Deep Learning Demystified

“Deep Learning” is one of the buzz words we’ve all heard of but have no idea what it actually means. I’ve spent the past couple weeks learning more about deep learning to figure out what it actually is, and below is a quick digest that’s hopefully simple enough for anyone to understand.

At it’s core, deep learning is simply pattern recognition. Think of it as pattern recognition on steroids.

Neural networks are a set of algorithms, modeled loosely after the human brain, that are designed to recognize patterns. They interpret sensory data through a kind of machine perception, labeling or clustering raw input”.

^^ What on earth does that mean? Below is an example that should break everything down for you.

With a neural network, we are trying to solve – in essence – a classification problem. So let’s say you had a million images of dogs in a database of 3 million pictures (the numbers are just random). If you label each picture as “Dog” or “Not Dog” a neural network (as well as other possible algorithms) will try to extract the features from all the dog images as well as all the non dog images so that if you give it a new image, it can try to figure out what whether or not it is a dog. This is what we call a “feature extraction” problem. For example, with dog images, we might quantify features such as color, # of pixels, # of triangles making up the middle of the face, and any other thing we can think of. The algorithm will look for patterns in these features in your new image. Of course, the more exact our features and the better we clean our data, the better our neural network will work.

 

Input is a pixel, hidden layers are the progressions (ears, noses, triangles), output layer is a dog

Deep learning tends to layer neural networks on top of neural networks in order to better grasp patterns in the data. This can have issues such as model overfitting. Deep learning tends to function in an unsupervised environment. For example, in our dog picture example, we would not have captions for the pictures. The computer would be essentially trained to recognize features and group them. The computer doesn’t know what a dog is, all it is doing is grouping sets of features together. If our data is clean and we have a large enough data set, it will group a new image of a dog differently than a new image of a car and we will have achieved the same result.)

The biggest challenge with deep learning is teaching the set of algorithms to find and expose the data you want it to. In the example we used above with dog recognition, the model would not be able to efficiently find dogs in the images unless it has “learned” all of the features of a cat. What that means is you need to expose your model to a ton of data in order for the model to work properly.

Now here’s why I think deep learning is so cool (and freaky at the same time). We’re eventually going to live in a world where everything you do is completely personalized to your likes / interests. We’re already seeing some of that today (Spotify recommending music, Facebook recommending friends), but as we continue to feed these algo’s with more data, and as the engineers behind the scenes continue to get smarter, the possibilities are endless.

There’s A LOT more I could get into, but this post will essentially allow you to answer the question “what is deep learning” at a high level.

 

Sales in the Year 2020

Everyone has got some hot takes on what the future of sales looks like, so I figured I may as well throw my hat in the ring. Below are the trends that I’ve been observing.

  1. The Death of the BDR (as we know it).
    1. From what I’ve seen, BDR’s are starting to become very overpaid. I’ve heard some companies paying their BDR’s as much as $90K OTE (on target earnings). That’s insane for a role that is requires 0 years experience and is not closing actual business. I think software will eat up BDR’s with the rise of tech like PersistIQ and Salesloft. I also think Marketing will rise up and being to own demand gen much more so than they traditionally have.
  2. Streamlined Evaluations
    1. There are over 200 marketing automation tools out there. How can a VP of Marketing make sense of all of that? A platform will rise to help companies make B2B decisions just like we’ve seen for hotels (Tripadvisor), vacations (Airbnb), restaurants (Yelp) and household chores (Thumbtack).
  3. Steak Dinner Sales on the Rise
    1. I keep hearing that steak dinner sales reps are dying and the inside model is the way to go. To define what a steak dinner sales rep means, it’s a sales cycle based on building a relationship with the prospect and earning trust. Due to the rise of “noise” software (marketing automation, auto dialers), B2B decision makers are more weary than ever to engage with a sales rep due to how many incessant emails / cold calls they receive every day. That’s why the sales rep who’s focused on relationship first and sale second will dominate.

So those are my three hot takes. I’m sure people are going to disagree with me, but then again, it wouldn’t be a hot take if it wasn’t a little controversial.

What Exactly is a Mentor?

If you’ve ever read an article on “how to be an entrepreneur”, 1 piece of advice that’s always in there is to find a mentor. Well, what does that actually mean? How do you find a mentor and what purpose do they actually serve?

Those questions eluded me for years so I figured I’d share my thoughts on the role of a mentor, how to find them, and how to keep them engaged as well.

First things first, you need MULTIPLE mentors. Not just one. I doubt you’re going to find 1 person who will deeply understand every single facet of what you need help with. You’ll need what I like to call your personal board of advisors. I personally have separate mentors that I turn to with life issues, sales issues, career issues and a few other things.

Now let’s define what a mentor is. A mentor is not this Godly figure that swoops down from the heavens and know exactly all the answers to your challenges are. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor with specific subject matter expertise. With that said, I consider some of my close friends mentors because they have great experience in certain things.

How often should you engage with mentors? Unless it’s a close friend of yours, I’ve found that once every 30 – 90 days is appropriate. You need to keep in mind that these folks are incredibly busy and also have a life of their own to manage. When you do lock in a time, make sure that you come prepared with a very specific agenda and ALWAYS express your gratitude for their time, it goes a long way.

Last, how do you find these elusive mentors? The first step is find someone you admire and want to emulate. Go to LinkedIn, search the title of a person you’d like to model yourself against or that you believe has expertise in an area that you’re weak (let’s say CRO as an example for a title), and pick the people you believe to be most impressive. From there, go ahead and find their work emails and shoot them a note. Make sure you get across that you’re not looking to sell them on anything and are genuinely just seeking advice. You should literally make your subject line “All I Want is Advice”. Not everyone is going to respond to you, in fact, most won’t. I never said finding a quality mentor is easy 😉

So there it is, the mentor “mystique” demystified. Feel free to email me at kareem@ventureapp.com if you have any questions.

 

Office Politics

Having been in a fairly corporate environment for the past 3 years, I’ve learned a few things about how office politics works. I’ve had great mentors along the way who have taught me a lot, but there are some things I’ve had to learn on my own through trial and error. Below are a few things I’ve learned from my experiences.

011-house-of-cards-theredlist

You don’t need to be this guy to get ahead!

 

  1. Don’t share any personal details about yourself with colleagues that you don’t feel comfortable with the whole company knowing.
    • This includes what you share on social as well. Think twice about sending the 2:00 AM Snapchat to one of your colleagues (or anyone to be honest).
  2. They say don’t compare yourself to others, but your colleagues are your best measuring stick.
    • It’s no secret that the top performers within companies are promoted. With that said, identify who the top performers are and strive to be better than them.
  3. Office politics happens, but results trumps politics 100% of the time (at least in tech).
    • Age / tenure as a means for promotions is dead. You’re promoted based on ability and success.

I could probably add another 20 things to this list, but the 3 examples above are things I found to be most important. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that office politics exist so people can play certain cards to gain some type of advantage (promotions, pay raise or recognition). With that said, don’t get caught up in the gossip, try and have fun and make sure you do your job to the best of your ability.

How to Nail Your Interview

Having interviewed dozens of people and having been interviewed by a handful of companies at this point, I’ve learned a few things about how to nail an interview. Not to brag, but I’ve never walked out of an interview without having received a job offer, and I’ve even turned down a few jobs. The most important thing I’ve learned is that while being personable in an interview is important, your interview fate is really decided before you even show up.

It’s all about prep.

The more you prep, the higher the odds are that you’re going to nail your interview. Preparation indicates that you have a strong work ethic, which is the toughest thing to screen for in an interview and also one of the most sought after traits that companies seek. Below are the things that I do before every interview I have.

  • Website Research: Read every single page on your prospective company’s website. Focus in on any case studies, customer testimonials, or whitepapers that the company has published. This is a great way for you to learn the ins and outs of a business, and it’s also a great way to brainstorm some thought-provoking questions to ask.
  • Competitor Research: Google “[company X] competitors” and look into the top 3 that you see. Try to determine the strengths/weaknesses of each competitor and how your prospective company compares.
  • Customer Reviews: Google “[company X] reviews” and take a look at what consumers are saying. This is a great way to get insight into where a company is headed and how its functionality stacks up in relation to its competition.
  • Employee Interviews: Do a LinkedIn search for people in your current job role at the company that will be interviewing you, connect with these people, and send them a message. If I could only choose one way to prep for an interview, it would be this way. You’re guaranteed to find information through this line of inquiry that you wouldn’t have discovered in the interview process, whether it’s good or bad. I know it can be difficult to reach out to someone you’ve never met, so I’ve included a sample message below.
    • Hi [Name]. I hope all is well! I’m interviewing for [role Y] at [company X], and I’d love to talk to you to get some insight into your interview experience and what you think of your role. My schedule is flexible, so any time that’s convenient for you for a 30-minute chat would be great. Thanks!

All in all, the above process should take you about eight hours. This may seem like a lot of time, but if it lands you your dream job or a job above your pay grade, then you’ll be getting significant and clear ROI. There’s no substitute for hard work, but as the saying goes, hard work pays off.

 

How to Biz Travel Like a Pro

Having traveled for work 30+ times this year, I’ve learned a thing or two about the do’s and do not’s about biz travel. This isn’t going to be the cliche “travel light” BS, these are things I’ve learned from other folks and through experience.

  1. Wrinkle Spray.
    • This stuff is God’s gift. When I unpack my collared shirts, they usually look like they were soaked in water and wrung out. I used to spend a ton of time ironing my clothes when I got to my hotel. However, with wrinkle spray, all you need to do is hang your clothes and spray the solution on your clothes. 5 minutes later, no wrinkles. Incredible. 
    • http://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Releaser-Natural-Atlas-Travel/dp/B00P8GNO5E
  2. Hotels give you toothpaste/toothbrushes (usually).
    • Every hotel offers toothpaste for free, but you have to ask for it at the front desk. Most hotels will have toothbrushes as well, but they’re usually pretty crappy, so I suggest packing your own.
  3. Comfortable clothes for travel.
    • This may be more of a personal thing, but I hate wearing suits/collared shirts while on a plane or train. I always wear jeans and a t shirt. Especially on the way back. When you’re exhausted after meetings, putting on jeans and a tee VS a suit makes all the difference in the world.
  4. Invest in nice luggage
    • It’s just worth it. Trust me on this one. I suggest Rimowa luggage. It looks slick and lasts a lifetime.
  5. Have Fun.
    • After work is done, go out and explore! Don’t just got back to the hotel and watch TV. Get on Yelp, find some high rated bars/restaurants and go out. It can seem a little daunting going out alone in a new city, but that’s the start of a great story..
  6. Pedialyte (If you have too much fun).
    • If the night gets away from you a bit, and you’ve had 1 too many, drink a Pedialyte before you get to bed and you’ll wake up with little to no hangover. Pedialyte is essentially Gatorade on steroids.

Go Get It

Being a few years removed from school now, I’ve noticed a lot of people really hate what they’re doing, but stick with it because of the money. I get it, you’ve gotten accustomed to a certain lifestyle. You can buy nice clothes, you can go to the bars and take vacations whenever you’d like to. None of that replaces the sinking feeling in your stomach that you’re sort of wasting your life doing something you just don’t want to do for 60 hours a week.

Good news though, it doesn’t need to be that way. I love my job, and I often get asked what I’ve done to find a job I love. I live my life with a simple mantra, which is “Go Get It” and I apply that to everything I do, whether it’s my career or the gym. The only thing that is stopping you from getting what you want is yourself. I know that may seem like I’m oversimplifying things, but if you follow the 3 steps below, you’ll always get what you want.

1. GET OUT OF YOUR BOX

  • The greatest innovators constantly live in a world of discomfort. Reason being, pushing new boundaries and exploring new things isn’t easy. There’s naysayers at every corner who are going to tell you to just stick with your doing and that change is a bad idea. This can come from family, your boss or most often, yourself. Don’t fall in the trap of being your own worst enemy, take action and get outside of your comfort zone.

“I’m continually trying to make choices that put me against my own comfort zone. As long as you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re growing”. –  Ashton Kutcher

 

2. WORK YOUR ASS OFF

  • Once you get out of your box, now you need to start working harder than you ever have. You’re going to fail. That’s a fact. But every failure gets one step closer to where you want to be. Anybody who is successful will tell you that it took a lot of failure, rejection and hard work to get to where they are today. 

“Failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we’re never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow?” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

3. DON’T STOP

  • Once you’ve gotten out of your comfort zone and worked your ass off to get to where you want to be, you’ve successfully gotten into a mind-set that will keep propelling you. What you’ll learn once you get to where you want to be is that you don’t want to stay there, you want to keep moving forward. Life is no fun when you’re in a rut. What is fun is seeing how far you can push the envelope.

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities” – Benjamin Mays

To be honest, the 3 things I’ve described above are not that hard to do. It takes a lot of time and effort, but everybody has the capacity to do it. It’s not about intelligence or status, it’s about work ethic. At the end of the day, if there’s a will, there’s a way. Or as Shia Labeouf would say, JUST DO IT.

 

Make Up of a Great Sales Rep

I often get asked from what the “secret” is to being successful at sales. I wish it was as simple as just knowing a “secret”, because if it was, I’d write a book on it and retire. There is no secret. It’s a mixture of genetics, hard work and mindset.  If you aren’t willing to fail 1,000 times and go to work everyday with the mindset that you’re job is on the line, than sales isn’t for you. Luckily for me, I’ve been surrounded with incredible sales people to learn who have taught me to avoid some of the mistakes they made. This group of people ranges from my father, my best friend, my mentor and my current colleagues. Below are the 6 things I’ve learned from them that make a great sales rep.

 

 

1. God Given Abilities: Just like Lebron James was born to play basketball, some people are born for sales. You need to have strong gut instincts on how to read people and you need to be a person who can easily build friendships. Simply put, some people got “it” and some people don’t. You need to love interacting with people and be a thrill seeker. Personally, I don’t know of a better feeling than closing a deal, and I live my life seeking the next thrill of closing a deal.

2. Commitment to process: Sales is as much of a science as it is an art. The most successful sales reps have a process that they follow. Whether if it’s the way that they qualify deals to find good prospects or if it’s the way they prospect, good sales reps create successful, repeatable, processes. It takes a while to define these processes, but once you do, you’re essentially shooting fish in a barrel.

3. Work Ethic: Sales people are the hardest working people in your organization. No if’s, and’s or but’s. Be prepared to work long hours and be prepared to do whatever it takes to be successful. Sales is a  24/7 job. When a client/prospect calls, money is calling, so you need to be ready to pick up the phone. Expect to regularly take calls on nights/weekends to accommodate your prospects needs.

4. Mindset: You need to be money motivated or accomplishment oriented. Sales is the most transparent job in any organization. Everyone knows how much money you make and everyone knows how well you’re doing. Personally, I’m accomplishment oriented. What that means is I care more about hitting quota than making commission (though I know that hitting quota means a lot commission).Great sales reps are also even keel at all times. You’re under the constant pressure of your quota, but  you need to keep your cool through it all and keep doing your job.

Pressure makes diamonds

5. Confidence: There’s no room for people with a low level of confidence in sales. People with low self esteem fizzle out quickly due to all of the rejection they face in sales. You need to believe you’re the best sales rep in your organization and approach every meeting with that belief. If you’re not confident in yourself, that means your pitch won’t come out confidently, and that means your clients won’t believe in you or what you’re selling.

6. Challenger: You need to challenge your prospects mindset. You need to be able to consult your prospect while selling them. The selling landscape has changed. Not only do you need to sell your prospect on your product, but you also need to sell you prospect on why what they’re currently doing is wrong. This can be intimidating, but prospects will buy an inferior product 100% of the time if you can sell them a better solution to their pain.

These are the 6 things I’ve seen to be common in very successful sales reps. Personally, I believe that point #1 is most important to a successful sales rep. Some people are born to do certain things, and the quicker you realize what you were born to do, the quicker you’ll find success.

3 Ways to Lock in a Promotion

Having worked at a high growth company for close to 2 years now, I’ve noticed a lot of common trends in the people who get promoted. I’ve also noticed that most people think that performance is the only thing that determines promotions. While that’s true in some cases, it might take longer than expected to get the promotion that you wanted if you solely depend on performance. Here are things that I’ve seen people exhibit who get promoted often/quick.

  1. Work Ethic
    • If you’re up for a promotion, performance isn’t the only thing that will be taken into accord. If there are two people who perform equally well in the same role, work ethic can be a determining factor as to who gets the promotion. As you get more senior, your role carries more responsibility and becomes more complex. People would rather promote a person with strong work ethic because they’re willing to work harder to learn the new complexities of the role.
  2. Visibility
    • A quote that I heard that I’ve found to be very true is “nobody is going to promote your brand quite the way you can”. For example, if you’re coming to work early and leaving late, find subtle ways to let your manager know that you’re working hard. This could be something as simple as sending an email with a question early in the morning/late at night. Also, keep in mind that your manager isn’t the only person deciding if you get promoted. His or her manager, (likely a director or VP) will also play a large role in deciding who gets promoted so make sure to stay on their map as well.

      You should be a bit more subtle than this.

  3. Ask
    • Simply put, let your manager know that you’d like to be promoted. That puts you on the front of their mind for a promotion. This is the easiest thing you can do to increase your chances of a promotion, and it also lets your manager know you’re thinking about a future within your company which is always a good thing. You’d be surprised how much managers value people who make it known that they want a promotion. You’d also be surprised how few people actually take this step.


These are 3 things, that tied with performance, will almost guarantee your chances of being the next person on your team to be promoted. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me @aghanomics.

Selfish Generosity

That looks like a pretty good lollipop.

Selfishness and generosity two polar opposites. People who are selfish seek to take, take, take and people who are generous seek to give, give, give. However, I’ve seen that being selfish is counterproductive . What I’ve seen is that people who who try to take the most get the least and the people that give the most get the most.

I work in a very sales oriented role. Most of my day is spent networking with people and building relationships. The key to building powerful relationships is by being mutually beneficial. Simply put, nobody likes the guy who comes to a Christmas party without a gift, but they might tolerate that person. By being mutually beneficial, and by “bringing something to the table” it invokes a reaction in the other party involved. As Sir Isaac Newton put it, every action, has an equal and opposite reaction. By adding value to someone else’s life, they will seek to add value in yours.

My friend who is a commercial realtor put it best. When he’s working with young, start-up companies, he tries to help them grow their business in any way possible. Whether it’s introductions to investment sources or helping them with their sales strategy, he focuses on their growth in the hopes that when they do grow, and need additional office space, he’ll be the guy they call.

Networking, and helping people out, is key for building successful career. What I have found so far is that 90% of the battle in networking isn’t meeting somebody, it’s turning that person into a friend. Your network would be completelely useless if you didn’t have friends. That’s why you should treat every new person (or prospect) you meet like your best friend. This way, you will have a network of friends who want to help you out, rather than a network of acquaintances who only know you because your connected on LinkedIn.