting project together with the Kickstarter team. Thus, I’ll be busy for the next three months and only available for small requests.

So, like I said, March was great, and it led to such wonderful opportunities that I’m thankful for.Keep me in the loop on the things you’re working on!

Don't let your fears hold you back. Here is why, how and everything else you should know. by Monika Kanokova

hustle

I don’t know how it is for you but people often say to me that they would like to work freelance but that they are worried it won’t work out for them.

As it is with many things in life, the first time we try or do something is also the most difficult. Jumping into cold water is daunting and scary but once you’re in the water, your body adapts and you’re fine (!)

Personally I am most afraid of my own fear. Fear intimidates us; it makes us give up, it’s what stops us. But we should remember that once we’ve overcome our own fear nothing is as bad and painful as we first imagined it would be. I guess it’s because once you’ve taken one step, your body adjusts and balances and is ready for the next one and then you just keep moving forward.

Shortly after I decided to start my own company, I also decided to write a book about the process of going freelance; mainly as a way to overcome my own fear.
I knew I would have to invest money in the book to make it real and commit myself to writing it, which I did. Then I thought why not run a Kickstarter campaign, which is something I had always wanted to do, so I did that too. The campaign was successful.

For me, Kickstarter was a step. So, as I said above, a step leads to the next step: I started talking to people at Kickstarter a lot and somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time, having the right skill set too. Okay, so fast forward to today; I am now working with the team at Kickstarter on a great project. My side project (#TYWBD) led to a client. (If you're thinking about asking me to help you with a project, I'm free after June)

I feel incredibly fortunate; all because I dared to take that first step, which then guided me to the next step, and so it goes. I walk on this freelance path while meeting and working with great clients along the way. 

Everyone is at least a little bit afraid that they won’t make it, whatever the “it” is for them. But you must take the first step; you must jump into the cold water and after the initial shock it will be fine, invigorating. And once you’ve made this first jump, you can think about what is the next thing that you’re scared of and how you will overcome that fear. Good luck! 

Enjoyed the read? It's an adapted version of my latest newsletter. Get the full versions into your mailbox.