Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Marketing

Is your business model minimizing financial risk for your customers?

I’ve written in the past about business model innovation, and how companies can not only innovate with their product, but also with the way they charge their customers and garner revenue.

A business model innovation that I like and have been noticing recently is one that that minimizes the financial risk for its customers. While the free trial and freemium models do this to a certain extent, some companies go even further.

There are two models that I highlight in this post:

  1. When companies provide a service first, and get paid later when a certain event occurs
  2. When companies have you pay first but then refund money if you don’t use the product in a given time frame

Here are three companies that do a great job of minimizing financial risk for their customers.

Lambda School

Studies from Georgetown University and Pew Research Center have shown that college graduates make significantly more per year, and over a lifetime, than their counterparts with no four-year college degree. That’s a comforting statistic for college grads, current students, and those thinking about attending.

But there is a lot of risk in attending college.

First of all, the cost of attending college has become astronomical.

Tuition and fees at ranked private schools average over $41,000, with some of the top schools charging over $55,000 per year. Yucky to the bank account.

Growth of college tuition

Growth of college tuition – graph courtesy of US News

So unless you have rich parents who can pay for your education (lucky you), or you ace all of your high school classes and entrance exams and get a full scholarship (smart you), you’re likely going to have to take out student loans. And these loans will follow you around forever, even if you declare bankruptcy.

Second, even if you graduate college, you might not get a job upon graduation, or months or even years after. That’s pretty terrible.

Because of this increased risk of attending college, there’s been a growth in popularity of vocational programs and coding bootcamps like General Assembly, Flatiron School, and many others that have come and gone. These programs can either be in-person or online and teach you tech-related skills like web development and digital marketing. Classes typically last a few months, depending on whether you’re a full- or part-time student.

The problem is that these programs are still pretty expensive (full-time, in-person coding bootcamps can cost up to $20,000) and you’re still not guaranteed a job after you graduate. So are these programs really solving the problem?

Lambda School has a really innovative business model that aims to minimize their students’ risk of gaining a useful education.

Lambda School provides computer science and data science courses taught live and online by instructors who have worked for the largest tech companies like Google and Apple.

The big differentiator is that you don’t pay a cent for this education until you graduate and make more than $50,000 per year in salary. At that point, you pay 17% of your salary for two years. 

So let’s say you graduate from Lambda School and get a job as a Data Scientist making $75,000 per year. 17% of $75,000 is $12,750; assuming you don’t get a raise within your first two years, you would pay $25,500 to Lambda School.

That’s less than one semester’s worth of tuition and fees at some universities.

With no upfront monetary investment.

And you already have a high-paying job before you pay anything.

That’s pretty amazing.

I’m not sure how innovative their curriculum is; live online education has certainly been tried before. It’s the de-risking of the cost of the education that’s really innovative.

I learned about Lambda School from this episode of This Week in Startups.  The founder, Austin Allred, shares a ton of info about why college tuitions have soared and why he started Lambda School.

Education is one of the most important sectors of our economy and it’s clearly broken. I’m rooting hard for Austin and Lambda School to succeed so this huge problem can be fixed.

MaxSalePrice

Selling a home is a stressful task and a lot of work.

You need to make your home look nice, work with agents, price it correctly, give tours, and much more, in a short amount of time.

In the end, you want to maximize the sales price of your home. And one way to do this is to do home improvement projects before you put your house on the market. A remodeling of your kitchen, new hardwood floors, and a fresh coat of paint can significantly increase the value of your home.

These projects aren’t cheap, though. A kitchen remodel can cost over $40,000, a full paint job can cost $10,000, and installing hardwood floors can be many thousands as well.

And you have to find trustworthy contractors and pay them upfront to do this work.

MaxSalePriceMaxSalePrice logo is flipping this model on its head.

The company will work with you and your real estate agent to figure out what improvements are needed to maximize your sale price. Then their contractors will execute these projects, and you don’t pay until you close the sale of your home, regardless of how long it takes to sell it.

Everyone wins here. You maximize your revenue from your home, your agent gets her cut of a bigger pie, and MaxSalePrice gets paid for its work.

I know the company’s CEO, Rick Rudman, pretty well. He started and sold his PR software company Vocus for nearly $500 million and was the CEO of social media software Tracx. The more he told me about MaxSalePrice, the more interesting it sounded. I think it’s a really great business model and I’m sure MaxSalePrice will be really successful with Rick at the helm.

Slack

Workplace communication provider Slack does many things really well, and their business model is one of them.

Slack has a pretty amazing free plan. You get unlimited public and private channels, 10,000 searchable messages, up to 10 apps, and much more. It’s very compelling for small teams.

Slack logoOnce you grow out of that plan, Slack can cost up to $15 per user per month.

The innovative aspect of their business model is what they call “Fair Billing Policy”, where your company will only get billed for the people who use it each month. So if an employee you’ve already paid for becomes inactive, Slack will add a prorated credit to your account for the unused time.

There are very few enterprise apps that get used by every employee every single day. Even though Slack is likely to be one of these apps, they still minimize financial risk for their customers by providing refunds for inactive users.

That’s a characteristic of a truly customer-centric company. It’s no wonder why they’re valued at more than $5 billion.

Conclusion

I really love it when companies innovate with their business models, and these three companies are doing a great job of taking care of their customers’ wallets.

It has really made me think of how to structure pricing for my startup, WinOptix, and how I can de-risk this process for my customers.

Have you seen other companies whose business models help minimize financial risk for their customers? Are you doing so for your customers?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Marketing is the easiest and hardest job at the same time

Marketing word cloud

Marketing is really easy. And it’s hard. Both at the same time. I learn that everyday.

NYU Stern is one of the best universities in the world for finance. And I got my MBA there in marketing (though Stern is pretty good at Marketing, too).

At Stern, the finance majors would constantly poke fun at all of the marketing folks for taking the easy route. While these finance people were using spreadsheets to calculating Betas and IRRs, we marketers were learning about fluffy stuff like “brand” and “engagement.”

And I’ll admit that when I was was an engineer and consultant way back in the day, I thought that marketing was easy and fluffy as well.

On one hand, it’s true. On the other hand, it’s not.

Marketing is easy, anyone can do it

Post something on Twitter? That’s social media marketing.

Write a blog post? That’s content marketing.

Pay another company to slap your logo on their materials? That’s partnership marketing.

Talk to someone about a product? Is that really marketing? Yeah, that’s word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s true, anyone can do marketing.

Executing marketing tactics is easy. In fact, any conversation that you have with anyone about anything is marketing for that thing.

Yeah, marketing is really, really easy.

Anyone can do marketing, but can they do it well?

Yes, anyone can do marketing. The question is whether they can do it well and achieve the goals set by their boss and company.

You can execute any of the tactics that I mentioned above. But how are they working? Are they producing leads, users, customers, and revenue?

Here’s why marketing is so hard.

So many channels

I mentioned four 4 types of marketing channels in the section above. That’s only a fraction of all the marketing channels that are available at our disposal. Here are a few more that I can think of off the top of my head:

  1. Pay-per-click advertising
  2. Online forum marketing
  3. TV advertising
  4. Radio advertising
  5. Affiliate marketing
  6. Mobile marketing
  7. Guerilla marketing
  8. Email marketing
  9. Public relations
  10. Event marketing

Here’s a Google sheet with many, many more.

The difficulty in marketing is experimenting with all of these channels, prioritizing which ones to focus on, and determining which are most effective.

True measurement is difficult

Awesome segue – how do you determine which channels are most effective? You need to be able to attribute leads, customers, and revenue to each channel. That’s proven to be pretty difficult as well.

John Wanamaker famously said that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

So true.

Yes, online marketing has made that easier. If you run a Google Adwords ad and a user clicks and buys your product, you should be able to attribute that sale pretty easily, right?

But what if that user heard about your product from her friend prior to Googling it? Or what if they saw a tweet from your company last week that made them think about you? Or what if they saw a recommendation of your product on Amazon before hearing about your product from a friend or seeing your tweet that made them think about you?

Is it correct to attribute that sale to that Adwords ad entirely? No, it’s not.

Even though we now have access to so much data, gleaning real insight from all of this data has become increasingly difficult.

So how do you truly understand which channels are working, and which aren’t?

Attention is scarce

There’s so much to do nowadays. No one has time for ads.

Everyone fast forwards through commercials during the shows they DVR. Shit, they don’t even DVR anymore – they’re watching Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Consumers spend tons of time on social media. And while the potential to reach these billions of social media users is huge, these audiences are super fragmented and distracted that it’s so much more difficult to engage and interact with them.

It’s really hard to get attention nowadays, no matter how easy it is to write a tweet or blast out an email.

I’m sure that you’ve concentrated 100% of your attention on reading this amazing blog post, but your phone probably buzzed and pinged you with notifications from text messages, Twitter, Snapchat, email, whatever. Thanks for paying attention, though, I appreciate it!

Trust is being breached

Look at all of the data privacy issues Facebook is dealing with now.

Consumers are sick of ads following them around all over the internet (this is called “retargeting”). Even though retargeting works, it’s super creepy.

Tech companies have access to troves of user data that they leverage to serve us personalized (aka creepy) ads all the time.

And consumers hate this.

You need a unique combination of skills

To be a good marketer, you need a broad set of skills.

You need to be creative to come up with engaging copy, a unique market position, and eye-catching designs. But you can’t just be creative.

You need to be analytical to experiment with different marketing channels and measure how well all of these channels are performing. But you can’t just be analytical.

You need to be strategic to see how all of the different channels and moving parts fit together. But you just can’t be strategic, you need to be able to execute, too.

You need to understand psychology, technology, data, strategy, tactics and operations. You need to understand how sales people, designers, programmers, and customers work and what makes them tick.

It’s difficult to learn all of these skills.

Conclusion

There are so many marketing channels, attention is hard to come by, trust has gone out the window, and competition is continuously increasing.

With marketing, you can’t just circle an answer or highlight a cell in your spreadsheet. There’s no formula that you can follow. You have to experiment, measure, make assumptions, measure again, and experiment some more. It’s a never ending process.

So yes, while executing marketing tactics is easy, doing marketing well and proving that you’re doing it well can be really difficult.

Do you think marketing is easy or hard? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Building a movement is the best kind of marketing

One of the things I like best about marketing is how it can motivate people to take action and think differently about the status quo.

Online marketing has become so effective because you can measure nearly everything that someone does on the internet and spring upon them the perfect offer at the perfect time. And with all the behavioral data being collected by Google and Facebook, these transactions are getting easier to execute.

But they are just hard, cold transactions. Yes, they bring in revenue and profit, but most are lifeless and disconnected. There’s no real interaction with customers. Buyers find a product, enter their credit card info, click “Buy” and go bye-bye.

That’s why I admire brands that are built upon deeper relationships with its users. And the best brands create movements that develop these relationships not only between the company and customer, but also between customers to form communities of like-minded people. And these movements can be extremely powerful.

Here are some of my favorite examples of brand movements.

Dove Real Beauty

I am not at all the target customer of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, but I love the movement that they have built.

Societal pressures have led us to believe that beautiful women can only be tall, skinny, and have perfect facial features and skin. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign looks to broaden the definition of beauty and give women of all ages, shapes, and ethnic backgrounds confidence in their appearance.

They’ve built an entire ecosystem around this idea by launching initiatives such as the Self-Esteem Project and giving women the ability to tell their own stories about beauty. This has allowed women to connect with one another, lean on each other, and build confidence together.

Movements can change how people perceive and define what’s around them, and act accordingly. And I think the Dove Real Beauty campaign does a great job of this.

Dove Real Beauty

Salesforce

Salesforce was the first Software-as-a-Service (where software is delivered via the internet instead of installed on your computer or in business’ data centers) customer relationship management (CRM) platform and they really built an amazing movement around “No Software.”

nosoftwarelogoAt the time of launch, which was around 1999, Salesforce’s competitors were companies like Siebel Systems and SAP, who sold client-server CRM and ERP software that had to be installed on-premises, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to implement.

That’s why Salesforce’s SaaS approach was so revolutionary back then.

The SaaS model would replace huge upfront costs with monthly payments over time, minimizing commitment fears. Software would be upgraded much more frequently at the same time for all users, alleviating the need for companies to bring in consultants to manually upgrade on-premise software every couple of years.

But because it was so different, the company had to really market the idea of “No Software” to convince prospective customers that moving to the SaaS model was the right thing to do. Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, was the head cheerleader of this campaign, and it helped build Salesforce into the $80+ billion software behemoth that it is today.

T-Mobile

I’m a T-Mobile customer and I love what the company and its CEO, John Legere, has done to truly change the entire cell phone industry for the better.

T-Mobile’s “Un-carrier” movement has put its competition on notice and forced them to replicate many of their tactics.

Legere helped the company deeply understand mobile subscribers, how they used their phones, what services they accessed most frequently, and the pain points they faced. These are things that the other carriers neglected.

T-Mobile understands that:

  1. Taxes and fees can add a lot to your cell phone bill, and no one has any idea how much they will amount to. So they built these fees into the cost of their plans so you know exactly what you’ll pay each month. Transparency is powerful.
  2. Due to huge termination fees, customers were basically stuck in these two-year service contracts until they expired. T-Mobile was the first to do away with annual contracts and covered termination fees when a new customer switched from a competitor.
  3. They’re giving Netflix subscriptions for free! They actually want you to stream more content on their network.

All of these tactics truly put the customer front and center, and the “Un-carrier” movement has allowed T-Mobile to be one of the fastest growing major cell networks in the US.

The Past Two Presidents’ Campaigns

A presidential campaign is quintessential marketing. While awareness isn’t much of an issue, getting people to understand your “product”, compare it favorably to the competition, and take appropriate action is front and center.

And our current and past presidents launched movements that changed the course of our nation.

It pains me to say this, but our current President, Donald Trump, ran a very differentiated campaign that caused a huge movement among his constituents.

His mantra of “America First” led to a level of nationalism rarely seen before. “Drain the Swamp” conjured thoughts of all the corruption and incompetence in the Government and how he would clean it all up.

His campaign movement was based on hatred and lies, but it was a movement nonetheless that got him elected. Yes, he did not win the popular vote, but apparently he won the votes that counted. Ugh.

On to more positive topics…such as the campaign of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

Being the first African-American candidate to be nominated on a major party ticket is tough. Convincing the public to elect you as President would be even tougher.Barack_Obama_Hope_poster

Obama’s campaign represented “Change we can believe in” and a “Yes, We Can” attitude. It called for progress and hope for an improved United States. He needed the American public to think differently because he was so racially different than any other president in history.

And his team leveraged social media and other new technologies so effectively to spread the word and recruit evangelists.

The movement was certainly effective. Obama’s campaign convinced 63% of eligible voters to run for the voting booths, the highest in 50 years. And he became the first African-American President in US history.

Conclusion

Movements are powerful. They can galvanize communities and enact real change.

So whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, politician, or just someone trying to do good in some small way, try to find that angle where you can position yourself against the status quo.

Consumers want to be moved, and not marketed to.

What are other examples of movements that you’ve seen? I’d love to hear about them.

Let Your Personality Shine in Your Product

A couple of years ago, the folks at startup accelerator Y Combinator put on a series of lectures called “How to Start a Startup” at Stanford University.

My favorite lecture was lecture 7, “How to Build Products Users Love“, which was presented by Kevin Hale, Founder of online form company Wufoo and now Partner at YC.

There is a TON of great information about user onboarding, customer support, and much more.

But the enduring theme that I took out of the lecture was how to incorporate your personality into your product to make it something that your users love to use.

With Wufoo, they did things like include interesting microcopy, like having “RARRR!” pop up when you hover over the dinosaur login button:

 

Wufoo login microcopy

 

 

Another example was from one of Wufoo’s customers who included some hilarious microcopy in their sign-up form:

Corkd form microcopy

 

Every time you open Slack, they’ll have an amusing message waiting for you to start your day:

Slack quote

 

Of course, you need to build a product that provides value to the user, is fast, doesn’t crash all the time, has solid design, and has all of the other baseline things that a good product should have.

But these little user experience details count a lot, and incorporating your personality into your product wherever possible can delight users and keep them coming back. It can build trust, put a smile on users’ faces, and make them feel loved.

While product designs will differ, many products that do similar things tend to feel the same. There are many online form tools like Wufoo that get the job done. But the microcopy and other details that reflect the company’s personality can be the difference in winning or losing that customer.

Have you encountered a product where you saw the company’s personality shine through? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Should you work on your weaknesses or focus on your strengths?

I recently listened to an episode of the podcast Seeking Wisdom where David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt from Drift talked about why you should forget about your weaknesses and focus on your strengths. Read the blog post here and listen/watch the video at the end after you finish reading this post. 🙂

This point of view certainly makes sense. It’s frickin hard to learn or get better at something that you’re not good at. And because it’s hard, you’ll also get frustrated when you make slow progress.

So maybe that time would be better spent on focusing on your strengths so you can turn them into superpowers, and delegating the stuff you’re not good at.

Here’s an excerpt from the episode’s blog post about one of David’s weaknesses:

For example: I’m not great at following up (especially with email). I’m a momentum maker. And that means I’m better at focusing on the here and now than I am at staying organized and creating process. But I used to fight it and I would focus on every single hack and trick to try and help — from to do lists on my laptop, reminders on my computer, phones on my phone, notebooks, etc.

This lesson took me a decade to learn. But eventually I learned the secret: I needed to double down on my strengths and surround myself (and team) with people who complement my weaknesses.

As a non-technical startup founder, it would be faster for me to recruit a technical co-founder or a contractor to help build the app. So instead of learning how to code, I could focus on customer development, marketing, and sales, all stuff that I’m much better at doing.

I do think there are situations where spending time on your weaknesses makes a lot of sense.

High-leverage activities

The first is if that weakness is a high-leverage activity that will have a substantial benefit if it’s improved.

In David’s example, being good at responding to email is a positive trait to have. But is it a high-leverage activity? Is it worth spending a decade trying to figure out how to get better at it? Or can David easily hire someone to help him respond to emails and be more organized?

On the other hand, for my situation, coding is a high-leverage activity that would benefit me greatly to know how to do.

Software developers are tough to recruit, but I was able to snag one on a contracting basis to help build WinOptix. Things are going great, but what if he decides to leave? I’d be shit out of luck.

And if we continue to work together, understanding how to code will allow me to 1) better estimate how long it will take him and others to build features of the product, and 2) contribute to the development of the product myself (eventually).

If your weakness is a high-leverage activity, it might make sense to put in the time to improve it.

If you don’t really like your strengths, enjoy working on your weakness, or both

Let’s say I’m strong at marketing. But one day I just get sick of writing blog posts, promoting them, running paid ads, and all of the other tasks that marketing entails. What should I do then?

The first thing I should do is assess my career. But what next? Should I continue working on my marketing skills, even though it kills me inside?

And let’s say I’m weak at programming (I am), but I looooooooove it (I don’t. It’s aight, but I don’t know enough to love it yet). Should I not try to improve my coding skills, just because I’m not really good at it?

Or what if both were happening at the same time?

Focusing on my strengths certainly wouldn’t make me any happier or necessarily better at my job.

Over to you

While I do see David’s point, there are certain situations where shoring up your weaknesses might make sense. I think the decision will be unique to each individual’s situation.

What’s your situation like? Are you focusing on your strengths, or working on your weaknesses? I’d love to hear from you.

BTW, David Cancel was an awesome guest on my podcast. Thanks David!

3 types of communities that are crucial for a startup’s growth

Communities have been an enduring theme on my podcast and have been crucial to the growth of many of my guests’ businesses.

While I’ve taken a break from podcasting, I continue to listen to past episodes and learn from my guests, and it’s no doubt how important communities are to their success.

Being involved with or building a community can be an extremely valuable way to engage with people who may later turn into customers, partners, and friends.

No matter what stage your business is in – whether you’re just brainstorming ideas or in the millions of revenue – there will be communities that can help move you ahead.

Let’s see what these types of communities are and how they can help.

Startup communities blog image

Local startup and industry communities

The first community that is very important when you’re launching a company is the community of startup founders, entrepreneurs, and industry professionals in your city or neighborhood.

For instance, if you’re a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you should be part of and contribute to communities that focus on web design, fintech, and the general tech startup scene.

Being part of a local startup ecosystem can be a very powerful thing on many levels.

First, you’ll have a bunch of like-minded people with whom you can learn from and share your issues and concerns while you all are building businesses.

Regardless of whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a team, it’s always good to have an outsider’s perspective and an alternative point of view to solve your problem.

There is so much to do and to learn, and helping each other through the thick and thin is a valuable experience.

Next, you may be able to leverage your local network in order to gain customers.

Many of these entrepreneurs and small businesses are looking for products and services that you offer, and having that existing relationship gives you a foot in the door to make a sale.

You certainly want to add value before you drop the sales pitch on others, and being known as someone who gives before she gets is a great thing for business.

Finally, being part of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem opens the doors to many other networks, whether they are local or abroad, or directly related to your business or not.

By expanding your network, you may be introduced to future investors, partners, customers, and many others who may be able to help your business on one way or another.

If you’re a designer in search of a marketer, someone from your local network just may have a contact who is looking for that opportunity.

If your startup is ramping up and you’re in search for investors, a local entrepreneur may know just the person looking to make a bet.

As you can see, being part of your local entrepreneurial ecosystem can be extremely beneficial. But of course, it’s important to give before you get.

Volunteer your time at Meetups you’re interested in, provide some services for free, and be supportive of others in the community. Be known as someone who gives to the community and you’ll eventually receive benefits in spades.

Local communities are frequently spoken about on my podcast.

In episode 10, I chatted with Ron Schmelzer, the CEO of TechBreakfast, which is the largest monthly morning tech Meetup in the nation. If you’re into the technology scene, TechBreakfast events are great places to meet people like you.

In episode 14, Alec Hartman talked about how he is helping to grow New York’s tech scene by building TechDay.

In episode 16, founder Andrew Hyde and then CEO Marc Nager talked about how they launched and grew Startup Weekend to be a global phenomenon. Startup Weekend was one of the primary factors why I became an entrepreneur.

As you can see, there is no shortage of startup communities. No matter where you live, I’m sure that there will be a local startup or industry community waiting to welcome you, and being a part of these can pay off big time down the road.

Existing online communities

Existing online communities are the digital equivalent of your local community. The fundamentals of how they work are essentially the same, with the activity occurring on your laptop or mobile phone instead of in person.

Online communities will allow you to ask questions and garner answers from experts, provide your opinion and expertise to help others, make connections you wouldn’t have made otherwise, and potentially gain new customers.

But just like in local communities, you have to make sure to give before you receive. Blatantly promoting your wares won’t work, and doing so may get you banished from some of these sites. So make sure that you add value before extracting it from these online communities.

There are many community sites where you can interact with other like-minded people.

Reddit is the first to come to mind.

Reddit

There are hundreds of thousands of “subreddits” (topic-based forums on Reddit), where people gather to share articles and discuss and debate different subjects.

Going back to that example of a web designer in Raleigh, NC working on a financial technology startup, you can join the r/web_design (153,000+ subscribers), r/startups, (109k+), r/fintech (1k+), and even r/raleigh (10K+) subreddits to have a huge built-in audience to engage with immediately.

For more info on how to market on Reddit, check out this post.

Facebook Groups are amazing resources as well.

When I started my podcast, I joined podcasting Facebook Groups like Podcasters’ Hangout and Podcast Community. I interacted with hundreds of fellow podcasters each day, learned from them, and picked up a bunch of listeners and reviews.

Quora is another great community in which to engage. Quora is the best question-and-answer site on the web, and many smart people ask and answer questions that span all kinds of topics. You can search for and share your knowledge about thousands of different subjects. It’s a great place to both learn and teach.

Build your own community

One of the best ways to engage your customers for a long period of time is to build your own community.

No matter whether you build your community in the real world, online, or both, you’ll have a population of people who want to hear from and engage with your content and offerings.

Again, the keys here are to offer value, give before you get, and don’t always sell.

In episode 1, John Von Tetzchner, the founder of web browser companies Opera and Vivaldi, built passionate communities around these web browsers.

At Opera, Von Tetzchner built the MyOpera community to a scale of 35 million visitors per month at its height. The users frequently gave feedback on the product, and many volunteers contributed their time to testing unfinished products.

At Vivaldi, John was able to build a community from many Opera users who shared the sentiment he did – that Opera was becoming more of a commodity browser and he believed that browser users needed something more powerful.

So he developed online forums that potential users could join to talk about what they wanted from a new browser. The company engaged this community and frequently asked them for feedback as they developed the new browser, which gave the community a sense of empowerment and connection.

In episode 12, Luis Congdon talked about how his private Facebook Group has helped him grow his podcasting audience and sell a lot of his product, a podcasting launch course called The Podcaster’s Secret Weapon.

I am a member of Luis’ Facebook group and I must say that he does a great job engaging and providing lots of value to his audience without being overt about selling his products. And even when he does push his products, he does it in such a way that helps his constituents.

Conclusion

As you can see, communities are critical to the growth of businesses.

Regardless of whether you’re just at the idea stage, in the process of building your product, or have sold millions in revenue, being part of or building a community can help you engage potential or current customers and partners and set yourself up for success.

What are some ways you’ve leveraged communities to move your business forward? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left and then sign up for my mailing list below.

Thanks for reading!

Getting into the right frame of mind

All work isn’t created equal.

There are difficult tasks and easy tasks.

There are tasks that you can execute quickly and others that may take a long time.

Some tasks might require more brainpower or physical energy than others.

For some tasks – namely the difficult ones that require brainpower and may take a long time – being in the right frame of mind is crucial.

Take blogging, for instance. If I’m not in “writing mode,” it’s really difficult for me to crank out a blog post. I’ll procrastinate and the thought of writing will stress me out all day. And when I do sit down and write, it usually isn’t my best work.

Or working out at the gym. If my head isn’t into it, my workout will suck.

I’m not sure of the best way to get into the right frame of mind when I’m not into it.

Sometimes I’ll look for another less difficult task to execute.

Other times I just have to barrel through the original task and get it done. Many times that’s better than not completing the task at all.

Regardless, being in the right frame of mind makes things so much clearer and easier.

How do you get into the right frame of mind when you’re not in the mood to complete a task?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

My thoughts auto-DMing followers on Twitter

Automation is a powerful productivity concept that can free up time to perform additional tasks and saves on labor, materials, and cost.

For the most part, automation started in manufacturing, where processes were automated using a combination of machinery, hydraulics, feedback controllers, and eventually computers.

In marketing, software like Oracle Marketing Cloud (formerly Eloqua), Marketo, Hubspot and others help to automate the email marketing process.

These software packages can automatically fire off emails and other communications based on customer behaviors like joining a list, visiting a webpage, opening or clicking on an email, or not opening or clicking on an email.

Marketing automation saves marketers hundreds of hours of work and help engage customers and prospects at scale. But sometimes if it’s not set up right and delivers irrelevant messaging, it can hurt your brand.

Now that we’ve fully moved into the world of social, I’ve been experimenting with automation of engagement on Twitter.

Tools like StatusBrew and Crowdfire allow you to set up automated messages whenever someone new follows you. You can publicly send a mention to them or direct message them automatically (the latter being the more popular move).

I haven’t seen a big uptick in engagement for the auto-DMs that I’ve sent, which has me thinking that this isn’t really right for social.

But I have seen different types of automated messaging, a few of which really turn me off and hurt the brand of the user sending it. Here’s what I’ve seen and how they’ve made me feel.

The Auto DM with the name of the tool used

If you don’t pay for a tool like StatusBrew or Crowdfire, each of your automated messages will be tagged with something like “via Statusbrew.com” at the end.

This obviously tells the recipient the message was automated.

You’re trying to engage but you’re not trying to hide it. I won’t typically reply to these messages, but I’m pretty indifferent to them. No harm, no foul.

The obvious auto DM without the name of the tool used

When users pay for social automation tools, the “via Statusbrew.com” tag is not included. But many automated messages are written like they are obviously automated.

This turns me off a little bit.

If you have the ability to cover up the fact that you’re automating messages, you should at least put forth the effort to make it look like there is a real person sending the message, right?

Acknowledging the auto DM

Many people will acknowledge that they are sending an auto DM, with messages that say something like “Yeah, I know, this is an automated message, sorry! Automation is a necessary evil. But if you respond to this, I swear a real human will respond right back!”

I used this technique before I turned off social automation.

I’ve actually seen a slight uptick in engagement by sending these messages, and once in a while I would respond to the user who auto-sends me a message like this.

Being honest is an endearing quality that can help you better engage, and I think that’s at work here. It’s not ideal but it can work to a certain extent.

Saying “this isn’t an auto DM” when it really is

This is the absolute worst.

I’ve received messages from users who explicitly say that their DM isn’t automated.

How did I find out that it’s automated? Because if I follow this person with more than one social account, I receive the same message to all of those accounts.

And I’ve even been sent the same message multiple times to the same account.

Unfollow.

Conclusion

The best thing to do is to manually respond to each and everyone of your new Twitter followers. But we don’t always have time for that.

I think that automation can eventually work in social media but the context analysis just isn’t there yet.

If you use automation, there are ways that it can be implemented where you can increase engagement. But make sure you take time and effort to do it right or else you can do more harm than good.

What are your thoughts about social media automation and auto-DMing followers? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Platforms vs. your website – interesting readership stats for my “Quality vs. Quantity” post

Two days ago, I penned a blog post called “Quality vs. Quantity – which should you focus on?“, which led to some interesting viewership results.

I published it on this site, Medium, and LinkedIn, as I do with most of my blog posts.

On mikewchan.com, the post got 88 views and 4 shares.

On Medium, the post got 70 views and 2 “Recommends” (the equivalent of a “Like”).

On LinkedIn, the post got 1,683 views, 353 Likes, 86 comments, and 82 shares.

What the hell is going on here?

First of all, it’s not surprising that mikewchan.com has such few views. I only have 40 people on my email list. And although I shared the article to 7235 Twitter followers, we know that only a tiny percentage of people see those tweets.

Ideally, it’s best to build a big email list, have direct access to those people’s inboxes, and drive as much traffic to your site.

But nowadays, with so much noise and so many people creating massive amounts of content, that strategy just won’t work on its own.

So you need platforms and networks to help get readership.

Yet I have no idea what happened here with the two platforms to which I posted the article.

I have 1100 followers on Medium yet only garnered 70 views. I have no clue how their algorithm works and how articles are distributed.

I have over 3300 connections and followers on LinkedIn. Having more followers will obviously drive more views, and the connections I have on LinkedIn are much stronger than those on Medium.

But nearly 25x more views than on Medium? And I got more comments and shares on LinkedIn than I did total views on Medium. I don’t get it.

The problem with platforms is exactly that – it’s tough to decipher how their algorithms work, your readership numbers are completely dependent on them, and they can change at any moment.

I guess I should get back to building my email list.

This is day 20 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Quality vs. Quantity – which should you focus on?

There’s a never-ending debate between quality and quantity, especially in my worlds of marketing and startups.

It’s hard to have both quality and quantity at the same time; they have an inverse correlation.

The more you do, the lower quality your work will be. The higher quality your work is, the more time it will take for each task, and you’ll complete fewer tasks.

So which is more important?

There’s a big debate about quality vs. quantity in the marketing world.

Content creation is a key part of marketing, and many companies try to pump out lots and lots of content so Google can index all of their articles and they’ll be higher on the search rankings. Sometimes this works, but it’s a grind and can cost a lot of time and money.

Then take SEO master Brian Dean. His blog, Backlinko, garners almost 120,000 unique visitors per month and a 7-figure income. And he has only written 32 articles in just over 3 years. That’s less than one blog post per month! He writes super-long articles that have a ton of value. That’s clearly quality over quantity. Not everyone can create these very long, in-depth articles, though.

Now let’s talk about the startup world.

Conventional wisdom says to do one thing and do it well. Hone in on a single problem, research it, perfect it, create a solution for it, and focus, focus, focus.

Then there is this guy who has launched 12 startups in 12 months. He built and tested a bunch of ideas to figure out what had the most potential.

Or there are venture capital firms that make only a few investments per year but focus on industries where they have expertise. Then there is 500 startups, who is playing moneyball and investing in a large number of startups (way more than 500) to diversify and spread out their risk.

It comes down to your particular situation, your mindset, what resources you have, and what you can execute.

I think there are pros and cons to each approach and you have to find the balance of what works for you.

This is day 18 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.