TechweekCHI Preview: Q&A with Trading Technologies

twchi_session_fintechWith Techweek Chicago’s Fintech Summit approaching tomorrow, we interviewed leaders from Trading Technologies (TT) about their industry, their company, and their advice for others in similar positions. See answers from TT’s CEO Rick Lane, CMO Brian Mehta, CTO Drew Shields and Executive Vice President of HR Katie Burgoon.

BigMarker: Have you been involved much in Techweek previously? How will your role this year compare?

Katie Burgoon: Last year was the first year that TT attended, and we thought there was a really vibrant, energetic and talented crowd in attendance. We were so impressed that we wanted to step up our involvement this year, and we’ll be giving a talk on the main stage during the Fintech Summit tomorrow. We are also attending the Hiring Fair on Friday.

BM: What initially drew you to the fintech industry?

Brian Mehta: I’ve always had a passion for marketing technology, as well as the motivation for working on what’s new and ground-breaking — particularly with regards to the SaaS revolution, technology is giving more and more people access to tools and applications that can help improve their quality of life. I see fintech as the next big thing and really a blank slate in terms of marketing, training and overall communications.

BM: What do you think is the biggest challenge in Fin Tech? Especially for traditional financial companies.

Drew Shields: The biggest challenge is that capital markets firms have generally been slow to adopt new technologies, which means that it’s a delicate balancing act being an innovator in the space: you have to earn the trust of your customers and help them build trust in the technologies you use to innovate. At the same time, major transformations are happening as evidenced by the closing of the CME trading pits. So our users are evolving quickly while technology is evolving at an even faster pace, which creates unique challenges. We have to decide which technologies to use and when to use them, but also when to build for the user’s needs today, versus where you see them being in 2-5 years. Building sustainable solutions is challenging when both users and tools are changing so quickly.

BM: Financial technology can be confusing. What would you say the biggest marketing challenge is for fintech companies?

Brian Mehta: I think the biggest challenge is in effectively simplifying the message. This is a complex industry and you need to distill complex ideas into something easy to understand. But if you make it too vague, you run the risk of leaving people without enough details to fully comprehend the product. For example, we had to be very careful in describing our platform’s hybrid-cloud architecture, because there is still so much anxiety and misconception around the term “cloud.” It makes for a tricky balancing act.

BM: What’s the best advice you could give to a smaller company in the fintech industry?

Rick Lane: My advice would be that before you try to scale, make sure you’ve developed a core audience of passionate and loyal users that cannot live without you. It takes a lot of time and effort to build the relationship, but it’s necessary to have if you ever want to grow the right way. Your users need to have trust in your company to do what’s best for them, and that trust must be earned.

BM: What’s the best advice you received while working in your industry?

Katie Burgoon: Never burn a bridge. That’s true across all industries, but I think it’s particularly true in a niche like fintech. You never know when you might end up needing someone’s assistance in the future. And even if you just burn a bridge with one person, the effects on your reputation can spread well beyond that. The fintech world is huge, yet even smaller ironically. So many people I have previously worked with, hired or had to part ways with in one fashion or another, have re-entered my professional life. The beauty of this industry is that it is home to some of the most innovative and talented minds around. Those networks are critical.

BM: What’s the most rewarding part about working at TT?

Rick Lane: We have a diverse company with smart people that debate in a healthy and team-oriented manner.

Drew Shields: So much is at stake with our software, that having a hand in building a world-class product is rewarding.

Brian Mehta: Can’t beat the free beer! Just added ‘bartender’ to my resume. But in all seriousness, being part of a company that is genuinely disrupting an established industry is exhilarating.

Katie Burgoon: We give people the opportunity to take ownership over certain parts of the business, and new ways of doing things are welcomed. We work hard to eliminate the fear of failure. We are okay with making mistakes and we learn from them. We want all of our employees to feel empowered, tapped in, vested and to have fun, all while solving challenging problems.

Q&A with ColorJar Founder and CEO David Gardner

David Gardner and ColorJar may just embody the Midwestern idea of the American Dream. Gardner grew up in Minnesota, attended Dartmouth where he founded his first start-up, and then moved to Chicago where he founded ColorJar.


It makes sense that this genuine and humble CEO would be involved in Techweek Chicago, and has been for several years. This year Gardner is speaking at the “Branding and Tech” track and focusing on positioning strategy and helping tech companies break through the “noisy world.”

BM: What initially drew you to wanting to be in the start-up, tech industry?

David: Going back in time to 2003, where I did my first tech startup, when I was a student at Dartmouth. We created a positive news website for the college and the community. That was my first taste. The internet was a very different place. This was a pre-Facebook world, pre-Twitter, pre-YouTube… I was hooked from there.

BM: What advice would you give to a new startup?

David: People are right to give the advice to put something out into the world quickly and see how users react. But I would pair that with advice that you need to be very intentional with everything you do. Yes, get a product out there quickly for people to use, but don’t underestimate the importance of taking a step back to figure out how you fit into the world, what’s special, and how you convey that to everyone.
Because you could have the best product in the world, but if people don’t very quickly understand what it is and why it’s valuable and how it fits into their lives, they’re never going to give it the time of day.
You could have an amazing product, but if people don’t understand it before they use it, they are never going to try it at all. The only way to do that is to be incredibly intentional with your message and every brand decision that you make.

BM: Did anyone ever give you great advice early on that you have kept with you?

David: A lot of people—I can’t really give the credit to any one person. The Chicago tech community as a whole is so inclusive and supportive, that I feel very fortunate….Even people who could be competitors of ours are supportive and I’m supportive of them. The last three or four years has been really cool to the gain momentum and reach a point where it’s kind of a frenzy. I would really give credit to everyone in Chicago, that’s really why ColorJar has been successful, because there are so many people rooting for us and being helpful.

BM: Is that sense of community what kept you here in Chicago?

David: I think the theme for me with Chicago is balance. It’s a very balanced place to live. That sounds like maybe not an exciting thing, but I think it is actually wonderful. It’s a huge metropolis and has every opportunity you could want from living in a big city: from food, culture, business, on and on. There are an amazing amount of talented people that live here, especially with all of these great universities.
Employees, we call them “teammates” here, tend to be extremely loyal. We have people work here and stay here a long time, and that’s unique to us, but also something I’ve heard from other founders in Chicago. In some other places people really hop around a lot more.
That loyalty is wonderful when you are trying to build a company and a culture. There are tons of great customers in Chicago with all the large companies that are headquartered here. It just seems to have the right mix. It has the right balance of a lot of different things that make Chicago a great place to live.

BM: What is the biggest positioning and branding challenge for a start up?

David: The biggest challenge is not to over-message. So many people are too close to what they are doing and are too in love with top three or five or seven features or benefits of how the product could be used. They want to be broad as to not limit the amount of customers they have.
The key is to understand yourself so well that you are confident enough to be able to pick out the one thing you’re best at and lead with that only for a very specific audience.
Once you are able to reach that specific audience with a specific message, you can broaden from there. I think people are too general and lead with far too much. Customers have very short attention spans and they don’t have a lot of time. You need to convey what’s important and why they should give you a shot, very quickly.

BM: Do you have a favorite or most memorable project you have worked on here at ColorJar?

David: That’s difficult, there are so many. But it’s been really fun to see what Kapow Events has done. We began working with them when it was just three partners in a room, and the room was our office because they didn’t have one. It was just three partners and an idea. It had a different name, and it was early. We helped them figure out the initial user experience and how it should be designed and developed and we created a product for them.
To see them go from that, three guys with an idea just 3.5 years ago, to today having 170 plus employees and being in a dozen or so cities, and adding an office in a new market every month and growing at the rate at which they’re growing has been pretty cool to be part of along the way.

BM: What is most rewarding about founding a company like ColorJar?

David: The people at ColorJar. We all get to work together. We really built an A-Team of some of the best strategy, development, design, and project management talent around. To be able to call those people peers and teammates and go in and do this together every day has been the coolest part.
You can watch David’s panel at Techweek Chicago OR watch it for FREE on our livestream here.

Storytelling As A Tool For Effective Webinars

Webinars are an excellent means of reaching out to one’s clients and customers in the most cost-effective way. However, designing a webinar is not an easy task. It requires careful consideration of the needs and interests of the audience.

This necessitates the use of innovative tools and techniques to make web conferences as interesting as possible. After all, an effective webinar is one which is able to comprehensively engage its audience from the very beginning all the way till the end. One of the most reliable tools that never fails to captivate an audience is the art of storytelling.

In the context of a webinar or free web conferencing session, storytelling specifically refers to the use of narrative techniques. Stories and narratives when used effectively can result in a webinar that is interesting and engaging. Here are 5 simple reasons why storytelling techniques deserve consideration when designing a webinar.

  1. Storytelling is a great way to capture attention.

Use stories smartly as part of the carrot and stick strategy. A relevant story can instantly grab the interest of the audience, and create an element of anticipation. It essentially serves as the “carrot” on the stick as it entices the audience to invest themselves in what you are saying.

  1. Storytelling is interactive.

This might seem counterintuitive, but the act of listening to a story or narrative is not a passive activity. It is active and requires the focus of the audience on the narrator. The narrator or speaker must then capitalize on this attention and translate it into some form of dialogue.

  1. Storytelling is thought-provoking.

Stories are great vehicles for messages. A message might not sound useful if delivered blatantly to an audience, but, when told within a story, it has higher chances of invoking thoughtful consideration.

  1. Storytelling is persuasive.

Stories have the power to stimulate people emotionally. When facts are presented within a meaningful framework of events, they become more convincing.

  1. Storytelling is memorable.

The best thing about a story is that one remembers it long after one has heard it. This makes it a valuable tool in a webinar host’s arsenal. Important facts or messages that are conveyed within a narrative or alongside a story or anecdote have a higher chance of recall than a bland statement.

Storytelling in an online conference is a technique which provides an imaginative experience to the audience, instead of just feeding them the facts. It also entertains the audience while gently luring them into a state of active participation. When used wisely, storytelling is an extremely useful illustrative tool that will not only enhance the quality of your webinar but drive audience engagement too!

How To Make The Most Of Your Slides During A Webinar

Design and flow of slides are two of the most important factors for a successful webinar. In an online webinar, slides are not just visual aids, they are THE visuals. This makes it imperative for you to work hard on them and create slides that visually engaging yet thoroughly informative.

Your slides should have two basic characteristics:

  • Logical flow
  • Engaging design

It is important that your slides appeal to the left and right side of the brain. The left side of the brain is all about logic, order and flow, while the right side is inclined towards visual and emotional appeal.

It is important to divide your webinar into three defined sections:

  • Introduction
  • Key points
  • Conclusion

Arrange all your content inside these slides in a logical sequence and then begin designing each slide.

The slides that you prepare will be broadcast to a number of people. Remember that not everyone has access to high speed internet, which is why it is necessary to keep your slides light so that they can load in a jiffy. Here are a few other tips to help you create attractive and engaging slides for your webinar.

  • Fixed background

The background of the slide should ideally be a single wash of color, without watermarks or decorative patterns. Avoid using graphics as well. Choose contrast colors for any text on the slides. These simple measures ensure that your slides load fast and are clear when seen on different devices.

  • Remove animation

Try to minimize the use of animation in slides. If possible make the slides static. Animation slows down the webinar and the online meeting software is not able to send the slides across quickly. Slides without animation load a lot faster.

  • Use small pictures

Pictures make the webinar visually appealing and add interest, but you don’t want them to distract the audiences’ attention from the written content and your key points. Shrink any pictures so that they are well balanced with the text. Pictures also make files heavier so stick to smaller pictures as they make it easier to share and load slides.

  • No Transition

Any type of transition between slides is almost unnecessary and is one of the main causes of a slow webinar presentation. Simple or complex, any type of transition involves movement which makes the webinar crawl along at a snail’s pace. Presentation tools like Prezi look very impressive in-person but are a complete no-no as far as webinar speed is concerned, regardless of which video conferencing services you use.

Designing slides is easy and does not require much effort. However, to make your slides effective it is important to invest adequate time in planning and designing your slides. We said it earlier and we will say it again, when it comes to webinars your slides are THE visuals. Always be sure to take some time and effort to design slides that are simple, effective yet visually appealing.