Optimization, Automation, and Outsourcing

How To Use Artificial Intelligence To Create Viral Content.

I’ve been using a service known affectionately to many as HARO for several years now. HARO or Help a Reporter Out started as a Facebook group administered by entrepreneur Peter Shankman (he was peter@aol.com for context). It was a way for him to connect reporters with reliable sources.

For example, a reporter from Forbes might be researching a story about former attorneys who are now stay at home dads in the Illinois area. Peter would put that query out to the list and anyone who fit the bill could get in touch with the reporter.

It was a brilliant idea that grew by the thousands in short order. So Peter moved everything over to an official newsletter that put out calls for sources three times per day, five days a week. On any given day there might be three hundred requests all in a long text email like you see here.

The challenging aspect for people looking to get a mention in a news story or feature piece, was that a request, which may be a good fit, could only appear once every three days. But the prospective source would be obliged to check through the entire list regularly for FOMO (fear of missing out). While it’s brilliant from a business perspective, it is not the best return on investment for your time.

For years, I’ve seen numerous attempts to outsource HARO. People hired virtual assistants to look for various keywords, identify good prospects, even reach out to the reporter on their client’s behalf. However, if the VA researched the emails for an entire week and didn’t find anything, you still had to compensate him for his time. Even worse, if he did find something, made a pitch, and you didn’t get it, you were even further in the hole in terms of ROI. Still, I’ve gotten over 60 pieces of press through HARO over the years so I know it’s worth it. But I knew there had to be a better way.

I discovered MonkeyLearn: machine learning for dummies.

I’ve never tried to dabble in this field because it’s pretty technical and somewhat daunting. But now there are numerous artificial intelligence models in development that are based on a human actually showing a computer how to do something. The computer then reverse engineers the understanding and code to complete and improve upon those human actions.

There is a robotic chef https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6_LCwu7dOg

currently under development from Moley Robotics that uses computer vision to watch master chefs slicing, dicing, sautéing, stirring, etc…then it mimics those actions to complete recipes.

MonkeyLearn works the same way.

You “show” it any kind of data you want and then categorize each one and it will learn from it, constantly improving. This approach made complete sense to me since I’ve always been a visual learner. In fact the best way I’ve ever learned how to do anything physical, from skiing to hitting a golf ball, was to videotape myself doing it and then identify strengths and deficiencies.

A few typical uses of MonkeyLearn, for example, would be to do “Sentiment Analysis.” You could give MonkeyLearn a series of emails you’ve received and it tells you if the tone is angry or happy; very helpful for customer service tickets. You could also give it a series of car images and categorize them as Italian, German, French, or American and then let it go on from there. I thought I might be able to show it HARO queries and categorize them as Interesting or Not Interesting. The key here is that I couldn’t give you a set of parameters to clearly explain why one query might fit a particular category or another.

For example, if I saw a query for “Entrepreneurs who had Crohn’s Disease” from Men’s Health Magazine, I would certainly fit that description but an article in Men’s Health wouldn’t serve me from a business perspective, it would only stroke my ego. So I would categorize that as Not Interesting. But if a request came in that said “Chronic Illness and Time Management” from Entrepreneur Magazine I would categorize that as Interesting. So it’s not as simple as saying that I want to look for certain keywords or phrases.

The first step was to get the data into a form that MonkeyLearn could use. It’s very flexible. You can use Gmail messages, Facebook posts, RSS feeds, or just CSV files of data. Gmail might seem obvious but I didn’t want it to look at the email message as a whole, I wanted to drill down to each individual query. I ended up with methods; one is more accurate and takes a lot more time, the other is less accurate and takes a few minutes. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

The easy way is to use RSS and the few services in existence (such as HARO2RSS) that will provide an RSS feed of HARO items, for free, so you can grab those in a few clicks. The more advanced way is to use our old friend Zapier. Zapier has a built in service called, “email parser” where you can send it an email and then show it which parts of the email correspond to different types of data (much like machine learning). So you can forward a HARO email and highlight each query name and tell it to consider that part of all future emails. You can highlight the reporter’s email and call that contact email and so on. It’s tedious and you have to highlight each part of each query so that it will “scrape” that data in the future. The good news is you only have to do this the first time. Once it’s scraping data, Zapier can create its own RSS feed using RSS by Zapier, which you can then feed into MonkeyLearn.

Next comes the fun part, teaching MonkeyLearn what matters and what doesn’t. You can create a free account to get started and start to test. Plug in the RSS feed you’ve created or found, create your categories and then start categorizing those samples. They ask for a minimum of 40 but the more you supply, the better it will get. Also when you have categories that skew heavily (meaning there will be way more Not Interesting than Interesting) a larger sample size is better. Categorization looks like this…

Once you go through a good number of samples, MonkeyLearn will have a sense of its accuracy. A mere 69 samples, resulted in a 87% accuracy rate for categorizing future samples. That was good enough for me.

Now what do you do with that information?

Let’s take a walk back over to Zapier. I had to setup a Zap that started with that same RSS feed we created or found. The trigger was any new RSS feed item. The first action was to have MonkeyLearn classify text that would spit out an Interesting or Not Interesting label. The next step was to build a Zapier filter which says only continue if the label does not contain “not” and deliver those results as a Slack direct message to me.

And the result is the occasional Slack message like this…YAHTZEE!

Now once or twice a week I get this type of message. It is invariably on point and worth pursuing. It’s difficult to contain my excitement about this process. It is a huge win and great use of technology that capitalizes on the platform’s capabilities and my input. It’s not just information that is now more accessible, but results as well.

The Next Level

If you really want to create a PR machine for yourself, you can actually automate the pitch to each of these queries. You would simply add another filter to the zap and include a gmail message step to finish it off. So you could say, once an interesting query is delivered, if that query mentions entrepreneurs, you could automatically send a gmail message with a standard pitch about your entrepreneurial journey. The result is a free, automated, publicist in a box. Sweet, right?https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now

How We Automated Our Hiring Process in 3 Hours

When I started my virtual assistant company a few years ago, I knew the most important thing we had to do after assisting our clients, was hiring as many talented people as we could find.

Most businesses have to deal with hiring, and most have parts of their process that need improvement. We had a team of over 100 people in 14 different time zones. We tried a dozen different recruiting platforms, applicant tracking systems, and hiring apps and none of them ever completely met our needs. So we did what we always did in those situations, we built it ourselves with TrelloZapier, and Wufoo. And we did it for free.

Our Hiring System (Your Hiring System on Steroids)

The Application

Interested candidates visited our application page where they could learn a bit about the job and apply. The main thing we asked was that they give a response to a real task; say a client needed help mailing some envelopes. It’s what we called a “one and done” task, meaning a VA could pick it up, provide a single and complete answer, and the task was done. This particular question didn’t seem tricky but it was very telling when we saw how people responded. In addition we asked them to submit a Youtube video of themselves, with very little direction, to get a sense of how they presented themselves.

When they submitted the Wufoo form, Zapier automated the process of creating a new “card” in our Personnel Trello board for the candidate.

Zapier to go from Wufoo to Trello and Slack

The same automation also posted the person’s name, task response, and their Youtube video to a special Slack channel so we could review easily.

The Test

If we thought the candidate looked good, we just dragged the card from the New Applicant list on the Trello Board to the HireSelect Offered list. Another Zapier automation would then email them a link to take our personality profiling and skills assessment test, provided by HireSelect.

Card Moved to List in Trello Triggered Email to Candidate

We really liked HireSelect because it does a specific assessment for the type of work and mindset we needed. It tested candidate’s problem solving ability, willingness to work in a team and take direction from others, even their level of competitiveness. Here’s a sample report:

Basic Skills Assessment

Personality Profiler

If they met our baseline of 60% or better on both batteries they moved forward to a live, 10 minute interview. By dragging their card to the Interview Offered list, Zapier generated an email to them with a Calendly link allowing them to schedule the interview at their convenience with one of our three team members who did interviews.

The Interview

Our interviews were 10 minutes, we conducted them using our favorite video conference software, Zoom. All calls were recorded and shared with our team for approval and improvement. We asked only four questions, two softballs, and two hardballs.

That’s ME!

How did you hear about us and what interested you in working for the company?

Tell me about your past relevant experience?

Tell me about a time you messed up at work, and how you handled it?

If we don’t hire you, why do you think that will be?

That last one knocks out the most confident interviewer and I have no problem sharing it with everyone here because no amount of prep will help you answer that question, in the moment, under pressure, with clarity. I love that question. My favorite answer so far… “because I’m pretty weird and maybe that threw you off.” We hired that person.

The Background Check

The people who worked for us may end up handling sensitive information for a multi-national corporation so thorough background checks were a must. For this we used a service called Onfido which can automate background checks in any country in the world. Once again, dragging a candidate’s card to the Background Check list calls on the API for Onfido to generate the request for a check.

A Clean Background Check

Signing Documents

Everyone who worked for us was an independant contractor. So once they passed their background check, their card was moved to the Documents Sent list. Zapier sent an email to the candidate with a link to sign documents on RightSignature. With RightSignature we took our Contractor Agreement, Non-Disclosure Agreement, and Tax Forms and created a form whereby the user HAD to sign all required parts otherwise they couldn’t complete the form.

Once they signed that, Zapier saved the file to Dropbox for our bookkeeper to keep as a record. It also moved their card to the next list on the Trello board, Documents Sent — Onboarded. At this point they were hired and could begin their training.


We sent an email with instructions on how to get setup on all of our software platforms and it directed them to another Trello Board with all of our training material. They were placed in a training channel on Slack where they got to work on real tasks and interact with the team. The goal was that after two weeks in training we’d know if the candidate was ready to be a full team member or if it was not a good fit for them. The whole process resulted in a team that worked cohesively, at a very high level, and accomplished unprecedented results.


If at any point in the process we decided not to move forward with the applicant we could archive their Trello card, which triggered an email to them through Zapier, informing them that it was not a good fit and we wished them luck. In addition, if a VA decided to leave the company or they got fired, we simply moved their card to the Former Worker list, which generated a card for a manager to remove them from our systems, then a day later it emailed the candidate to inform them of the decision.

I built what I needed to solve my own problem, the whole process took me about 3 hours and this system was and is completely flexible and applicable to any business. You can add, remove, or even shift around any phase of the hiring process and you’ll be able to take candidate through a hiring, onboarding, and training process in a way that is congruent with your team values, efficient for the candidate, and effective for your needs.

We’re Here To Help

Since I started talking about this process with our mastermind and bootcamp programs, and in our podcasts, there’s been significant interest in having this setup for various clients. I believe I’ve given you enough information in this article to set this up for yourself, but if you need a little help, the Less Doing team can do it for you.https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now

Here’s The Simple and Cutting-Edge Way To Transcribe Audio, Live!

The next level of transcription is here, and the method is pretty simple and incredibly effective.

Here’s how it works.

Rather than just recording your thoughts into a microphone for them to be transcribed, introduce another human being into the mix and make it a conversation.

Running ideas past someone else, while the exchange is being recorded, helps you develop ideas more efficiently, illuminates issues you may not have considered and makes brainstorming possible outside the constraints of a scheduled meeting.

So just record yourself talking about an idea, a process, a challenge with someone else, preferably a writer, who can then craft the conversation into an article (like this), a podcast, a strip or any form of communication where you need your ideas well-crafted, vetted and honed.https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now

How to Create Meeting Agendas That Work

Here’s a little hack we’ve been using for our meeting agendas. We host most of our live meetings over Zoom because we have team members all over the world.

But when you have a lot of people, with a lot to say on a Zoom call, it can be like the Brady Bunch intro.

Things can get unruly if you don’t have an agenda.

We tried several different agenda tools and none of them did what we wanted, which meant they were never fully adopted (unlike the Bradys).

In the end we did what we often do, we used something in an “off-label” way.

First we tried using Cisco Spark Notes and while it has a Slack integration, it’s still a separate web app and one more place to login, plus it isn’t mobile friendly.

We really wanted something that was already in Slack to avoid having to switch around and add another tool. So for a while we were using the built-in option to create posts. They are basically mini blog posts that live in Slack. It worked pretty well, anyone could edit it and add their items, and it was accessible from anywhere you could access Slack.

The problem was that someone had to create that post each week, name it properly so it could be found using search, and people had to add notes, with their names so you knew who added it. Finally, you couldn’t edit posts from your mobile device.

We were getting frustrated…

Enter To-Do Bot

It turned out to be the perfect solution. Now anyone, from any device could add a “to-do” item by simple saying /todo. They just had to put the name of the item, the person responsible for it and when it was “due.”

So for example if I wanted our hiring manager to talk about our new background check software at our weekly huddle on Wednesdays, I could just write

/todo discuss new background check software @jaba on Wednesday

and that was it. Then when it was time for our weekly huddle, everything would be listed in Slack and we could complete them one by one. Problem solved!https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now

How to Improve Your Employees as You Scale Your Business

When it comes to scaling a business, I believe that the most difficult part to scale is your people. You’re faced with two problems, bringing in more people who can complement and enhance the team and supporting a existing team culture that won’t break down when you hit critical mass.

There are dozens of startups that offer products and services to facilitate a myriad of reviews: performance reviews, 360 reviews, peer to peer reviews, OKR meetings, etc…

But in a world where organizations are getting flatter (no one in our company has a title) it remains a challenge to identify and recognize a job well done or provide guidance.

I want to share our three pronged approach to nurturing the members of our team through constant feedback.

1) Performance Reviews

About 9 months into the operations of my company, I decided we should create some formal process for reviewing performance over the quarter and set goals for the next one. We came up with some questions and had each team member book a 10 minute video call with me, one on one.

I asked them about their goals for the quarter and things they could improve upon, I’d take notes in Evernote, and then I would decide whether or not that person should get a raise and/or level up to the next rank.

It was time intensive, overly subjective, unscalable, and completely incongruent with how we do everything else. So we changed to a version that, from the outside seemed less personal, but had our DNA written all over it.

Every quarter an automation through Zapier posted messages to our Slack channel asking the team to fill out a Wufoo form for their quarterly review.

Seems impersonal right?

Autonomy was one of our core values and scalability was part of everything we did. Filling out the form was at the option of the teammate, if they didn’t fill it out, they didn’t get a raise or a promotion.

When they did fill it out, they answered a specific set of questions, including their goal for how many hours they wanted to do over the next quarter. All these entries went into a Trello board, in a list for the current quarter. Then at the end of the month, the managers reviewed the submissions and made a decision.

We then shared that with each person individually and on if they wanted to we scheduled a one on one video call. Last quarter three people requested a follow up conversation.

2) Task Reviews

This process began as a way for me to do quality control on tasks. We asked that once every two weeks each team member book a call with me to go over their current tasks, identify any issues, and answer questions.

In order to keep this scalable, we used Calendly to book the calls It has a really cool option called, “Group Meeting.” which allows as many people as you want to book a single time slot. It will continue to show that slot as “available” until you hit your set limit.

Sometimes the call would be with five people, but more often it was three or less. These evolved from talking about tasks to a organic opportunity to connect on a nearly one on one basis with members of the team.

It was akin to a mini-mastermind where they could get guidance and give and get feedback.

3) Bonus Process

From a behavioral economics view, this was one of our most interesting innovations. One of our key performance metrics as a team was the number of hours we clocked in a given week. It was on the order of hundreds of hours. For every hundred hours we did as a team a bonus was issued to a VA.

So if we did 800 hours one week, eight VAs would get a bonus. The bonus was 40% of whatever the VA made that week. This was an incentive for more hours as well as overall improvement to earn a higher hourly rate.

It worked extremely well for us but naturally, we upped the game.

The new bonus structure was still based on the number of hours per week but with a twist. Each week the VAs who felt they earned a bonus filled out a Wufoo form, checking off the boxes of the core values they felt they exemplified and why.

This pushed them to bring their achievements to my attention, I could give specific praise and feedback when they didn’t get the bonus. Now in order to prevent them from submitting a request every week, we scaled their bonus based on how often they applied and received it.

So now the top level bonus was a full match, 100% of whatever they made that week. But if they submitted for the bonus four times and only got it twice, they got 50% of the bonus.

These three methods allowed us to shine a light on our teammates, provide feedback, guidance, and of course praise, in a completely scalable and quantifiable way.https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now

The Simple 3-Step Process for Automating Your Greatest Personal Strengths

Welcome to the future. This is the curation of curation. The best of the best with absolutely no effort.

For a long time, I’ve known that one of my unique abilities is as a curator and creator of content.

I think that I’m really good at “connecting the dots” between disparate pieces of information to develop innovative solutions to complex problems.

A lot of that comes from the massive amount of content I process on a daily basis. I typically go through about a thousand blog posts, two dozen newsletters, and as many podcasts pretty regularly.

I’m always looking for the newest and best tips, tricks, research and apps to make people more effective. The thing is that I could never quite explain to anyone why a particular piece of content might strike me as interesting.

But the end result is that I duct tape together a piece of psychological research with an automation platform and a news article from a podcast and end up with a process that can 10x someone’s business.

The problem is keeping up the habit.

I love gleaning all that information but at some point the return on your time goes down. Plus, if you slow your pace of input or stop entirely for a period of time, it’s really hard to get back up to speed.

I also hear from clients all the time about the fear of missing out. otherwise known as FOMO. They know that there is industry news, or insider knowledge, that they have access to but they never have the time to get to it.

The result is an overflowing inbox, a messy Evernote or Trello board, and a constant state of stress that everyone knows something you don’t.

I have used Feedly for years to follow over 200 different blogs every day and was pretty obsessive about staying on top of all the latest information available.

I’m happy to inform you that as of today I never plan on looking at Feedly again, and the curation of content that the Less Doing community will not only keep going, it become more prolific.

I Love MonkeyLearn

MonkeyLearn is a machine learning platform, you can teach it to categorize things that you — as unique and interesting human — would. I wrote previously about how I used this tool to pick through relevant press opportunities and deliver them to me.

Now I wanted to see if I could teach it to curate content that way that I do.

Step 1 — Getting the Feeds

Ive built up my collection of blog feeds in Feedly over the years, it’s a carefully pruned grouping of sites that give me the information that I want. First thing was to export that which Feedly does in the form of an OPML file.

Then I found someone who built an online converter to turn an OPML file into a CSV file so I could upload it into a Google docs sheet.

For the Product Hunt stuff, the RSS feed didn’t have enough data for me so I went to data.world to see if someone had downloaded a massive dataset of Product Hunt posts and sure enough they had.

Finally I needed to combine all the feeds into one nice package so I could “show” it to MonkeyLearn. For that I used RSSmix.

Step 2 — Teach the Machine

Now it was just a matter of creating a new “classifier” in MonkeyLearn, hooking in these feeds and then categorizing posts as either COOL or LAME. It took me about 10 minutes to go through the various items and in the end, the machine said it was pretty accurate.

I was blown away. I was able to transpose my unique ability to a web based application in 10 minutes and achieve a result that it believes will be 80% as good as me.

I can’t help but think of the 80/20 rule here over and over again.

Step 3 — Create the Automation

Now it was a simple matter of creating the Zapier recipe to distribute the info. So anytime a new item came up, MonkeyLearn would classify it, if it was consider “cool” then it would post it to a Slack channel as well as create a new card in Trello for me to process later.

Done and dusted, as my British friends say.https://upscri.be/6892b4?as_embed=true

Whenever you are ready…here are 4 ways I can help you become more replaceable and grow your business:

1) Join our FREE Facebook Group — The Replaceable Founder

2) Get our FREE Replaceable Founder Mini-Course

3) Come to our next One-Day Intensive “Becoming Replaceable Workshop” in NYC

4) Want to work with us privately? Just answer a few questions and find out if you’re a good fit. Apply Now