THE BLOG

01
Aug

The End of the Org Chart

There isn’t much to do in Maspeth, NY on a weekday afternoon. Nestled next to an expressway on the outer Brooklyn-Queens border, Maspeth’s defining feature is its warehouse district  — a collection of gritty, similar-looking buildings next to a small creek and set of train tracks. At peak mid-summer heat, with temperatures north of 90F, Maspeth almost feels like a desert — a mix of industrial stone dunes and sandy brown streets. I know all this, because a bad customer experience incident sent me there.

A week before, my phone broke and I ordered an upgrade replacement to my office (it’s easier to get packages at work). Here’s the remaining minimum viable context: I had a busy week of meetings in the city, the phone was incorrectly shipped to my home in Brooklyn (signature required), neither my phone company nor Fedex could change the delivery address, and I was about to leave for a trip. I had a choice to make: (1) either let the phone get returned to sender and wait another week for a second phone unless I go buy a second out of pocket, or (2) go pick up my phone before it got sent back. In Maspeth.

Riding there, I started thinking about the experience, how it could have been prevented, and why ‘customer friction’ happens more with certain business characteristics than others. That thinking led me to a realization I first shared on Twitter: five years from now — at most ten — the best companies won’t have “departments” or “business units” as they exist today. Or if they do, they’ll look very different from the today’s accounting team down the hall that reviews spreadsheets with methodical precision.Continue Reading..

27
Apr

The Best Product Marketing Advice I Can Give You

Two of my favorite books on communication are Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple Squeeze This – A Guide to Creating Great Ads and Al Ries’s Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Although I describe them as “communications” books, they’re really advertising books. Or rather, books that study communication through the lens of advertising. I’ll come back to why this is important in just a moment (and yes, I owe you a great piece of advice about product marketing — bear with me just a few more sentences; it’s coming, I promise).

Both books also pre-date the spectacular rise of the internet. Positioning was published in 1981. Hey Whipple‘s first edition is from 1998. And whereas most digital era marketing books get distracted by the latest “shiny object” industry fad, tactic, or technology trend, Positioning and Hey Whipple shine through with clarity on the long-term principles of effective communication:Continue Reading..

30
Mar

Why I Think Zuckerberg is Trying to Kill Influencer Marketing

I have a new theory — call it a prediction — about the future of influencer marketing.

Recently, Instagram has been meeting with some of its latest advertisers and media partners to council them on the social platform’s latest algorithm update — a transition that will rank newsfeed content by relevance, rather than chronology, similar to its parent Facebook’s own newsfeed algorithm. Instagram’s advice to marketers, succinctly summarized, boils down to this: “Make better content to keep up with the aesthetic expectations of users, and get ready to advertise [even more] to distribute it, because Instagram organic reach will ultimately follow the downward trend as Facebook’s.”

While any marketer caught off guard by this shift couldn’t have been paying attention to the last few years of social media history, what’s interesting to me is how the organic reach race-to-the-bottom keeps reaffirming the same, cyclical social advertising sequence:Continue Reading..

06
Sep

How to Build a Brand the World Will Remember Tomorrow

This essay originally appeared on Percolate.

Brands want to be chosen by customers, and marketing as a discipline is aimed at increasing that likelihood. As a growing body of academic research shows, almost all customer purchases are at least partially memory-based. This means a critical priority in marketing and advertising is creating and reinforcing positive brand memories, associations that lead customers to buy. Multiple studies(1,2) show brand recall strongly correlates with brand selection, and is often triggered by in-the-moment needs. Strong brand and product memories translate to sales.

But how do executives ensure their teams are effectively marketing for memory? Here, a four step approach is recommended:Continue Reading..

02
Apr

The Year Social Media Moves Beyond Social

This essay originally appeared on the Percolate Blog.

Social is entering a new era in the history of its communications potential. In doing so, ‘social media’ companies like Facebook and LinkedIn are briskly redefining their identities, business models and the boundaries they are able to connect people — or brands to people — within. All told, 2015 looks more and more like the year social will formally move beyond social, and the time when advertisers and technologists stop talking about a company, marketing channel, event or job title as ’social,’ and, instead, simply describe it as something that is.

After all, what is or isn’t social anymore? Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now closely interwoven throughout all modern media — from live event and TV experiences to journalism to federal government policy awareness — and thanks to mobile are now first screen centers of attention.

How do you define a social company? Today, Facebook generates more annual advertising revenue than Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, with a much faster underlying growth rate fueled by mobile device adoption and budget reallocation to digital.

image01

As we’ve talked about in the past, Facebook is also distancing itself from its own company pages and contest tabs, becoming a modern media company that connects people and serves ads across a network that extends well beyond Facebook.com. And if the definition of a social company is as open-ended as one that creates or facilitates interactive communities, brands as diverse as Amazon, eBay, Uber, Github, Kickstarter, Venmo, Medium, Pandora, Spotify and a litany of other companies are also intrinsically social businesses. ‘Social’ is where people spend time on the internet, it’s what people intrinsically want to do in their lives and with their phones, and it’s been a central element of human behavior for thousands of years.

Continue Reading..

23
Dec

How the Human Brain Experiences Your Brand

This article originally appeared on the Percolate Blog.

The best brands are built to last a lifetime. GE’s existed for over 118 years, IBM recently celebrated it’s 103rd birthday and even innovative Apple is steadily approaching 40.

But while the best brands are complex, multi-dimensional and designed for longevity, a brand’s visual identity — its logo, colors, fonts and style guides — can be analyzed and understood by the human brain in less than half a second, according to researchers. Moreover, how our brains process branding and a business’ visual identity carries important lessons for marketers, entrepreneurs and designers.Continue Reading..

23
Oct

Managing A Startup’s Most Valuable Resource: Time

Covey's Four Quadrant Time Management Matrix

[The following is an excerpt from my essay “Time Management for Startups: Quantify, Prioritize, and Automate” that originally appeared on Sixteen Ventures. To read the article in its entirety, including Lincoln Murphy’s forward, conclusion and other productivity recommendations, please go here.]

Whenever I write a guest post or article, I start by brainstorming how I can organize a collection of past experiences into a targeted story or message around a topic. I started doing that for this essay too, when a simple thought occurred to me: I have a lot of different experiences to choose from. In fact, I’ve been working at or on early-stage SaaS companies for over five years now.

Wow. It certainly hasn’t felt like five years. Between trips to CES and SXSW (and close to a dozen different countries), hiring — and, sadly, firing — great people, building two successful businesses and struggling through two disappointing failures, five years got archived in a flash, almost 2,000 days.

Could I have made better use of that time professionally? Could I have achieved more goals over that span? On reflection, I think the answer is “yes” – particularly early on. Because entrepreneurship is so centered around urgency, most of us not only find it challenging to maintain healthy work-life balances to begin with, but we often over-focus on the next customer meeting or feature release or conference, and the one right after that, failing to optimize around our most precious resource: time.

Why Time is So Precious for Startups

Startup time is different than normal time. Startups succeed by doing more with less, and they rely on the core advantages of speed, focus and vision to grow and distrupt rapidly despite smaller budgets, fewer people, scarcer resources and less established brands. Somewhere between 75-90% of startups fail and the average Y Combinator startup goes 23 months between its founding and either exit or failure. If you consider Y Combinator class-members to generally be the cream of the crop, that means the average tech startup has an even shorter lifetime. But although startups fold as a result of things like founder incompatibility and lack of product-market fit, ultimately, every startup’s most previous resource — and biggest risk – is time.

Running out of money, not getting product traction, getting beat out by a competitor – all symptoms of not moving fast enough and losing out to time.

Paradoxically, despite the fact that time is the lifeblood of innovation, most entrepreneurs don’t really focus on time management systematically or strategically. Prioritization is done out of necessity, so execution can keep base with business realities (i.e., getting sh*t done).

But science and success suggests there are some better ways, and if you’re willing to commit to five more minutes of reading you can take advantage of them too.

Three Principles for Optimizing Startup Time

Although there’s no one size fits all time management cure-all, here are three practical, data-backed productivity principles I strongly encourage you to test professionally, particularly if you work at a startup:

1. Passively quantify how you spend your time
2. Prioritize for growth impact by focusing on growth importance, not growth urgency
3. Automate as much as [non-]humanly possible

Let’s walk through each one.Continue Reading..

28
Sep

How to Win Anyone’s Attention

The average person now consumes twelve hours of media, checks their phone close to 110 times and sees an estimated 5,000 marketing messages each day. When most of us also regularly put in 8+ hours on the job, it’s no wonder our collective attention span is more taxed than ever.

Data overwhelmingly confirms it too. According to MailChimp 80-85% of marketing emails are never opened, and even in digital video — one of the most promising frontiers for marketers — 56% of viewers regularly skip pre-roll and vocally prefer ads that are fifteen seconds or less. The National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine finds average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013, no doubt influenced by the influx of real-time content streams available to us 24/7/365 on social at a moments’ notice.

As a marketer or advertiser, all this is also a reality check and constant reminder about how precious attention has become. If you’re thinking about what this means for your marketing efforts, or you’re producing a lot of quality content but struggling to get noticed, here are four principles you can apply to win anyone’s attention.

Continue Reading..

16
Aug

Jump In

I’m Chris, I’m 29, and this is the most honest thing I’ve ever written. In the first let’s say (hope?) third of my life, I started three companies, visited 26 countries, lost all my money twice, saved one person’s life, and let too many friendships I valued more than I could show outwardly fall into disrepair. I also could have died at the ages of 4, 16 and 21. But I didn’t. Instead, I’m staring into the sunset of my twenties, and this is the story I didn’t know how to tell any sooner.Continue Reading..

22
May

Why It’s Impossible to Hire Good Growth Engineers

June 2016 update: I’m back hiring growth engineers at Percolate. Click here and follow the instructions to learn more or apply.

I’ve spent a nontrivial part of my last two months at Percolate focused on hiring growth engineers — software developers who are passionate about agile, creative app development, customer acquisition and scalable experimentation. This clearly represents a valuable skill-set, as talented individuals in this role can have a major impact on the overall trajectory of an early stage company.

The Current Hiring Trend Clearly Favors Growth & Marketing Engineers

The challenge for recruiters, however, is that it’s basically impossible to find good growth developers. Why? After going through hundreds of resumes and dozens of screening interviews, I see four major thematic challenges:

1. Mentality and experience don’t align. Being an effective growth developer requires being able to balance periods of creative ideation with rapid prototyping sprints. There’s also, in my opinion, more “competitive” impetus in growth development vs. more traditional software development. With customer acquisition the most important priorities are being fast (ideally first), original and unconventional, rather than writing clean, reusable code that’s been thoroughly unit-tested. My observation is younger software developers tend to embrace these work parameters more enthusiastically than more experienced engineers (for a variety of obvious vocational and lifestyle reasons). Unfortunately, a lot of the job market candidates who have the best mentality for growth development are recent graduates from development bootcamp programs like General Assembly, Hacker School and App Academy. As a result, these types of devs usually only have three to four months of experience, primarily focused on a single framework like Ruby on Rails, and need additional mentorship and skill-development to reach the point where they can be effective in a growth-oriented, more independent role on a smaller dev team.

2. Most developers want more structure. Engineers, are, after all, engineers. And while engineering fundamentally entails technical problem-solving, it’s also closely linked with defined — sometimes even strict — parameters, documentation and requirements. By comparison, there’s a lot of blank slate fits and starts in growth and marketing. Most web and mobile engineers don’t like unstructured, vague or open-ended assignments, and would prefer a more steady, structured work environment.

3. Most engineers like big(ger) teams. Although the solitary hacker-with-headphones archetype still hasn’t been entirely dispelled from startup folklore, the reality is most engineers are social, like collaborating, and want to work on big teams. There are practical considerations for this — big teams can manage bigger projects and accomplish more work — as well as social advantages: development efforts become more modular, engineers with different expertise compliment each others’ work, and larger engineering teams can solve problems collaboratively. On the opposite end of the spectrum, most growth engineering teams run extremely lean and are much more individual contribution-oriented.

4. The best growth engineers tend to be fiercely independent. In rare instances where I come across great growth engineers, they almost invariably dislike being directed or managed. Again, this is largely a practical matter — if you’re talented enough to devise your own technology products, build them, then acquire users, traction and revenue, you’re about as self-sufficient as someone in the modern workforce can be. In addition, you also bring a very holistic and thorough vision to product development overall. Finding a marketing-oriented engineer like Dharmesh Shah, or, among the younger generation, a Robert Matei, Myles Recny, Nathan Bashaw, or Carl Sednaoui (and most recently Taowei Huang) is a needle-in-a-hackstack quest to begin with… then you have the heroic task of convincing them whatever you’re doing is worth their time.

Ultimately, great growth engineers possess a rare combination of technical proficiency, creativity and competitive drive, alongside a willingness to be an experimental self-starter. Very few marketers (even those who refer to themselves as “growth hackers”) and software developers can put all the pieces together, making growth engineers one of the single hardest roles to recruit for. In some ways, maybe this is a good thing, as individuals who fit this talent profile can generate a true competitive advantage when they’re focused and given the resources (coffee, budget, distribution exposure) they need to be successful.

By the way, if you live (or want to live) in NYC, want to prove me wrong and think you can make an awesome, fast-growing technology company grow even faster, email me today or apply here so we can hire you.

[highlight image credit courtesy of The Drum]

15
Mar

Does Honesty Create Better Marketing?

[This post originally appeared on the Percolate Content Marketing Blog]

Over the summer of 2013, David Byttow, a former Google software developer, started building a mobile app to solve a problem he had. Byttow noticed he and the engineers he worked with were bad at giving each other feedback, and he wanted a way they could comment honestly on each other’s work without professional or personal backlash for saying something negative. Byttow wanted a way to tell the truth, without revealing who said it.

Eight months later, the most talked about content at SXSW 2014 wasn’t a flashy new tech launch, sharing economy roll-out or big-budget event activation: it was a SXSW feed from Byttow and co-founder Chrys Bader‘s two month old app, Secret, that aggregated and shared honest, anonymous feedback about the conference. The feed, coming on the back of Secret’s $10 million fundraising announcement, caused the app to jump more than 500 spots in the Apple app store rankings over the weekend, making Secret one of the fifty most downloaded social media apps, ahead of Foursquare and Facebook’s new Paper.

By itself, Secret is a noteworthy example of product design and community-building in an identity-conscious, mobile feature-unbundling world. But Secret isn’t alone. Its largest competitor Whisper also just raised venture funding, another addition to a Snapchat-led ecosystem of apps that help users create, share and consume content that’s genuine, unedited and in the moment. In fact, I see Secret, Whisper and Snapchat as part of a larger content and cultural trend centered around a key brand pillar: honesty.Continue Reading..

01
Mar

What Hubspot’s IPO Announcement Says About the Future of Marketing

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported marketing software company Hubspot has started IPO discussions with Morgan Stanley after achieving 50% year-over-year revenue growth in 2013 to $77 million. As most already know, Hubspot’s central offering is a suite of software that helps companies manage their inbound marketing, a strategy focused on creating quality content to pull people toward your company’s website and products.

At its core, inbound marketing is a structured marriage between content marketing and analytics, centered around an owned content hub: your brand’s website. Hubspot’s own value creation in this space has come from providing agencies and brands — primarily SMBs — with a system of record for website-based marketing content to drive business leads. Although Hubspot and similar SaaS vendors like Marketo are often designated “marketing automation” software, their true focus is about influencing the customer lifecycle with content, then tracking their progress from prospect to customer.

To me, Hubspot’s recent success — and their decision to now go public — highlights three important trends currently happening in marketing, ones that will have significant influence on what inbound becomes.

1. The marketing funnel now extends well beyond the website. Originally, inbound was a marketing system with the website (and its blog) at the center. But several of Hubspot’s recent product releases — in particular social inbox — tie into a broader theme that social (largely due to mobile) has massively broadened the outer reaches of the marketing funnel. Buyers don’t contact brands until the majority of their purchasing decision process is already complete, and 78% of consumer purchasing decisions are influenced by social. Social platforms are the first place buyers learn about and interact with brands, and its not an owned part of the funnel. The shape and size of the content marketing landscape is changing, and it’s driven by social.

Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing Usage Trend Growth

Continue Reading..

25
Feb

Understanding Twitter Engagement: The Anatomy of 100,000 Followers

Last year, I launched a social marketing automation app that’s quietly grown to become what I now believe to be the largest third-party “Twitter advertising” platform – I use that term loosely – on the web. To give you a sense of scale, it’s actively generating millions of impressions and hundreds of thousands of engagement events (follows, retweets) across Twitter for users in 41 different countries. Because impressions drive conversions much like a more traditional ad network, this also means it’s spinning off a large amount of data on social engagement and follower interactions. So far I’ve just been letting the data build up, until this past weekend when I decided to dust off my rusty SQL skills and have a look around.

Here are five new things I learned looking at a random data slice of 100,000 Twitter follows.

First, some stats about our overall sample population of followers:

a. The average follower has 3,011 followers of their own on Twitter, although the median follower count is much lower at 388

b. The average follower has a Klout score of 38.9

c. The top 3 most commonly occurring Twitter bio keywords/strings: 1. social (3,857 unique appearances), 2. university (1,940) and 3. media (1,844)

d. The top 3 most common locations (according to their profile): 1. London (2,742 profiles), 2. Boston (2,239) and 3. New York (2,133) (somewhat surprisingly San Francisco came in sixth)

All time for this study is set to Eastern Standard time. Also, with follows being drawn randomly throughout most of the year, our data set shouldn’t need any seasonality adjustments. Nonetheless, if you see any ways to improve this analysis (or any flaws in my methodology, whatever they may be) feel free to shoot me an email.

Lesson #1: Users with Less than 1,000 Followers are Three Times More Likely to Follow You

Trying to get influencers to engage with you on Twitter? The odds aren’t necessarily in your favor, particularly if you’re in the early stages of brand-building for your own account. All other things equal, Twitter accounts with more than 1,000 followers are 62% less likely to follow you than users with <1,000.

Lesson #2: You’re 14% More Likely to Get Followed on a Weekday vs. a Weekend

Twitter Follower Timing

Out of every 100,000 followers distributed throughout a week, this data says the average weekday will see 14,819 follows vs. an average of 12,952 on a weekend day.  That means 14% more follows happen on a typical weekday when people are presumably spending more time on their computers and mobile devices and less time off-line engaging in leisure activities.  Overall, approximately 74% of all follows captured in this data set took place between Monday and Friday. The distribution of follows throughout the week was also fairly consistent: Thursday was the highest days for new follows but still only 5.9% above the weekly average, while Sunday following volume was only 10% below average.

Continue Reading..

23
Jan

The Five Cornerstones of Growth Hacking

Growth hacking is currently going through a turbulent adolescence. After being thrust into the public spotlight by opportunistic media pundits and loosely-correlated startup success stories, the innovation community has struggled to define and defend growth hacking as a practice or designation with substance.  To borrow from a thoughtful, recent article by Lincoln Murphy, the growth hacker community has been heavily compromised and co-opted by “…linkbait [name-dropping] people use to get traffic while they rehash the Hotmail and AirBnB ‘hacks’ or talk about SEO or Copywriting or [any generic marketing tactic] and tag it #growthhacking.”

Today, we seem to be past the point of no return, and stuck at two opposite extremes. At one end, doing anything successful at a startup that required more technical acumen than opening a web browser is heralded as “growth hacking.” Yet, at the same time, growth hacking is being increasingly lumped in with spammy, smarmy and coercive promotional tactics used by over-eager startup marketers to try to get an edge.

Can growth hacking rise above all this self-induced backlash? Does growth hacking still have a reputable professional identity that gives it legs to stand on? Am I a growth hacker? Are you? Growth hacking feels like it needs a clearer, nobler definition, and here’s my first attempt to suggest one. Growth hacking achieves a business vision using digital resources (code, content, data) to capitalize on economic or technical opportunities in order to produce sustainable yet rapid growth for a company or cause. If a strategy or tactic doesn’t have a technology-enabled vision, doesn’t identify and expose a market opportunity, isn’t sustainable and/or secure and doesn’t result in helping a company grow faster, bigger or both, it’s not growth hacking.

How is this different from, well, digital marketing? Let’s take search engine optimization (SEO) as an example and break it down:Continue Reading..

19
Jan

How to Install Command Line Developer Tools for OSX Mavericks 10.9

I’ve noticed Apple’s frequent updates to OSX Mavericks keep breaking some of my command line setup, particularly developer tools, so here’s a quick tutorial showing you how to install Command Line Tools in OSX 10.9 Mavericks using just the command line.Continue Reading..

18
Jan

How to Not Get Hired at a Tech Startup in 2014

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing recently (#we’rehiring @Percolate), and have seen a very broad range in overall candidate thoughtfulness and “preparedness” for today’s startup workforce. As a result I thought I’d put together a list of observations and recommendations that might help anyone interested in a job at a tech startup bolster their resume and be better prepared for their first interview. Although I’ve interviewed developers in the past, in my current role I’m interviewing almost exclusively for non-technical (or “soft technical”) marketing and PR roles. Because I think the developer interview track is very different, I’m going to focus this essay on suggestions for non-technical job applicants. If you’re applying for a job at a tech startup in 2014, here’s how you can pretty much guarantee you’re not going to get hired.Continue Reading..

12
Jan

Defining Content Marketing in 2014

There’s no question content marketing is evolving rapidly. In 2009, content marketing meant blogging and writing SEO articles for your website. Fast forward five years, and content marketing is simultaneously both more omnipresent and more challenging to concretely define.  If a brand’s presences across social, mobile and web are defined by the reach and discoverability of their digital assets (apps, photos, videos, etc.), isn’t all marketing technically “content marketing?”Continue Reading..

12
Jan

What Can We Expect from Jelly?

Jelly, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s new mobile startup, is pretty fascinating.  For context, Jelly is a social question app based on mobile photos, placing it at the intersection of Q&A (Quora), local, real-time information (Foursquare), short-form visual content (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter) and ephemeral, person-to-person swipe-based interaction (Tinder). Creating a visual layer (interlaced with conversation) over local information is a big, ambitious idea that in most cases I’d say is trying to bite off more than it can chew, if the founding team wasn’t so strong and well-connected. Continue Reading..

02
Dec

Why Apple Bet Big on Social Data and Acquired Topsy for $200 Million

[This post was originally published on BuzzFork’s social marketing blog]

While Cyber Monday shoppers bought up iPads and Macbooks in droves, Apple did some purchasing of its own, acquiring social search and data analytics aggregator Topsy for a reported $200 million+.

Topsy, known by many as the “Google for Twitter,” offers tools to analyze tweets, social data and consumer sentiment. I’ve featured Topsy hashtag and keyword data previously on BuzzFork’s blog to look at trending terms and topics at events like Advertising Week and the World Series.

Apple confirmed the acquisition, but its representatives have declined to comment on how the company plans to use Topsy. The most probably outlook for Topsy is a public-facing shutdown of its core services as the product and team gets assimilated into various Apple efforts.  Nonetheless, I see Topsy factoring into Apple’s plans across a variety of potential avenues and product applications:Continue Reading..

27
Nov

Re-Creating My Favorite Growth Hack from Dropbox – Part 1

If you scan the volumes of growth hacking literature on the web, there’s a lot of good data and post-mortem analysis on how startups like DropboxPaypal and Uber used referral marketing programs to accelerate early user adoption and brand-building. As a result, I’m assuming if you’re here reading this, as a baseline, you agree: IF you have a good product, a customer referral program is an effective way to incentivize your existing user community to do some of your marketing for you.

But this post isn’t about repeating why customer referral programs are a tasty growth hacking recipe: instead, we’re going to walk through how to bake the cake, structure and implement one.Continue Reading..

27
Oct

Easier to Do Well Than Good

If you’ve ever been hand-delivered a cease-and-desist, you’ll probably agree with me they’re pretty under-whelming—just a plain manilla envelope of papers that kind of resemble some high school essays teachers return to you at the end of the semester. When I got mine years ago from a former employer saying the startup my friend Josh and I were launching belonged to them, it turned out to be my first lesson as an entrepreneur that it’s often a lot easier to do well than do good.Continue Reading..

22
Sep

How I Got My Startup Profitable in 6 Weeks

[Originally posted as an essay on Medium]

My previous startup had a sales cycle problem. We sold an enterprise product targeted at agencies and big consumer brands, and — while we could clearly articulate benefits — we could only point to an opaque, fuzzy ROI for the buyer during the sales process. As a result our sales cycle (including delightful hurdles like vendor approval that consumer web startups should thank their lucky stars they never have to deal with) could stretch for months.

“Never again,” I said to myself, and I set a goal: my next product would have a two week sales cycle. If I couldn’t get a user to convert from free to paid in fourteen days I’d move on and test if retention emails and down-the-road product upgrade notices would entice them back.Continue Reading..

15
Sep

Growth Hacks: Website Traffic Generation Tips

A common question I see asked a lot by first-time startup founders and marketers on sites like Quora and Reddit Startups is “How do I drive traffic to my startup’s new website or landing page?”

In the interest of sharing some of my favorites, here’s a quick list of some of the channels I’ve found to be most effective for growth-hacking (particularly when you’re working with a limited marketing budget):Continue Reading..

19
Aug

Quibb: The 10 Right Ways to Launch a Modern Web App

Quibb is a startup-centric web community for reading and sharing links, created at a time when the last thing the internet needs is another place to read and share startup links. Or, rather, you might think that, right up until the point where it becomes clear that Quibb got its launch strategy exactly right. Unwilling to be overshadowed by Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn and Quora’s titanic content feeds (as well as the lively, focused dialogue emanating from incumbent communities like Hacker News), Quibb is consistently carving out enviable bandwidth among entrepreneurs and the early-adopter technorati.

What did Quibb do that was so spot on? In my view there are at least ten things, and they’re a textbook case study about the right ways to launch a modern web application:Continue Reading..

21
May

5 Lessons for Startups Working With Large Brands

As a one year old social video advertising tech company, our core target customer base is medium-to-large brands, agencies and media companies. In a lot of ways, we’re selling enterprise software products and video content marketing services. It’s been a blast so far, but at the same time we’ve definitely learned a few lessons over the past year as startup entrepreneurs serving the enterprise space that it would have been really helpful to know on day one. With the hope of imparting some wisdom that may help other current and future startups, here are 5 Lessons for Startups Working with Large Brands:

1. Expect Older Technology

“By the way, your [web]site keeps breaking in my browser,” an exec at a Fortune 500 company emailed me one afternoon.

Me: “What browser are you using?”

Exec: “Internet Explorer 7.”

Me [to myself]: *facepalm*

It was a particularly funny and pointed lesson that big, mature companies tend to use older technologies. Yes, I realize we’re all tearing through Github with our blazing-fast Macbooks doing epic, efficient things backed by cloud-hosting, but we need to keep in mind most of our big brand clients and prospects are probably reading emails in Outlook, working on PCs and using much different workflow tools than we are. Not only does this make product elements like backwards browser compatibility (and, *shiver* IE support) for your website important, but it’s also important from the standpoint of thinking about how your product might incorporate into an existing B2B user or department’s existing workflow.

2. Nothing Happens as Quickly as You Want it to

I’m going to preface this by calling this a generalization – in some cases I’ve seen big companies execute very quickly. That said, generally, there are controls, checks and decision-making hierarchies in place at enterprise customers that will never move at the pace of your lean, nimble startup.
Before you even start selling to most large brands, you’ll need to go through vendor approval. Rarely does vendor approval ever happen quickly. Sometimes vendor approval processes can completely stagnate, even if you have an internal champion trying to push your application through. If you’re selling a B2B product (unless it’s a low ticket item that can easily be expensed by a department manager with a small budget), add vendor approval timelines into assumptions about your sales cycle and revenue roadmap. It really matters.

Vendor approval however is just one example; others include invoicing, setting follow-up meetings, getting contracts completed and many more. As much as you want to come into a first business development meeting with a client ready to revolutionize their business, just realize their world is a lot bigger, safer, slower and more process-controlled than yours and set realistic expectations.

3. Most Big Companies Are Not Looking for the Next Hot Thing

Personally, I’m scanning Techcrunch and my Twitter feed on a daily basis trying to keep up with the pace of startup innovation and information flow. If you’re reading this, you probably are too. Most people are not like us. Quite the opposite, there’s genuine professional (and businesses) risk in adopting a new enterprise app that doesn’t work, doesn’t perform or doesn’t deliver its expected ROI. It’s a really good thing when your product or service makes someone at another company look good internally, or helps make their job safer. It’s a bad thing when it doesn’t. Build this thinking into your product development, sales and customer support process.

4. Always Go Into Meetings With an Agenda

A meeting with a Fortune 500 company is not a daily standup. When I’ve gone into meetings with a clear agenda and structure to run the meeting they typically go well. When I’ve gone into meetings with big clients unprepared sometimes it goes very not well. [Painful] lesson learned.

5. You Really Can’t Over-Communicate.

If you’re working with large brands (or agencies), chances are you’ve got stakeholders and points of contact in different business units, roles and teams. Unless you’re selling lower-priced, no-touch SaaS without much client-side customization or implementation, it’s critically important for your mutual success you try to ascertain what each contact is looking for out of the relationship, how each unit or stakeholder benchmarks their success, and how they like to be briefed or communicated to you. Moreover, there really is no such thing as over-communication with your larger clients. Quite the opposite, in many cases it can be really reassuring that at least one person on your team is a stable, available, friendly and transparent presence during the course of the relationship or engagement. It also re-communicates your brand and value. Even great inbound marketing companies with self-service SaaS products like Marketo andKissMetrics maintain consistent communication with customers via emails, blog updates and new product announcements (even if most of it’s automated). Again, to repeat, you really can’t over-communicate to your customers early on, particularly when it’s done on a person-to-person level.

What has your experience been as a startup or entrepreneur working with larger clients? Care to share your wisdom or war stories in the comments section?

15
Apr

The 2013 Boston Marathon: Acute, Physical Tragedy, Momentous Digital Response

 

Today’s tragic Boston Marathon bombing was as real, visceral and tangible as the grizzly Newtown, CT school shooting or any other recent rip through our collective sense of safety, priority and moral good. I cannot overstate that. As I sit here now however, trying to reconcile today’s losses, thanking my lucky stars friends and family-members nearby escaped unscathed and searching for more information about what could have motivated such a senseless attack beyond a broad, jaundiced hatred of American freedom, culture and national pride, I can’t help but notice the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing conversation is dominated – and our country as united as ever – by the speed and reach of social media.Continue Reading..

22
Feb

Virool: The Viral Video Black Box

Self-serve YouTube video ad network Virool seems to be on a tear, raising a $6.6M seed round in February from investors that include Thomvest Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurveston, 500 Startups, Phenomen Ventures, TMT Investments, DominateFund, FundersClub and a cadre of well-known individual investors. Virool also boasts some solid traction, including 30,000 registered advertisers and a network said to be capable of reaching 22 million viewers.

I first experimented with Virool in August 2012, and, even back then can say simply: Alex and Vlad built an intuitive product that works. Enter the URL of your YouTube video, pay money and it gets views through their embed network. The team has also clearly done a good job scaling their affiliate network, making the product an interesting alternative to AdWords for Video. As a result, since mid-last year, I’ve run several different Virool campaign split and A/B tests, with frequently interesting results.

However, once you get past its basic product efficacy, Virool is, at its core, a bit of a black box that leaves some important questions unanswered about it’s ad network. Specifically:

1. Who’s watching?Virool currently allows you to “target” your demographic (demo) by age, gender, placement, geography and keyword. However, the results have yet to inspire full confidence. Geographic demo-targeting at a basic level seems to work: Virool maps your views in the dashboard and assuming the views aren’t being run through proxies if you select United States only you’ll get United States-based view views. However, after that, the system offers very little transparency. If I select “Blogs/Sites” only for my view placements, what blogs and sites are these? And how is a blog or website segmenting its traffic by keyword or visitor age/gender? I can say that video campaigns targeted at a very specific demo (say, 18-24 year old male baed on a small set of keywords) doesn’t produce results consistent with YouTube’s demo analytics on the back end.

2. Where are they watching? I’ll give Virool some credit here because in a lot of cases Google/YouTube hasn’t been able to do any better, but going to the digital team at a sophisticated consumer brand or agency and presenting campaign results as “5,000 people from Brooklyn watched your video on some blog or website” is going to invite a lot of hard follow-up questions. What website(s)? News sites? Tech blogs? Are videos ever run through gates or video view exchanges? Currently with Virool it’s impossible to tell.

3. Do Virool viewers care or pay attention? Beyond the question of who’s watching where, an additional open question is how engaged are they? Specifically, when split-testing the same video across different distribution “channels,” I’ve found in particular that Games and Virtual Currency API’s can rapidly chew up ad spend and generate views that seem to have near-zero content engagement, even it it’s something like a Gamer Walkthrough or Live-Action Shooter clip. Why is that? My hypothesis is simply that audience-members want to play their game or build their currency base, not necessarily actually watch your content (some of these services you can even bot and run through video after video on mute in the background while you do something on a different browser). Trading virtual currency for YouTube views is hardly a new model, and if Virool is plugging into virtual currency view exchanges or gated ad networks to run through inventory it’s generating non-engaged shadow views at the expense of the advertiser.

4. So engagement is really a total dice roll (Do Virool viewers care or pay attention – Part 2)? For those who haven’t noticed, YouTube’s focus is on subscriptions and minutes watched, not views. Yes, there’s still a huge psychological reinforcement mechanism when you see a video with 4 million views, and at scale video virality can in some cases become a self-fulfilling prophecy (see: the Harlem Shake), but YouTube’s algorithm heavily weights audience retention, minutes watched and click-throughs at the expense of views. Here again, Virool’s view service is awfully sexy (particularly because it can be achieved quickly at lower CPV levels than Google’s PPC networks), but it doesn’t build audiences and it doesn’t give video marketers actionable data and insights about their viewership.

In order for me to really see Virool as the next generation of video ad exchange, Alex, Vlad and the rest of the team really need to develop the product to make it more transparent and address these unanswered questions. I’ve followed Alex on Quora for a while, even pre-Virool, and it’s clear to me he has significant expertise in the video space, the arbitrage he’s put together is really clever, and it would be awesome if Virool can apply its big raise to bring a lot more transparency to its viral video black box. Without it, it’s hard for a knowledgeable video marketer to really trust the product, because I know the shortcuts that can be taken and need conviction to know that Virool is taking the high ground.

23
Jan

Why Twitter Isn’t Saving Television

“Social TV” is hot right now.  Twitter is strategically building studio relationships, major consumer brands are engineering Super Bowl ad campaigns around second screen experiences, data companies targeting the intersection of online audience engagement and ad dollars are attracting considerable investor interest and everyone from Microsoft to Time Warner is dipping their toe into the new overnight sensationalism surrounding big media conversation.  But while it’s fairly easy to affirm that the future of TV looks highly social, with tremendous opportunity for fostering content-centric dialogue and [re-]targeting, it’s a lot less clear how much “tomorrow TV” looks like the present in terms of platform, players and economic allocation.  One thing that’s already clear though, is Twitter (and GetGlue, BlueFin Labs et al.) isn’t saving traditional TV from considerable current and future disruption, for three reasons:Continue Reading..

12
Nov

What Dharmesh from Hubspot Taught Me About Google+

Right or wrong, I consider myself a fairly tech-savvy marketer. I’ve built close to a dozen websites, advised companies ranging from Fortune 100’s to two-person team startups on how to optimize aspects of their digital strategy and gotten hundreds of thousands of views and clicks on an assortment of content and conversion destinations. And, given my background, I’ve been well aware of Hubspot for some time. I first got a demo of Hubspot’s lead gen analysis tools in 2010 and recall immediately thinking “Wow. This much knowledge about your inbound traffic is powerful.”  Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking that by a long shot. And as an active member of the Boston-Kendall-Cambridge tech scene, I’m even more aware of Hubspot’s dramatic rise to prominence in the Boston startup scene, as well as the reverence the entire entrepreneurial community holds for Hubspot Founder and CTO, Dharmesh Shah.

“He’s so impressive,” a friend and Hubspot colleague once told me; “still highly active in the code base – an incredible analyst and tireless innovator.”

So when I caught on Twitter that Dharmesh was speaking at an Intelligent.ly event (aside: in the very cool 500 Harrison BzzAgent South End co-working space, right above Cincocento, the Aquitaine Group’s elegant new restaurant loft), I made the trip over from Kendall to see what I could learn from the Hubspot luminary.Continue Reading..