Dear Js,

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Sometimes, they end up even better. We had a crazy day in our house this week. You should be proud of both of us. We had many successes together on one day.

I’ll go first. Remember the presentation I mentioned last week? I was going to build suspense and tease, roll out progressively. Plans changed. The Director scheduled for a presentation for his entire organization and gave me two days. The audience was stacked with Principle Engineers, Staff Engineers and Senior Managers. I knew exactly what kind of presentation I needed to deliver. A sales presentation.

First, I made some sneaky changes to my slides:
Old slides
New slides

Can you spot the difference? It should be a good exercise to try. You have enough knowledge by now to sniff out what I changed… and WHY. Pause here, go try, then come back to the list below to see how you did (don’t cheat!). The most important are:

  1. “Fast-start” week (with specific dates) – if you remember from my last letter, we are going to Puerto Rico next week. I took advantage of this fact to create a hard deadline. I said I will be here next week, but I will be out of the office after. So if you want to start now, let me know now, or I won’t be able to help you if you get stuck later.
  2. Call to action, urgency, deadline – by 5pm, email or IM me to schedule a slot for Fast-Start Week.

Then, some tactical tweaks. I wrote myself notes for things I needed to hit in the presentation:

  1. Engage people in the opening story – “This is a puzzle story. See if you can spot the moral of this story, and how it relates to the company.” (People shifted forward in their seats to try to listen closely. Engineers love puzzles, and they love figuring out the answers even more.)
  2. Connect on common ground; get a small “yes” (many small yeses lead to the final Yes): “Have you seen the movie Troy? Starring Brad Pitt? He played Achilles and if you remember, this was how he died.” (Smiles and nods from audience)
  3. “Okay, why did I tell you this story? Because, the moral is no matter how powerful you think are, you have weaknesses.” – this binds the name Achilles with the story, the problem and the solution. I stated/summarized the problem by name-dropping for authority, “As I was chatting with (the Director) the other day: what we don’t have is a systematic way to find our weaknesses and opportunities.” Then solution, “This is an automated system to find our weaknesses and opportunities, so we don’t get surprise arrows from our customers or competitors.”
  4. Analogies – “Those who missed this presentation will be like caveman without fire.” “Hidden gold right under your nose.” “Like mining – old mines aren’t abandoned; new technology lets you revisit old mines and extract more resources. Without new tech, you’ll leave hidden gold on the table.”
  5. Test drive – The bulk of the presentation was a demonstration. The purpose of the demo was Proof. I prefaced the demo by saying, “I’m going to show you some examples. They’re examples of what you can do, but what I’d like you to do is use them as inspiration. Think about how you could use this for your project or for your group.” Again, engagement, interaction, participation. I designed the demo to feel as if they were using it themselves. Just like in Direct Mail, the challenge is you can’t handle the product. So you have to make it vivid. I wanted them to feel as if they owned it. I used words like, “When you start up your server, you will see ____. Then…”
  6. “You’re missing out” – anywhere I could, I showed them how one manger was already using it in his group. Or how Jane and John in Colorado were already kicking ass. This reinforced the “caveman without fire” analogy. I would walk down the aisles and joke, “Are you still a caveman?”
  7. Build excitement in demo from simple cases to powerful cases. Finish with urgent offer and reward for acting now
  8. “This is for you” – the number one priority of any presentation is to make your audience feel that this is for him and him alone. Over and over through the presentation, I single people out, “This is for you if you…” “If you need to do ____, this is for you.” “If you’re a manager, this is how you…” “This is an example especially for you guys in the _____ group.”
  9. Call to action – At the end, I said, “I don’t want this to be like other presentations where you think ‘cool’, then do nothing after.” I said, “If you got some ideas, you think this will be useful for you, I want to make it as easy as possible for you to get started.” I created urgency, gave an irresistible offer (“Give me 15 minutes and I’ll give you everything you see here”), then constructed a deadline from thin air.

At the end of the presentation, as always, you will get objections. Your job is to anticipate and neutralize objections. Then, answer not just the person who asks, but frame an answer that motivates everyone else listening. I had objections such as “How is this better than what we have now?” I challenged him playfully by saying, “Wait and see. The examples in the demo will make it clear. If you still feel I didn’t answer your question at the end, I’ll answer it. But I suspect that your question will be answered after Example #3.” This cocky claim made people perk up. Or concerns like, “How do you debug it if it breaks?” I said, “Good question. I will break it right now, and I’ll show you.”

I pushed a lot of buttons. Invisible buttons. Buttons that made people feel and intensified their desires. I roughed them up a little. When someone commented that it was hard, I said, “I know it seems confusing. But it’s only confusing because it’s new. All of you have Masters and PhDs. Technically, this is child’s play for you. It’s just new. The hardest part is starting. And that’s why I’m having a Fast-Start week, so I can sit with you and rocket you through the start. In 15 minutes, you’ll have your very own setup. It’s easier once it’s going.”

After the presentation, the crowd carried their discussion loudly back to their offices. The director stopped to say, “Good presentation.” Then he said something because he thought he needed to protect my feelings, “Don’t worry if people don’t respond. Sometimes things take time. I will have to beat it into them.”

Call to action

I disagreed. He was looking for 100% compliance. I wasn’t. I knew it starts with a few core people. I told him don’t worry. I know most people won’t do anything. But I don’t care about them. I care only about the few who got excited, are a little tech savvy, and want to try it right away. Those are the people I’m speaking to. I want to remove all the barriers for them to start. Make it as easy as possible.

About 30 people showed up. Within an hour after the talk, I had emails in my inbox and people stopping by. I converted 5 signups for Fast-Start Week. The 5 people represented 4 groups. Meaning, I had “ins” to infiltrate 4 groups. I followed up with 1 principal engineer and he said he talked with his team — they’ll use it in 1 month but not yet. Another principal engineer stopped me to say sorry he missed the presentation. He said he came by right after he saw my slide that said “those who missed this presentation will be like caveman without fire.” He said, “I don’t want to be the caveman.” I gave him a VIP 1-on-1 the next day, and he was on board. Then another manager came to say he wanted a Fast-Start slot too. I said you already have 2 people in your group signed up. He said, “Yea, but I really think we need ______” where he reiterated word-for-word one of the pain points I highlighted in my talk.

I bragged to the Director in an email: You thought we’d get zero. I got 7 in just two days, spanning 5 groups. He said, “Your presentation must have really motivated them. I said, “It wasn’t motivation. I used a number of sneaky tricks that I’ll share with you next time.”

Sequential follow-up

Now the lesson here is that most people try to deliver a perfect presentation. They treat their presentation as their one shot. On the other hand, I know that it is the beginning. I designed a campaign that begins with the presentation. The presentation was just to infect people with a name and an idea that stuck, show them a solution exists and prove that it’s exactly what they desperately need. Then it’s a follow-up campaign. In direct mail, it’ll be sequential, multi-media touches. In a corporate environment, you “know where everyone lives.”

I went to chat with everyone who asked a question. Anyone who expressed interest. I lured them to sign up. I probed them for their objections, listened to their personal goals, crushed objections and framed Achilles as the solution to their problems using the language they just told me… and signed them up. Each time anyone signed up, I congratulated them and told them about others who signed up too. I hammed it up, “You’re #4! You made the Top 5!”

The rest of the week, everyone was talking about it. They all referred to it by name. Each time I saw someone, they would make jokes about Cavemen and Gold, and after I was done with each one of them, they’d be ambassadors in their groups.

Force multiply

On the public “How-To” page, I named everyone I “trained” Certified Achilles Experts. Everyone could feel good being called an “Expert”, and it’s a stick program because now other people approach them for their expertise. And I wasn’t just one person against the world anymore. Each expert was a member of my guerrilla army. It was now a Hydra that was impossible to contain or destroy.

Home alone with dad for the first time

Then Mama called me. I thought it was to congratulate me for being awesome. But she said the pediatricians called her for an emergency. A breastfeeding mom was unable to feed her newborn. I was feeling great and had no intention of doing any real work the rest of the day, so I said if you want, I can come home early and babysit J. She said she’d have to leave J2 too. Two of them? I hadn’t done that before. OK I guess. I can handle it. She said, “Are you sure?” Yea, what could go wrong? I’ve been home alone with J when he was a baby before.

So, I had an idea. Because my presentation was a success and it looked like everyone wanted to talk with me, I realized that I could just disappear and everyone would assume I was meeting with someone else. I snuck out.

The story was, yesterday, the mom’s on-call doctor received an emergency call right after delivery, who freaked out that the baby’s temperature was high and she was unable to nurse. So doctor suggested to switch to formula. Today, her assigned doctor stepped into the hallway to call mama. Mama responded. She kissed us goodbye and left with her infant scale strapped to her back. When she arrived at the mom’s home, they had a check written and signed on the table. That’s the power of a doctor’s endorsement. (I believe over 80% accept their doctor’s first recommendation without seeking a 2nd opinion.) This was a hardcore breastfeeding mama (she traveled 1.5 hours to give birth naturally at a birth center), so she probably fumed at the suggestion of giving her baby formula. She was relieved that mama could suggest a natural solution. The problem? Severe lip and tongue tie. Mama recommended a pumping schedule to continue bottle feeding, referred her to an ENT and gave her a surprise gift.

Then she did something sneaky that she was proud to tell me later. When she saw that the husband had an MIT engineering shirt, she dropped that she used to be an engineer. He was curious. She said, Electrical, Computer engineering. Wife: “But Breastfeeding is so natural and organic, how did you end up here from Engineering?” Mama (springing her trap), “Well, my background helps me understand the science/statistics/etc and it’s what enables me to separate the pseudoscience from science…” Husband nodded “preach preach”. Having an engineering background is a big asset for connecting with parents in Silicon Valley.

And then, what appears to be a pattern in how all her visits end, the mom and dad gave mama a big tearful, thankful, hopeful hug.

Meanwhile, back at home. While mama was away, I had both of you with me alone for the first time since J2 was born. Mama left a bottle of her milk and said good luck. Julie was sleeping (almost woke up 4 times), and J, you skipped your nap, so I wasn’t sure how close you were to a meltdown…

Mama: “I gave up on nap time and he’s rocking out, lol”

Mama: “I gave up on nap time and he’s rocking out, lol”

So far so good. J, you were nice and you didn’t meltdown. At first, I tried to play with you in the bedroom so I could keep an eye on Julie. You agreed to play quietly, and we read quietly, but after a while I thought this is playing with fire. So I took us down to the living room to play loudly. Julie joined us after she woke up. I changed her diaper (no surprises – phew). I then started playing my guitar, hoping that it’d entertain both of you at the same time. You picked up your red ukulele and join me. It worked!

We sang Baa Baa Black Sheep. Then Baa Baa Yellow Sheep. Then Purple and Blue.

Things got hairy near the end but I held the fort until mama returned

Things got hairy near the end but I held the fort until mama returned

Mama and I had so much to talk about. We couldn’t wait to tell each other all the things that happened. But of course, you wanted to be part of the conversation too. We wanted to bask in our glory but the fact is that you two were two young to care. We tried to talk but Julie cried and you crowbared trains into our conversation.

Thankfully, you eventually ran out of steam. This is what happens when you skip naptime:

We skipped bath time. Mama took you upstairs to put on your pajamas and you fell asleep on the changing table. She put you in bed and you tried to object in your sleep, “I want to go downstairs…” Mama said, “I’m just going to put you down here. I’m going to go potty. Can you wait for me?” She sat in the bathroom and held her giggles when you repeated deliriously, “Mama go to potty… mama on the potty…. mama potty… (zzzzz)”

I washed the dishes. J2 was hungry and tired too.

So by 8.39 pm, in record time, both of you were asleep. Almost two hours ahead of schedule.

Mama sat down at her computer to send an email to their pediatrician, to downgrade their status from Red Alert to Amber Alert.

We celebrated by finally popping open the champagne we bought for New Year’s 10 months ago. Mama said, “It’s been a while.” As excited as we were to talk earlier, we just had a quiet night. Too tired to talk.

Now I’m sitting in the living room. The lights are dim. I have a beer next to me on a magazine. There’s half a cookie next to the bottle. You helped mama bake today so we have a mountain of cookies. I say I want to take it easy tonight. But because I’ve been doing something productive every night, I can’t stand not writing at least a few words to you tonight. I feel tired but I feel good.

(Guess what – after the frenectomy, the emergency baby mama visited is doing well. Mama got 2 new calls the next day too.)

New signs

For the first time since she started the support group, no mums showed up last Monday. I rubbed it in, “See, this is why you need a list.” Without a list, you start from scratch every week. You can’t follow up. You don’t have anything to build upon. You’re at the mercy of the wind blowing people your way.

But in addition to that, I thought we could do something else. I made two signs:

One for when group is in session, one as an "ad" to keep up in the store always
Top one for when group is in session, bottom one as an “ad” to keep up in the store always.

Notice the first lines call out precisely who it’s for. WELCOME. Nursing moms. Anyone who’s a nursing mom will read on. “South Bay Breastfeeding Group.” No one claimed their group for the South Bay area, so we’re going to. This makes it seem like this is THE group for moms in the South Bay. Then, the time and day so they can mark their calendars.

Next, introduce the hosts. The first name is the owner’s. She won’t be there, but it’s her store and we have her permission. The purpose of listing her name first is because the customers have a relationship with her, and this makes it seem like she organized this personally. The second name is mama’s, along with the alphabet soup credentials so moms know there’ll be an expert present. Last names were intentionally omitted to make it look friendlier (we’re not snobby and we call each other by our first names).

The “always there” flier includes an email address for inquiries. It also says “Brand New” to emphasize that you haven’t seen this before, and they can go, “Oh, I didn’t know you had…” and mention to their friends, “Did you know they had…?” The heart was mainly a grabber to attract the eye. It was the only symbol I could find that was remotely relevant on the free online poster-maker I used. I printed in color for contrast.

These will not only be for the targeted nursing moms. They will let everyone who walks through the doors know that there IS a group going. So if it ever comes up in conversation, a lightbulb will go off.

This week in pictures:

"I want to carve the pumpkin. I want you to scoop all the things out and put it over there."

“I want to carve the pumpkin. I want you to scoop all the things out and put it over there.”

Dinner carving

Dinner carving

New park:

"I like this park so much"

“I like this park so much”

Falling down and getting back up.

Climbing a tree:

"I want to swing up high into the sky"

“I want to swing up high into the sky”

Ingesting information:

"That looks like an interesting book. I'll eat it."

“That looks like an interesting book. I’ll eat it.”

I flew you and you flew your friends:

Born in the year of the rabbit:



By the way, Kimi escaped while we were out on Saturday. When we came home she was distraught and tangled up in Julie’s gym. She pooped in the living room, but she didn’t eat the cookies.

One week til Puerto Rico! Mama is visiting for family business. But we’re having a vacation!



P.S. – J, when you’ve been waking up too early, mama has been bringing you into our bed. She says that you don’t always go back to sleep. You’re just happy being with us, so you stay awake but quiet. Mama would wake up to Julie staring at her on her left, and you smiling at her on her right. And then she’d see me sliding my blanket over my eyes to pretend I’m invisible.

P.P.S. – J – you must be growing, because you’re bumping into something at least once every hour. There’s no quiet moment in the house. J2 – you fell asleep laughing on Saturday.

"I saw you doing it like this"

“I saw you doing it like this”