Promote, then build.

December 2, 2009


“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”- Thomas Jefferson


A lot of people tend to think that creating a product or service is the hard part.
When actually selling and promoting the idea is what really matters.
No matter whats the idea is, if people don’t know about it, there is no way for it to be successful.

I`m surprised by the repeated questions by startup founders that tend to focus on: how I sell my service, how do I get venture funding and how do I build a community.

The Internet has limitless resources on those topics; anything from blogs, websites to documents on those topics, written by salespeople, university professors, internet marketers and accomplished entrepreneurs.
Personally, if I want to read up on a certain topic I visit Alltop.com by Guy Kawasaki.

I think the main problem is that people are disconnected between the virtual world and the real world.


What I usually do for my clients (project management) or my own ventures is to imagine they are brick and mortar businesses, it tends to simplify things.

Because no matter what Your business does you are always creating a connection with real people.

Either its picking up a phone and calling them directly or going to a meetup and networking, your building a relationship and that’s what really matters.

Tweeting, setting up Facebook pages and being on all social media platforms doesn`t do anything, unless you have defined goals and create value for your followers.

Goals for 2014

Main reason for defining my goals this year was because of a brief discussion I had at this years NYE party. We talked about our regrets for years past rather than what he hope to accomplish for the upcoming year. This lead me to reflect on things that I wished I had done sooner.

The below list is a basic outline on things I hope to accomplish in 2014:

Become better at Staying in Touch

Through the craziness that is living in NYC & participating in the startup ecosystem, I`ve neglected more close friends & family that I`m willing to admit. With 95% of my family being spread around Europe & Canada it’s hard to figure out a time to talk due to time zones, work & various responsibilities. However such things as sending out a hand-written cards for the holidays or birthdays should always be achievable. Sure there`s always Facebook, most people say that they`re still in touch with their friends due to seeing their status updates or baby pictures. Call me old school but I don`t really consider a Facebook Like or Comment something that`ll maintain a great relationship.

Compete in a BJJ tournament

One thing that I really enjoyed in the past 2 years was learning Jiu Jitsu. At the end of last year I made the decision to quit going due to not being able to commit to it at a level I taught would allow me to grow. Since then I`ve made couple of major changes in my life & starting Feb I`m going back!

Maintain a better Work/Life Balance

When it comes to building something you believe in either as a founder or team member is the constant drive to improve your product, conversions, funnel, back-end, seo etc.

Sometimes when engulfed in a community that encourages you to work endless hours & do everything you can to make the company succeed it starts becoming reality & it`s hard to snap yourself out of it since when you look around everyone has the same approach.

I think someone that did a good job of debating the whose “hustle != win” is Kyle Bragger in his post Stop Working (so hard).

Pay off all Outstanding Debt

Even though I`m able to make decent income, I`ve never made a conscious effort to payoff all my school loans, credit card etc. Sure, I make my regular payments, but never really thought about just paying off the whole thing in larger chunks until it`s gone. I don`t think most people think how much they pay a year in interest fees, something that was made really clear to me recently.

Spend more time Outside

Growing up in Europe I was fortune enough that my parents signed me up early on for the boy scouts while living in Poland. I imagine that most people in the U.S have skewed view on what actually that actually entails, but I`ll leave that for some other time. My point is that since I can remember I love spending time outdoors, the more nature the better. Each year when I visit my parents we make an effort to go hiking be in Winter or Summer in Tatry . I`ve tried instilling that same love for the outdoors with many of my friends in NYC but it seems like people don`t want to make the effort. One way or the other I`m planning on spending more time outdoors in 2014, mainly by taking trips upstate on the weekends where I don`t have other obligations to attend to.

Publish the backlog of Ideas & Notes

I`ve bought & filled half a dozen Moleskine in the past 5 years, both with ideas all things startups as well as notes from talks, meetings with mentors & books I`ve read.

I think alot of these notes would be useful to people that are currently at various stages of building & running their startup.

The Quaterly Social Media Noise Reduction

Today after having a great morning training session, I came back home, had a quick breakfast and sit down to morning ritual, of checking Twitter, Facebook & various RSS feeds.

I`m a big fan of batching, which is grouping similar tasks together so you essentially focus on one “theme” at a time, like for example: “Catching up on social media feeds”.

The willingness of staying on top of whats happening in various markets can be both a blessing & a curse.

For example, having the insights of what are the current trends in the food+tech startup scene, gives me a better understanding of how I can strategically position PrimalSupply & take advantage of certain future scenarios.

However that requires me to follow x amount of interesting people on their Twitter/Blog/Facebook Page & as I dig deeper into the various blogs I discover even more people that I might finds interesting so naturally, I follow them also.

Now I think you can see where this is going, after couple of months of this cycle I end up with so much information to process that even just skimming through takes for more than I`d like.

This was my screen this morning (some of them I haven`t checked since last Thursday):

It took me around an hour and a half to go through these feeds, this is of course excluding taking a look at the tweets from 350+ ppl I follow.

Now naturally, the easiest thing to do in order to keep some sanity, is to reduce the number of feeds/people I follow on various social media.

The problem with that is, who do I delete?

Here`s the criteria I go by:

  • Can I provide value to this person?
  • Did I interact with this person in the past?
  • Do I value this persons opinion?
  • Is this person relevant to my current/future needs?

If the answer to most of these is No, then the action is straight forward, adios noise maker!

By using the criteria above, today I went from:

  • 362 to 150 people that I follow on Twitter.
  • 138 to 34 RSS feeds.

Hopefully this leads to more meaningful interactions with the people that have my attention.

Lessons Learned at DreamIt Ventures Accelerator

Have a Solid Plan

Before coming into the program I would highly stress putting together a comprehensive product roadmap for the duration of the program as well as 2 months after.

Start by splitting the upcoming 3 months into individual weeks & writing out goals both for the tech side (development, design, ux etc.) of the company as well as the business side (sales, fund raising, partnerships etc.). If possible have them written on a huge calendar for everyone in the company to see & be aware of.

Then go more granular and translate those weekly goals into individual tasks using any project management software, here I’d recommend Trello since its very intuitive, has great array of browser plugins to support different styles of task management & it’s totally free.

Build Solid Relationships

Like in college, the connections you make during the program might last a lifetime & bring unexpected opportunities your way in the future.

So invest the time to learn everyones name in your batch, where they’re from & what they like to do outside of work.

Couple of tricks I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Always refer to your batch mates by their first name, people like hearing their name believe it or not.
  • Write down one interesting thing about them & setup reminders or google alerts on that topic in order to quickly reference relevant information in future conversations.
  • Any outing to a conference, meetup, bar or social event try to invite those that might enjoy the event even though you know they might have other plans that day. It’ll keep you at the top of their mind when a opportunity to reciprocate arises.

Learn to Outsource the small stuff

Most startup people I know have a hard time giving up control over their business or don’t know how to effectively outsource some the more repetitive tasks surrounding running their startup. This can be anything from researching competitors, responding to customer service emails, setting up meeting to looking up leads & putting them into a nicely organized spreadsheet.

The key here is to write up all the necessary steps to be taken as detailed as possible. Don’t assume that they have any previous knowledge of your market, business operations or anything for that matter. Writing up specs for virtual assistants should be a separate blog post in itself, so I’ll leave it for the future & in the meantime I’ll recommend reading the 4 Hour Work Week as your primer on outsourcing.

Be selective about your Time

There will be plenty of opportunities to attend interesting presentations, meet with famous investors, pitch various companies & attend industry conferences.

I’d be very wary of the time you spend not contributing to directly driving more sales or improving your existing product.

Balance Work/Play

Being the lead developer at my previous two ventures I might be biased, but here are my thoughts. 12 hour work days fueled by pizza & red bull are both terrible for your health & mind. That might work for hackathon type events were you sprint for 3 days to design, build & deploy an app. But building a sustainable company takes time, so as much as people will lead you to believe that you might be a overnight success if you add “just this one feature” that simply isn’t true. Most developers know that often times the solution to a technical challenge comes to you away from the screen & not by digging through various github projects or endless stack overflow threads.

Take breaks, go outside, take a walk, even better ping some other batch mates to come along with you.

Program Manager aka Gate Keeper 

The program manager is responsible for managing day today operations at the accelerator: mentor & investor meetings, company presentations or press opportunities. Essentially serving as buffer between the outside world and the companies participating in the accelerator.

As much as everyone would want to say that people running an accelerator aren’t biased, that’s simply not true. It’s in peoples nature to play favorites. But all means necessary try to become good friends with that person.

Do something psychically challenging

The simple advice here would be to say: “Work out!”. But people often associate that with just going to the gym & lifting weights or running. I personally enjoy weightlifting but there are plenty of ways to stay active.

Find out from fellow batch mates what kind of sports they like to play or how they like to workout. Its much easier to be consistent about working out with a gym buddy. The added benefit will be thet you’ll build a much closer relationship with them.

All roads lead to DemoDay

From the beginning you’ll be constantly reminded of the sacred Demo Day, the day that it all comes together. The amount of importance put towards preparing the perfect presentation that might make or brake your company will be enormous. It’s in the accelerators interest to make sure you make a great impression on all the VCs, angels, press & mentors in attendance.

Based on what I’ve observed this is how I would approach Demo Day:

  • In most cases the person doing the presentation is the CEO, but that shouldn’t be the case if you have someone on the team that a 2x better presenter. Leave your ego at the door & choose the person to represent your company on stage not based on titles, but based on salesmanship.
  • The most memorable presentations will be those that tell a great story & feel comfortable stretching the truth about the company/market.
  • As for the partner that will champion/guide you trough the creating your pitch deck & coach you through the process, choose them based on how the fit your companies profile. For example: If they previous successful venture was in the B2B space and that is what your company is doing as well that it should be a good fit.

All in all, I’d recommend doing an accelerator for all those that already have some amount traction in their venture and absolutely need funding or connections to larger partners/customers down the road.

My Guide to Increased Productivity

As the New Year already started to 2 days ago, I’m a little bit behind with what I promised myself to be better at in 2015, which is: shifting the balance from consuming to producing.

What I mean by that is (when reflecting on 2014), I definitely feel like I spent 80% of my time researching in the next thing I want to build, reading, going to meetups, networking, attending conferences and in general taking more in that I was putting out into the world.

The common excuse was that I just simply don’t have time during the day to sit down & write a blog or couple lines of code due things like: work, family, “staying busy” chipping away at the hours available during the day.

Since most of those things will still be in place going forward, the only way to increase productivity is to be more efficient about the time you have available.

Below is a list couple steps I’ve taken in the past year to be more productive:

3 item To Do list
Out of all the things you want to accomplish in a day, prioritize and choose 3 things that have to be done no matter what. I found that having a to do list any longer then that just became unrealistic. Sure, you can still accomplish more after finishing those 3, but at least this allows you to focus on a small subset first.
Always leave work at X
It’s easy to get pulled into another meeting or shift your focus from the task at hand & play catch up by the end of the day. Often times resulting in leaving work late.
Having a strict cutoff point forces you accomplish the time consuming and hard tasks first, so later in the day there is more room for random things to take up your time as you see them viable.

Auto Reminders & Follow Ups
Often times when responding to emails, there’s a million and one actionable items that get created out of it.
For me writing them down is a waste of time (if actionable), since the next time I’ll have time to follow up on them it’ll already be too late.
What seems to work for me fairly well, is take action on things I get done within 5-10 minutes and schedule Google Calendar Reminders or Yesware Auto Reminders to double check on the status somewhere in the near future.

Avoid Meetings
On this I could write a whole separate blog post.
Meetings are great for brainstorming and getting a discussion flowing if that’s whats necessary.
For all other situations, Slack, Email or a daily standup should be sufficient.
This Dilbert comic reflects my thoughts on meetings:

dilbert002

Avoid Multi Tasking
Multi tasking is a myth.
Focus on one thing at a time, take frequent brakes & allow yourself to take a different approach. A great method is the Pomodoro technique. At first it might seem hard, I’m kind of a scatter brain myself but with time you’ll see the result starting to add up.

Batch similar tasks together
Batching is easily my productivity technique.
Instead of answering emails through out the day I only respond twice a day, for a matter of fact I go all far as batching all communications (social media, email, phone) into one block of time.
This works great for errands and more household tasks as well.
I get all my banking done in one block and then move on to cleaning the house for example.
One thing to note about banking or bills in general, I recommend disabling “Auto-Pay” since it easy to miss/dispute an overcharge or suspicious activity if you don’t review your account upon payment.

Book Alone Time (Open Office Scenario)
Having worked in a open space environment for the past couple of years, I have to say I agree with a article I read recently on how such an can actually decrease your productivity without proper culture in place.
To make up for the decrease in productivity I tend to book an conference room once a day, preferably a non fishbowl one and focus on the tasks that require high levels of concentration.
However going forward in 2015 I’m determined to educate the people around me on what are the preferable methods of getting my attention without taking me out of the zone.

Clean up Email & Embrace Filters
Remember signing up for those random startup email newsletters that you keep getting once a week? Me neither.
Unsubscribing from each individually would be a nightmare(trust me, I tried before). Thank goodness someone introduced me last year to Unroll.me, a service that scans your inbox for all emails you can potentially unsubscribe to and compile a list of them with a CTA to either remove it, batch it into a digest of email or leave as is.
This could easily be my favorite tool of 2014.
Second thing is: filters. Embrace them and learn how to use them, this is a great Filters 101 guide.
Again, this could be a whole separate blog post, especially if I get Walter Haas to publish his method of dealing with his inbox.

Default answer is “No”
As much as this might seem like a way of not opening yourself up to different opportunities, there’s only a finite amount of time you can spend pursuing them.
It’s easy to please others by saying Yes, but its short lived since you start working on things that don’t interest you, meet people that don’t have impact on your life and waste time not working on things that you can shine at.
Another way to look at it is by saying Yes you ultimately allow others to dictate how you spend your time.
The way I look at it is: If I agree with something, I’ll say yes. If I’m at least little bit hesitant I’ll say No and ask the person to please explain further etc. in order to change my mind. I wish had some more elaborate decision making process, but it works for me.

Delegate what you can
I’ve been a big fan of the idea of outsourcing repetitive tasks to Virtual Assistant ever since I’ve read The Four Hour Work Week.
Having actually implemented it only a handful of times, the experience varied based on the people I’ve hired.
This is definitely something I wish to get better at in 2015.

Turn off App Push Notifications
At the start of 2014 I was forced to use archaic flip phone for couple of months.
In the beginning it was unbearable; No internet?! No apps?!, but as time went by I realized I spent most of my day in front of a computer anyway, making the phone redundant.
The amount of time we spend on our phones is mind boggling.
If you don’t believe me, try to take a subway couple of stops, observe people interacting at a bar or look back at your recent holidays.
Instead of focusing 100% on the person we meeting and engaging with them, I often times find people glancing at their phone 30% of the time. Which is both disrespectful and rude.
We are constantly bombarded by pings, notifications and txts all attention grabbing black holes.
So whats the worst thing that can happen if you disable push notifications? You respond to a tweet 10 minutes late. Please… .

Always do the things you Fear the Most

As much as I don’t like to admit it, I consider myself an introvert.

My childhood was spent traveling around the world with my parents due to my dad’s job.

I’ve lived in North Carolina, Santa Barbara, Chicago & then going all the way over to Europe where I spent my teens.

That forced me to change school every couple of years, which in turn meant changing my whole social circle over and over again.

Through that I always felt like an outsider, even though I didn’t have problems making friends I never could develop a deep bond with anyone.

So I took an interest in things that didn’t need other people  in order to avoid potential disappointment further down the line.

Over time that developed into a form of anxiety towards social gatherings and general approach of avoiding making decisions outside of my comfort zone.

Developing bad habits over a long periods of time can really go unnoticed until suddenly confronted by someone with a totally unbiased perspective.

I wish I could pinpoint who or what at the time drastically changed my outlook on how to go about getting the most out of life.

Below I’ll list some example of things I was “scared off” doing at the time and what was the outcome afterward:

Moving back to the United States on my own when I was 19 years old.

Reasons Not To:

  • My whole family is in Europe.
  • I don’t know anyone local.
  • Limited budget of $800 dollars.

The result:

  • I was able to get an early start in the tech industry, support myself by doing what I love & be independent of others.

Quit my job & starting on a company with a total stranger.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/ninq3FjkWuE

Promo video for PushProgress App.

Reasons Not To:

  • I don’t know anything about building an internet company.
  • I don’t know the market we’re going after.
  • Didn’t finish school yet & chances of me coming back are slim

The result:

  • Learned more things about starting & running a business than any of the dozens of business books would have taught me.
  • Build great relationships with people that are my mentors till this day.

Joining 500 Startups in Mountain View, California.

2014-07-29-15-26-18-e1406672943239

Reasons Not To:

  • I have “comfortable” lifestyle & established network.
  • Just moved in with my girlfriend to our apartment in New York.
  • The company I’m joining didn’t yet reach product market fit.

The result:

  • Met the most amazing group of individuals that have amazing drive and passion to go after the unknown.
  • Got to meet for coffee with some of the industry giants I admired for years.
  • Realized that New York City, “ain’t all that”.

Those are just couple of examples of where at the time of making the decision I was totally overthinking the consequences and fearing what might come if I make the wrong choice.
However, the more I look back at my life the more confident I am that the things I fear the most are the things that will benefit me the most.

So nowadays when I look at the things on my to-do list, I force myself to choose the ones I don’t want to-do as the first ones to complete first.

TL;DR: Do things that scare you, first.

Actionable Advice from MicroConf 2018

MicroConf is a conference for microprenuers & bootstrapped companies.

It’s held once a year in Las Vegas as well as Europe.

The conference is definitely catered towards the do-ers, attracting both great speakers as well as attendees, this is the second year that the conference has been split into two separate ones.

The first one is for people getting started with creating a bootstrapped online business, be it information products, services or SaaS (Starter Edition).

The other one is called MicroConf Growth, aimed at established businesses looking to grow.

Below you can find my notes on the some of the speaker presentations & tips I found valuable from the Growth Edition.

I apologize for the short-hand in a lot of them, however, I’m publishing them since a lot of you asked.

Justin Mares

Buying & Growing a SaaS from 14k to 80k MRR

Speaking about the dashboard for FOMO:

Show in main dashboard how you’re generating value for the customer

About getting more social proof on your website:

Write a scraper to get your reviews from 3rd party sites & inject them via embed into your testimonials page.

Easy Levers to pull for improving your Financial Model in a SaaS app:

  • Pricing Tiers
  • Good Branding
  • Optimized Marketplace Listing
  • Get Reviews (style responses)
  • Getting listed on Capterra
  • Cut Churn
  • Triggered Email (MixPanel)
  • Improve Customer Support
  • Add Integrations for Distribution

*use this as for requirements for sourcing acquisitions, look for undervalued properties based on their marketplace signals that conform to the above best practices.

Category:

Price:

Free or Paid

Range: high | medium | low

Tiers: yes | no

Good Branding:

Domain SEO Authority: high | medium | low

Optimized Marketplace Listing

Reviews:

Count: high | medium | low

Avg Score: 5 to 1

Sentiment: positive | negative

Customer Support:

Running MixPanel / Any of the Cust Support software.

Does It Integrate w/ Others:

APIs: yes | no

which: bigcommerce | magento | shopify | spree commerce

Dave Collins

SEO Principles to Keep in Mind

Talking about general SEO principles:

make sure all the signals you send to Google (from their tools) are indicating that you have a healthy & growing site

Good Health Checklist:

  1. Crawl Errors
  2. HTML Improvements
  3. Index Status
  4. Security Issues
  5. Optimized for Mobile (Google “Mobile Friendly Test”)

Keyword Analysis & Optimizations:

if website.content_pages < 15

focus on creating more content

else

look into Google Analytics & hide pages that get 250 view/mo & optimize those

end

On doing Keyword Research:

  1. Type into search your “root keyword” in form of a question, make sure to try a couple of variations.
  2. The suggested questions at the bottom of a page are great indicator to what people are looking for more info on, use those to create your topics.
  3. Look at Reddit, Twitter, Facebook Groups for pain points surrounding your “root keyword”.

Tools to Use for SEO:

  • AHrefs
  • Screaming Frog
  • URL Profiler
  • Google Search Console

Nadya Kohja

Content Marketing (+infographics)

Content Marketing Institute, gets 7k backlinks for an annual report they publish on the state of ROI on content marketing, reason for the massive coverage is everyone (in content marketing) is looking for the answer on how well they’re performing compared to their peers.

  • Create myth busting or controversial topics – are a great wake to get initial coverage for your brand in order to establish some credibility & familiarity with the landscape of who is willing to cover you.
  • Make sure to cater the content pieces to certain subculture whenever possible since they really engage with the content.
  • Tell origin stories, everyone likes to know how things started, especially if you can visually put it on a timeline.

Val Geisler

Dinner Party Strategy (+user on-boarding)

most people that run marketing & product for SaaS send waaaayyy too little emails to their users (trial or paid)

Instead of looking at it from “I don’t want to bother them” perspective, try to approach it from “I want them to succeed in using this to solve their problem”

Test, test & test, different headlines, CTAs, frequency & targeting for each email you send.

When laying out an onboarding campaign for new users, think about it as if you were setting up a dinner party, below are the typical structure:

  1. Welcome – Get personal, don’t write “Welcome from”, include a video if possible.
  2. Appetizers – Deliver value, without mentioning the product.
  3. Main Course – Showcase your product.
  4. Sides – Show how to use your product for maximum ROI.
  5. Dessert – Bonus materials, not related to your product directly.
  6. Invite Back – In case the trial ends or they become in-active, invite them back whenever they like, instead of pushing them to renew or upgrade.

Be useful, get personal & limit distractions.

Jordan Gal

How $4k in Ad Spend generated additional $20k in MRR

Free Content + Retargeting = Trial Offers

Instead of my notes, here’s a link to the presentation.

For a more in-depth write up on the whole conference, I’d recommend checking out the guide that Christian Genco put together.