How to Track the Effectiveness of Marketing Campaigns

Last week we discussed how viewing traffic sources and funneling more high-converting traffic to your site can improve your overall conversions. In this post, we’ll walk through how you can track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns with the KISSmetrics Funnel Report.

Marketing Campaigns in the Modern World

Today’s online marketers have dozens of campaigns running at any given time. A couple paid channels, drip campaigns, a few A/B tests, and maybe some offline promotions. It can be tough to manage all this on top of an already busy schedule. Thankfully, technology is here to help.

The Typical Day of a Marketer

Meet Jan, the Director of Marketing for a medium-sized B2B SaaS company. Jan has a busy job with lots of responsibilities and goals to meet. She has a few meetings every day, gets dozens of emails, and is under constant pressure to deliver more signups. With each month that passes, she has more and more signups she needs to deliver.

To help drive traffic and signups, Jan is running a few campaigns:

  • Two Facebook ad campaigns
  • A large AdWords budget
  • A strong social presence, with traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter
  • Webinars on multiple channels
  • A YouTube ad campaign

To help track the performance of these campaigns, Jan uses KISSmetrics. There are multiple reports that help her, but today we’ll focus on the Funnel Report.

Using the Funnel Report to Track Acquisition

Let’s say it’s the end of April and time for Jan to review how her marketing campaigns have performed year-to-date. To start, she’ll use the Funnel Report to get a bird’s eye view so she can track the effectiveness of each campaign.


This funnel has strong performance at the top (lots of people visit the site) but it ends up with less than 1% of the visitors converting to customers.

Using Channels to Track Conversions for Each Campaign

To help Jan understand how her marketing campaigns are performing, she tags all URLs with a UTM code, which KISSmetrics automatically picks up. For example, one of her Facebook ads looks like this:

This sends visitors to the homepage, but the snippet after “.com” allows Jan to track the specific campaign. Each “utm_” is called a parameter. These are used to categorize ads and traffic sources. Jan can use them to track each campaign. There are five parameters to use, and Jan uses the URL builder to create these URLs.

Now here’s the best part. The KISSmetrics Funnel Report allows Jan (and all KISSmetrics customers) to segment her reports by any campaign parameter. KISSmetrics also automatically categorizes all these traffic sources into channels. There are seven channels:

  • Direct – These are people who come from a direct referrer. In many cases, these are people who come to you directly by typing your URL into their browser.
  • Organic – People who come to your website via a search engine are included in this channel. Also, people who set up a UTM parameter and have the utm_medium as “organic” or “search” will be put in this channel.
  • Referral – This channel is for those who come to your site via a third party that isn’t a search engine or social site. If they aren’t from those referrers, they’ll be put in this channel.
  • Email – People who are referred via an email campaign with the utm_medium as “email” or “e-mail” are put in this channel.
  • Paid – This channel includes people who come from a paid campaign. They’ll be put in this channel if their referring URL has the gclid parameter or a utm_medium of “cpc,” “cpm,” “display,” “cpv,” “cpa,” “cpp,” or “ppc.”
  • Social – These are people who come from a social network. We have a list of 276 domains and subdomains for such networks. If any visitor comes from a network on our list, they’ll be put in the social channel. Also, people who come from a campaign URL with the utm_medium of “social,” “social-network,” “social-media,” “sm,” “social network,” or “social media” will be put in this channel.
  • None – People who don’t fit into any of the above channels will be put into the None channel.

We can create a new channel by naming the utm_medium something other than email, paid, organic, or social. Jan has done this by assigning her webinars the utm_medium of “webinar”.

It’s possible to dig further into channels by using Channel: Origin. This will display the channel and the original referring domain or campaign name parameter. Since Jan has tagged all her campaign links with a campaign name, she’ll be able to see how each is performing along the funnel.

To view how every campaign is performing, she’ll segment her funnel by Channel: Origin:


This data shows Jan a few important things:

  • The bulk of traffic is coming from Google and Direct.
  • The bulk of customers come from only two sources (a webinar and AdWords).
  • One Facebook ad has brought over 8k visitors, but zero customers. It’s time for Jan to remove this ad.
  • All ad campaigns (with the exception of facebookfreetrial1) are performing above average. AdWords is particularly strong. In order to find out if this is delivering profitable returns, Jan will need to look at what she has spent on the campaign to see if it’s a cost-effective channel. She can do this with every campaign.
  • Since webinars are a strong channel, Jan should ramp up her team’s efforts to produce more partner webinars.
  • The more targeted traffic Jan can get, the better. Not surprising.

How You Can Get These Insights

This kind of analysis and marketing channel breakdown works right out of the box in KISSmetrics. There are no rules needed or custom code to be written. Just install KISSmetrics on your site, and you’ll see how each marketing channel is performing. Any UTM’s you have coming in will automatically be picked up by KISSmetrics. You can also break out of the Funnel Report and use the Cohort and Revenue reports to see how each of your marketing campaigns affect conversion and retention.

43-Second Demo

Want to see the Funnel Report in action? Just hit play below:


Start optimizing your marketing by signing up for a free trial of KISSmetrics. You’ll get access to our suite of reports that guide decision-making and growth.

If you’re not quite ready to signup, you can view a demo of KISSmetrics to see how it benefits both SaaS and Ecommerce companies.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) is a Content Writer for KISSmetrics.

How to Keep Zombies Out of Your Office

The statistics read like the script for a horror film: 70% of employees are disengaged at work. The working dead haggardly hack away at their computers and drag their lifeless bodies through the motions.

We are experiencing an epidemic of toxic workplaces, with 17.5% of employees so actively disengaged that they may be purposefully sabotaging their employers. How did we get here? And how do we avoid this?

A huge part of the employee engagement problem stems from poor culture fit. When someone feels at odds with their job, their coworkers, or their manager, their work suffers, their attitude stinks, and their very presence can suck the lifeblood out of the entire company.

So how do you create a compelling company culture that attracts superstars and repels zombies?

The Case for Cultural Fit

First, just in case you think this company culture business is some woo-woo concept that’s only relevant to granola-crunching hippies, I’ve got a couple of hard facts for you. Psychologist Natalie Baumgartner attributes 89% of an employee’s success on the job to cultural fit. Or, put another way, a mere 11% of an employee’s success on the job depends on their ability to do the work.

Happiness at work can manifest itself in several ways: the length of time an employee stays with you, the quality of their on-the-job performance, and their commitment to your company and its values. Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers Amy Kristof-Brown, Ryan Zimmerman, and Erin Johnson found that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor consistently scored higher in these areas than their counterparts who were not as aligned with their environment.

One of the factors that has the biggest impact on someone’s workplace happiness is having a friend at work. Economists have even put a number on this (typical economist behavior, isn’t it?). Having a friend you see most days is equivalent to earning an additional $100,000 a year.

And happiness at work doesn’t just affect employees on an individual level. Glassdoor has found a correlation between companies that have a healthy workplace culture and their overall financial performance. If you’ll allow me to be all economist about it for a moment, “an investment in Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” companies would’ve grown to between $2,797 and $3,470, far outpacing the $2,210 for the overall market.” So you can see that taking the time to build a positive company culture quite literally pays off.

The Honeymoon Phase of Company Culture (and Its Bittersweet End)

When you’re a small startup, you may not spend much time or energy building your company culture. Luckily, it’s pretty easy for the CEO to have a heavy hand in the hiring process and draw upon a pool of friends and friends-of-friends, which can automatically create a culture of people who share similar values. This is how it worked for Tony Hsieh when he started LinkExchange, and then again when he joined Zappos, where he now is the CEO. Countless other startups follow the same pattern.

But if things go the way you hope, at some point, you’re going to have to hire outside your friend group. Plus, your organization will be growing so quickly that the CEO will no longer have time to personally meet with each candidate.

So how do you keep company culture a priority once the honeymoon is over and your company still needs to grow?

Here are three approaches to building a positive company culture:

1. Make Your Business Attractive with Content Marketing

Marketing genius Seth Godin has quipped that “the only marketing that’s left is content marketing.” We might often think of content marketing in the context of products or services, but it’s also an excellent way to educate prospective candidates about what it would be like to work for a company.

One of the HUGE advantages of content marketing as a recruiting technique is that you get to set the tone and build your employer brand in precisely the way you want to.

Use video, blog posts, infographics – or whatever format makes the most sense for you – to send out the message about what your company is all about, what it’s like to work for you, and what type of person you’re looking for.

People who are interested in you can discover this content through a Google search, via social media, or even on the “careers” page of your website. Giving candidates the ability to discover you on their own terms can completely transform the application experience.

Take, for example, the HubSpot Culture Code, a document that was originally designed to define HubSpot’s company culture internally. Since HubSpot decided to make the presentation public on SlideShare, it has earned a cool 1.6 million views. Katie Burke, Director of Talent and Culture, has called it the company’s “top recruiting tool bar-none.”


HubSpot’s Culture Code has attracted 1.6 million views on SildeShare and is considered their top recruiting tool.

So how exactly does one piece of content become a recruiting tool?

Influence & Co CEO John Hall spells it all out in this Harvard Business Review article, “Your Content Strategy Is Also a Recruiting Strategy”:

“Imagine that the ideal candidate finds an article that you published in an outside publication. As she reads the article, she develops a deeper understanding of your industry niche.

“Clicking through to your social media presence, she finds herself immersed in your team’s content. Your blog posts, LinkedIn discussions, and tweets come together to create a clear picture of what it’s like to work at your company. The candidate feels a sense of connection to your corporate culture and decides to send in her résumé.

“At the interview table, she proves herself knowledgeable about your business strategy. She understands the industry and has a clear idea of how she can contribute to growth. While other interviews were stiff and formal, this one is conversational and exciting.

“The candidate gets the job. Because she has access to all your digital content, much of her training is self-directed, and it begins immediately. This new hire is ready to add value the moment she joins the team.”

Hall goes on to say that this is not a hypothetical situation. Numerous employees have come to his organization through this precise path. In Hall’s words, content is their “most powerful recruiting tool.” (Are you noticing a trend here? Yeah, so am I.)

Now here’s a fun example of how you can really infuse company culture and personality into your recruiting content.

Is your crew an irreverent band of gamers? That’s certainly the case for the folks at Kixeye. So instead of just listing off their current job openings in the typical “careers” page style, they offer the “Are you one of us?” quiz.


Kixeye uses interactive content to appeal to potential employees, and scare off those who wouldn’t be a good fit.

Applicants start by selecting their weapon of choice and then take aim at various inanimate objects to answer questions like, “How do you describe your coworkers?” At the end, they get a compatibility score. (Somehow, viewing your coworkers as “potential dates” and your dream job as “secret agent” earns you a score of 92%. Go figure.)


Once you’ve completed the quiz and cemented your interest in Kixeye, you’re prompted to view the current job openings.

This is actually pretty brilliant on Kixeye’s part. Anyone interested in working for them will probably have no problem spending an additional two minutes on their site taking the quiz, and most potential applicants will find it hilarious that they’re shooting a Desert Eagle at a can of SPAM.

If anyone is turned off by this or any of the content in the quiz (like referring to your manager as a douche, for example), they’re probably not a good fit for Kixeye. So the company manages to appear even more attractive to applicants who can get down with their foul-mouthed culture, while weeding out those timid souls who wouldn’t last a day in their sassy offices.

Sounds relatively simple, right?

But getting candidates flocking to you is just the first step in building a positive culture. Next, you’ll need to make sure you’re considering cultural fit during the interview stage.

2. Hire Candidates That Fit Your Culture like a Glove

Building an attractive culture and sharing it with the world is a good start, but it’s not enough. You’ll also need to make sure that your hiring practices set you up for maintaining a strong company culture.

You can easily build some cultural aspects into your interview by asking candidates questions that relate to your core values or inviting them to participate in a social event like a team lunch or happy hour.

Or you can take it up a notch like some of the companies known for being über-protective of their culture.

At Netflix, for example, the approach to hiring is simple. Former Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord explains, “The best thing you can do for employees – a perk better than foosball or free sushi – is hire only ‘A’ players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else.”

Other companies, like Zappos, use company values as a litmus test for culture fit. Zappos holds two separate interviews: one where a candidate is assessed on their abilities and one where the interviewer determines their cultural fit. During the cultural fit interview, a candidate will be asked at least one question related to each of Zappos’s ten core values.

Cultural fit is so important, CEO Tony Hsieh explains, that Zappos has “passed on a lot of smart, talented people who we knew could make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line because they weren’t a fit for the company culture.”

The Zappos interview doesn’t just take place in some stuffy office. Candidates are assessed on every interaction, like the one they had with the driver who picked them up at the airport. It’s also common for candidates to be invited to company or department events so that their potential coworkers can meet them in a casual setting.

Zappos has also introduced the “Zappos Insider” program, where candidates can create a profile and express their interest in working for Zappos at some point in the future. Part of the profile includes a “video cover letter” that gives applicants the chance to let their personality shine through and demonstrate why they think they’re a good fit.


The Inside Zappos portal, where potential candidates can create a profile and show off their cultural fit.

Hiring for cultural fit is one way to keep your company on track and discourage those disconnected zombies from joining the team. But as we all know, most people don’t start a new job already deadened and disengaged. It can take months or years of a toxic environment to wear down employees who started out chipper and cheerful. In the next section, we’ll look at a few ways to avoid turning your existing employees into zombies.

3. Ask Employees for Feedback on a Regular Basis

As your company grows, how do you ensure that new hires and more senior employees stay on the same page?

One simple method, advocated in the Deloitte University Press 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report, is to ask for feedback. Regularly surveying your employees gives them the chance to air any grievances before they begin to fester and sends the message that management actually cares about their experience.

Getting feedback is especially important during the crucial early stages of an employee’s time with you. Dissatisfaction during the first 90 days on the job leads 17% of employees to quit within this timeframe.

Create a culture of feedback from the very beginning, and you’ll show employees that their input matters. Of course, this means that you’ll actually have to listen and respond to feedback.

A survey doesn’t need to be anything too fancy. In a Harvard Business Review report, the head of Bain & Company’s Global Customer Strategy and Marketing Practice, Rob Markey, advocates using the Net Promoter System (NPS) to measure employee satisfaction and engagement. NPS relies on a simple question:

“How likely is it that you would recommend this company, or this product or service, to a friend or colleague?”

AnyPerk offers step-by-step instructions on calculating your employee NPS and suggests following it up with the question, “What’s the primary reason for the score you gave?”


AnyPerk’s step-by-step instructions on how to calculate your employee Net Promoter Score.

The AnyPerk post warns that your eNPS number may be shockingly low, so try to mentally prepare yourself for this possibility. This is why that follow-up question is especially important, since it’ll allow you to understand the context of employees’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Try to capitalize on the points the promoters highlight and address the points the detractors identify in order to get the most out of your survey results.

A Few Final Thoughts

Company culture might sound like a loosey-goosey concept, but it has a very real impact on your company’s bottom line. As Katie Burke of HubSpot puts it, when it comes to company culture and finding the right people, “the soft stuff is the hard stuff.” Taking the time to define and purposefully build a positive company culture will attract top talent, ensure your employees are engaged, and keep the life-sucking work zombies at bay.

About the Author: Melissa Suzuno is the Content Marketing Manager at Parklet, the leading employee experience solution that helps companies solve the biggest headaches around new hire experience, employee engagement, and talent development. Follow the Parklet blog for insight into onboarding, company culture, and other topics related to employee engagement and happiness.

Come to the SaaStr Annual and Make a Week of It

2016-event-4-3It’s not often you get an opportunity to join 5,000 of your peers in SaaS in one location for a week.  Sure we gather at Dreamforce, wave as we run across Moscone to our next customer meeting or maybe catch up for 5 minutes at one of the 17 parties that night, but rarely do we get to have meaningful conversations with other founders and execs who are grinding it out everyday.

We’ve got a lofty goal here at SaaStr: to be the largest non-vendor confab in the world by uniting the global SaaS community both online and off. We want to help everyone do better, more quickly and with less stress. (Piece o’ cake, right?)

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s simply no place on earth better than Dreamforce for getting face time with your customers and prospects or reconnecting with folks from the small-world-that-is-SaaS.  But the SaaStr Annual is for you, the founders and execs, to take a step back and really think about your business, to learn from the very best, to connect with your future VP Sales, to have a beer with a potential investor, or just to share that knowing nod with someone who is pushing a different boulder up the same hill.

So come and make a week of it.

tweetsIn 2016, we’re taking the SaaStr Annual to the next level – 3x amazing speakers, 3x networking opportunities, 3x incredible content.  You’ll join 5,000 SaaS founders, execs and investors in San Francisco for three jam-packed days of unparalleled networking, amazing speakers, great food and, of course, generously poured drinks (bars open at noon sharp!).

Why did we expand to three days?  Several reasons.  First, we were blown away by how many folks flew in last year from all over the world for a one day event.  They made a week of it, set meetings with customers and investors, and made full use of time in the Valley. So we thought why not cut out the Uber costs and make it easier for everyone?

Second, the networking last year was so ridiculous we actually had folks complain that it was too loud.  People were fired up and the energy in the room was truly electric.  So this year we’ve moved to a bigger venue with way more time for everyone to connect.

Finally, there are so many learnings to share! We wanted to make time to delve into the functional areas that matter most. You can pick and choose the sessions and spend the rest of the time connecting with your peers, meeting with customers and investors, and still have time to put out the occasional fire back at the homestead. After all, you’re making a week of it, right?

You can’t afford to not to come (for real).

The 2016 SaaStr Annual is your opportunity to join your peers in SaaS, to learn from the best in the business, to avoid the big mistakes, to strengthen your ties, to do better – so we can all achieve The Impossible.

This year, in addition to the CEO sessions, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the topics that are most critical to your success – Sales & Success, Scaling, Demand Gen and Raising Money.  Every session is led by someone who has already done it, and done it well, candidly sharing their learnings and advice. We’ve already confirmed incredible CEOs from Marketo, New Relic,  Zenefits, Mattermark, Intercom and Hubspot, as well as Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures – and we’ll be adding many, many more over the coming months.  And, of course, it wouldn’t be SaaStr Annual without the epic after party.

Even though we’re packing in three days of nonstop speakers and no-fluff content, like last year, we insist you don’t attend every session.  The real power of SaaStr is the community, so make sure you’re spending ample time in “the lobby” connecting with your peers gathered from all over the world in one venue.  We’ll record all of the sessions and make them available to everyone. We promise you won’t miss a moment.

So get your tickets now (really, now, we sold out in four weeks last year) and plan to make a week of it. We’ll create plenty of opportunities for you to connect during the day as well as in the evenings, so you can pick and choose your activities.  Don’t miss the opportunity to take your business to the next level, or at the very least, avoid making the costliest mistakes.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 5.11.28 PM

The Fine Print

Venue. February 9-11, 2015 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center, San Francisco, CA.

Tickets. Super Early Bird tickets start at $1199 and will increase $100 each month through January.  We want to be completely transparent in the pricing and let you choose how much you want to pay and when. We will sell out – don’t say you weren’t warned 😉.

Sponsorships. We’ve got a limited number of sponsorship options available.  We ran out of space last year and expect the same this year, so if you’re interested, check out the datasheet and contact us to reserve your space now.


How to Get More Sales From Your Mobile Visitors

Over the next few years, most of your traffic growth will come from mobile devices. Mobile is becoming so important that Google is making algorithm changes based on mobile device usage.

But what you’ll notice as your traffic increases from mobile is that your conversions and sales won’t increase as fast. Why? Because your website isn’t set up for mobile conversions.

In order to help you grow, I’ve created an infographic that will teach you how to get more sales from your mobile visitors.

Click on the image below to see a larger view:

How to Get More Sales From Your Mobile Visitors

Click here to view an enlarged version of this infographic.


Increasing your mobile conversions isn’t difficult. From making your phone number clickable to speeding up your load time and adding a call to action above the fold, it’s the little things that will impact your sales.

How else can you improve your mobile sales?

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

The Female Perspective on Startups and Lifestyle Businesses (FS111)

In this episode we’re joined by a very special guest: the new Director of Member Success here at Fizzle, Steph Crowder.

In Steph’s inaugural episode we explore the experience and perspectives of women in startups and lifestyle businesses.

  • Is there discrimination against women in the indie business world?
  • What has Steph’s experience been like?
  • What steps can all of us take right now to discover where gender bias is limiting our content strategies?
  • Plus a crap ton more.

I mean it, we discuss a lot more, and Steph is so awesome. Enjoy!

It’s better to listen on the go!    Subscribe on iTunes 

The Female Perspective on Startups and Lifestyle Businesses

Show Notes:

Marie Forleo will help you create a business and life you love.

Jess Lively | Designing a Life & Business with Intention

Emily Ley | Joy & Simplicity

Jessica Livingston (@foundersatwork) | Twitter

Question for you:

We cover a lot in this episode about gender bias, equality and business stuff. What’s your biggest takeaway?

How to Acquire Customers on a $0 Marketing Budget (Infographic)

The old adage “you have to spend money to make money” doesn’t always apply to marketing. If you have a product that people want, you don’t need a $100,000 marketing budget to acquire customers. There are ways to acquire them without spending a penny.

Today’s infographic shows you how to do just that. It applies to both startups and established companies. Following the infographic, you’ll find some recommended reading on acquiring customers without spending money.

How to Get Customers Without Spending Any Money
Courtesy of: Quick Sprout

Recommended Reading:

Somewhat related:

Paul Graham’s essay on Doing Things That Don’t Scale.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) is a Content Writer for KISSmetrics.

‘Start your own software business’ training course 2015

trainingI am planning to run my ‘Start your own software business’ training course again this year, probably in September. It is an intensive weekend course, at a hotel in my home town of Swindon (in the UK). It is aimed at people who want to start (or at an early stage of starting) a software company selling desktop or web software. It builds on my 10 years of experience running my own software company and consulting to other software companies. It’s the course I wish I had attended when I started my business.

I know a lot of courses are online now. But I think you get more from face-to-face training. More intensive. More interactive. Less distractions. Also you get to meet other people in the same boat. I have run the course twice before and the feedback was very positive. You find out more and read comments from previous attendees here.

Fill in the form on the training page if you are interested. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments, by email or on twitter.

Filed under: microISV, software, training Tagged: business, course, microISV, mISV, software, training

3 reasons you shouldn’t outsource your startup, and what to do instead

3 reasons you shouldn't outsource your startup, and what to do instead

3 reasons you shouldn't outsource your startup, and what to do instead

One of my favorite things to do is to help others who are at an earlier stage of the startup journey. I had a lot of false starts before Buffer. I enjoy sharing my lessons from those failed attempts, and I also enjoy getting my mind back into those early days challenges, now that Buffer is almost 5 years old.

In the last week, I’ve had 5 sessions (typically around 30 minutes, in person or via Hangouts) where I’ve tried to help someone. I was surprised to hear the same challenge come up in 3 of those 5 sessions this week, so I thought it might be a worthwhile blog post topic too.

The thought process of outsourcing your startup

I think if you’re not technical and can’t code, it’s very natural to think that you can’t progress much with your startup idea unless you find help. Often the first thought is to either find a technical co-founder, or to outsource building the minimum viable product to a firm or a freelancer.

In my experience, both these options are almost always the less optimal approach for succeeding with your startup as quickly as possible.

Here’s why I think you shouldn’t outsource your startup:

1. Your goals and a freelancer’s goals are completely misaligned

If you think about it, the goal of a freelancer or a creative agency or firm is to serve many different clients, and to ultimately make money. Your goal when you have a startup idea is to reach product/market fit and make something that can get traction.

A big problem with these 2 differing goals is that the successful path for a freelancer to reach their goal is very different to the successful path for startup founders to reach product/market fit.

One of the easiest problems for a freelancer to encounter is scope-creep of client projects. If the freelancer or agency is setting a fixed price for the project, they need to take many steps to ensure that the scope of the project doesn’t grow beyond what was initially budgeted for. This means that in the beginning, they are going to want to set down a very defined specification of what this project involves. A freelancer’s goal is to make money and a key ‘tool’ for success is to be quite exhaustive with defining the initial specification for a project, and to avoid changes to the spec along the way if at all possible.

As a startup, your goal is to reach product/market fit. There’s a great insight Matt Mullenweg once shared which really puts into perspective why as startup founders we should launch as early as possible:

“Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.”

Therefore, the ideal approach for creating a successful startup is to put it out there as soon as possible and then iterate from there based on the new information that comes from usage and from doing customer development. This is almost completely at odds with the approach most freelancers will want you to take. Not only that, most freelancers or agencies are building websites for more established or more predictable businesses and they often don’t understand the nature of startups.

It’s not that a contractor or agency is doing it wrong, they’re just optimizing for their most common type of client project: to create a website. For example, it might be a website for a restaurant, a coffee shop, or a golf club. In the words of Eric Ries, these are ‘known problem, known solution’ situations. We know what a restaurant website should do. It should have a menu, show you where the restaurant is, etc. With startups, we live in a world of ‘unknown problem, unknown solution’ situations. We don’t know whether our new idea will work. It takes a whole different approach, and I think this is almost always misaligned with the way a freelancer will approach things.

2. It gets you into the wrong mindset of what it takes to get a product off the ground

Very much related to the first challenge, I believe that if you are thinking about outsourcing your startup, you likely already have the wrong mindset about how to create a successful startup.

I’m lucky to have been coding since I was around 12. When I got into startups, I was lucky to have that part of the equation taken care of. What I realized after a few years in the game was that my technical ability blinded me from what it takes to make a successful product. I just kept building, and that’s not the main part of succeeding with a startup.

I think that often if someone is thinking about outsourcing their startup, they’re also under the false impression that the key to succeeding with their idea is to get it built.

The idea itself is often way off, and most likely won’t work once you put it out there.

What it takes to create a successful product is eliminating all the unvalidated aspects, and finding something that users or customers truly want, that has product/market fit and can get traction. The interesting part about this, is that coding is actually not at all required to achieve this.

It’s my belief that, especially today, you can create a fully working (albeit potentially somewhat manual) version of your startup without coding at all. You can use tools such as Wufoo, Unbounce, WordPress, Google Forms, and other things to string together a set of interactions. You can fill in the gaps with hustling and manual work yourself. It won’t scale, but ironically that is the key to initially growth and understanding what is working and what isn’t.

Without coding at all, I think you can have an early (far from perfect) product and even start to get traction if you iterate and solve the unvalidated aspects of your idea. Once you start to get traction, so many doors will open up for getting help to code the product and make it much more beautiful.

Any decent coder is tired of hearing an idea guy come along and try to get them to build their startup. On the other hand, a decent coder will be extremely interested by a startup put together with no code that is getting really good traction. That’s something they can have a big impact on and has already been shown that it has huge potential.

3. The founding team should wear every hat

The other belief I have for why you shouldn’t outsource your startup is: the founding team should wear every hat. Here’s why:

  • it gives you the mindset that you can make anything happen, you just need to figure out the hacks and shortcuts to do it with your current capabilities
  • you retain full control over all parts of the process and can adapt and iterate super fast
  • when you reach the point of hiring people, you’ll know the difference between someone great and someone not so good
  • you’ll have a level of passion across many different areas of the startup. That can more easily help you be great at multiple things as you grow. It’s hard to hire passion and hard for someone else to thrive in something the founder doesn’t get excited about.

Therefore, I highly recommend you and your co-founders do absolutely everything in the beginning. In the early days, between the two of us Leo and I did development, design, database and sysadmin work, customer support, marketing, and more. I even built the first version of the Android app before we invited Sunil to the team to take it over. There’s almost nothing we do at Buffer now that myself or Leo haven’t done in the early days of the company. As a result, I get super excited about how far we can take things across all areas of the company, and I can speak on a deep level with anyone in any area.

What to do instead

I honestly believe that building your product yourself is the most optimal and in fact the fastest path to creating a successful startup.

It might seem counter-intuitive that building the product yourself could be the fastest way to success, when you don’t even have any coding ability at all. The thing is, I’m not talking about coding - I’m talking about building your product. In any way that you can. That could mean zero coding, or it could mean picking up things here and there (which I think is great, too).

The reason I think it’s the fastest path is that I believe you’ll struggle to find a great technical co-founder if all you have is your idea. And, I think if you work with a freelancer or agency, it’s unlikely you’ll have a working relationship that lets you cycle through the build-measure-learn loop and iterate towards product/market fit.

So, my recommended approach is to hack it together yourself, and at the same time keep meeting technical people in your local startup community. I believe there’s an inflection point where what you have is attractive enough for a technical co-founder to jump on board. If you don’t have a technical co-founder (or someone technical willing to join as first employee), I think you just keep hacking and doing customer development and validating your assumptions, to create something that gets traction.

What are your thoughts on creating a startup if you’re not technical? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

ILO in Asia and the Pacific

Why do you want to become an Authority?

I felt confused and a little sad as I walked along the Seattle waterfront. It wasn’t the conference topics that had me confused, but instead my own emotions.

I came to An Event Apart (a web design conference) in Seattle hoping to meet like minded designers. They were all around me, but I was too quiet and shy to introduce myself. Other than basic conversations with the people seated next to me, I didn’t meet anyone.

In a room filled with 250 of my peers I felt alone.

Back on the waterfront I noticed a group walking ahead of me. It was the group of all the conference speakers laughing, joking, and having a great time. More like a group of close friends together for a long-overdue reunion that a meeting of the top minds in an industry.

That was the circle I wanted to be a part of. So I quickened my step to join them.

Unfortunately I lost my courage ten feet short of their group and—like a stalker—slowly dropped back. The worst part is that I was staying at the same hotel, so I walked further and further behind them for what felt like a mile (Google maps tells me it was only 350 yards).

Once at the hotel they settled into the comfy chairs and couches in the lounge and I kept walking to my room.

That’s the moment

That’s the moment I knew I wanted to become an Authority. I wanted to be invited to speak at conferences, to be part of that in friend group, and to make a living from my blog.

I had no idea how to actually make it happen, but then, for the first time, I knew clearly what I wanted.

Think for a moment: why do you want it?

Everyone has their own reasons.

To make it easier to get contract and consulting work. To get invited to speak at conferences. To make a living from writing. To have a group of fans that are eager to buy anything you create. To be able to get introductions to any industry leaders. To quit your job and have the freedom to travel and work from anywhere.

All of that is possible once you become an Authority and build an audience.


Writing a profitable book

Writing a book is the fastest path to doing that. Not just any book, but a profitable book. I’ve worked for the last three years to develop a repeatable step-by-step process to go from a vague idea and no audience to launching a profitable book in less than six months.

That course is called Authority. I’m just wrapping up a new edition (with all new video training) that will launch on Wednesday May 27th—that’s next week!

Authority will walk you through:

  • How to choose a topic that will be successful (90% of the book ideas I hear are destined to fail, but there’s one simple way to fix them).
  • The pricing strategies I use to triple revenue.
  • How to get your first 1,000 email subscribers.
  • How to stay consistent, stick with the plan, and actually finish your book.

And a lot more. Whatever your reason for wanting to become an authority, this course will give you the step-by-step process to make it happen.


Last year I was at the MGM in Las Vegas with a few friends. We sat down at the poker table, each with our stacks of chips. The one guy not from our group said hello, then asked “do you all work for the same company?”

I looked around at the group: Ryan, Patrick, Jessica, Brennan, and others.

“No, we’re just good friends we’re all in town for a conference.”

That’s when I realized I was sitting with the top people in my industry. All very successful and well-known. And all of them wonderful people who I consider my close friends.

I met these dear friends through building an audience, teaching everything I know, and selling books and courses.

I took another look around the table at each person there. I immediately thought back to that evening walking along the Seattle waterfront feeling alone and out of place. With that memory, I knew my journey was complete. I’d found my group.

And with that thought, I folded my poker hand. Because let’s face it: you’re not going to make anything happen with an unsuited 2-6 in Texas Hold-Em.




The Retargeting Myth – How Remarketing Could be Sabotaging Your Sales and Conversion Rates

Retargeting. To hear some marketers tell it, it’s the ultimate boomerang promotional effect: You leave my site without buying. I display ads on the sites you do visit, to encourage you to come back. These ads could be anything from special coupons to the item you left in your cart (or the last product you viewed) with a gentle “hey! You forgot this!” note.

From a marketer’s point of view, this is a great method of capturing what would ordinarily be chalked up as “lost sales”. But what about from the customer’s point of view? Do they see remarketing ads as a gentle prod, or a clingy nuisance? One study wanted to find out.

InSkin Media and RAPP Media conducted a study late last year to determine just how pervasive customers find retargeted ads. Do they even notice them? And if they do, at what point does it become annoying?


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In the study, seeing a retargeted ad five times or more, as the chart above notes, is viewed as “annoying” and “intrusive”, while ten or more times of seeing an ad makes visitors “angry”.

More than half of the visitors polled said that they may be interested in the ad the first time they see it, even though only 10% report making a purchase as a result of seeing a remarketed ad. And even then, when the ad is displayed is far more important than the frequency.


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Retargeting: When is More Important than How

Four times as many users reported that they felt encouraged to buy during the research phase as opposed to after doing the research. That number jumps to over a third of users who were discouraged when seeing the ad after purchase, and nearly 50% who were discouraged by seeing the ad on an unrelated site, because let’s face it, the last thing you want to see when buying baby clothes is a lawnmower.

Case in point, the study showed a Land Rover ad on The Independent’s website. This garnered a 71% approval rating. A Land Rover ad then appeared on Catster. The results were much less positive. For women, viewing a Clinique ad on Marie Claire achieved a nearly 90% positive rating rather than seeing that same ad on Instructables.


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Essentially, when customers are in the product frame of mind and doing their research, seeing a relevant ad on a relevant site just makes sense.

A Fine Line Between Trust and Privacy

Trust is another big factor, with 37% of users saying they were more likely to click on an ad if it’s on a site they trust. The last thing they want is an ad following them around tirelessly. 69% of customers felt uncomfortable with advertisers knowing which sites they’d visited – a slightly lower percentage than those who felt uncomfortable with advertisers knowing their home address (72%) and their current location (71%).

Yet customers also say that they want things like personalized offers, relevant deals and other carrots that require ordinarily private information. It’s a fine line that advertisers have to walk, between building a two-way relationship with their customers and respecting the customer’s desire (and expectation of) privacy.

Is The Platform Really the Problem?

If you were asked to optimize a floundering retargeting campaign, you’d naturally look at all the points that make up the campaign itself:

  • The creative – Is the ad relevant to what the customer was looking at? Does it encourage them to come back?
  • The context – Does the ad display on places the user trusts? Or does it just blanket each and every site they visit?
  • The timeframe – Has they user already purchased this or a similar item? Or are they still in the early stages of researching or comparing products?
  • The target – It’s a common mistake to simply throw your ad at the wall and hope some of it sticks. After all, isn’t it better to cover everyone who might have an interest in buying, rather than cherry picking a select few? Not exactly. Targeting matters – and it’s better to spend your time working with a customer that’s very interested than one that’s tepid about ordering.

But think about going a little deeper. What was it that made the customer leave your site in the first place, to even spring the retargeting plan into action? Common issues are:

  • Lack of mobile responsiveness or mobile-friendly technology
  • Surprise charges sprung on the user at the last minute
  • Lack of free shipping (even after a certain order amount)
  • Product unavailable in the size/color/style the customer wants
  • Product on backorder with no clear re-order or re-stock date

Maximizing Retargeting Success

Even if you’re careful about where and when you place your retargeting triggers, there are still a few points to really make your campaign shine. For example:

  • Watch your windows – It can be very tempting to give your ad a large retargeting window. You don’t want to display ads too frequently or run the same one for too long. Nobody wants to see the winter coat they looked at last fall chasing them down over the summer.
  • Be selective about what you target – The last thing you want to do is ruin a holiday surprise by retargeting an ad for a children’s bike on a popular gaming site or having a remarketed ad show something embarrassing in your browser during that big family get-together!
  • Automation doesn’t mean you get to be lazy – Just because it can be automated, doesn’t mean it should be. Analytics, tracking and remarketing are getting smarter all the time, but they still require that human factor to be successful.
  • Learn from the survey, but do your own homework – What surveyed customers say they do in a survey, and what they actually do when faced with a remarketed opportunity can sometimes be two very different things. Take this advice in stride, but always run your own tests and analyze your own data to see how these results play out in your market.

What are your thoughts on retargeting? Have you been hit with remarketing ads that seemingly follow you everywhere? Or have you purchased something as a result of a well-planned retargeting campaign? Share your stories and successes with us in the comments below.

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!