Sunday Musings #47

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(Was out in San Fran and Sonoma County for a few days with the family, enjoying some awesome weather.)

Scarcity in marketing. It’s not just a pricing tactic, folks. RobinHood is looking to open stocks up to the world by offering zero commission trading. There’s a good write-up of the disruptive startup in TechCrunch, but I’d like to call out a neat little UX move we’re starting to see more often with product launches. See the two screens shots below. In the second image, you’ll see that RobinHood offers you to skip the waiting line (which includes a running ticker, a la Mailbox) if you spread its message and invite friends. Novel concept? Not necessarily, but it works. Quibb has taken that a step further and only allows >40% of its applicants in, after manually reviewing each one.

RobinHood priority access 2 RobinHood priority access

Marketing is hot, son! Here’s what’s been happening, from what I’m seeing up on my perch: software eats the world -> analytics tools become cheap and accurate -> niches, customer segments, and influencers become easier to find and engage -> spray-and-pray marketing methods get outted as lame -> marketers are now responsible for revenue, not just brand awareness. And with the startup boom we’re experiencing, marketers (or growth hackers or whatever) have even more relevance again, from product to distribution. (Check out the search results for “startup marketing” and “marketing for startup” since 2007.) This is a good thing, people. It’ll weed out the bullshit marketers and, hopefully, harmonize functions that should walk hand-in-hand like product design, sales, and marketing.

People want to be a part of something. And they want to be led. I’ve been reading as much as I can on what Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is attempting to do in Las Vegas, a monstrous undertaking. I don’t think startups, businesses, and others are moving out there simply for the funding he’s set up to entice newcomers. I think it’s something bigger, a trigger inside many of us that seeks adventure and tribes and ballsy leaders. As the Wired reporter noted, “Hsieh stands up on the back of his metal horse, so I stand up on mine too. He leads and I follow. There is no reason not to.


Amtrak Demonstrates How To Use Social Media

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What’s that saying about humans having two ears and one mouth so we can (should?) listen more than we talk? Well, that could be applied to how you should be using social media as a business. It’s a bit buried, but this article about Amtrak’s new “writer residencies” mentions how the program came to be, and it’s a lesson to all of us. When you take the time to listen to your current and potential customers, think creatively about your business, and engage others online like real people, great things can happen.


Your First 100 Users Are Easy – Don’t Launch

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There’s a monster thread going on over at Hacker News about what steps startups have taken to get their first 100 users. I participated, noting that for Collabo, we’ve done things that don’t scale to reach our first 100, including:
  • Personal emails to friends, colleagues, and supporters who fit our target
  • Engaging with online communities like r/freelance and Quora
  • Offering to treat every one of our users to coffee in person
  • Manually searching for relevant people on Twitter and being awesome to them

To be honest, the first 100 wasn’t a huge endeavor. It was relatively easy, though it certainly felt damn good. And had we looked for media attention, I’m sure we would have experienced a significant rise in users. Like these folks, who recounted “what happens when you stay on the front page of Hacker News for 24 hours”.I get asked often by startups about the seminal “launch moment”, like it’s an actual space shuttle getting prepped to blast off into the atmosphere. But there’s a problem with that line of thinking: There’s a precipitous drop in shit-giving immediately following takeoff.

Your market is not TechCrunch readers and Mark Zuckerberg does not want to eat vegetable tempura rolls with you. If you plan for massive scale out of the gate, you will face disappointment and a morale drain that can kill your company. And unlike a lot of other problems that you face in the startup world, learning this lesson the hard way can cost you your startup right at the outset.

Nobody is saying that major press coverage followed by a short burst of hits, clicks, and sign-ups is a bad thing. But, it may not be the best goal for your team right out of the gate. Measuring, engaging customers, smoothing the edges of your tech stack, customer service, methodical scaling — these are of more interest to me than the Big Bang.


Addition By Subtraction

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Focus and clarity: two aspects of building a company that many entrepreneurs struggle with. There exists a razor thin balance that consistently needs to be addressed between core growth and spoke expansion. Many companies have lost their ways, or worse yet gone under, due to decisions that took them too far from their base offering. (Side note – foursquare has suffered from identity crisis and some are calling for it to just give up.)

Then there’s 37signals, the scrappy software company out of Chicago (though they celebrate a deeply remote staff), who dropped a bomb on us a few days ago. Fifteen years in existence, multiple killer products, well-read books and blogs, and less than 45 employees(!). A prime candidate for rapid expansion, maybe even VC funding or an acqui-hire. But instead, they announced the future of the company will be a hyper-focus on its most popular product, Basecamp. Oh, and the company will henceforth be known as Basecamp, not 37signals. A message from its founder explained that all other products will be stripped away so they can work solely on making Basecamp even better.

This is a rarity in the startup world and it should be celebrated. Slow growth, exerting full control over team size, and pivoting based on customer feedback and revenue potential.


Sunday Musings #46

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(I’ve been accepted to and am now coworking out of the IFP Media Center in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Very excited about the brand new space, and snapped these pics on my visit there Friday.)

PROGRAMMING NOTE: This is going to be quite a self-promoting post for my startup, Collabo. So, while I still hope you find value here, I’ll be a little more AGGRO SALES GUY today than in most posts. Run now if you choose. I’ll see you next week 🙂

Jerry Seinfeld, the conversion rate optimization expert. My most recent post on Medium may be my favorite. It’s about business insights gathered from Jerry Seinfeld’s approach to writing jokes, specifically his constant measuring and tweaking of every single word in his bits for maximum impact.

Speaking of CRO, here’s a little trick that’s helped grow our email list tremendously. Well, maybe not so much a trick, but I bet some of you haven’t tried it yet. First things first, you can sign up here. We typically send out one email per week with two blog posts focused on productivity, freelance life, startup news and insights, and solopreneur skill development. And we have a thriving private Facebook Group where peers vent, share, and learn in a casual setting. Alright, now onto the “trick”. Below is our customer funnel once a user decides to sign up to Collabo emails.



On the right side of the divider are autoresponder reminder emails set up through MailChimp. If a user signs up but doesn’t click the download link for our Productivity Tips infographic, they receive a reminder email. Once the link is clicked, the Facebook Group invite goes out. Let’s say 24 out of 48 people who signed up didn’t click the original free download link, which means they didn’t get the FB Group invite (which automatically goes out when the download link is clicked). That’s half of our customers who aren’t getting access to our awesome FB Group community. And it would have stayed that way if we didn’t set up the reminder emails. From my last report, I’m showing 65% open rates on the reminder email and 35% click rate on the download link. That means another third (approximately) of that 50% “lost group” was recaptured. 

Do we still really believe money motivates users? I’m not sure this post needed to be written, but I suppose it’s always a good reminder into the psychology of customers and users. Lessons 1 and 3 in the article are of particular importance to me, as we build Collabo with a ridiculously close eye on social dynamics, group behavior, and community engagement. Instead of offering money or free products as incentive for our members to participate, we’re choosing to focus on creating an environment where they are given a valuable platform to share and learn, and the cream will naturally rise to the top. Just like, you know, real life.