The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

10 time-saving methods to help you master scheduling — May 6, 2015

10 time-saving methods to help you master scheduling


This is a post that first appeared on my blog last year.

I think of the last two years I’ve spent in New York as professional finishing school. If there’s anywhere on this planet where people are stupendously busy, it’s this place. It definitely took me a few months to settle into the rhythm. Combine this experience with recently fundraising, and I now feel incredible mindful of everyone’s time. So, without ado, I wanted to share 10 tips on how to win at professional time etiquette:

1) For the love of humankind, be direct with asks

Growing up in England and Australia, I was taught to be the opposite of direct. Skirt around issues, don’t address things head on, be tirelessly polite and pad lots of superfluous info around a lone ask. What I’ve now learnt is that one of the kindest things you can do for someone’s time, is to be as direct as possible. Don’t ask someone for coffee if you can put something in a one-sentence email.

2) Do double opt-in introductions

When I receive an email with the subject line: “Introduction…” my heart sinks. Connecting someone to another without asking the person if they want to opt-in, in a professional context, isn’t a favour to the recipient – it’s often a burden. In the days of overflowing inboxes, managing requests and day-to-day work – we can be plagued with guilt of not being on top of it all. The best referrers understand signal over noise – what each party is looking for. Over time when you build up trust in a professional relationship… use it wisely.

As Fred Wilson writes on AVC:

“When introducing two people who don’t know each other, ask each of them to opt-in to the introduction before making it.”

If you’re the one asking for an intro, include the context and a blurb that the introducer can easily copy across. Make it easy for people to help you.

3) Bcc the introducer post introduction

Once you have that intro, reply! It sounds super obvious but there’s been countless times when someone has sent an intro to me and the requester didn’t reply. Don’t be that person! When you do reply, move the person introducing you to bcc so they see you’re on it but you’re not clogging their inbox. Simply say thanks and that you’re moving the introducer to bcc in the email copy. No more getting stuck on irrelevant back and forths.

4) Don’t ask questions that you can easily google

Please don’t ask what someone’s email address is via social media when you can easily find it on the web. The same goes for other minutiae like addresses. If I’m sending a calendar invite through for a meeting, I’ll find the office address online (if it’s not on the website, look in their email signature, Foursquare/Yelp data and so forth).

If you’re reaching out to someone for advice, make sure you’ve read what’s out there first. Every man and his dog seems to have been interviewed about their journey or write a blog with their thoughts these days. Don’t make people repeat themselves.

5) Don’t abuse Facebook messages

This depends on personal preferences but I’m less of a fan of using Facebook messages for work comms. In a way, I’m glad Facebook is now splitting out the messenger app so I don’t have to install it and can switch off from another inbox to manage. If you want to say something important and have a request, don’t send it via Facebook. It’s likely just going to sit in someone’s ‘Other’ section unnoticed or just annoy them while they’re busy wading through the latest click bait in their feeds!

6) Calendar invites or it’s not happening

If you’ve arranged to meet someone or are hosting an event – calendar invite that thing up! Forget Facebook events invites or group text messages, New Yorkers sendPaperless Post invites that you add straight into your calendar. It often takes weeks to get on people’s schedule here – you’ve got to make sure you’re literally on it. If you’re finding scheduling is taking up a lot of time, check out services like Zirtualor

7) Do phone calls

I have to admit, I used to hate phone calls… I’d much prefer an email. When I first moved to New York, I was surprised at all the phone call suggestions verse in-person meetings. The thing is, getting around the city takes a lot of time so why spend two hours out of your day commuting then having coffee, when you could fit it in an half-hour phone call. The same goes for email – if you’re forming work relationships, don’t ping emails back and forth, New Yorkers pick up the phone and hustle.

8) Do your background research

Preparation and research beforehand will make your meetings. Don’t spend time asking basic questions – the more you can deep dive, the livelier, more interesting and memorable the conversation will be. If you’re fundraising, for instance, go in knowing what companies/founders someone’s invested in, what their investment thesis is and if you’re at the right stage (e.g. What’s their average check size?). It’s likely not worth both of your time, if these things don’t align.

In terms of insights, Refresh is seriously a great app – it offers a nice (and often a bit too ‘stalkerish’) overview of the people you’re meeting with. It’s actually made it onto my phone’s homescreen it’s been that useful.

9) If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late

Australians are known, well, for being casual with time. It’s quite okay to ‘rock up’ five to 10 minutes late to a meeting there. I mean, it’s obviously not great manners but most people do it. Fast forward to when I moved to New York, and had a steep learning curve. Over time, I’ve stopped arriving in the nick of time – and now give myself 10-15 minutes before any meeting.

10) Follow through

Pipeline’s Natalia Oberti Noguera recently said at a conference:

“Fortune is in the follow up.”

All of the above tips are nothing if you don’t follow up and follow through. Following up makes it worth it and is the ‘getting stuff done’ part – make sure you get your follow ups done within a few days post-meeting.

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing — June 21, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Pete Ballotta of Couchsurfing

This week we interviewed the director of business operations for Couchsurfing, Pete Ballotta. Follow Pete on Twitter via @teknominds

Pete Ballotta

What’s the biggest lesson from your startup experience before joining CS? 

Hire the best people possible at all levels.

When a company is successful and pressured to scale, it should budget time for assimilation and focus on recruiting top management.  If not, the early culture you developed will erode, top performers will leave, and momentum will be lost.

Is CS just for backpackers? How can professionals use the site?

Our members include backpackers, students, recent grads, professionals, and retirees.  Many professionals extend their trips for a few days, after a company has paid for the initial travel costs. I’ve hosted many Couchsurfers in SF the past year, and many of them were professionals that were in the Bay Area to attend industry conferences including GDC, PyCon, and Google I/O, or seminars at UC Berkeley or Stanford. Our community includes retired Hedge Fund Manager Brooke Allen, and pop icon Amanda Palmer.  I see potential for job seekers and entrepreneurs to use the site to attend conferences, interviews, or network without having to spend money on hotels.


What makes the CS community unique? What advice do you have for other folks trying to scale yet maintain a strong community?

It’s a passionate and engaged community with members from over 100k cities in the world who bring a wealth of diversity and local knowledge to the platform.  Couchsurfers share bits of their daily lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.  The community has been growing for a decade, so of course there are different opinions and world views.  We’re excited about the ever-increasing interest in the sharing economy, and expect the CS community will continue to grow and evolve.

Do you notice a difference in style of users between Airbnb and CS?

Both options can offer a unique housing option to members, and I think there is a lot of crossover potential.  Couchsurfers usually have a desire to meet locals though, whether it’s for a home-cooked meal, a walking tour of a city, ride sharing, or a few hours of conversation.  There are Couchsurfing meet ups in 300+ cities every week, so many members interact with the community without leaving their hometown.


What tips do you have for those people who have a hard time taking their vacation leave? Any mini-break suggestions from SF? 

Couchsurfers are practically everywhere and in the Bay Area, they are often using the website to share rides to Tahoe, LA, Napa or Yosemite.  A few weeks ago my girlfriend had a sudden itch to get out of the city for the weekend. It was a Thursday afternoon, but she decided to try to find a host near Paso Robles. We had wanted to explore the wine region there, and within six hours she received a message from a Couchsurfer offering to host us for the weekend.  Upon arriving, we found our host was not only a good cook, but worked as a winemaker for a 100% sustainable vineyard.  All of our stops that weekend were recommendations from locals, including a spontaneous invitation to join a half-dozen locals on a farm for dinner.

What professional and lifestyle events do you like going to? Any cool happenings coming up?

I’m a regular at SFRails events, and have been producing some of the local CS meetups. I’m a big fan of local comedy clubs, the Sunset/Stompy music events, Hardly Strictly, and the Treasure Island Music Festival. We’re hosting International Couchsurfing Day in our offices on June 12th, and there are “Couch Crash” events this summer in Boulder, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, and many other cities.

Favourite place for business meetings in SF?

I’m a fan of The View rooftop lounge at the SoMa Marriot, happy hour at Monarch, an SF Giants game, or free jazz at Rasselas.


About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.

Interview: SF Local, Karen Kang of BrandingPays — May 31, 2013

Interview: SF Local, Karen Kang of BrandingPays

This week we interview branding expert, author, founder and CEO of BrandingPays, Karen Kang. Follow Karen on Twitter via @karenkang.

You are currently the founder and CEO of BrandingPays. What do you focus on and why do you love branding?

I’m a brand strategist for corporate and personal branding.  The focus of my company is on consulting, seminars and personal branding coaching. I love branding because clients find it so empowering.  When you have a visible and respected brand, the world knows when and why to engage with you. Opportunities come your way because you have added value in a unique way. It is so rewarding to help clients have those aha! moments that transform them from mere players to leaders in their niche.

You recently published and completed a book tour for The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand. As we have often been led to believe that the Internet can endanger our privacy, how would you coach an individual on the merits of using social media publicly as a part of reinventing their personal brand? 

If you want to have greater opportunities in business, you have to brand yourself online.  One of the best ways to do this is to find an area of thought leadership that will differentiate you, and start sharing your expertise on social media. If you haven’t yet developed an expert platform, perhaps you can begin to add value by curating information from other sources.

Does everyone need their own brand? What happens if people don’t like what they’ve become known for and they want to change industries or career? What tips do you recommend?

Everyone already has a brand—some are weak and some are strong.  If you have a weak brand that doesn’t stand for much, you need to figure out what you want to be known for and start branding around this.

I recently helped a school teacher repackage her former high tech business experience, political background and science credentials as the perfect skill set for a school principal prepared to  face the multiple challenges of school finance, parent involvement and science and technology preparedness.  With her new positioning, she recently accepted her dream job as a middle school principal.

Branding is not rocket science. However, most people don’t know how to be strategic about their own personal brands.  I wrote BrandingPays so people would have the framework, tools and examples to brand themselves for a successful career or business.

You worked for a number of years as a principal and partner at Regis McKenna before starting your own consulting firm. What advice would you give to professionals looking to strike out on their own?

If you are a professional services provider, your personal brand is critical.  Make sure that you understand the ecosystem for your business, and develop relationships with key influencers.  You will be credible from the get go if the right people endorse you or introduce you to others.  Be sure to give influencers a clear, concise definition of what you do and how it benefits your customers.  Make it easy for others to advocate for you.

You need a good website that not only tells your story in a compelling way, but interacts with your customers.  Consider adding your Twitter stream, videos or other interactive media to your home page to communicate your personality and that you value education and engagement.  Show rather than tell.

You’ve said that personal branding can make the world a better place. What do you mean by that? How has living in the Bay Area shaped your personal brand? 

Imagine a world in which every person were known and recognized for their unique talents and value.  Not only would we all have better self-esteem but the world would work more efficiently with the right partners engaging with one another to create new opportunities and new value—together!  That is what personal branding, done right, can achieve.

The Bay Area has had a tremendous influence over my personal brand.

Living in Silicon Valley where so many great companies started as a germ of an idea, I couldn’t help but feel that anything is possible. Companies here are reinventing business models, markets and themselves constantly. Therefore, taking an innovative approach to my own career and my own brand just seemed natural.

Which SF events do you look forward to each year?

I have been so busy doing speaking engagements around my book that I’ve had to pass on many great events in the San Francisco Bay Area.  However, I have enjoyed local TEDx talks, and I’m looking forward to being both a speaker and an attendee at this year’s Red Herring Conference in Monterey and the Ascend West Coast Conference in San Francisco.

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About our contributor // Eliza Dropkin is a lover of live music, good food, and beautiful places. Connect with her on Twitter via @elizadropkin.

Interview: SF local, Gary Swart of oDesk — May 14, 2013

Interview: SF local, Gary Swart of oDesk

 This week we interview Gary Swart, the CEO of oDesk – a global job marketplace.

Gary Swart
Gary Swart

You started at oDesk in 2005 as CEO, what changes have you seen in the company since then?

Well we have definitely grown quite a bit! If you think about the evolution of a startup in terms of three phases—the jungle, the dirt road and the highway—we’ve gone from overtaking the competition in 2009 while in our ‘jungle’ phase, to now approaching the ‘highway’ and being larger than all of our next six competitors combined. A large part of that growth was the decision in 2006 to refine our pricing strategy, a decision which top Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital called “aggressive strategic thinking” that launched us to market leadership.

We’ve experienced eight times growth in ‘hours worked’ on the oDesk platform since only 2009, so our company has expanded significantly to keep up with that demand. We are now at approximately 130 full-time employees in our Silicon Valley headquarters, plus another 250 full-time-equivalent freelancers from the oDesk network who come to work for us every day from around the world. And as we fully reach the ‘highway’ and continue to grow, I expect our ranks to continue expanding so we can keep up.

You came in to help the founders, Odysseas Tsatalos and Stratis Karamanlakis, scale and build the company. Are they still involved to date?

Absolutely; Odysseas is currently our Chief Technology Officer and Stratis is our Vice President of Development. They truly embody the oDesk vision, as the company was born out of their desire to work together. In 2003, Odysseas’ Silicon Valley startup was in need of a world-class engineer with a specific skill set. He thought his friend Stratis in Greece would be a great fit, but Odysseas’ team was hesitant to hire someone halfway around the world. To bridge the distance, the two developed technology to manage their work together online. They realized the potential of their technology, and oDesk was born. They continue to not only work together—with Odysseas in California and Stratis still in Athens—but also to help shape the vision for oDesk.

 How does oDesk differ from other marketplaces?

oDesk differs from other kinds of marketplaces—such as online shopping or even online dating—primarily because it’s about more than just finding the right product or service (or date); we also care about what happens after the match. So whereas other marketplaces are essentially cut out of the picture after the product is sold or the relationship has sparked, oDesk stays in the picture throughout the lifecycle of the working relationship.

Our value, therefore, lies in creating long-term relationships, and then giving users the tools to make those relationships successful.

This has required building a much more robust platform that supports these continued relationships, from making the match and managing the professional, to submitting the final deliverable and facilitating payment. Trust and transparency have been especially critical to building a vibrant community that fosters these long-term relationships, as the people working together typically never meet in person and often are hundreds or thousands of miles away. To create this trust and transparency, our freelancer profiles offer rich information such as each professional’s work history, ratings and reviews, education and portfolio. We also offer a guarantee to businesses that an hour paid is an hour worked, as well as a guarantee to freelancers that an hour worked is an hour paid.


How do you think the workforce is changing and how can businesses keep up?

I think both businesses and workers are realizing that the traditional work model—the 9-to-5 in the same office, staffed with full-time employees who work there for a year or more—is not only outdated, but unnecessary. Thanks to advancements in technology, especially in collaboration and communication technologies, it’s no longer necessary to have everyone in the same office, working the same hours. Businesses are now embracing the fact that they can hire the best people for each role, regardless of where they are located, and that they can build flexible teams of experts that scale up and down in response to demand. Workers, meanwhile, are enjoying the freedom and flexibility to live and work wherever they like, to choose their own schedule, and to pick projects based on what they’re passionate about, not what they’re assigned.

As flexible work models become more and more mainstream, businesses that do not consider them will be left struggling to compete. So I really encourage businesses to have an open mind about what their workforce looks like.

Can people hire specialised talent via oDesk? What about roles that need to be in the know about company happenings (like social media managers)?

Definitely. In fact, specialized talent is often the best use case for oDesk. Online work has done to the job market what ecommerce did for retail—it enabled the long-tail of specialization to thrive. For example, a brick-and-mortar business probably wouldn’t be able to survive selling only pickles, but a homemade pickle business with an online presence can do extremely well because its customer base is global. In the same way, professionals who work online can be much more highly specialized—in a certain niche programming language, for example, or in branding for eBooks—because they have a much wider client base to serve. As oDesk has grown, we’ve seen specialized skills grow extremely quickly; we’ve even seen bioinformatics and theoretical physicists hired recently!

For roles that need to be highly informed on company happenings, we recommend a well thought-out onboarding process that gets the freelancer up to speed on how the company works, who and what they can use as a resource, how their performance will be measured, etc. We find that often freelancers become long-term team members, so it helps to train and include them in a similar way as you would with an in-person hire. Even on-site employees can feel like outsiders when communication isn’t effective, so it’s every manager’s responsibility to keep all their team members informed and involved—regardless of level, location, etc. For example, we have a policy at oDesk that when remote team members join meetings (which happens in almost every meeting), they have priority speaking privileges.


How could a non-technical person go about building a prototype for an idea using oDesk?

I would advise them to hire a project manager.

These professionals specialize in recruiting and managing online freelancers, and there are many who specialize further in serving as a liaison between technical talent and non-technical clients. Thanks in part to use cases like this one, the ‘project management’ category of work has exploded on oDesk—it’s currently our second fastest-growing skill on oDesk, with a two-year compound annual growth rate of 149% in dollars billed.

Do you get many companies developing good relationships with freelancers and then hire them directly?

While it’s definitely very common for clients to develop strong, long-term relationships with freelancers on oDesk, we actually find that both clients and freelancers usually prefer to keep the relationship on oDesk. That’s because we provide tools to manage and pay freelancers easily—which means businesses don’t have to worry about the paperwork or regulations of hiring remote workers, and freelancers don’t have to worry about submitting invoices or justifying their hours.

In fact, we frequently see businesses build entire distributed teams on oDesk, sometimes of more than 100 people. These teams function much more effectively by remaining on oDesk because the site helps them manage and pay these global teams, which would be extremely difficult without oDesk’s management technology or global payment platform. For example, with payment specifically, businesses would have a very challenging time paying workers all over the world in different currencies, with different regulations for international money transfer, etc.—whereas on oDesk, they have one simple credit card payment each week to pay their entire team. 

Without visibility, how can companies ensure freelancers are making good use of their time?

That’s exactly why oDesk has seen such rapid growth, because it addresses that pain point. oDesk is all about online visibility—providing the ability to “manage by walking around” and have an ongoing dialogue to collaborate and course-correct as work progresses. The main feature supporting this visibility is the Work Diary, which provides screenshots of work.

You’re officially launching in Australia in 2013 – what activities are on the cards?

 We are still in the information-gathering phase, but we are really looking forward to sharing details as soon as possible. One of the things we’ve already learned is that Australians are savvier than most in their use of online workers, so we see enormous potential for Australia. The market is already the second-largest on oDesk for the amount of work being hired for, and when we adjusted on a per-capita basis, we realized Australia is actually the largest market on oDesk. Australian businesses hired $32M of work on oDesk last year, which was twice as large as what the U.S. billed on a per-capita basis.

Have you visited before? What do you love about the place? Have you noticed many differences between the US and there?

I hadn’t visited before and now that I’ve been, I can’t believe it took me so long! What don’t I love? The first thing I did when I got off the plane was walk up and down the hills of Sydney, through all the vibrant neighborhoods.

It was a great way to get a sense of the place, and in many aspects there are a lot of similarities to the San Francisco Bay Area that I call home. I have to say though that the food in Australia might be better (at risk of offending Bay Area foodies), and that the tech scene is certainly equally vibrant. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the culture though was the laughter!

You just announced results of a survey on the future of work, focusing on independent and entrepreneurial professionals. What results did you find most enlightening?

We’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “an entrepreneur”. It used to be that an entrepreneur started a company, period. Today, being an entrepreneur is more than that. It’s a mindset that people aspire to, and that many see as critical to career success. Technical innovation (especially the Internet) is making more business resources broadly available, essentially democratizing entrepreneurship. People are using shared or on-demand resources now that they wouldn’t have the purchasing power to access otherwise. We went into this study with the hypothesis that the definiton of what it means to be an entrepreneur has itself changed, but we were shocked to see how resoundingly the professionals we surveyed agreed — 90% classified “being an entrepreneur” as a mindset (versus someone who starts a company).


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About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here — May 5, 2013

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here

We’re taught from a very young age that there are certain major life events that will have significant importance and deliver at least a modicum of respect. Being born (though you aren’t quite aware of that one), graduating from college, getting married, having children, buying a house, turning 50, etc. These are the Events with a capital ‘E’.

What no one really tells you, however, is the way the other kind of events will impact your life. These events will present the opportunity for learning, fun, and personal growth. Occasionally they will offer you a few hours of complete anonymity, and with it the extraordinary chance to be whoever you want.

When you scan The Fetch each week, deciding which events you’d like to attend, you never know how they will go. You could meet a new friend, make a new connection that leads to a new job, or find the perfect person with whom to start a company. We know this is true because we have experienced it first hand, and we’d like to share our stories with you (first Eliza and then Kate will in a follow-up post). Hopefully these will encourage you to take a chance on something new. Feel free to leave your own stories in the comment section, we’d love to hear them!

Eliza’s Experience

The events I have attended in the last year have had a greater impact on my life than I ever could have anticipated. While working as a marketing intern for Lovely last summer, I organized a mini-guerrilla marketing party in Dolores Park. We entitled the party “A Lovely Day In The Park,” and luckily for me, Kate was in attendance.

Two weeks later I had the opportunity to go to one of the monthly Community Manager Breakfasts at SoundCloud. As a verifiable tech newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d only been working for a few weeks and I wasn’t entirely sure what the role of a community manager was. Not only did a conversation contributor (Kate) give me the full scoop of the CM role, I also became friends with Jane, the SoundCloud CMand had my first pupusa at Balompies (nearby the SC office).


This past fall I became involved with Yelp. It’s a funny story actually. I was studying abroad in London and made the audacious decision to spend a good chunk of October’s living budget on a plane ticket to surprise my boyfriend in California at a later date.  I lived off of a few pounds a day supplemented by a lot of quinoa and Hare Krishna for a week before I received a thrilling email inviting me to become a member of the London Yelp Elite. I accepted the invitation and RSVP’d yes to the next Elite event. When the day came I was almost too nervous to go, but emboldened by my +1, memories of images of wild Yelp Elite parties from Ligaya Tichy’s TED talk, and a growing hatred of quinoa, I hopped on the tube and went.

Easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

My first Yelp event was followed by dozens more, taking me all over London to places I would have never otherwise gone. I made terrific Yelp friends (shout out to the London Yelp CM Alex Shebar), ate delicious things and drank delicious cocktails for free(If there was ever a time for a #winning, this would be it).

If there is one nugget of wisdom you can take away from this blog post I hope it is the following truth: the only thing holding you back is yourself. Everyone is intimidated by the thought of conversing with a group of random strangers, but the truth of the matter is people (generally) don’t bite! If you pick an event of interest to you, the chances are you’ll meet some cool people. Plus you’ll already have something to talk about 🙂

Good luck, and happy networking!


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