Category Archives: Growth Hacking

how to build a facebook messenger bot without code

How to Make a Facebook Messenger Bot with Zero Code: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

As a so-so programmer, I recently looked up how to create a Facebook messenger bot that could automatically share new posts from my blog (as an alternative to someone subscribing via email or RSS). Normally, if I can find a suitable Github library or clear enough tutorial, and the app isn’t too complicated, I can hack it and get it working. What I was surprised to find is the social media bot ecosystem has already evolved so quickly that you can build your own Facebook messenger bot in a few minutes without writing a single line of code. Even better, you can do it completely free. So I thought I’d share a quick tutorial on how to make your own marketing or customer service bot (or just something to impress your friends).

Want to see my messenger bot in action? Click the button below to chat with the (simple AI version) of me [note: this may launch the messenger conversation on your phone if you have the app open there but not in your browser].

test the facebook messenger chatbot

As you can see, it’s a pretty simple, but there are a lot of different possibilities if you take the time to invest in your bot’s communication logic. So let’s get into the tutorial.

Continue reading

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

Growth Engineering

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]

What Does Growth Hacking Really Mean?

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

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

How I Got My Startup Profitable in 6 Weeks

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

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

Social Sharing on Quibb

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

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?

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