[83] Thomas Smale on Selling Your Online Business

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Today Jordan is talking with Thomas Smale the founder of FE International and today’s topic is how to sell your business. Many business owners are considering selling their business, but don’t know how to prepare a business to be sold.

A question that is top of mind is how do business owners prepare their business for sale. Thomas does spend a lot of time with business owners who are often considering selling a poor performing business. In his experience, it is hard to sell a business that hasn’t shown a profit. If you want the business to sell then make sure it can make Revenue.

Revenue then effects multiples and price level. This begs the question, “what is a reasonable multiple?” The answer is the longer you work to build the business and the more money you put into the business the higher the return. A loose rule of thumb is 3 times the annual net of 3 months.

Anything 500 thousand dollars and over a year will multiple above 3. Business buyers will buy a business for their own reasons. Under 100 thousand dollars, and a wide spectrum of buyers will take an interest in a business. Above this number the buyers only look for profitable business moves.

Thomas says he sees a lot of investors looking for opportunities they can “scale” or build up to a larger profit. For example a business could be making 30 to 40k a year, but the buyer believes they can grow it to 300 to 400k. These buyers are rare. Most will accept the normal 3 times net. Businesses don’t grow for a number of reasons. Sometimes the seller has taken it as far as they can and have hit a wall. While others need buyers to offer the needed resources to make it larger.

In a 2 sided marketplace like this, how do buyers and sellers connect?  Thomas and his company have turned to the content market.  They publish a blog and podcasts, which draw in more buyers. Over time a list will form and FE International has a whole department dedicated to contacting these buyers and helping them invest.

So what happens when a buyer/seller deal isn’t the right match? Some  buyers don’t know what they want. That is why FE International helps talk to buyers about their expectations of a business.  Sellers are often original owners and may need a little help letting go of a business. In the end Thomas and his company have found that keeping regular contact with a buyer and noting their preferences is an effective way to get the right buyer/seller match. He also adds that educating the buyer is also important to making a good sale. Buyers should know the expectations up-front. Content marketing is very helpful with educating buyers.

Regarding how to plan to sell a business, Thomas recommends considering what a buyer would want to do to improve or change the business. Then make sure you as the seller are to able to break cleanly away from the business. Build a business around a brand, not a person. Brand names are easier to sell than personally named businesses. Next make sure your records are easy to follow and neatly organized. Basically build a business that can run without you.

FE International has done over 300 transactions and every one of them was unique. A system is in place to prepare every business for their sale. For sellers just beginning the sell of their business Thomas has this advice:

  • Hire a broker so those processes can help make a sale run smoother.
  • Unknown things will stall a deal, but don’t panic!

Jordan shares that he wasn’t prepared for the time length it took to close a deal. He was glad he hired FE International to guide him through the process. Entrepreneurs seem to forget that business should be built and made more valuable to an overall business community. Look at the business from an outside perspective. Thomas adds that there is nothing wrong with enjoying your business, but always be open to selling it later on down the road.

All of these processes are essential to running a successful business. Even if you don’t plan to sell, the topic today will help you manage a good business.

If you are interested in learning more about FE International and how to scale up a business visit feinternational.com

If you enjoyed today’s show, please give us a five-star review and we’ll mention your handle on a future episode of the Bootstrapped Web Podcast.  Head here to leave a  review in iTunes.

The post [83] Thomas Smale on Selling Your Online Business appeared first on Bootstrapped Web.

How To Grow and Scale A Culture with Limited Funds – Alicia Navarro

Scaling is a challenge which presents itself to any company starting out. Further to this, cash flow is the single greatest reason companies fail in the beginning. So how do you scale, whilst remaining respectful of your budget?

Skimlinks is a company that in 2014 facilitated $625 Million worth of transactions, and over it’s lifetime has grown to a team of over 60 people. Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks describes how she got there, shedding light on how she maintains culture, particularly through her recruitment process.

Video and Transcript below. 

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Mark: Please put your hands together, I want the biggest cheer of the day. Biggest, I want animated clapping and I want to follow a few woops. Welcome to BOS, Alicia Navarro! [Applause]

Alicia: Hi, everyone, lovely to be here, thank you. I’m quite blown away by what an animated and communal atmosphere this is, and thank you for having me. I’m here to talk about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, and the thing that I’m probably the most proud of having done, which is…

“How to grow and scale a team and a culture, and how to do it on a limited budget.”

Let me tell you a bit about, I guess, me and why I’m here, and why I have the qualifications at all to be standing here in front of you all. So, my name’s Alicia, I, seven years ago, started a company called Skimlinks, this is my co-founder Joe, and for those who don’t know Skimlinks, it’s not a very sexy company, it’s not front end, it’s a monetization technology for websites, and when I started it seven years ago, I, for the first year, was doing it pretty much on my own savings, money that I got from my boyfriend at the time and some friends and family and a bank loan. So, for the first year, I had, you know, almost nothing.

And even when we raised our seed round, we still were doing a lot with very, very little. But I always knew from the beginning that to build a great company — and not just one that just kind of delivered results, but to build one that would make you want to wake up and go to work every day — you needed a higher-grade team and to build a great culture around it.

And I think it’s become the thing that I think of as my role as CEO, as the most important thing that I do.

So what have we done right, and why am I here? So, when I started the company, it was obviously just me, and now we have a company that is 70 people currently employed in the company, based mostly in London, although we have a team in San Francisco and a few scattered around working remotely.

One I’m very proud of — this is the picture that they did for me as a surprise on the day of our 7th birthday as a company, you can see me at the bottom. Here, [Laughter] with my co-founder, and every single one of these is an individual picture of one of our team members done, showing a kind of intrinsic personality trait of them, which is kind of cool.

So, that is actually our CTO [Laughter] and very funny event that happened at a Christmas party when we got dared to do the Kate Upton skinny dance; he hasn’t forgiven us. [Laughter] Anyway, the thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s not just a team with 70 people, because I’ve talked to a few guys here, and I am not by far the biggest company, or the most successful, by any stretch, but I do think that we manage to build a brand as an employer and a brand as a company of our culture, that is really well known. It is the reason that people stay in that company and the reason that people join. It’s to the point where even our cleaner, our office cleaner who comes in every night, says that her favourite point of her day each day is when she comes into our office, because of what we’ve kind of created there.

So what I want to kind of talk about today is how I’ve gone from hiring, you know, from nothing, and hiring a team of 70 fabulous people, and the tricks and tips that we did along the way to do that with very little money, and how to build a culture simultaneously to that.

So, it started off as just a very small team, and then became a very large team over the last kind of seven years. So…

So, what is culture?

And I think it’s kind of useful to talk this a little bit before I talk about the hiring, because I think that they are very entwined and all the… most of this talk is going to be around how to hire and how to hire well and to build a team. I think that fundamental to that is understanding what culture is.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever read… Have you ever read the Ben Horowitz book The Hard Thing About Hard Things? If you haven’t, you must; it is the book… it is the only business book that I have cried while reading — it is that powerful. But he has a really great section on building a culture, and he says (I’m going to be paraphrasing this): “Culture is not the fact that you have a ping-pong table or the fact that you have massages or the fact that you can bring your dog to work. They’re perks. A culture is the systems and processes and organizational design elements that you have that institutionalize or create a set of values that then self-perpetuate beyond. And so how do you kind of build these… What are the core values that are really important to you in your culture, how do they help produce the company goals that you want, and what are the ways that you can make that intrinsic?”

And the story that he tells, he tells a couple about what culture is, but I find them really interesting.

He said that, for Amazon… Amazon’s, you know, culture is all about… They really want to create an environment of being careful with money. They want to grow a company where it’s all about being the leader in cost price products. You need to create a culture that also embraces that. So for all their employees, he says, they all have doors rather than desks. They buy doors from home base and they put legs on them, and that means that every person that walks in and starts their job at Amazon says, “Why do I have a desk for a door?” And the answer from the team members is, “Well, because here at Amazon we really want to kind of be the cost price leader, and so we really want to install that in everything we do.”

So it’s a way that they permeated that kind of cultural element. He also talks about how Facebook never took off the signs of Sun off their doors, so that they always… every time you open up a meeting-room door, you would always be reminded of what you will become if you do not move quickly every day. Now, keep in mind that I think that the other thing is, you can’t actually on day 1 go, “Right. What is the culture that I want to create, and how do I do it from day 1?” A lot of this becomes something that you recognize retrospectively, and a lot of it is a direct reflection about who you are as the kind of leader, and those first few employees that you hire. And that’s why hiring is so important, because those first few hires are really critical.

Now, for us, and I’ve talked about this a little bit… Oh, thank you. What the previous… What I forgot to mention, for us at Skimlinks, we actually were very lucky and were able to quite organically almost create a name for our company culture, and that is this concept of Skimlove.

Now, I’ll explain what that means. Skimlinks is a terrible name. I mean, it really is. It’s a company name, I’m embarrassed about it, but it grew very naturally because it was a pivot from a previous company that I had called Skimbit which was also a terrible name. [Laughter] But it just because this kind of habit in the company to prefix everything with “Skim”. So, you didn’t have an intern, you had a Skimtern, you didn’t have a baby, you had a Skimbaby, it just was a thing, you know.

And so there was this kind of very natural thing that happened once when we were celebrating wins, and we were all on Yammer together, kind of talking, and there was this… how do I describe it… It’s a very difficult concept to explain, because it’s almost, you know, a transcendent thing, but as a company, we very much valued being kind to each other, and if we were going to win, it was more fun when… because we were good people, than because we were the cheapest or the fastest or the most aggressive. We wanted to win business, and we wanted to do good stuff just because it made us feel good, and it was a nice way to kind of work. So we call that Skimlove.

So, for instance, if someone celebrated because… won a customer because they were really, really nice, and that customer was so impressed with who we were as a company that they chose us instead of our competitors, we would celebrate it and write #Skimlove. When someone in the team helps someone else out and someone else out in a team, and it was just a really nice thing they did, they praised them on and said, again, #Skimlove.

And I just thought it to embody the kind of thing about our company that was really special, and now it’s so important to us that it is on neon letters in our coffee area when you first walk in the office. It’s a really, really cool part of our identity. And I didn’t force it; it wasn’t something that I came in on day 1 and said, “Right, everyone, we’re going to be talking about Skimlove, this is the way it’s going to work.” It was something that happened very, very, organically, and… But I went with it, and that’s kind of what the next slide talks about.

What I then did was break it down into what the letters represented, and tried to describe what it was to be… you know, what does Skimlove actually mean, what does it mean when you are hiring someone, what does it mean when you are looking for someone to add to the team?

So we break it down, for those who can’t read it or read it out. The “S” stands for “sparkle”, you know, the fire in the eyes, that glint that kind of makes someone feel that they’re passionate and excited. “K” was “kickass”, because you want them to be really good at what they do. “I” is “inventive”, you want to be kind of a hacker. “Master of our domain”, you wanted them to be the best at their job. Likeable, obvious. Open-minded, which is quite important to us. We have a female CEO, we have a female head of technology, we’ve got gay people, we’ve got people from different nationalities; we only wanted to hire people that were very, very open-minded, that were not easily offended, and that kind of embraced diversity. That was really key. Vocal, again, a really important thing for us. I don’t like people that… Hierarchies are useful for some things, but not if it squashes the opinions of others, so we kind of celebrated people being vocal. And lastly, entrepreneurial: we only hired people that wanted to be entrepreneurs themselves one day.

Anyway, the point of raising this is that once I’ve recognized that we had something special, I wanted to understand what it was, and find ways that I could perpetuate it via a kind of organizational means. So, we’ll talk about what some of those were. In fact, the rest of this talk is just going to be examples of what I’ve seen work. And it’s interesting, because I’ve done this talk a couple of years ago, a similar version of it, and actually, over the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of other companies try things and not work, or try things and work, so I put that into this talk, and I’ll make it a very kind of example-driven one.

So let’s break it down. Why… Actually, before I progress, I’d love to know, out of people in the room, put your hand up if you have… if your company’s sort of 10 people or less. OK. How about sort of 10 to 50? And then more than 50? Oh, good, so it’s a really good mix.

What I’m going to talk about now is the differences that… How is hiring different when you are a very small and you don’t have a lot of money, and I’ll talk later on how to hire when you’re a much bigger company.

So hiring in the early days. Cost matters a lot more, obviously. You can’t hire the best, most experienced person on day 1, so you have to find someone that hasn’t done their job before and that you can pick up for much, much less. Culture fit matters more. So, in those early days, I would deliberately not hire someone that might have been just the perfect fit for the job if they were even remotely not right from a cultural perspective. Now that we’re a much bigger company, a much less… if they’re, like, 20% off-culture and they’re perfect for the job, we might still go with them, but in those early days, when you’re like 10 people or less, the culture fit is one of the most important things because they are the building blocks of what your culture will become from then on.

A sense of ownership matters more. Ooh, I’ve gone nosier. [Laughter] Sense of ownership matters more. So in those early days, you want someone that is joining because they love the idea of being part of that early stage of the company. You do not want someone in your first 10 people that is doing it because it’s just their job, that’s doing it because they don’t feel any sense of entitlement. You want those first 10 people to feel that they own this child. Because let me tell you, in 7 years’ time, they’re going to be your senior managers, and you want them still to be around and still perpetuating the culture that you start in those early days.

And then… General skills matter more in those early days. So now, these days, I hire, like, a very specialized skill, and they do this one job, but in those early days you hire generalists and people that are not fussy or precious, because that person that I’ve hired to do account management will also do support, will also do office management, will do everything, and you want people that don’t mind. Because they feel that sense of ownership. You don’t mind what job you do; you’ve got a title, but actually it doesn’t really matter, you do… All of you do whatever you need to do to get the job done.

And so these are kind of the four things that really are important when you’re in those first days of hiring. And so how do you hire? I get asked a lot, “How do you find that first developer, how do you find those kind of first few hires?” And we did… Again, we had no money, we would do things in kind of the cheapest possible way. So we couldn’t even afford recruiters, so we were using… It’s not a big deal these days, but back then it was very odd to be using things like Gumtree or Craigslist, but we would be going to events, we would be… kind of the usual things that you would think of, but when you’re at a very, very early stage and you’ve got no money, it’s looking at graduate affairs or job boards that you would not expect to be using at that stage. But that made a big deal in those early days, when, again, we had no money.

We made it very hard to apply. The problem with putting a job ad up on Gumtree or Craigslist is that you’ll get 50, 70 applications, most of which are just people, clearly, that have just pressed copy-paste, copy-paste, and copy-paste and… And so what we used to do was ask at the end a couple of difficult questions, or even just “Tell us how you would do this,” “Tell us how you would do that,” and it was amazingly good at filtering out people that clearly did not care. OK.

This is one of my favourite things to do, and I do it deliberately, because, as I said, open-mindedness is a very important cultural value for us. So I will always swear in an interview. I will throw in a couple of really dirty words or some dirty jokes, or I’ll ask them what their favourite drink is. And it’s nice. I like doing that, because I kind of want them… to see how they react, and you want them to kind of be very obviously someone that can handle a little bit of filth.

Again, if you’ve read the [Laughter] Horowitz book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, in those early days it’s actually important to have a culture that values a little bit of… not depravity, but you know, a little bit of… [Laughter] You need to be able to swear a lot around your employees in those early days, I think. And it’s nice to kind of weed out the kind of people that don’t deal with that very well. I once told a really, really, really bad joke, which… the person didn’t last very long.

Anyway. We also look for open-source involvement for engineers, particularly, again… For most of you, this isn’t that big of a surprise, but at the time it was a really big deal for us, because there was a lot of people out there that could code and that were, you know, seemingly good engineers, but what we looked for, entirely, were engineers that… I didn’t really care about their jobs so much, but I loved how involved they were in open-source projects or on projects on the side.

One of my favourite stories is my second engineer — I had put a job ad up on Gumtree, and it was just for an engineer, and I had a bunch of applications. We interviewed a few people, but there was this one application from a Hungarian guy who… his CV consisted literally of his name and then 3 URLs. So I was about to throw it away, going, “OK, clearly this is not a serious applicant.” But then I checked out what those 3 URLs were, and he had actually conceived of, designed, built, and in some cases had sold these quite clever kind of script social media automation tools that were really quite clever, clever concepts that he had done from beginning to end. So I thought, “Oh, OK, this guy’s clearly really passionate about coding that he’s done this on his own without even needing to do so for the sake of a job.”

So I brought him in, and it was the funniest job interview, because he had never been to a job interview before, he hardly spoke English, he had dreadlocks to his arse, and in his job interview I asked him, “So what do you think about my company?” And this is the pre-Skimlinks one, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t really get it, but, you know, whatever you like.” [Laughter]

It was really awkward. It was very funny, because then he left, but there was something about his eyes, and I just thought, “You know what, he’s got the sparkle, he’s got the S from the Skimlove,” so I called him and I told him later that day, “You’ve got the job, you can come back.” And he did, and I put him to work straight away that same day. Years later, he tells me, “Do you know what? When you called me back, I was drunk with my friends and I couldn’t understand what you said on the phone. All I heard was ‘Come back’. I didn’t hear that you said I had the job. So I came back and you immediately put me to work while drunk, but I did your Facebook integration that day.” [Laughter] Bless.

Hire future entrepreneurs. This is one that has recently caused me a lot of grief, because the problem with hiring future entrepreneurs is one day they decide to become entrepreneurs and they leave you. I just had one of my favourite employees leave after five-and-a-half years to go start his own company. What can you do? But it does mean they stick with you for a long time, and that they value the experience more than the salary you can pay them. And this is a really key thing for us. We deliberately went and hired people that, when I asked them “What do you want to do in 5, 10 years?” they said, “I want to start my own company.”

And that meant, a) they were going to be much more used to the ups and downs which inevitably come with a small company, and 2) they value the learning, and so… the commitment that me and my co-founder made from the very beginning is that what we would… we wouldn’t give people salaries that could compete, but we could be really open about our learnings, what we did right, what we did wrong. To the point where we, when we do fundraising now, we take the whole team through the term sheet and explain every term and why we negotiated that, and what was that difficulty with that piece of negotiation. We tell people the things that don’t work, we tell people what happens in the board meetings — not everything, but enough so that, as people, employees in my company, they are now in a position, much, much, better than I was when I first started, to one day do their own company.

And they love the ride. They love the journey .They’re kind of addicted to the highs and lows themselves, and that makes hiring on a budget extraordinarily better.

This makes a lot more sense if you’re in Europe… I think it’s harder to do here, but in Europe we’re quite lucky, because we have essentially the whole of Europe to hire from, which is great. And one of the things that we’ve started to do now, even though we have now… we’re not as poor as we were seven years ago, we now have raised several rounds of funding, but hiring is still tough because of the scarcity of great engineers. So we now deliberately look all over Europe and pay to bring them over to London.

But back then we didn’t have that much money; instead, what we did do, is pay to become a visa sponsor, and so we were then able to hire people not just from Europe but even from India, from Australia, from the US, and you can pick up people that are really excited about the idea of working in London, in their 20s, etc. So that was a really effective way for us to get people that we might not otherwise have been able to get, and attract them not with the money, but with the lure of being sponsored to live in a new country. The same, I guess, works in the US. I think with entrepreneur’s visa it’s a little bit easier… I know… I mean, actually, I’ve gotten a lot of US visas for my team, and it’s not easy, but if you can look afield, I think that can sometimes make hiring on a budget easier.

  1. Here we go. Personalized packages. This was a really big thing for us in the early days. Again, we didn’t have a lot of money, but what we could do was listen when we were interviewing people. And so we would deliberately ask them a little bit about themselves, about their family, their interests, and when we gave them their offer, we… I mean, the salary was never very high, but we always put in a kind of special perk that was deliberately customized to what the person had said they loved during the interview. So, for instance — you can’t see these pictures very well, but one person said they loved rock climbing, so we gave them a one-year membership to a local rock-climbing centre. Another person said that they loved to travel, so we gave them an EasyJet voucher for 500 pounds. Another one said that they, you know, had kids, so we gave them a membership to Gymboree. Another one said they were just moving house, so we gave them a voucher for IKEA. And someone said that they loved animals, so we gave them a membership to the zoo.

You know, these silly little things, but they really show to the person that you care and that you really want them, specifically, to join your team, and it does wonders for both hiring and competing against bigger, badder companies that don’t necessarily give as customized packages. And it also creates a really great cultural blossom for that person when they start.

  1. I’m doing something. Oh, here we go.

So there’s this thing that we call “Alicification”. So, my name is Alicia, Lici’s my nickname, and there’s this process that we call “Licification”. So my co-founder will say, “OK, it’s time for some Licification.” So what that will mean is, we’ve done the offer, we’ve gone through the interview process, but now it’s time to really show them some love. So I’ll write them an email that goes beyond, kind of, the job and starts talking about the vision, what we’re trying to do here, why they’re the most important person for this role, and it’s very hard for people to say no to me when I do that. And it’s worked wonders. We have gotten people that I thought were so far out of our league, because I put in so much effort into really showing that they were an integral member of what we were trying to build. And I recommend that, again, as a way of hiring awesome people on a budget. You’ll be amazed at how some people will drop their salary requirements when they feel that they are going to change your life.

  1. Aim for a rainbow family. I think this one of the… I don’t know how, kind of, common it is here, but I think many kind of UK companies that I’ve seen, and even West Coast companies here in the US, will still be kind of mostly US or mostly UK people. And it’s been something that we deliberately have tried not to do. We deliberately love hiring people from different nationalities, different sexes, different everything, because I think it creates an electric environment. When you’ve got people that are all so different, you look around, those different accents, different faces, it creates something really special in a culture, something about the openness, the willingness to listen, the understanding that great insights come in lots of different shapes and packages, and I think it’s a fundamental thing that we embraced at the beginning that’s become a more defining characteristic of our company. And just to give you a sense, our team is 70 people, we’ve got over 21 nationalities, which I think is pretty awesome. We also… I should actually have made it one person and a half, but yeah. [Laughter]

We’ve got a pretty ratio for a high-tech company. It’s 35% women, and this is… not all of them are just kind of in sales or marketing. Most of the women we’ve got have got computing science degrees, even if they’re not engineers themselves. And it’s, again, a wonderful environment. You walk in, and it’s not just a bunch of boys in a corner; it’s a real co-ed environment. The founder’s a woman, our VP of engineering is a woman, our head of marketing is a woman, it’s a really diverse workplace, and what that does is create, again, an environment where people want to work. Women are attracted to working in our company because it’s a really safe, embracing place for them, and men like it because the women are hot. You know, I’m kidding. [Laughter] But it does… You want to create an environment where people want to come to work every day, and they create relationships and bonds that are more than just a 9-to-5 existence.

Another thing that I have learnt over the years is how to be really good at — especially in those early days — of being open-minded about who you hire for a job and how they kind of progress through their careers. So let me take… These are going to be four examples of people in my company. We can see how unexpected a career path they’ve had. So, this person was a really funny one, because I decided one day that I needed a kind of PA  and I didn’t have time to kind of put a job ad up for it, so my cofounder’s wife runs a fashion PR company, and he said, “Oh, my wife is always getting offers for people to be an intern. Why don’t we just take one of those ones to do this job?” So he literally picked the top one off the pile, and it ended up being this woman, this girl, that has… used to… was a blogger on the side, and we thought, “She’d be all right.” And it turns out she was. She came on first as a kind of PA/PR person, she then was so good that she kind of became a communications manager, and eventually she became a marketing director and was with us for years before, for health reasons, having to leave, get back to New Zealand. But that was a really unexpected career path, and I would never have chosen her to be our marketing director on day 1. But it’s about finding the right person that has the sparkle, the kickass, all those letters I talked about in the first place, and really kind of identifying where their talents lie, and created a career path that made the most of those.

This one here is one of our current product managers, who started life as a… she was a competing science graduate with no job experience, she had just finished her degree, so she came on as an intern. And she was literally categorizing websites. She saw a lot of pornography her first few weeks on the job, because her job was to look at the top 10,000 sites in the world, and categorize them as potential customers for us or not. [Laughter] There’s more porn out there than you would think. It’s amazing.

She then moved on to be, you know, Business dev team and she did that for a few years, and then, you know, we realized that because she, you know, her skill set was more on the techie side, we moved her into product management. And, again, on day 1 we would have never hired her as a product manager, but she’s growing into that role.

We then have one of our current QA managers, who, again, started as a competing science graduate. Started doing categorization as well, it was a real common thing for us. Moved into operations, and then moved into QA, and then finally, you know, one of the guys in my team, I think, could be the future CEO of the company, and again started as a graduate with no experience.

So, again, when you have no money and you can’t hire someone who’s done that job before, you learn to be very good at finding gems of specialness in people that you can kind of grow and develop into other roles. And it’s hard, because what’s going to differentiate one CV from another? So we did things like look for personality in their CV. Did someone kind of say something in a funny way, did they show if they had really interesting extracurricular activities, were they involved in some societies. Whatever is important to your company, find a way to be good at identifying those gems and identifying what they’re good at, what their passions are and developing career paths that work for them.

And it’s been really successful for us. Out of 70 people (I just counted this last night to make sure these numbers are still current), 15% of our current employees joined as interns, and 18% started as grads. And these are now… Most of these are quite senior people in our company now, and now we’re also hiring interns to work for them now. And it’s fantastic. We could never have hired the kind of calibre of employees that we wanted to, if they hadn’t had started as interns or grads themselves.

Some of the things that I’ve learned that didn’t work well…

You know, it’s not all roses and blossoms. Out of the 70 I said we have now, we have 21 or so have resigned over the last seven years, and another 20 of those we’ve fired. So we haven’t always got it right. And one of the things that I think we realize is that when we hire too many or too quickly and don’t spend too enough time with induction, you know, you can actually expect some churn. And I think we realized that there was this… Doing some numbers last night to kind of see the patterns, and I saw that there was a year where this one… most years…

So, let me say this the right way. I looked at each cohort of employees, and I looked at how many of them were still around today, and how many had resigned, and there was this one year where it was the biggest number of people that resigned or were fired. And it was also the year that we had hired the fastest and I think probably had spent the least amount of time on cultural induction. And it’s very true, I think. The second you hire too quickly, you don’t pay enough attention to the cultural side of things, it can be very disruptive to the company, it can be very difficult for the employees. And even now, when we are hiring very, very quickly at the moment, we spend more time than we’ve ever spent before on induction, on team-building, on team activities, because otherwise you’ll see this problem, you’ll see people that are not attached enough to your company, and therefore much quicker to leave if they feel that anything’s not working quite right.

Create traditions. So, this is one of my favourite things. I think this is something that you… again, that starts quite organically; it’s not something that you set up on day 1 going, “Right, I’m going to create this tradition now and create this tradition.” They happen very organically. So, in our case, one Friday, for example, someone was playing “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, and one of our engineers put, you know, “Oh God, not this song again. #Fleetwoodfriday.” And it became a thing, somehow, organically, that now every Friday, at 6:30 or 5:30 when we’ve done our tech demos, we play “Go Your Own Way”. It’s just a silly thing. Because it’s about breakups; it’s not even really a relevant thing. But we’ve kind of embraced it as our company anthem, about how if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to make it, if you’re going to get somewhere, let’s do it our way so that we feel proud at the end of it. And it’s become a thing that really identifies us that my team now play of their own accord at Christmas parties; it’s taken a life of its own. And I think it’s a really… It’s something that I’ve been very encouraging of, because I’m aware of how cohesive something like music can make a culture feel.

We deliberately spend money on getting teams together, so we now have people in San Francisco and all over the place, but every year, no matter what, we fly everyone to the same place and we do it at the moment every Christmas and summer, but we might just make it Christmas now. And we actually now, even take them… well, sorry… We take them for treasure hunts. So, we create this kind of city- or town-wide treasure hunt, and for the last two years, we’ve actually done it in foreign cities. We took the whole team first to Slovenia and then to Rotterdam and did treasure hunts there. And it’s fantastic for new employees. We would actually bring along people that hadn’t yet started but were due to start in the next few weeks, and it was an awesome way to create a sense of adventure and inventiveness and team-bonding that really carried on throughout the rest of the year.

Related to that, and I haven’t included it here because it’s not necessarily a tradition, but we always… Spending money to bring people together is always money well spent. So we have a large number of team members in San Francisco that we regularly will send people both to the San Francisco office or bring the San Francisco team over to London. It costs a lot. But the benefit that you get in terms of team cohesiveness, this sense of shared culture and shared experience — it’s absolutely worth it.

And we’ve got, you know, some of the things that — I’m sure you guys all do the same thing, like welcome questions where we get everyone to say “Two Truths, One Lie,” which can be a great way to kind of get people to know the quirkier parts of a person’s history, and I’ve really covered the Skimlove side of things. But it’s incre… I’m a massive believer in the power of narrative and the power of stories as a means of creating a bond and creating a culture that permeates even beyond you being in the room.

Make start-up education part of the overall package. Again, if you are going to hire future entrepreneurs, one of the things that they will get out of being your team is learning about what… how to start a company themselves one day. So, as I say, we’re very, very open about the fundraising processes that we go through, our financials, our CFO will stand up every Friday and go through the numbers, what’s working, what’s not working. We’ve just been doing a fundraise, for example, and I’ll stand up and tell the team, who I’ve pitched to, how that’s gone, what works, what didn’t work, and the team love that, and a lot of them say, “Gosh, we know previous companies I’ve worked at don’t do that. This level of transparency and trust is incredible.” And it creates an immense sense of loyalty and cohesiveness.

Celebrate wins. Again, as a technology company, we are very keen that we remind everyone in the company that we are a technology company, that we are a product company, and every Friday, for example, we do tech demos, or now we call it “Skim-and-tell” (you can… we use Skim in front of everything) — and it’s great. It gets the engineers, who are normally the ones sitting in the corner, kind of hiding from the world, but on every Friday they have to stand up and tell the team what they’ve worked on, what great things they’ve built, and we all celebrate it. There’s cheers, chinks of glasses, and everyone gets a real sense of celebration at the things that we build. Because what I’m trying to do is create a culture where we celebrate technology, where we love building great products. And to perpetuate that, I’ve created this tradition where we celebrate technology wins.

Another thing that I think is incredibly important that people don’t tend to do is hire internal HR early on. So, about… I think we did it at 20, but we should’ve done it at 15, so hire an internal HR or team development person. And they’re not just about hiring. They’re about having a person that your team feels that they can speak with about their own problems, that worry about team packages, that worry about team development, that worry about getting people onto courses and so on. It’s incredibly valuable, and the team really respond to knowing that you’re investing in them, in their career development, in their team happiness.

Even though we’re still 70 people now, still to this day every person that joins the company will be interviewed by me and my co-founder. And it’s silly because by the time they get to us, the team have already said that they really want to hire this person, so it’s often a formality, but we still have veto power if we really don’t see them working. And it’s an incredibly important process to make that person really know… There’s two things: one is, if I believe so strongly in the importance of culture in creating a cohesive, exciting team, I want to be sure that every person that walks in and becomes a Skimlinks employee has that special something. So we’re out there looking for that. And there have been a number of times when I’ve pulled the rug even if everyone else said that they wanted to. It’s that important.

And secondly, it’s a chance to sell. So, again, if this is, increasingly now when it’s so hard to hire engineers, I’ll get put in at the final round to do my Licification as part of the interview process. So I’ll go into this poor little data engineer, who’s kind of timid and scared, and I’ll be there telling him about how amazing it is and how important… what our mission is, and why this is important, and why you should join. And it’s wonderful. They… It’s wonderful to see that these guys are so necessary to the company’s mission, you know, that the CEO is taking time out of the day to hang out with them and talk to them. I don’t actually interview them; I just talk to them about their life, their aspirations, and it’s incredibly powerful, and you get the engineers, you know, a month later starting, and they still come up to your desk and say, “Oh, hello!” And I love that. I don’t sit, by the way, in an office; I sit right in the middle on a normal desk, because I want, again, the whole company to feel approachable to me and to each other.

We spend an awful lot of time on hiring and retention. Probably 30% of my time is spent either hiring or interviewing or thinking about team culture or thinking about processes or thinking about ways that we can make our team happy. It’s probably the most important part of what I do each day and continues to be, and I think will be, going forward.

This is a really important thing that I have seen a lot of other CEOs perhaps fail at, and that’s not recognizing that the culture of the company is a direct reflection of the CEO’s personality, and that if you want to create a certain type of culture, you have to live and breathe that every day yourself.

I see a lot of (I’m not going to name names here) CEOs that really want their team to work hard, and work, you know, 10 hours a day, and really care about things, but they don’t rock up to the office until 11, and they’re doing 5 other things on the side. And the team know that and there’s no way you’re going to create a culture of excellence and passion and dedication if you’re not the one that’s living and breathing it and showing it yourself every day. And I really… I think this is one of the most important things, and I think if you ask, you know, anyone in my team, that they will say the same. A lot of them (and this sounds so vain, but it’s not), they work hard and they care because they see I work hard and I care, and they know that that’s important, that they’re here because… they joined because they want to be part of that mission.

And so I think, as a CEO, or, you know, any senior manager, you are incredible responsible for setting your own company’s culture by the way that you act, the way that you hold yourself, and the kind of expectations you put on yourself.

And progressing along that is making yourself someone that others want to work for as well. So, I spend a huge amount of my time now talking, and it’s one of those silly things, because I actually don’t think that… I don’t think I’m anything special; I’m constantly critical of myself — but you have to create a brand for the company that you work for that makes other people want to join and want to join… want to be part of your story. And so you put yourself out there, and I’ve spoken to a couple of other people here today that, you know, recognize the importance of that as well — that if you want to create a great culture, you’ve got to be very external with talking about your mission, and that’s going to help attract people to work for you.

We do a lot of sponsoring of events. Now, this is obviously something that is easy to do once you have some money, but there’s still some things you can do without money. So, this weekend, actually, when I get back to London, we’re hosting a Stemettes hackathon, which is a… For those who don’t know, Stemettes is a group of females in technology, and so we really want to create… you know, hire a lot more female engineers, so we’re hosting a bunch of women engin… hacking at our offices this weekend. Similarly, we sponsored a woman to study at a coding school and we wanted to hire some great data scientists, so we sponsored a data science conference. Some of these things can be expensive, but, as I said, the hackathon is not, and it’s awesome for creating a reputation and brand for hiring a certain type of people.

This is an interesting one. One of my most recent employees is a failed entrepreneur, and I tell you, failed entrepreneurs are the best people to hire, if you can. They’re awesome, because they believe in you, they kind of now need money, so they’re kind of now really eager to get back into the workforce [Laughter] and they’re really eager to learn what they did wrong. And anyway, he’s great. But one of the things he said to me, “We spent…” This is a photo of our office. It’s beautiful. We spent a lot of money on this recently. And this guy on my team said, “I was kind of amazed that you would spend that much money. I know in our company we would never have spent that. A couple of desks, and spend your money on something else. But now,” he says, “I recognize why you did it.” And it’s because if you…  I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Architecture of Happiness. It’s a really great book by Alain de Botton, and it’s all about how the degree to which culture and mood are a direct reflection of the environment that you’re in. And so if you want to create happy people, you create a happy physical environment.

And it’s an awesome book, if you haven’t read it. But it really kind of inspired me, and so we deliberately spent more money than we probably should have on creating a really, really beautiful space. And we can see on the pillars here is… We have these things called The Three Pillars, which are the way that we kind of frame the way that we work, so one’s “building great technology”, one’s “creating engagement”, and the other is “driving revenues”. There’s a lot more behind it, but at a high level, that’s it. And what we’ve done is, we’ve got a designer to create these beautiful murals that represent each of those, and paint them on the pillars. Ironically, we have three pillars in our office. It couldn’t be more perfect. And so we’ve gone and invested in these beautiful offices that people love to come in, they feel inspired to think and to dream. Now, again, if you don’t have a lot of money, you obviously can’t spend a lot on a great office, but you can still spend a lot on finding… You don’t spend a lot of money just to create a great environment, one with lots of light, one that has good communal areas, one that smells good.

Smell is one of those underrated things. In fact, I think the next slide shows, I deliberately placed… the first thing that you see when you walk into our office is the café bar that has a toaster right in the middle. Because I think that the smell of toast is one of the most beautiful smells for creating a sense of homeness and comfort and safety, and I think that, you know… Our office always smells of toast. It’s wonderful. [Laughter] You see there. So this is what happens when you walk in: you walk in, and there’s a coffee machine going, so it’s, again, this smell of coffee, and it’s the smell of toast that permeates the entire office. And it’s little things like that that make an office feel like home; it makes people want to work late nights.

I’ve covered this already. Create visual reminders of your culture. Now, this is something I’ve done more retrospectively. It wasn’t something that on day 1 I thought, “Right, what’s my culture, what are the letters, how do I draw those?” It was something that I did a couple of years into it and thought, “OK, what is it that we’ve created here? What is it that has organically come about because of the kind of people that I’ve hired? And how do I kind of visualize that or put some kind of memorable structure around it? And so we’ve got a wonderful visual designer on the company that’s created these beautiful murals and painted them on the walls and then painted them on our Skimlove signs, and there’s a beautiful kind of visual language that permeates our office, our website, our… what do you call it… swag products that we give at conferences. And again, it’s something that the team felt this sense of bond… unity with. They are proud to be identified by this kind of visual language. It’s these little things that you never think about that actually are so important to create a great culture and to attract people to work for you.

So, what are the kind of challenges of hiring when you have no money? So this is… I’ve talked about how you can hire cheaply in those early days, but it doesn’t come without problems. You’ve saved on money, but now you actually have to spend a lot of time overseeing. And I have to say that’s been one of the hardest things that I’ve had to go through with, you know, a young team. For a long time, the average age of our company was under the age of 25, which is exhausting. Oh, my God, these people, they constant… affirmation, what’s in it for me, and, you know, it’s draining. They’re very energetic. [Laughter] It comes at a price, so there is a lot of time that you now have to spend overseeing, guiding, reviewing, calming down, you know. It’s hard.

This is another really tricky one. Eventually you have to replace them. The great CTO that you hired was an engineer, and you called him a CTO because you needed to do that. One day you’re going to have to hire a replacement CTO that actually knows how to scale a business. I’ve had to do this in my business countless times, and it’s caused me incredible amount of inner pain, because you’ve got these people that joined that ascended in the company with you, that love this company, that are so proud of what they’ve achieved, and then you’ve got to go and hire someone above them, or that replaces them. And you’ve got to let them go or you’ve got to make them now report to someone else. And it’s really, really hard, but it is absolutely inevitable if you hire junior people when you don’t have a lot of money. And you just have to kind of toughen up and do it, but you also… I mean, the clever ones recognize that it’s an awesome opportunity for their career to learn from someone that’s done it before, that hopefully you’ve hired people that are humble enough to appreciate that they don’t know it all yet.

One of the other hard things that comes with hiring young people and starting very small is that eventually, when you do hire better people, you need processes, you need to grow up as a company, and you need processes and systems and performance reviews and management meetings and all these things that I hate, frankly, but you have to do, because you’re now a bigger company and that’s required of you. And there’s a little part of you that feels that that Peter Pan side of you is now dead, but it is what is needed to kind of grow a company and is an inevitable result of growing with younger employees.

And mistakes will often happen. I mean, you hire junior people that have never done it before, sometimes they’re going to, you know, screw up, and you have to be patient and understanding, and that can be hard. I’ve seen a lot of fellow entrepreneur friends of mine that have hired, again, junior people when they didn’t have a lot of money, and then they get really, really angry when they screw up. And I’m like, “Well, of course they did. You need to mentor them, you need to be there with them, and you’re going to have to expect that if you hire junior people that are not best of their breed yet, they’re not going to always be perfect, and you just have to accept that.” And you do.

So how have things changed with money? So now, you know, we’ve raised… We’re received a Series C fundraise, we’ve raised quite a lot of money, and there are some things that are better. I can now sleep at night a little bit. Gosh, in my early days, I remember that first year, our technology service would… When you’re on a website, it tracks when you click out of that site and click onto a product link, and it helps you make money from that. But I remember in those early days when our server architecture was terrible, we would bring down newspapers, really important (I’m not going to say their names in case it comes out to them), but they were national newspapers that ran our technology, and for like two hours, we killed every single one of their outbound links. And so that was a very unpleasant two hours of my life. And now that we’ve hired excellent people that know how to set up redundancies and all sorts of necessary technical architecture, I can now sleep at nights a little bit more. A little bit more.

The other great thing that happens is that you hire people that are much smarter than you, and again, you have to be humble enough as a leader to know that that’s actually a really good thing. There, it’s awesome when you hire people who know a lot more than you do, and that you… I actually tell them, “Tell me what you need to lead you, because I can’t actually tell you how to do your job. I can just tell you what the overall vision is, and kind of what the expectation is, but everything else you need to tell me.” And that’s a really nice aspect of hiring senior people that have done it before.

The other unexpected… I thought it would be really hard to bring in senior people. What if it would destroy the culture, hiring these older people? Our average age is now a much more sensible age. To my wonderful surprise, it’s actually been a reason that people stay, because they’re excited to work for someone that is senior and experienced and can teach them something, and they now have a role model they can aspire to. And if you hire those senior people well, like our VP of sales in BizDev, our VP of engineering, our VP of marketing, these are people that now people want to work for. And they’re actually, yeah, a great piece of branding for our company, and it’s an unexpected benefit that happens when you hire awesome senior leaders.

But the focus on…

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that the focus on culture remains exactly the same, you know.

We still are dogmatic about hiring people that are good cultural fits and I still think day and night about, how do I create an environment where people want to stay, where people want to work, where the values that I find important are perpetuated without me having to do it. And yeah. That’s one of the joys of growing a team and a culture. And that’s it. Thank you very much. [Applause]

 Mark Littlewood: Thank you. Right. Some questions. Stick your hands up. Peldi you wouldn’t swear in an interview; why not?

Peldi: Huh?

Mark Littlewood: You wouldn’t swear in an interview.

Peldi: Well, I don’t swear much in general.

Alicia: Well, that’s all right, then.

Peldi: So I was just surprised…

Alicia: Well, it’s because for us, our cultural value was open-mindedness, so I needed to kind of test that on day 1. Are they going to be able to handle, you know, a lesbian manager, which is what they would have to put up with. Are they going to be able to handle a female boss, are they going… Those things that I look out for. For instance, if it’s me and another man interviewing them, are they only looking at the man in the eyes and not the woman? So they’re not going to deal well with a female environment. There are little things that you spot and see that, when you identify what’s important to you as a culture, you start to look for in an interview. And for us, yes, the ability to kind of handle a joke, you know, is a really important attribute, and so we wanted to test that out at the very beginning.

Mark Littlewood: Cool, Mark

Mark A: Hi, my name’s Mark. I’m offering a 20% discount today. [Laughter] To follow up on that, actually, my brother has hired people and had to fire them, and there have been… I mean, we live in the United States, which is very litigious, so any sort of swearing or even asking about family in an interview can lead you into a lawsuit later on.

So, obviously, you’re subject to different rules, perhaps, but I just wanted to hear from you, since you’ve had to fire a number of people or transition them out, can you tell us about some things that didn’t go well at all and how you managed it, both personally and logistically?

Alicia: Yeah, good question. I mean, also, one of the other things that is important to us as a culture is that we’re very good to each other. That we create an environment of love and protection, and that people know that they’re going to be taken care of. So even the people that I’ve had to fire, we’ve thought to do so in as gracious a manner as we good. So, we would often tell them, “This is going to happen, but it’s not because of you, it’s because where we’re going is not conducive to the kind of skills that you have,” and we come up with a way… we let them essentially resign, so that they don’t have the shame of having to be kind of stopped out. And we arrange a very generous package, and it’s a really gracious thing, to the point where I’m still friends with the people that I have fired, as a result. They’re the good ones. There have been some cases where it’s… they’ve not been as understanding, and they’ve been angry, but we’ve always followed all the rules for letting people go, and it’s never been a problem for us.

It’s actually harder to let people go in the UK, where the laws make it very, very difficult to do so. In the US it’s much, much easier, and we’ve never had any kind of major… any litigious issues, at all, I think, if we approach it in a gracious manner and we’re very, again… There are things that I’m generous with, and so, you know, flying people over to meet face to face, I think that’s an expense worth doing, and letting people go graciously, especially if they’ve been a good member of the team, I think is another thing that I’m happy to spend money on. And then in other cases, there have been cases where we’ve had to let people go because they’ve been drunk at work, or… badly so, or have been quite violent, aggressively violent, and they’re easier to do in a way, because it’s like, “That’s it, you’re gone. It’s out.” But I think if you just manage it graciously, we really are very, very proud of acting in a manner that we’re proud of and wouldn’t be ashamed of, and it’s never been a problem for us. But yeah.

Mark Littlewood: Yeah.

Arielle: Hi, I’m Arielle from Axosoft, and you talked a little bit earlier about some of your growing pains in creating processes, and I’m just curious, as you were going through that, how did you come up with processes, and how did you know how much process to create? I’m just sort of curious about what you did.

Alicia: Process is one of the things that I’m naturally not good at, and so we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. And I think that what we’ve tried to do is be very open about, you know, is this working, is this a good meeting, is this a good use of our time, what can we do to improve it. And so, a good example of things like our goal-setting, we’ve gone through probably five different iterations on how to do it, and it’s a constant kind of evolution to make it work with our team, but I find that very, very… It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I now actually hire people that are better at that. And it’s funny, as the years have gone on, I’ve created an environment where I’m allowed to be a little bit batty in a little bit kind of irregular… and I’ve got a wonderful team of managers that bring in the process and the structure, and almost tell me what to do. And that’s worked very well, because I know that that’s not my strength, so I hire people that are good at that side of things.

And I think we can probably still do better, and I think that there’s… I think the key is not to adopt a process just because someone else has done it and it’s worked for them. What we’ve tried to do… what do you call it… OKRs, which is a form of goal management, and it just didn’t work for us, so we kind of evolved it to be suitable for us and it’s been a much better process. Same with agile, same with a few other processes that we tried and thought, “You know what, let’s evolve it.” It goes back to our company anthem, you know, “Go Your Own Way”. I prefer… I hate doing things just because someone else says that’s the way to do it. I’d rather take inspiration and make something our own. And that goes for processes as well.

Arielle: Thank you.

Des Traynor: How do you manage to keep all this consistent across two offices?

Alicia: The first… I learned a lot about this. The first thing to do, when we set up our San Francisco office, is I moved over and I brought over two people from the London office. So our first foreign office was seeded with cultural ambassadors, I call them, so the people that were the kind of firmest representations of our company culture, and we hired from thereon. And then we spend… we make sure we do all company meetings at the same time, and we spend a lot of money flying people back and forth. It is one of those problems where you throw money at it, and it’s an important thing to do, and it’s still hard. That poor San Francisco team… We try really, really hard and they still sometimes feel very much like the satellite office, but it’s something that we’re incredibly conscious of, and work out every single day. Also spend a lot of money on good telecommunication equipment. It’s the only way to do it. But every office that we start, we seed with original cultural ambassadors, and we also do secondments, so every month we send someone from our London office to work a week out of our San Francisco office and it’s kind of a perk, and they love it; they get to hang out in San Francisco and be part of that scene. Our San Francisco team love it because they get a constant stream of visitors, and it’s really fun, and it creates awesome ties between the two offices.

Mark Littlewood: Fabulous. This is going to be a short question and a short answer.

Dan: Hi, I’m Dan from Sterling Medical Devices. I feel like you gave me permission to hire an HR person. I have 55 people, and the advice I’ve been given is, don’t do it until you’re 100, 120.

Alicia: That is so wrong. [Laughter]

Dan: They want to keep outsourcing HR functions, so…

Alicia: Oh, well, I never understand that.

Dan: I don’t either, and actually I appreciate what you said, so my question is, what do you look for in an good HR person, what kind of background?

Alicia: Good question. We’re actually… one of my… Our first of the HR hire, she ended up… she was in London, she was this lovely German girl, Austrian girl, and her husband moved to San Francisco, so she moved with him. And she worked remotely for us for a year, and then it was actually just too hard for her to be running, being a HR person for a team when she was a remote person herself, so she left, and we’re now trying to hire her replacement, and so what we are looking for, you want someone that understands policies and can do that kind of side of things, but the secret to a good HR person is that they also embrace culture, and that they’re not just the person that knows the right way to fire a person, the right way to set up a benefits package, that’s the admin bit of the job. The really special bit is, are they good at identifying that special something? Can they be both good at firing people but good at hiring people? Can they be the person that can lead your induction? Are they the kind of person that you would want to do that first interview when someone come… joins the company and also be the first person that greets that person on their first day of work?

And so we look for someone that is very structured and process-oriented but that is awesomely empathetic, and has a very strong warmth about them. And I think that’s what people get wrong about when they think about HR. It’s not about just the admin and the process side of things — it’s about creating your team, it’s about creating that culture. Every single person that you hire adds another brick to that kind of cultural building of yours, excuse my metaphor, and if you get any of those wrong it becomes an ugly house, to continue that metaphor, and it’s such an important… I think we should have hired ours  even sooner than 20 people.

 Mark Littlewood: Thanks. [Applause] Mark Littlewood: Thanks for watching that talk from Business of Software Conference USA, 2014. Hope you enjoyed it. For more talks, go to thebln.com, or better still, come and join us at the next Business of Software Conference; they run in Europe and the US. See you soon.

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The post How To Grow and Scale A Culture with Limited Funds – Alicia Navarro appeared first on Business of Software USA.

Building a Truly Authentic Business

Cynthia Jamin, Founder of TwirlyGirl, talked with us about the very personal reasons for starting the business. She shares how she’s remained true to her purpose at every step along the way, even when it went against the grain of what everyone else said was “right”. She proves time and time again that staying authentic to your vision and your brand will never steer you wrong.

Show Notes:

  • Cynthia Jamin
  • TwirlyGirl
  • Intro Song by Alex Koch of Digital Dust Studios
  • Outro Song JUMPSWIM - "Fall Out of Love" w/ Ninna Lundberg
  • 5 Growth Hacks You Can Implement Today Without a Developer

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need engineers for growth tactics. Here are 5 you can implement on your own.

    I had been emailing back and forth with a reader.

    He asked me for advice about getting traffic, and I suggested he start a blog to attract readers.

    His immediate reaction was an excuse:

    On the one hand, this is a clear example of “but I…” syndrome: a condition that I—and so many of us—suffer from, that sometimes causes our first reaction to a piece of advice to be thinking about all of the reasons why we can’t do something, rather than thinking about the ways we can.

    On the other, it’s a fair question.

    It’s easy to look at other companies with full-time “growth hackers” and engineering teams focused on implementing marketing efforts, and to think, “I can’t do that right now.”

    And the truth is, no, you can’t do exactly what those companies are doing right now.

    But there’s SO much you can do to grow your business that doesn’t require a developer or designer to lay a finger on.

    If you need to grow but are short on development and design resources (like we all are), here are five wins you can implement right now:

    1) An Insight-Collection Welcome Email

    Whenever I sign up for a new product or service, I get an email welcoming me.

    Sadly, most of these welcome emails—especially those with nothing more than a short “subscription confirmed” message—miss a huge opportunity.

    If you’re going to have someone’s attention anyway, why not do something valuable with it? For both you and them?

    One of the biggest onboarding wins we’ve had was when we tested a welcome email that accomplished three things:

    1. A warm, personal welcome from me.
    2. A heads up to set expectations about what they can expect in the days and weeks ahead
    3. A simple question: “why did you sign up for Groove?”

    The responses to this email have been tremendously valuable to our growth efforts.

    We learn exactly the kinds of emotions and pain points that people are experiencing at the moment they decide to try Groove, and the triggers that made them click “sign up.”

    That’s the kind of language that we’ve put directly into our marketing site and email copy, that speaks directly to prospects in their own words and that connects with them in a way that copy written based on assumptions never will.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Simply set it up as the confirmation email in your email software or CRM. If you don’t have any software to email customers set up yet, then simply save the email and send it by hand whenever a new customer signs up.

    2) Giveaways

    We’ve now run giveaways on all of our blogs.

    These have been hugely successful for us when it comes to collecting new email subscribers and driving traffic through Tweets and Facebook shares, as well as simply building the Groove community.

    Giveaways don’t have to be expensive; the 13 books we gave away cost us around $80 per set on Amazon, and that giveaway drew almost 1,500 new subscribers, at an amazing 9.8% conversion rate from the pool of visitors to the post while the contest was running.

    I’ve also seen successful giveaways for prizes that cost the contest promoter nothing but time, including one-on-one consulting and free design services (from a designer).

    You can do giveaways to get email signups, get people to share your name on social media, have people sign up to try your product and more.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Sign up for Rafflecopter (starting at $13/mo), as it’s really the only tool you need. Once you set up a giveaway, if you can’t embed a Javascript snippet onto your own site or blog, you can simply link to the giveaway page that Rafflecopter creates for you.

    3) Blogging

    It might seem obvious, but far too many overlook the power of blogging because they imagine technical hurdles that really don’t exist.

    It’s easy to dismiss a blog if you assume that you’ll need to code blog posts yourself (we do this, but we certainly don’t need to… in fact our first blog was on Tumblr), or that you need fancy widgets and software to optimize.

    The fact is, to get started, you need absolutely none of that. On day one, you can start with no technical aptitude at all.

    Our blog has become the single biggest driver of growth for our business, and anyone can replicate those results with the right process.

    How to go from nothing to a successful blog

    1. Figure out what your audience’s burning pains are. Talk to them. Do keyword research. Send out surveys.
    2. Write content that solves those pains. This is the part that comes least naturally for most people (myself included), but you’re more prepared to do this than you think. Just start. Seriously. Research your posts, use compelling images, tell stories.
    3. Drive traffic and build an audience of people who want to hear from you. This is the most time-consuming part, but it’s really, really straightforward. Get influencers on your side, write guest blog posts and collect email addresses using any number of free tools out there that don’t require a developer to set things up.
    4. Repeat. Do this over and over and over again, and if your product is good enough, you will get customers. Guaranteed.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Sign up for a free Wordpress blog. It’s ridiculously easy to set up, has plugins for all email software that require zero technical knowledge to set up, and you can always switch to something more complex when you can justify the cost and developer time.

    4) Autoresponder

    What do you do with all of those new email subscribers?

    If you’re like most bloggers, nothing. You’ll send them updates when you publish new posts, and nothing more.

    But you’re not like most bloggers. You’re going to use your blog to grow your business. And that’s where your autoresponder comes in.

    Every mainstream email marketing software has the functionality to set up an autoresponder: a series of automated emails that gets sent to every new subscriber.

    We’ve spent a lot of time testing and optimizing our autoresponder, and what we’ve found is that the best performing ones:

    1. Tell the customer what to expect from us in their inbox.
    2. Deliver high-value content that solves problems for the subscriber.
    3. Finish with a strong call to action to sign up for your product.

    Since implementing the current version of our onboarding email autoresponder for new blog subscribers, our 30-day subscriber retention has jumped by more than 25%.

    Click to see our full five-email onboarding flow

    And the final email brings in hundreds of new trial users each month.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Write the emails in a Google Doc, and set it up in your email marketing tool of choice.

    5) Customer Development

    Some of the most powerful growth tactics we’ve implemented don’t involve actually signing up a single customer.

    The welcome email is one example, and customer development is another.

    The 100+ hours I spent last year talking to all of our customers (and the many more I’ve spent since) have been some of the most highly productive hours we’ve spent on growth.

    I sent every customer an email that looked like this:

    And in the ensuing conversations, I learned things that propelled our growth forward like nothing we’ve done since starting the blog:

    1. Where our onboarding needed improvement to increase retention (and exactly how to improve it)
    2. The things that were keeping some customers from adding more agents and spending more money (and how to remove those barriers)
    3. The exact personas of our customer base (and how to best market to each one)

    And much, much more.

    If you haven’t tried a full-scale customer development effort yet, do it. Trust me. You’ll find the insights you need to grow like never before.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Email your customers to set up a chat. You can use Doodle to manage scheduling, and a Google spreadsheet to track the feedback you collect; here’s the exact spreadsheet we use.

    You Don’t Need Hackers to “Hack” Growth

    In the early days of a business, everything is scarce, including everyone’s time. With every team member wearing multiple hats, people get stretched thin.

    But not having developers at your disposal doesn’t give you an excuse not to implement tools and strategies to drive growth.

    I hope that this post has given you at least a couple of ideas for tactics you can put into practice today.

    5 Hacks to Make the Most of Social Advertising on Mobile

    Social and mobile are exploding. That much is a given. With the powerful insights and data that social brings to the table, and the far stretching reach mobile offers, when we put the two together we’re left with digital’s power couple.

    Perhaps these numbers will paint a better picture: on Pinterest 92% of users are logging in via their mobile devices, compared to 86% of Twitter users and 68% of Facebookers, not to mention mobile-only networks like SnapChat and Instagram. Needless to say, social on mobile is definitely where you want to be.


    Here are five proven hacks to make your social advertising more effective and meaningful on mobile going forward.

    1. Utilize Targeting Options Built for Mobile

    One of the most useful aspects of social advertising is its plethora of advanced targeting options – the result of an enormous amount of data that’s unique, accurate and tied to specific users with known interests. What unique targeting options do social campaigns offer that are unique to mobile?

    Hyper-local Ads: As a mobile marketer working with social media, location based ads will become one of your most powerful tools. Engaging with nearby customers can be extremely valuable whether you’re at an event, an owner of a restaurant, or a brick and mortar shop. By channeling the GPS capabilities of your smartphone, Facebook and Twitter can help businesses by allowing them to enter the business’ address along with a predetermined radius to notify users in the area.


    For example, fashion retailers can target users who have an interest in fashion when they are near one of their stores. If they happen to know that a user viewed a stunning new dress in their app, they can retarget that user when she’s near the store by encouraging her to actually try it on. Lots of potential here.

    Platform & Device Targeting: Another very useful targeting method for mobile marketers is related to the user’s mobile device. This includes fine tuning based on OS, OS version, device type and model.

    OS version enables you, among other things, to exclude users with an out of date OS version that may not be compatible with your app or does not perform as well as with newer versions.

    When targeting by device type, it is recommended to customize your ad using images of that same device you’re targeting. In device model, you should target new phones as the ‘new phone’ market is a great one for app developers as they’re the ones currently on the hunt for all of the latest and greatest apps to fill their 32 GB with.

    Make sure to optimize your bid for each segment, as competition on prices may vary between different OS versions, device types, and models. This will maximize your ROI by paying the right price for the right audience.


    Selecting Android devices to advertise on Twitter

    Wi-Fi: If your app is heavy, you should only encourage users to download it when connected to wi-fi. By turning this feature on or off, you’re in control.
    Last but not least, know that there is always a tradeoff between depth and reach. The more granular you target, the higher the cost, but also the greater the value generated. So, if you know your audience, great. If not, you can get a fairly good understanding by investing several thousand dollars, starting wide and letting the social networks’ machine learning figure it out.

    2. Adapt the Right Native Format

    Native advertising is red hot. By creating ads that are in the same format as the editorial content, marketers are providing a much more streamlined user experience, especially on mobile. According to Yahoo, effectively integrated native ads gained 3X more attention than non-native mobile ads, and a 2.6X higher CTR than other Yahoo mobile display ads.

    Within native, social will account for the biggest share of ad revenue, according to BI Intelligence. This comes as no surprise as social is perhaps the “nativist” form of native advertising with powerful social sharing tools and an algorithm that most likely increases frequency of sponsored posts liked and shared by your friends.

    Before choosing where to run your native ad, think hard about which format best suits your product. Facebook, for example, offers advertisers sponsored news feed posts, photo sharing apps like Instagram offer sponsored photo posts, while Pinterest offers sponsored pins. So if you want to advertise design-related products, Pinterest, with its powerful visual platform is a great match. Likewise, if you’re a travel app you can share images of your spectacular traveling destinations on Instagram.

    3. Video in Social on Mobile

    If mobile and social are the dynamic duo of digital advertising, video in social on mobile is what makes up the golden triangle. Although more costly, the format’s level of engagement is a world of its own (take Facebook’s video ads that generate 5-6% higher engagement than non-video Facebook ads).

    Video ads on mobile are already working strong for YouTube, whose users are 1.4x as likely to watch ads on smartphones and also 1.4 times more likely to share the ads they watch on mobile; for Facebook with its whopping 3 billion views on mobile (many of them auto-played but impressive); and for Twitter where 90% of Promoted Video views take place on mobile devices.

    Pinterest has just introduced Cinematic Pins, which can be classified as a form of video ads. They are a new motion-based mobile ad format that moves during scrolling.

    If millennials are your aim, social networks like Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat are rising steadily in popularity, with new native video ads expected to be the next big thing.


    Having said that, it’s important to note that video advertising is expensive and when it comes to creative it’s fairly static. What this means is that you should start running with video only once you already know what you want to say, and what worked for you on other channels. In other words, video is not the best testing format for new companies with limited budgets.

    The auto-play function provides an excellent opportunity to catch your user’s attention. And best of all, you can also use a performance model here as Facebook will only charge you if your video was viewed for at least 10 seconds, while with Twitter you’ll only pay if the video was 100% in-view on a user’s device for at least three seconds.

    4. Deep-Links for Optimal Social Sharing

    Deeplinking is the technology that connects different mobile environments (app-to-app and mobile web-to-app), while allowing the opening of a specific app screen. Linkage is a non-issue on the web but on mobile it certainly is with lots and lots of broken user experiences.

    For example, imagine you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and you receive an invite from a friend to play a game (Farmville, CandyCrush, whatever floats your boat). The invitation promises some type of reward i.e. 10 free coins, or all new powers, etc. If you want to create a seamless experience for your user, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to cash in on that promised incentive. Deep links allow you to bring users to a unique landing page within your app enabling them to cash-in on their freebie.

    There are two ways you can use this feature on Facebook, one being through App Links, Facebook’s deeplinking tool, by following these implementation methods. If you haven’t enabled App Links, Facebook has created a new field in their app creation tool allowing developers to define the exact location they want to link their ads to.


    Twitter enables deeplinking as well as allowing users to tap a link in twitter and end up on the specific page within the given app – if they’ve already installed it on their device. If not – they’ll be taken to the app store to download it. In order to enable the deeplinking feature on your Twitter ads, you’ll just need this new set of markup tags.

    5. Measure, Measure, Measure

    It goes without saying that if you want to become a super ‘social on mobile’ marketer, you need to measure your efforts. And do so tirelessly. You can either use the social networks’ analytics dashboards to understand what’s working and what’s not, or an analytics partner to get advanced functionalities like retention and cohort reports, multi-touch attribution, enhanced lifetime value analysis and comparison to multiple marketing activities across hundreds of media sources.

    It is important to stress that the only way to measure campaigns on Facebook and Twitter is by either integrating their SDK in your app or the SDK of its official mobile measurement partners (here’s the Facebook list, and here’s Twitter’s).


    Facebook has also announced that as of November 4th, 2015, advertisers will no longer have access to device level data from app install campaigns running on the social network. That means the only way to use this data in your Custom Audiences campaigns is by working with a mobile measurement partner that can transfer this rich in-app event data to Facebook for this purpose.

    The Bottom Line

    Mobile has taken the popularity of social networks to a whole new level entirely. Social engagement on mobile is dominating digital today, and this includes advertising – because it’s native, it’s video and it’s based on amazing data that leads to super sharp targeting with capabilities unique to mobile devices. When advertisers across the board embrace deeplinking to create unified user experiences and analytics to generate smart, data-driven decision making, the potential will be met in its fullest.

    About the Author: Ran Avrahamy is the Head of Marketing at AppsFlyer.com. Managing a complicated relationship with mobile. (Too) early adopter. Loves being an entrepreneur – Hates the word entrepreneur.

    Be a Better Copywriter: 7 Lessons From 4 Legendary Books


    Although digital copywriting is relatively new, copywriting has been used for hundreds of years to sell products.

    Some of the best books on copywriting I have ever read were written decades ago. Some are even older than that.

    And it’s a shame that they don’t get the attention they deserve—mainly because we often equate new with better.

    But a lot of the new marketing and copywriting lessons and techniques you read about on blogs aren’t new at all.

    In this article, I’m going to break down seven lessons from the following four books:

    In my mind, these four books have all achieved legendary status.

    Every section of each book is gold, which is why I encourage you to read them.

    That being said, I’ve picked out some of the most important lessons that I think will apply to your online marketing and business. I’ll bring any dated advice into the 21st century with some current examples of it in action.

    Let’s get started… 

    1. You should read the rest of this article because it’ll make you a better copywriter

    Animals instinctively react to certain noises in a specific way because more often than not, that action pays off.

    It turns out that even though humans might be a little higher on the sophistication scale, they too have these automatic reactions.

    Dr. Ellen Langer, a renowned social scientist, conducted a study in 1978 to find out how everyday people react to certain words. She had actors approach a line of people waiting to use a Xerox (copy) machine. She instructed them to use one of the following three sentences to try to get in front of the line:

    1. Request only: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
    2. Real information: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
    3. Nonsense information: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”

    What do you think happened?

    When no reason was given, 60% of people still allowed the actor to go ahead of them and use the Xerox machine. I’m a little surprised that it was that high.

    What about when the actors said they were in a rush? Ninety-four percent of people let them go ahead.


    So, clearly you just need to come up with a great reason and you can get what you want, right?

    Not quite. The final line that the actors used produced some surprising results. An incredible 93% of people still let them skip ahead.

    Go back and read the line they used (#3). Their reason for jumping the line was because they needed to make copies… But of course, they needed to make copies! Why else would they want to use the copy machine?

    So what can we conclude about this? It turns out that people—when not paying close attention—often follow simple scripts, just like animals.

    In this case, since the favor was fairly small, the people followed this script:

    favor asked > reason given > comply

    But there’s one thing I left out: another part of the experiment was making a larger request. The actors used the same lines but asked to copy 20 instead of five pages.

    When they did this, the actors had the following success rates:

      • Request only: 24%
      • Real information: 42%
      • Nonsense information: 24%

    In this case, the request was large enough to get people to consciously pay attention and evaluate the request. Since the last explanation was silly, it made no difference in people’s response rate compared to the request-only scenario.

    Here’s the conclusion: When making a small request of readers, give any reason why they should do it.

    For example:

    • Could you share this article on Twitter because I would like more people to see it?
    • You should read the rest of this because(hint: go look at the headline for this section)
    • Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think.

    Does that make sense?


    Let’s look at using “because” in action.

    I’ve noticed that Pat Flynn has used this in his post introductions in the past. For the long posts (asking more), he comes up with detailed (good) reasons why the reader should read:


    If it was a shorter post, he could give a briefer and less convincing reason.

    The reason why “because” works is because people like to have a reason for what they’re doing. It just seems logical.

    You can use this concept in blog posts, landing pages, widgets, social media, or even in emails.

    I took a look at Brian Dean’s latest sales page for his course. He used the word “because” a whopping 17 times:


    Does it have to be “because”? I know you’re thinking it, and it’s a great question. That original experiment only tested the word “because,” but the conclusion shows that the word doesn’t really matter.

    It’s the principle that matters.

    For small requests, as long as you provide a reason (any reason), readers will be more likely to comply.

    2. Your product matters more than your talent

    Have you ever heard the phrase:

    He could sell ice to an Eskimo.

    It’s often used to describe the perfect salesman: the guy who could sell someone something that they don’t need.

    If there was one lesson from Scientific Advertising that you should take to heart (there are many), it’s this:

    The main reason for a lack of success from advertising is selling people what they do not want.

    If your conversion isn’t good, chances are it’s not because you’re not an expert salesman.

    Sure, being good at selling will help you maximize your conversion rate, but the main factor behind your conversion rate is the value you provide:


    So why does this matter to you and your business?

    The next time you see that you conversion rates aren’t great, take a hard look at your offer.

    You don’t need to read more blog posts about the latest tips and techniques to make a great landing page. You need to learn more about your visitors.

    And this goes for anything, not just a landing page. If you’re trying to get visitors to click something, watch something, sign up for something… anything that requires them to give up something valuable (email address, money, a lot of time), you need to provide value.

    If people aren’t signing up for your email list, instead of trying a different color button, try a different lead magnet. The more your visitors want it, the higher your conversion rate will be.

    Is learning about selling and CRO pointless? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that CRO and sales techniques are useless, but they are a much smaller part of the puzzle than the value you provide.

    You’ll be better off:

    1. knowing exactly whom you’re targeting (hint: build a buyer persona)
    2. testing different offers (find out what they value)

    After you’ve done that and achieved a solid conversion rate, then start split testing your headlines, copy, and buttons.

    3. Successful marketing is not guesswork

    Another lesson from Scientific Advertising I wanted to include in this post is this:

    Successful marketing does not involve guessing. Ever.

    It sounds simple, but many “marketers” spout BS about their results without ever measuring the impact of their work.

    Let me share a few stats with you…

    Almost 80% of marketers do not directly track their email ROI. That’s shocking. Email marketing is one of the easier types of marketing to track.

    A study found that only 44% of companies are able to measure paid search ROI effectively.

    That just gives you an indication of how much low-quality work is out there. If traffic goes up over a few months, how do you know you had anything to do with it if you didn’t track it? You don’t.

    If you don’t track your ROI, you could be throwing money down the drain by pursuing marketing methods that don’t produce tangible results while missing real opportunities.

    Step 1: Start tracking

    If you’re a marketer, you should be tracking everything you do on a client’s or your company’s site. If you’re a site owner, this would be a good time to start.

    Having too much data is better than not having enough.

    What do you need to track?

    At the very minimum, you need to track:

    • money spent
    • conversions

    That’s it. You can do that with free software such as Google Analytics, or you can get a little more advanced with KISSmetrics.

    But what about referral traffic, search engine traffic, click-through rate on ads, etc.?

    The answer is that you sometimes need to track them, and it’s usually a good idea to track them all the time. It really depends on your focus.

    If 95% of your conversions come from PPC ads, then search engine traffic isn’t a big concern.

    The good news is that most of this data is collected automatically by your analytics software or ad platform.

    Step 2: Determine marketing ROI

    Return on investment is a simple concept. You can calculate it with a simple formula:

    ROI = ($ of profit)/($ of cost) * 100%

    If you’re tracking your ad spend, content cost, or whatever your marketing campaign consists of, figuring out the cost is easy.

    Assuming you’re tracking your sales correctly through your analytics software, it’s also fairly easy to see which sales came from your campaign.

    A marketing ROI of 5-10% is your goal, but if you’re able to exceed that, you’re doing great.

    Step 3: Revise marketing strategy based on ROI 

    The results of a marketing campaign will tell you if you need to adjust your marketing strategy.

    If you break even on your ROI, you can usually continue the campaign. Once you optimize it, you can typically achieve profitability.

    If you get a negative ROI, your time and resources are probably better spent on other marketing tactics. Re-adjust your overall marketing strategy to reflect this.

    4. Commit your prospect to buying

    Are you a hypocrite?

    Ask anyone, and they will tell you: “Of course, not!”

    Which is strange when you consider that hypocrites are everywhere. In fact, most people (including myself) can point out an instance when their behavior might have been hypocritical.

    So, what does this all mean? It means that sometimes people behave like hypocrites without even realizing it. But if you brought their beliefs to their attention right before that potential hypocritical action, they wouldn’t take that action.

    This is a principle called consistency, explained in Cialdini’s Influence.

    People like to act consistently with their principles and beliefs.

    And it makes sense. The reason why we believe in and value things is because we think we’re right—we think we know what’s logical and important. So, of course, we’re going to try to act consistently with those principles and beliefs whenever we get the chance.

    Use consistency in your copy: Before you ask a reader to do anything (share, answer, purchase), mention a related principle or belief. Sometimes you don’t even need to mention it explicitly. All you need to do is frame your request in terms of that principle or belief.


    This is a lesson that I’ve seen many bloggers pick up on fairly recently, particularly in pop-ups.

    For example, if you go to ConversionXL, you get the following pop-up:


    If you’re at the blog, it’s because you’re interested in learning about optimization from some of the best pros on the topic.

    It’s easy to brush off most pop-ups, but when you actually have to choose: “No, I prefer to suck at optimization,” it changes things. To choose that option, you’d have to act against your primary motivation.

    Of course, exiting the pop-up doesn’t mean you suck at optimization, but this phrase alone will help the site collect an extra percent or two of its visitors’ email addresses.

    5. ALL people care about these 8 things

    Humans are complicated, right?

    Everyone’s their own special snowflake, right?

    Not quite.

    Although each of us is unique in some way, we share many of the same traits.

    In Cashvertising, Whitman lists the “life force 8”, which are 8 motivations of all people. At our core, we’re driven by the same things, and you can use that to write better copy.

    Here are the life force 8 motivations:

    1. Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension.
    2. Enjoyment of food and beverages.
    3. Freedom from fear, pain, and danger.
    4. Sexual companionship.
    5. Comfortable living conditions.
    6. To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Jones.
    7. Care and protection of loved ones.
    8. Social approval.

    We’ve known for a long time that people buy based on emotion, not logic.

    If you can relate your product to any of the life force 8 factors, you can stir up emotions in your reader that will help you improve your sales and conversion rates.

    I’m going to break down each of the life force 8 motivations and give you examples of how you can use them in your marketing.

    1. Survival comes first: Unless someone has a mental health issue, they will do almost anything to survive.

    You might have heard of or seen the movie 127 Hours. It’s based on Aron Ralston’s real-life adventure. He was exploring a canyon in Utah when he slipped and his arm became trapped between a bolder and a wall.

    After exhausting all possibilities and unable to free himself, Ralston thought he was going to die. But he didn’t. Ralston amputated his own arm with a dull blade.

    People will go to great lengths to survive.

    If you have a product that could potentially save someone’s life, show it. If you can get a visitor to see themselves in a dangerous situation, you’ll make your sale much easier.

    In one article on the Home Security Superstore website, the author writes about how pepper spray can be used to protect oneself:

    Our first example today is from San Diego where a man grabbed a female pedestrian from a local roadside and sexually assaulted her until she pepper sprayed him and broke free. The assailant jumped the woman as she was leaving her car. After she sprayed him he let her go and ran off.

    If you’re a guy, you might not understand how much of a common fear this is. In big cities, particularly in certain areas, assault of any kind is a serious risk for (typically) smaller women.

    Every time a woman reads the above passage, it brings her very real fear to life.

    They soon get to the end of the article, which has multiple links to products and reviews on the site:


    Guess what most readers will do now?

    If you guessed go to the store and check out pepper sprays, you’re right.

    I think a short video illustration would be even more effective. The more “real” you can make it seem, the more emotional your reader will be.

    2. Food is an easy sell: We are wired to like food. It’s not surprising that as food has become easier to get and more reliable to produce, people have gotten more obese.


    If you have a delicious food product, you should have a pretty easy time selling it.

    Describe the flavor and experience of eating your product, and people will be ready to buy it in an instant. Pictures or video will make it easy for people to imagine the taste.

    Even though pizza commercials haven’t changed much in decades, they still work. All they need to do is show a few different types of pizzas, and the goal is accomplished. For example:

    Are you hungry now?

    However, you can easily apply this offline as well. If you do marketing for a bakery, offer free samples to people walking by. After one bite, most people won’t be able to resist walking inside and buying something. This is a big part of many big bakery chains’ marketing plans.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to associate your product with food. Food will get your visitors’ attention, and if you can convince them that your product will make their meal better, they’ll buy. You can sell, for example, cookware, dishware, furniture, TVs (to watch while eating), etc.

    3. No one likes fear or pain: People go to great lengths to avoid pain, and fear is just an extension of pain. Being afraid is natural when you think something bad is about to happen.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that fears and pains are based on physical problems—just as many are mental.

    Again, anything you can do to clarify fears and pains and then show how your product can relieve them will help sales.

    Take Logitech for example. They know that most parents fear leaving their children with babysitters, even those they trust. That’s why they market their home security cameras by speaking directly to this fear:


    4. No one wants to be alone: If you’ve ever stepped foot into an Internet marketing forum, you know how popular the dating niche is. Online dating is a $2.1 billion industry.

    Although most products don’t directly help people find a partner, many help indirectly. Think about products and services such as:

    • clothes
    • gyms/fitness classes
    • personal trainers
    • cosmetics
    • flower shops

    Basically, any product that can be framed as a tool to help you appear more appealing to the opposite sex, will awaken an emotional response.

    When you see an advertisement for a gym, do you see overweight, unfit people in it? No, you see attractive models, and you feel the desire to look like them.


    5. Comfort is underrated: “Comfortable living conditions” is what Whitman calls it, but I like to think of it more as a lack of stress.

    Think about a time where you weren’t sure how you were going to pay rent or worried that you were going to be laid off. These are extremely stressful and worrying times. And at those times, you would have given anything to know that your bills were taken care of and that you had a steady income.

    If your product helps solve a problem for people in uncomfortable situations, show it.

    This is really what the insurance industry is all about. They portray their products to make you feel anxious if you don’t have them.


    6. People like to win: Even though we might try not to, we constantly compare ourselves to others. We look at others to see:

    • how much money they make
    • how big their house is
    • how happy they are
    • and so on…

    This is one of the biggest factors behind word-of-mouth marketing.

    It’s one of the hardest emotional drivers to market to, but it can be done if you have a “high status” product.

    Essentially, you need to create a product or brand that, when seen, will make others envious and cause them to want to purchase it.

    Apple has done this extremely well by making electronics that are slightly more expensive than those of competitors’ but with a great look.

    Everyone knows that Apple products are stylish, which is why people stand in massive lines for each product release. People want the latest product that puts them ahead of the curve:


    7. We protect one another: Just as we don’t want to be alone, we also don’t want those close to us to be taken away from us or hurt.

    One way of marketing your product is to tie it to the happiness of others.

    In the weeks leading up to all major consumer holidays, including Valentine’s Day, companies frame their products as a way for you to show the people in your life you care about them.


    8. People just want to be accepted: Yes, people want to be loved and to find a mate, but they also just want to be accepted and liked by others.

    You can tap into this by marketing your product as a way for your site visitors to fit in with others or become part of a tight-knit group.

    One great example of this is Tough Mudder. It’s a company that puts on insane obstacle courses. People run through water and mud, and over massive obstacles. But the real appeal is the comradery:


    The event requires you to sign up and complete the challenge as a team.

    In essence, the company is offering an experience that makes you think along the lines of:

    “Yes, I’m paying for something that’s grueling, painful, and unpleasant. But we’re doing it together, so it’ll be fun. We’ll help each other, suffer together, and celebrate in the end together.”

    6. Simplicity always wins

    The hardest thing for most marketers to understand is that your visitors don’t have the same level of knowledge as you do.

    You’ve likely spent years reading about marketing and learning about your product or service. This makes it really easy to talk over the head of your visitors.

    The problem is that if a visitor can’t understand what you’re offering, they won’t buy.

    Whitman summarizes the 4 concepts of successful simple writing in Cashvertising. Here’s my take on them:

    1. Use short, simple words. There’s no need for fancy, rarely-used words. Whitman recommends writing at a 5th grade reading level. I actually write at just below a 4th grade level. You can test your writing level by pasting some of your writing into this online calculator.image16
    2. The shorter your sentences, the better. I rarely write long sentences because that’s when they get confusing. Try to limit sentences to 10-15 words.
    3. The short, short paragraph trick. Whitman correctly advises to limit regular paragraphs to 4-5 short sentences. Having even fewer is better. Most of my paragraphs consist of 1-2 sentences, which makes skimming easier.
    4. Pile on personal pronouns (e.g., I, you, me, he, she, him, they, them, etc.). Writing in a conversational tone helps you connect with your readers. It helps your writing feel personal instead of it sounding like another corporate message.

    While all these rules apply to print copy, they apply even more to web writing. I’ve addressed similar points in the past.

    7. How to stand out from (any) competition

    The final lesson is from Breakthrough Advertising, and it’s about 4 states of sophistication.

    In plain terms, that means that there are 4 stages that a market can develop into. They go from stage 1 to 4:

    1. You are first in your market: When you’re the absolute first to cover a topic or create a product, your copy can be simple and direct.

    Put the need your product fulfills, or a claim of what it does, in the headline. That’s all you need to do to attract attention.

    For example, when SEO was first starting to get popular, a simple 400-word article with “What is SEO?” in the headline was all that was needed to get traffic:


    2. Second in your market: If you’re not quite the first, but you’ve caught a topic early, just take the direct claim a bit further.image11

    For example, Buffer’s guide to beginner SEO talks about how search engines work at a basic level. It’s a good explanation of why SEO is important and how it essentially works.

    3. Prospects have heard all the claims, all the extremes: Once most visitors know the basics, you need to include more practical information to sell them your product or servce.

    In other words: show, don’t tell.

    A guide to SEO on Search Engine Land goes through all the basics of how SEO works using videos, text, and pictures. But the creators go one step further and include links to SEO tactics and techniques.image08

    4. Elaboration and enlargement: Once everyone meets those minimum standards, you need to go all out. You need to expand on all aspects of the content or product and make it better.

    You could make it easier, quicker, more reliable, simpler, or add extra useful features to it.

    To continue with our example, the SEO niche is pretty advanced now. When I created the “Advanced Guide to SEO,” I included everything about the topic. There were tons of current tactics that worked, accompanied by step-by-step instructions.image04

    These 4 stages are essentially the Skyscraper Technique in action, except that they were written about many years ago.

    Each stage of maturity for a topic or product raises the bar. Make things substantially better, and you will get attention from customers.

    Either create something before it gets popular, or take it to the next level.


    I’d like to finish this article by giving you one additional lesson: you can learn a lot from the past.

    Whenever you’re learning about a new subject, whether it’s copywriting, marketing, design, or something completely different, don’t head to the most popular blogs right away.

    Instead, read through some of the highest rated books of the past, no matter how old they are. You’ll learn about how some of the fundamental concepts of the field came to be. It’s those lessons that you can build upon so that you can become more adept in a particular field.

    I’ve given you seven lessons that are jam-packed with useful copywriting and marketing knowledge, but I haven’t even scraped the surface of these four legendary books.

    If you learned a few new things from this article, I strongly encourage you to read or re-read any or all of those books.

    What other copywriting and marketing books have you read and loved? Let me know in a comment below because I’m really curious.

    Half of Your Site Elements Are Useless. Which Half?

    Over half of your site elements don’t affect conversion rate the way you think they do. How to find out which elements help and which hurt your conversion rate? The solution is existence testing.

    This isn’t a problem only with websites

    I once worked with a company where everyone was convinced that one member of a team was the main value driver for the team’s multimillion dollar project. At the same time, this employee had a coworker that most of the team thought wasn’t bringing much to the table.

    However, when the All-Star employee unexpectedly quit, the project suddenly went into overdrive. It turned out that—despite all the value that had been attributed to her—she had actually been holding the team back.

    A few months later, everything ground to a halt when the “unimportant” employee left. To everyone’s surprise, his efforts had been critical to the project’s success and his knowledge and skills proved irreplaceable.

    Everyone liked employee #1. Therefore, everyone believed she was producing value. No one thought much of employee #2. So, no one attributed much worth to his contributions. Were either of these assumptions founded in good data? No, but the whole team believed that they knew where all the value was coming from.

    This happens all the time

    This sort of story is far from uncommon. As human beings, we tend to assign value according to people or things that we like—how else do you explain our obsession with celebrities? We’ve never met these people, but we believe all sorts of positive or negative things about them based off how they are portrayed in the media.


    Assigning value to the wrong team elements slowed and eventually crippled a multimillion dollar project. Are you doing the same thing to your website?

    In digital marketing, things don’t always add up the way we expect them to. Sometimes, we think the equation should be 1+1+1=3, but the results come out as 1+1+1=2. In reality, the equation is never as straightforward as we’d like it to be and, as testers, it’s our job to figure out what’s really going on.

    Which elements are helping your site? Which elements are hindering it? Discovering the parts of your site that aren’t contributing their fair share of value is critical to optimizing your site and realizing amazing testing gains.

    Existence Testing

    Removing a person from the work environment allows you to see what they were contributing. You see both the positive and the negative effects of their output when their contribution stops.

    The same idea works for your website. To discover what the contribution of pages and elements to your bottom line is, we use a simple but strategic type of testing we refer to as “existence testing.” Simply put, we remove elements of your site and see what happens to your conversion rate.

    Existence testing—it’s a good name for a very strategic way to learn about your site.

    How Does It Work?

    At its heart, existence testing is a relatively straightforward concept. You remove elements one-at-a-time to see how the removal of that single element changes visitor behavior. Only one element is removed for each variation so that everything is isolated.

    By testing to see what happens if they don’t exist, you isolate the individual contribution of that element or page which makes it easy to attribute a change in behavior to that one element.

    What Do the Results Mean?

    If, compared to the control, the conversion rate improves when your banner is hidden, the banner was hurting your conversion rate. If the conversion rate decreases, the banner was helping you get conversions.

    In essence, this is much like what happened with the company I mentioned previously. When element #1 (the favorite employee) was gone, things improved. The element was hurting the team. When element #2 (Mr. Nobody) was gone, the project fell apart. Mr. Nobody was the element that was helping the team.

    Data Driven Decision Making

    The great thing about existence testing is that it gives you the data you need to make the right decisions. Inevitably, you’ll discover some of your favorite elements are like employee #1—you might like them, but they’re hurting your business. On the other hand, there will be the elements that are unexpectedly, sometimes inexplicably driving major portions of your revenue.

    What to Test with Existence Testing?

    Okay, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably sold on the idea of existence testing. The question is, how do you do it?

    I’ve got an existential moment for you—you’re already using it.

    If you think about it, existence testing is about more than just determining the value of page components. You can test any aspect of your conversion funnel, but two of the easiest areas to test are page existence and element existence.

    Page Existence Testing

    Most companies existence test their own homepage without even realizing it.

    How? Landing pages.

    A landing page is an existence test on the homepage. Often a good landing page that maintains the scent for potential customers has a higher conversion rate than the more generic homepage, so most companies assume that they’re better off with a landing page.

    Well, duh, We All Know About Landing Pages…

    Conventional wisdom, right? Years of experimentation support the idea that landing pages can be effective, but how many companies test the first page the visitor sees in an unbiased way? Do they test their landing pages against their homepage against other parts of their funnel pages? By challenging this assumption we’ve found that many companies are sending their traffic to the wrong starting location.

    For some, the homepage is an important contributory part of their conversion funnel, but for others it isn’t as important. Without existence testing, these companies’ homepages would have been left in the same situation as the over-valued employee #1 from our story.

    Even if you test this and you find your homepage is the best location you can still learn some valuable things. For example, a few years ago when I was testing with Redbox we wanted to find out what type of page was more likely to increase rental rental revenue. The home page looked like this:



    Our test set up was this:

    • Control: Homepage as the first page
    • Variation 1: Movies Browse Page as the first page
    • Variation 2: Games Browse Page as the first page
    • Variation 3: How it Works Page as the first page
    • Variation 4: Location Finder Page as the first page
    • Variation 5: Top 20 Page as the first page
    • Variation 6: Coming Soon Page as the first page


    image04If you are curious to know which page won, all you have to do is go to redbox.com to see the live winning variation.

    Every company and every site is different and you never know which landing page is the best one for your company until you test it out. This test gave us valuable learning that helped inform future home page tests.

    We learned that the combination of movies and games was the best experience and that people needed to see movies they could rent before they saw locations or how it works or even movies coming out soon.

    Page Level Existence Testing Summary

    Unfortunately, you don’t know which starting location is best for your visitors until you test it.

    Should you send traffic to your home page or to a custom landing page? Should you start visitors deeper in the funnel or higher up? Should your home page be part of the flow after a landing page? The only way to answer these questions is through testing.

    So, if you want an easy place to start existence testing, look at the entire flow of your site. Which page should be the first step? How are different pages contributing? What happens if you remove a step? What if you add a step? Page-level existence testing can provide powerful insights into the effects of dramatic changes to your sales process. Additionally, it is usually a very efficient initial test to begin because you are simply redirecting traffic to existing pages.

    Element Existence Testing

    Once you’ve got a good sense for which pages contribute most to your conversion process, it’s time to get more granular. By hiding specific elements on a page and comparing conversion rates between the original and the modified page, you can determine how individual elements on a page are affecting your customers.

    Let’s suppose you want to understand the importance of 3 elements on your homepage—your hero banner, form submit fields, and your search bar. To set this up you would have 4 experiences—a control and 3 variations where each variation hides just one element. It would look like this:

    • Control – home page with no changes
    • Variation 1 – hide just the hero banner
    • Variation 2 – hide just the form submit fields
    • Variation 3 – hide just the search bar

    That Sounds Nice, But Does It Work?

    After a series of existence tests on a client’s homepage, we discovered that eliminating their sliding promotion header increased revenue-per-visitor by 25%. When we hid the left navigation bar from one side of their page, revenue went up by 19%. Eliminating these pet design elements increased profits by $2 million a year!

    After running this test we learned that the left navigation was hurting revenue so we decided to use that real estate better. The next test we ran changed the left navigation to be very different visually and as a result we saw a 17% increase in revenue-per-visitor.


    The best part about existence testing is it gives you a great starting point for follow up tests because the previous testing output gave a prioritized ranking of what matters most.

    A sister company to the company above ran a similar test and found something surprising. For the company above, the left nav was hurting the experience. For the company below the left nav was very important to the shopping experience. Hiding the left nav showed a decrease in revenue per visitor of -33%. This helped us learn the left navigation is very important to this company and that there is a lot of potential to optimize it.


    We’re not the only ones to see impressive results from existence testing. EA removed the promo banner from their SimCity microsite and saw a 43% improvement in purchase rate. Impact eliminated their sidebar and increased their conversion rate by 71%.

    What actions can you take after a test like this?

    In addition to directly improving your conversion rates, page element existence testing can be a phenomenal idea generator. Once you know what works, you can replicate those elements on landing pages or elsewhere on your site. You can also try to milk site components by tweaking things like size, copy, color, imagery or location.

    Overall, element existence testing is a great way to identify low-hanging fruit on your website. You’d be surprised how big of a difference seemingly small changes to your site can have on your overall profitability.

    This can also be worthwhile for page elements that don’t currently have much of an effect on conversion rate. For those elements that are hurting your site, it’s often worth your while to remove them completely or test a replacement.

    Adding New Elements

    Existence testing helps you learn about the value of current site elements, but you can also use the same principle when adding new elements to discover which elements are driving value and which ones are the duds. Although it’s possible that you’ve achieved perfection with just a few tests, there are a whole host of new or improved elements yet to be tried that could drive significantly more conversions.

    For example, SurvivalLife.com started their website with the kind of clean, minimalistic design most experts recommend. However, after testing their website, they eventually discovered that a messy website sold far better to their target audience. This revelation ultimately helped them to build their website to $1 million/month in sales.

    Conventional wisdom isn’t always data-driven wisdom—existence testing shows you what is working, which is not always what common sense says should work.

    As humans, we tend to believe that what works for us works for everyone. However, to run a successful website, you need to figure out what works for your target audience, not for you. That’s the power of existence testing.


    When done right, existence testing is a phenomenal technique for improving your website. Whether you’re pulling apart your sales funnel or maximizing conversion rates from a page, existence testing shows you which elements of your conversion process are contributing or detracting from your success. Using data to eliminate the bad and maximize the good can do wonders for your company.

    It’s just too bad we can’t existence test employees.

    What about you? How do you feel about existence testing? Did this post spark any ideas?

    The post Half of Your Site Elements Are Useless. Which Half? appeared first on ConversionXL.

    Making huge projects work: Implementation

    In my last essay, I totally pulled back the curtain on the planning + design stage of the (huge) brand new 30×500.

    The next step? Action, baby.

    And the key takeaway?

    Work has an interface and experience all its own… and YOU get to design YOURS. Do it right, and it’ll pay you back.

    Typically, I meld Kanban with franken-GTD

    Those are the columns I set up for my cards:

    • Projects (big picture)
    • To-Do’s (individual tasks)
    • Doing (currently active… for anyone who’s working on it)
    • Waiting On (held up, needs a response)
    • Done (obv)
    • Backburner (not gonna do this now, maybe never)
    My basic Trello setup

    (This Trello template – and others, and my how-to screencast! – comes as part of the JFS Premium Package)

    Like, during our office renovation, Flooring was a single card under Projects. That’s where we stuck the research and findings and decisions. It lived on the left sidebar until it was all done.

    But Flooring isn’t a to-do. So in the To-Do column, I made individual cards like:

    • Order laminate samples from Laminate123
    • Call Laminate123 about delaying delivery…
    • test laminate samples
    • Photoshop winning samples into room…
    • call XYZ about transition strips
    • show top 3 samples to contractor
    • etc.

    And so on.

    This works just dandy for small- and medium-sized projects.

    The new 30×500 is not a medium-sized project. The new 30×500 is a metric fuckton of work, and it’s not like “Call this guy”- or “Schedule this delivery”-type work either.

    Huge projects need a different tack

    Normally, I’d say: “OK, let’s take each lesson and create one card for it, and track it through the various stages: Slides, Recording, Editing, Published.”

    But… for reasons… Alex came up with a design that flips the kanban process:

    Instead of one lesson-one card, we create multiple cards for each stage of the process and move those cards not through the stages, but through time.

    Break down not by process, but schedule

    Let’s take a video lesson as an example. Alex would break down a single video lesson into multiple Trello cards:

    • Slides for X Lesson
    • Recording for X Lesson
    • Editing for X Lesson
    • Copywriting for X Lesson’s lesson page

    The end result isn’t GTD, but a tidy production schedule:

    30x500 in Trello

    (Click to see full-size.)

    Dividers keep the work area clean…

    And it’s tidy because Alex manages our mental workspace. And preps all our ingredients; mise en place, bitchez.

    Because, again, Alex is the schedule master, he’s put a “THAR BE DRAGONS” divider beyond which The Amy shall not tread.

    He organizes the less-clear shit to the right of this divider and only moves it to the left when it’s time to me to ~get down on it~. Because, frankly, lesson design is exhausting and thanks to my limited energy, I can do only one thing at a time. Alex has it set up so I can focus on that one thing and get shit done.

    This is one of the many, many reasons he’s my favorite:

    30x500 Trello

    The alternative is to get OMGOVERWHELMED by the OMGHUGE amounts of work left.

    This setup gives us insight into our schedule, too, not just an undifferentiated mishmash of remaining work.

    We can tell if we’re on time, behind, or even ahead of schedule (ha ha ha).

    Labels and filters drill down

    This is new: Alex set up a genius labeling system so we can break down the work left not only by section (aka where it falls in the new 30×500 student experience):

    30x500 section labels

    But also by exercise type (aka what kind of work it is for us, the teachers):

    30x500 labels - lesson type

    This means we can get a feel for “how much is done” and “where are we” — but also “what kind of work is left.” Which is great.

    Outlining, ideas, topics, points

    I love outlining. I don’t fret too much about the perfect outline, but I make notes about the most important bits that need to be covered. This material isn’t all-new, but it’s revised and expanded.

    I write my funky outlines and other “show notes” in the slide cards:

    A lesson outline…

    Protip: Always outline and make notes cuz you will not remember half the shit you think you will.


    Obviously whoever is doing the work keeps the Trello board updated, which eliminates a lot of need for talking.

    Still, Alex and I talk multiple times a day about the day and week goals and schedule. Whether we’re together in my office or not. We use Slack if we’re not together, and headphones with intermittent chitchats if we are. If the timing’s not right for an interruption, we mark down our respective thoughts in a Trello card (if it’s work to do) or Slack message (if it’s a decision to be made).

    Yesterday we spent about an hour over the day talking about launch, so more on that front soon.

    I am so excited for this brand new 30×500 to be done so we can go back to actually talking about non-work topics. It’s taking over my life right now. But, it’s a sprint and an investment and even if August kind of sucks for our social lives, it’ll be worth it…

    Cuz this new 30×500 is our first-ever that’s go-at-your-own-pace. When it’s done, we can sell it again, and again, and again… without extra work. We’ll finally be able to scale this shit UP!

    Worth it.

    Wanna learn about how to create your OWN products?

    Get our 7-day no-BS guide to avoiding common startup mistakes

    The Dark Side of Retargeting: How Retargeting Could Be Killing Your Sales

    Retargeting is the holy grail of digital marketing. It’s the solution to shopping cart abandonment. It’s the end of wasted Adwords revenue. It’s the panacea for everything that ails you.

    It’s awesome. Except when it isn’t.

    Before I launch into what comes next, I want to make it clear that I am a fan of retargeting/remarketing. I use it. I recommend it. I think it rocks.

    Whether you’re trying to sell a pair of shoes or marketing a SaaS, retargeting has major advantages. It works on social media, general web browsing, and even across devices. Remarketing is a smart technique with a ton of advantages.

    But is there a dark side to retargeting? The short answer is yes. Let me explain.

    Retargeting Can Be Expensive

    Many marketers leap into retargeting because they assume that it would somehow reduce their overall advertising costs.

    For a long time, PPC experts have been strategizing the means and methods for reducing adspend. The high cost of Adwords and the meteoric bidding levels for ultra-competitive terms have sabotaged some marketing budgets.

    Based on the promises of many retargeting services, it seemed the obvious solution.

    In reality, however, the way to reduce spending is to make a decision and stick to it. While retargeting may have a higher ad ROI, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re going to spend less on it.

    Here’s one popular retargeting claim:


    Sounds awesome, right? Well it is. But you are ultimately in charge of your retargeting costs. If you let things get out of hand, you can end up spending just as much if not more, and you may have diminishing returns on investment.

    Don’t allow your excitement over retargeting to blind you to its real cost.

    Retargeting Can Annoy or Anger Customers

    When it comes right down to it, what does your customer think of retargeting? This is a significant issue, because ultimately, retargeting is about them (not you).

    Take a look at the data. InSkin Media’s consumer survey found that the two main responses to a retargeted ad were annoyance and anger.



    Based on the data, the more frequently an ad is displayed, the more aggravating it can be. By the tenth time someone sees an ad, they get the message. More impressions aren’t going to compel them. You’ve driven them off a cliff. It’s too late.

    What do these emotions mean for sales? Again, let’s look at the data. The news isn’t great.

    • 55% of customers put off buying
    • 53% get irritated
    • Only 10% buy



    If you are retargeting, it’s probably not a good idea to increase the number of impressions. The higher your frequency, the greater the likelihood of ticking someone off.

    The chance at gaining 10% is nice. But what about the remainder of your potential customers? Are you gaining a few at the expense of alienating a majority?

    Rather than risk it, it’s best to err on the side of fewer impressions and happier potential customers.

    Retargeting Can Create Concerns Over Privacy

    One of the most common complaints about retargeting is that it’s “creepy.” This is why ClickZ had to try to explain away the creepy sentiment surrounding retargeting.


    Retargeting may not be creepy in actuality, but that won’t keep customers from thinking it’s creepy. Saying it ain’t so won’t change the fact that they think it’s so.

    In a New York Times article on retargeting, reporters quoted Julie Matlin who was innocently looking for shoes.

    Her quick glance at a pair of kicks on Zappos.com turned into a recurring marketing experience:

    “For days or weeks, every site I went to seemed to be showing me ads for those shoes,” said Ms. Matlin, a mother of two from Montreal. “It is a pretty clever marketing tool. But it’s a little creepy, especially if you don’t know what’s going on.”

    The creepy sensation has been enough to increase the interest in Do Not Track laws rolled out by the FTC.


    Retargeting Can Ignore the Buy Cycle

    It’s ironic. One of the most fundamental of all marketing principles can be so easily overlooked in the frenzied rush towards retargeting.

    I’m talking about the marketing buy cycle — the concept that customers go through a cyclical process that prepares them to buy.


    It’s similar to the sales funnel, in that the process begins with more customers, and ends up with the converting few.



    Retargeting is intended to capture more of those consumers as they proceed through the funnel. If you’re not careful, however, you can actually damage conversion rates by ignoring the buy cycle.

    The customer may simply not be ready to buy. They’re no longer leaning towards your alternative. They’ve chosen a competitor. Maybe they already bought the product from a competitor.

    If you keep your retargeting window open for a long time, you increase the likelihood that you are retargeting a customer who is no longer in the right spot of the buy cycle.

    Retargeting can cause you to abdicate control.
    One of the major benefits of retargeting is that it allows a more hands-off approach to marketing.

    One B2B blog describes the advantages of a managed retargeting platform:

    Managed platforms are ideal for retargeting newcomers who are unlikely to roll up their sleeves and dig into the minutia of managing a retargeting campaign. Managed platform providers will help you run your retargeting campaigns based on the target metrics and settings you specify. These platforms offer account managers and automated optimization tools that help build and tweak campaigns to maximize performance.

    Yet this perceived advantage can quickly become a disadvantage. Being hands-off of any marketing effort is risky, to say the least. At worst, it can turn into a sales-killing, prospect-aggravating, brand-ruining fiasco.

    I have a very simple recommendation if you’re considering pulling letting your retargeting machine roll along on its own: Don’t do it.

    It’s not just about losing control. It’s more about losing all awareness. If there’s one thing that marketers need, it’s a keen understanding of their data and the effectiveness of their marketing initiatives. What’s successful and what’s not. Who’s converting on what? Which method has the higher ROI? Which version is adequately reaching our target audience?

    Setting up your retargeting, and letting it purr along without your oversight is a risk too great to take.

    Retargeting Can Show You Only Partial Data

    In the section above, I referenced data — the marketer’s best friend.

    Any retargeting platform you use will give you plenty of data. You’ll feel like you are awash in a sea of data. But is it the right kind of data?

    Keep in mind that retargeters show you the kind of data that they want you to see. It is in their best interest to compel you to continue purchasing retargeting services and impressions.



    Thus, their carefully curated metric presentation can blind you to some of the not-so-pleasant trends in remarketing.


    Marketers run risk of overlooking the small customizations and refinements that retargeting requires. Are you presenting multiple impressions on a single page? Are your prospects seeing ads long after their original visit?

    Beyond the metric-driven insights, it’s critical to stay aware of the non-data information. Every impression is either enhancing or tarnishing your brand. If your retargeting is ruining your brand’s reputation, the marginal uptick in impressions may actually be a net loss if you take the longview.

    The Makegood group provides this cautionary comment:

    While retargeting can create a lift in direct response metrics, what is the long impact on branding from being relentlessly stalked like this? It’s a question that smart brands are considering carefully.


    Am I saying that you should stop retargeting? Absolutely not.

    Retargeting is the modern wave of marketing, and we ought not neglect anything simply because of some attendant risks. We don’t give up on something just because it has risks.

    There is risk in doing business. There is risk in life. The pathway to success is paved with bricks of risk. What we must do is be aware of the risks in retargeting.

    It’s not the holy grail that some marketers claim it is. It’s powerful. It’s effective. But it does have a dark side. Know this dark side, and you’ll be able to use retargeting with maximum effectiveness.

    Have you seen any pitfalls with retargeting?

    About the Author: is a lifelong evangelist of Kissmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

    The quick start guide to Slack for startups

    For the manager:

    Choose a few key team members that are intimately familiar with different operations in your business to help you set up and optimize Slack for your team. The exact number of people you want to recruit depends on your business and team size.

    Adding these key team members early will make sure you don’t get overburdened with administrative tasks. The team members you select will become the “go-to” people for questions or issues with Slack.

    Invite your team


    Go to the “Manage Your Team” menu on https://my.slack.com/admin

    Add the names and emails of your key team members

    Make your key team members Admins on Slack

    Administrators are able to manage members, add integrations, moderate channels and handle other maintenance tasks.

    Once your team has accepted the invitations, they will appear in a list under the “Manage Your Team” menu. Click on their name and a “Make Admin” button should appear.

    This will give your key team members the freedom to explore and experiment with Slack’s features and optimize it for your team.

    Once your team is invited and promoted to administrators it is time to dive into Slack! Share this article with them and have them follow the “For the team” section below.

    For the team:

    Welcome! By now you should have received an email inviting you to join your team on Slack. You should also have Admin privileges which means you can customize many features of Slack.

    This is a guide to help you get all the essentials for your Slack set up and operational. You are one of the key team members selected by your manager to explore Slack and create the best possible environment for your team to communicate and collaborate.

    The quick start guide to Slack for startups - overhaul your team communication in one week.
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    Many people are still using email and can’t imagine another way to communicate in a business setting.

    As a startup, making changes to the way you operate can be costly, especially with something as fundamental as your communication.

    Having a week to determine how to use Slack with the key team members before bringing the entire team onboard should make the transition smooth.

    Why Slack?

    There’s a different feel to a Slack conversation compared to email. Emails encourage long, detailed messages with all the formalities included. Slack conversations have more of a “chat room” style, where concise messages are encouraged.

    Channels and groups can be set up to facilitate better conversations around key topics for your team. This focuses the discussion and eliminates distractions while you are working.

    Slack Basics

    We have a printable checklist free to download with all of the key points of the post: download it here.

    Download the desktop and mobile apps

    Though the web app is fully functional, we recommend downloading the desktop and mobile versions of Slack to get the most out of the tool.

    Here’s a list of Slack apps for computers, smartphones and tables.

    Mobile app

    The mobile app is very helpful for team members on the go. It may be a good idea to set your status as “inactive” on your phone. You’ll still be able to send and receive messages, but your team members will have different expectations if you appear to be working at your computer or if you are out and about.

    To do this, tap the menu icon in the top right of the screen and go to settings. From there you can toggle the “active” status on your phone.

    Do not disturb for iPhone

    If you have a team distributed around the world, it is likely you’ll receive Slack notifications in the middle of the night on your phone. We recommend setting up “Do Not Disturb” on your phone. Unfortunately, this will also silence most calls, texts and other notifications on your phone, so it is not a perfect system.

    There is a way you can automate “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone so it will automatically switch on. I recommend setting this for about 1 hour before you go to bed.

    Go to Settings then Do Not Disturb.

    do not disturb

    Allow calls from

    You can set up favorites on your iPhone for people that you might want to hear from during these hours. Just find them on your contact list and select “Add to Favorites”

    If “Allow Calls From “Favorites” is activated in “Do Not Disturb” mode, their calls will come through.

    Learn the Slack interface

    Mentions: Using mentions, you can notify team members of a message relevant to them in a chat channel.

    Stars: Stars can be used to create a checklist in Slack. Each message you add a star to will appear in the stars list. As you complete the task that is related to the message, you can remove the star.

    Hotkeys: To access the basic hotkey list, use ‘command + /’ for mac and ‘control + /’ for PC. My favorite is the quick switcher ‘command + k’, to jump between channels.


    Depending on the size of your team, the volume of messages you send, and if you are on a paid or free version of Slack, searching may or may not be a useful feature.

    Slack has modifiers to improve the accuracy of your search. You can combine these modifiers for even better results.

    Here are a few examples of modifiers:

    • in:[#channel] – Filters search results to a specific channel
    • from:[user] – Filters search to show results from a specific user
    • has:[link] – Filters results around specific content

    For more details on modifiers, check out Searching in Slack

    With our team of 40+ and the free version of Slack, messages only last a few days before they are deleted and therefore unsearchable.

    We use Trello for communication on higher level projects and to store and organize ideas for content. This allows our team to focus on immediate issues in Slack and not have to worry about the messages getting lost in a few days.

    Related: How we effectively use Trello for project management

    Channels, groups and direct messages

    Channels are used to focus conversations and are open to your entire team. This is where you will start to enjoy the benefits of Slack.

    Setting up the right channels

    Setting up the right channels can make make it easy for your team to adopt Slack and move away from old communication defaults. Many teams have the following channels set up for their operations:

    • Management
    • Customer support
    • Development
    • Marketing
    • Creative

    Keeping these operations separate allows for better focus on tasks and information relevant to each team’s work. All of these operations also benefit from conversations happening in the most public venue possible to avoid repetition, clarify messaging and let people know when a job is done.

    There are other ways to structure your channels. Channels can be based on:

    • Geographic locations: Good for distributed teams that work in different time zones or to find someone to get lunch with.
    • Specific tools or integrations: If you have an integration that delivers a lot of data, it might be best to make a separate channel specifically for that app.
    • Projects: You can create channels specific to projects and close the channels once the project is completed.
    • Events: You can open up a short-term channel if your team is at an event and you don’t want to flood normal operations channels.

    In the first few weeks with Slack, the key team members should create channels that may be useful for certain groups or projects within the business. After a week or 2, review the new channels. If they are well used, keep them. If they only have a few messages, then you can remove them.


    To create a new channel, simply click the “+” icon.

    You’ll name the channel and add a short description of the purpose of the channel.

    Through trial and error, you should have a system of channels set up that works well for your team.

    Establish rules for channels

    Once you have your channels set up, you should create rules to make sure they are used properly.

    Rules and conventions for channels are best stored in the “About This Channel” section. you can find and edit the rules by clicking the “information” button next to the search bar.


    Private groups

    Private groups function almost the same as channels but are only visible and searchable to the group members.

    We have a private group where only the management and administration team are members. Here we have reporting on key information to our business such as response times, new affiliates and if there are any failed payments.

    Choosing the right integrations

    Similar to channels, your key team members should experiment with adding and configuring different integrations.

    How to add integrations

    Typically, it’s best to add integrations to specific channels only. We recommend having notifications from apps you integrate with feed into the channel that’s most relevant to the app.

    For example: You would want your Help Scout integration to feed into your customer support channel, but not your developer channel.

    Integrations we use

    • Trello – Integrating Slack with Trello will send updates to a channel when there’s activity on Trello cards.
    • Help Scout – Integrating Slack with Help Scout allows you to see notifications when:
      • A conversation is created
      • A conversation is updated
      • A team member or customer has replied
      • Conversations are closed or deleted
    • Twitter – This is great for keeping on top of your social media marketing or quickly responding to customers who communicate with you on Twitter.
    • Google Drive – Pasting the link to a Google Doc in your chatbox will make it available for anyone in the channel and give additional information on the link instead of just a blind URL.
    • Giphy – Allows you to use gif images in your channels.
      • We recommend setting the filters to PG-13 for most work environments
    • Stripe – Stripe will post customizable updates to a Slack channel for:
      • Charges
      • Invoice payments
      • Subscriptions
      • Transfers
      • And more

    For more integration inspiration, check out 17 Slack integrations to spice up your team communication


    There are plenty of ways you can create scripts tailor-made to help your team perform better.


    You can set up Slackbot to respond to certain messages in Slack. This is great for adding a bit of personality to your Slack and for automating instructions and delegation to your team.

    You can create these responses in the “Customize” menu on https://my.slack.com/

    For example, we like to celebrate great ratings on our customer support so we set up Slackbot as a cheerleader.


    You can also use automated responses that link to processes and procedures. Look for common words or phrases that are said when discussing a specific problem or issue, and set up Slackbot to automatically provide the solution.

    If someone on our team mentions there are no tickets available, they will automatically get prompted to check out our “no tickets” process:



    With Zapier, you can automate messages to appear at certain times, or when an event is triggered in another app.

    We use Zapier to remind everyone about our weekly team meetings and what they need to do to prepare.

    It is easy to set up a weekly reminder to automatically go out to the team and attach a process with further instructions. For more on team task automation, check out: A simple process for team task automation with Trello and Zapier


    You can use WebHooks to create more customized scripts.

    We have a custom script in place so when a VIP customer submits a ticket, a notification will appear in this channel. This gives an extra boost in response time for all our VIP clients.



    With some dedicated time for experimentation and exploration, your key team members should be able to configure Slack to suit the needs of your business. You key team members should also help bring the rest of the team on board and get everyone familiar with the app. After this first week of setup, you’ll start to immediately notice the benefits of better communication with your team.

    We have a checklist available for free to share with your team and to guide you through your Slack setup. Download it below.

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    The post The quick start guide to Slack for startups appeared first on WP Curve.