July 23, 2012

TicketDesk

If you missed it, I recently open-sourced a Ticketing / Support desk software on github.

Taken from the readme:

TicketDesk is an e-mail driven system. Customers are never exposed to the portal. Instead, a support e-mail is created. TicketDesk receives tickets via a rake task that connects to IMAP. Responses to tickets are e-mailed to clients, and threading is enabled.

TicketDesk is also issue driven. Instead of manually managing 10 tickets with the same problem/solution, create an ‘Issue’. You can then focus your time on solving the issue at hand, and batch e-mail updates / close tickets with the same issue.

TicketDesk was built as an internal tool, so is rigged for my needs and use case. I’d encourage you to share the customizations made along the way.

Take a look on the TicketDesk Github page. What’s kind of cool is it trended as the #1 new app on github for a day and a bit.

March 11, 2012

Lemonade Stand Startups

I’m sitting in an airport right now on my way back from Silicon Valley / San Fran / Los Angeles (WiFi is terrible, so this likely won’t get posted until later). It’s been a nice mix of seeing some older friends, attending events and meetings. I’ve not been here for a few years, and am amazed (and happy) to see the volume of Lemonade Stand Startups around.

To me, Lemonade Stand Startups are practice runs, proof of concepts or smaller companies that never grow big, but serve as a basis for future startups. To me, my Lemonade startups taught me more than any other experience I’ve been through, including University.

I wanted to post my story, in the hope that we can begin encouraging more of this behavior. I credit this experience with getting me a start in entrepreneurship, and for giving me the nose, guts and mind to keep at it.

——-

In my world, this Lemonade Stand Startup was a Shared Web Host (yawn! It was saturated then, and it is saturated now) that I began in high school and eventually sold (more on that part later). Barriers to entry were low, so I jumped in perhaps a little faster than I should have (lesson: always know barriers).

It took me a few days to lease and configure some servers (Redhat / Apache / Cpanel, like everybody), build a website and an automated signup form. The original web designs were as nasty as one can find (see http://web.archive.org/web/20040519192641/http://www.exize.com/ for v1 and http://web.archive.org/web/20040615195942/http://exize.com/ for v2), but they did the job. We launched, and got no customers.

Clearly, the natural instinct is to change pricing (a bad idea!). After running spreadsheets , I realized that our calculations would leave us far less undersold than competitors. Instead of playing smart and using this as an advantage, I shaved our prices and posted on every forum we could find.

It worked, and within a few hours we had $300/month of paying clients (generally who stayed until the end) and the client base continued to grow throughout the day. It was a band-aid solution to the problem (no clients = lower prices and pump). Eventually, it taught me that immediate (and even intermediate) positive feedback does not mean a core issues is resolved; it can in-fact be more detrimental.

The next months were smooth sailing. We were getting new clients every time we posted to some core forums (Web Hosting Talk, Namepros, DN Forums, etc.) and I was spending most of my high school lunch hours answering support tickets. I began expanding our server base via leases, and was returning 4-6x the lease. As was the craze at the time, I began onboarding dedicated offshore resources to support with low-level systems admin and customer support.

Then the signups stopped. Not to lose, I turned my attention to my local town. All of my clients were American, so I thought calling up local businesses in regional Australia would work. It did, and our signups kept flowing. The positive here was the lesson that an software business can compete, evade and potentially beat larger competitors without a core online presence, but a strong offline game (something I feel has changed a little since). The negative was it was another band-aid solution to our core problem – the product offering was cheap, competed on price and had no differentiation.

As more sophisticated buyers started switching to VPS / Dedicated Boxes, Shared Hosting rates plummeted (our most popular plan was $20/month). This is when the reputation for competing on price, being no frills, leveraging offshore resources and generally being an office-less company began to hurt us. Customers expected a price drop, and we experienced the company’s single biggest customer purge in the following week. Unable to differentiate (looking back, moreso unwilling than unable) we dropped our prices and kept the signups flowing.

At this point you should be seeing a few of the core lessons I learned:

Price competition as a core value proposition can be scary. Our customers were only with us for prices. This was bad;
• Getting immediate positive feedback led to a false conclusion – that the problem was solved;
• Barriers to entry were low and our technology was old; every day somebody was overtaking us;
• We did not have a repeatable customer acquisition model (forum posts and cold calling local businesses);
• We were able to stay alive in down periods by competing offline. Though, web presence was never strong or highly automated in the best of times. Googling the company today shows not much more than our cheap forum posts.

After 1.5(ish) years of moderate growth, and now being in the double digit range of servers, I came to this realization. For a kid in high school the business was strong, but I felt there was no way out of the bind the company was in. We were also getting to the point of requiring a more serious registration of the business (Australia has some nice rules about not needing to register nationally, revenue caps, etc.) but I was not seeing the margins or continuity to justify this.

There was enough cash to try something new.

One evening I was invited to a private Counter Strike server. For those unaware, serious PC gamers used to buy private servers ($8-$16 per player slot) each month to practice with their guild on, or to play with friends. A lightbulb moment went off, and I realized we had the skills and access to servers to make a run in this business.

This time it was a little slower to launch. Time was spent to validate the market. I had the first $7,200 (600/month) of clients lined up before the product ever launched. It was small, but it was something. The margins went from 4-6x to 10-14x on this new product line. Average customer buys went from $240/year to $600 – $800 / year.

Because each sale was now worth more, it was easier to justify extra resources to pursuing them. For the first time, we bought ads. The ads failed miserably. We learned how complex and time consuming that game was, and stayed away.

The good news is our forum posts would nearly sell out each time. Following my prior cold calling model, I began reaching out to guilds asking them to switch, and we offered big incentives to our existing clients to refer their sister guilds. Both worked, and I began to learn how to hunt for clients without dropping a dime. We had the first markings of a serious brand.

It took less than 3 months for the gaming server revenues to overtake the web host. While I waited too long, it was a nice lesson in pivoting. It was also a lesson that opportunities can come from anywhere.

Unable to support both businesses(I was still in high school, and unwilling to let offshore labor have core access to the servers) I began reaching out to competitors in an attempt to sell the web hosting business. At the time, some larger players were growing through acquisition to stay competitive. The general pattern was buy the customer set and delete the old brand immediately, and in turn boost internal subscriber numbers. It was a nice path for smaller players to exit, bidding wars would often result and forums dedicated to buying web hosts were created.

I felt that this market couldn’t remain so rabid forever. After posting our financials (privately) we got some offers. Once I met somebody I liked (and had the offer), I explained the pivot to Game Server hosting. After explaining our models, I was asked to sell that too.

It took around two weeks to close the negotiations. Both businesses were small, and had medium-ish offshore headcounts. Both were acquired for the customer lists, and our pages were taken down immediately. Everything was redirected to the buyer, and customers were given an option to leave the host without any penalty due to the acquisition, as well as refunds and free time if they felt it was unfair. Sadly, the company domains were left to expire after a few years. It’s tempting to buy the back for nostalgia’s sake.

In terms of lessons, this pivot and exit taught me how to discover new opportunities, keep customers happy (through entry and exit), find exit opportunities and how to generate repeatable acquisition models. Naturally I’ve spent years refining these skills since, but they’ve stuck with me. More importantly, it game me a nose and a taste of blood that stuck with me through University, and to this day.

Quite often, when I think back to the startups we are now working on, I’m relying on advanced versions of skills I prototyped back then. I never had a real job through high school, and grew comfortable with the risk sand managing my own financial expectations that every startup requires

January 28, 2012

Megaupload Implications are plain scary for Cloud Storage

EDIT: There have been comments informing me that Dropbox keeps a local copy of files on a users desktop (generally speaking), thus making some of my Dropbox examples less relevant. While true, the purpose of this post is around the legal precedent being set vs. a specific fear for a specific provider. As you read, feel free to think of whichever provider you wish interchangeably with Dropbox.

I’m the first to agree that any website obviously engaged in piracy (vs. having independent users leverage the platform in unintended ways) should be shut down, and if this is the case with Megaupload, it should be shut down.

However, the way Megaupload was shut down raises scary implications. With cloud based storage becoming primary for many, it is rather jarring to have people losing legitimate files in the process, with no recourse to immediately find or recover them. I store a lot of personal files in Dropbox, and if they ever got megauploaded (I’m sure there is unintended piracy at Dropbox) I’d likely lose my copies. One has to wonder how many users have less faith in these next-generation systems as a result. We also need to consider that the average user is likely unable to determine what a websites primary use is outside of their personal use case (would your Father know MegaUpload was mostly piracy, or would he think it is a site to share and store files?).

The conclusions here alone are scary:

  1. If a website has significant piracy, it will be shut down at the expense of legitimate users;
  2. Legitimate users may be unaware of the piracy while using a legitimate service;
  3. Users have no recourse to immediately recover legitimate files; and
  4. Legitimate users may thus be less likely to use cloud services / cloud storage.

If a site must be shut down we, at the very least, need a mechanism for users to immediately recover legitimate files.

———-

Nothing above sounds attractive (at all!) to our industry. I wanted to dig further into the indictment based on the information I could find, and am concerned that a cornerstone of the argument rests on the way infringing files are deleted.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act provides safe harbor for sites which take down illegal content within a reasonable period of time, of which they had no prior knowledge of. Broadly speaking, it’s a concession whereby a sites users upload illegal content against the sites wishes, and is why companies such as Youtube don’t get shut down.

The Megaupload indictment reads that they removed links to the illegal file, but did not remove the actual file. To those blissfully unaware of how the file systems / internet cloud storage works, this makes sense. But, let’s consider how an average file sharing service works:

User A comes along and uploads a file (say, the film Big Fish.) User B, whom has no relationship to User A, uploads the same file. Instead of store the same file twice, most services will recognize the file is the same and give both users a ‘link’ to the same file. If User A deletes the file from their service, they are merely deleting their ‘link’ to the file, so as not to affect User B.  Only when no users have a ‘link’ to the file will it be purged from servers (and in some cases, if a file is routinely popular, it may remained on the servers to account for future uploads).

When receiving complaints, Megaupload removed the ‘link’ to a file, with the assumption that other uploaders’ of the file were legitimate. If you still think that this move is directly supportive of piracy, consider the user who saves backups of digital purchases they have made / old digital content (legal in some jurisdictions). Removing a link, vs. the actual file, is clearly the fairest solution so as to not harm legitimate users.

If the precent is set that the physical file must be deleted where one of many users with ‘links’ engages in illegal activity, things will become very scary. All of a sudden, I can’t trust any file storage, saving or backup mechanism where I don’t hold the physical hard drive. Most less informed users won’t realize this until they get burned. If things are not handled carefully, there is a very real chance this will become precedent.

———-

So far, I’m scared. Hopefully like SOPA, people will understand that a movement with potentially good intentions has been warped, twisted or simply has very unintended ramifications. If you read through further information the case, there are several other key complaints:

  1. In practice, the “vast majority” of users do not have any significant long term private storage capability. Continued storage is dependent upon regular downloads of the file occurring. Files not downloaded are rapidly removed in most cases, whereas popular downloaded files are retained. (items 7 – 8)
  2. Because a small proportion of users pay for storage, the business is dependent upon advertising. Adverts are primarily viewed when files are downloaded and the business model is therefore not based upon storage but upon maximising downloads. (items 7 – 8)
  3. Persons indicted have “instructed individual users how to locate links to infringing content on the Mega Sites … [and] … have also shared with each other comments from Mega Site users demonstrating that they have used or are attempting to use the Mega Sites to get infringing copies of copyrighted content.” (item 13)
  4. Persons indicted, unlike the public, are not reliant upon links to stored files, but can search the internal database directly. It is claimed they have “searched the internal database for their associates and themselves so that they may directly access copyright-infringing content”. (item 14)
  5. A comprehensive takedown method is in use to identify child pornography, but not deployed to remove infringing content. (item 24)
  6. Infringing users did not have their accounts terminated, and the defendants “made no significant effort to identify users who were using the Mega Sites or services to infringe copyrights, to prevent the uploading of infringing copies of copyrighted materials, or to identify infringing copies of copyrighted works” (item 55–56)
  7. An incentivising program was adopted encouraging the upload of “popular” files in return for payments to successful uploaders. (item 69e et al)
  8. Defendants explicitly discussed evasion and infringement issues, including an attempt to copy and upload the entire content of YouTube. (items 69i-l. Youtube: items 69 i,j,l,s)

In the most polite words I can muster, this shit is scary! Let’s address some of these points directly:

In practice, the “vast majority” of users do not have any significant long term private storage capability. Continued storage is dependent upon regular downloads of the file occurring. Files not downloaded are rapidly removed in most cases, whereas popular downloaded files are retained. (items 7 – 8)

If this is not a usual online file storage business, I’m scared already. There exist several models / types of file storage businesses, some of which are based around short-term sharing. Naturally, a short term file sharing business terminates files no longer active after x period of time. This does not directly mean piracy. I frequently use similar services to share presentations and other large files that hit e-mail limits.

Because a small proportion of users pay for storage, the business is dependent upon advertising. Adverts are primarily viewed when files are downloaded and the business model is therefore not based upon storage but upon maximising downloads. (items 7 – 8)

I don’t pay for Dropbox either (albeit they are not ad-based, and I intend on upgrading at one point). Free + Ads is not an uncommon model. If I’m serving file downloads, my only option is when a user attempts to download a file. This is not a high retention service.

Persons indicted have “instructed individual users how to locate links to infringing content on the Mega Sites … [and] … have also shared with each other comments from Mega Site users demonstrating that they have used or are attempting to use the Mega Sites to get infringing copies of copyrighted content.” (item 13)

I question whether this should be against the individuals, or the organization itself. While individuals are tied to the organization, data warehouses / file storage raise many key implications.

Infringing users did not have their accounts terminated, and the defendants “made no significant effort to identify users who were using the Mega Sites or services to infringe copyrights, to prevent the uploading of infringing copies of copyrighted materials, or to identify infringing copies of copyrighted works” (item 55–56)

The word “significant” is what scares me here. It is grey. If “significant” was well defined, it becomes a different story.

An incentivising program was adopted encouraging the upload of “popular” files in return for payments to successful uploaders. (item 69e et al)

Indicative of a freemium model. I get incented on many websites for sharing popular content. Fair enough, the popular files may have been pirated content (and thus removed), but this is not an issue with the model, per se.

———-

As one reads further and further I find that the complaints could be made against clearly legitimate file storage services, i.e. Dropbox. One cannot deny that Megaupload was used for piracy, and if this was directly encouraged and profiteered by the organization they should be shut down. I have no qualms on this.

Where I get scared is the process and submitted evidence being leveraged for this shut down. If this becomes precent, we are in for a wild and scary ride, right under the nose of slowing down the SOPA march. This feels like a web of vaguely defined concepts. Based on prior movements by those in power, I’m certainly not comforted by their capacity to understand the issue. The challenge is that on the surface, the shut down makes sense (we found pirated files, and they didn’t delete them.)

We still have a lot of educating left to do…

September 4, 2011

Notes on U.S. College Debt

Lately, I’ve becoming more and more interested in the rapid rise of student related debt in North America. As I’ve started to collect my notes, I thought I’d share some of the key notes.

  • All in, students owe over $1 trillion due to college educations. In August 2010, the volume of college related debt exceeded credit card related debt.
  • As shown below, Student debt has grown 511% since 1999. The graph below plots this as red, compared to the housing bubble (blue line).
  • Yes, that blue line really is the housing bubble that triggered a major meltdown.
  • As you can see, the U.S. has gone from around $90bn in student debt (1999) to over $550bn in student debt (2011).
  • The average debt per student on graduation is $23,186, as compared to $13,172 12 years ago.
  • Clearly the intake of students has not increased by 511%; this debt intake becomes much clearer when looking at the average 4-year college cost.

 

  • This graph stops at 2006, with an average college cost of $120,000.
  • The rather concerning trend line is the average increase in 4 year college education costs (including living), when compared to to the average increase in general goods and services.
  • With rising costs, I was interested in looking at what type of debt students were generally taking.

  • Note that this graph does not account for convenience users.
  • Comparing 2004 to 2008, student Credit Card debt increased on every key metric. At least 30% of college students are putting tuition related expenses on credit cards.
  • Taking a look at samples, Loyola University, North Dakota and Kentucky State have averages of 77%, 85% and 76% of their students paying tuition via loans respectively. Both North Dakota and Kentucky have average tuitions of under $8,000; clearly this is not isolated to high price institutions.
  • Part of this trend is due to students receiving less financial support on parents. Surprisingly, the average family with children in college spends more eating out ($3,102) than supporting education ($2,055).
  • The following graph compares cumulative College Credit to Insurance, Auto, Mortgages and other key financing arenas:
  • As Daniel Indiviglio points out in The Atlantic, mortgages and home equity have increased threefold since 1990, as has household related debt. Meanwhile, student debt has grown six-fold.

 

Sources:

Chart of the Day: Student Loans Have Grown 511% Since 1999, The Atlantic

Let College Students Get Into Debt, The Atlantic

The Debt Crisis at American Colleges, The Atlantic

Student-Loan Debt Surpasses Credit Cards, Wall Street Journal

Students Borrow More Than Ever For College, Wall Street Journal

Student Loan Debt Climbs, Wall Street Journal

 

July 21, 2011

Charlie Munger & Lollapaloozas

The Innoculated Investor  recently posted a transcription of 39 questions with Charlie Munger. It was a fantastic read, and I’d suggest you take a look.

What is fascinating about Warren & Charlie is their understanding of human behavior, and the understanding of irrationalities or rationalities (depending on your view) that models can’t explain. Charlie goes on to explain how economists, using marginal utility, could not understand why popcorn and drinks are priced so high at theatres relative to their prices.

Charlie calls these situations lollapaloozas, and believes they are best explained by a holistic approach from multiple disciplines vs. an exclusively economic lens. He then goes on to explain to explain many confounding circumstances, such as the failure of Keynesian economics and failed companies, using lollapaloozas.

The point is that quite often we get caught following processes, models and logic and fail to think outside of our training.  For example, perhaps Keynesian economics is failing not because the model is ineffective, but because it partly relies on the publics ignorance of economic theory. At a high level, this has changed as a result of recessions and recoveries.

This comes back to a point I often make, and is a key learning from when I was troubleshooting business units: that quite often individuals understand their models, customers and companies, but rarely have an implicit understanding of macro trends. An implicit understand is hard to teach, but increasingly I see companies and executives move in directions and markets they do not implicitly understand (‘China is booming, let’s do business there’.)

I’ve embedded the interview with Charlie below. It is worth the read.

Conversation With Charlie Munger

July 18, 2011

Forget Acquisitions: Apple control the Supply Lines

With Apple holding more cash than most companies will generate in revenue, the question often becomes ‘who will they buy’. But Apple make fewer acquisitions than their competitors, and tend to hold the cash (they do generate a healthy return through an investment portfolio), so the question becomes: where does the cash go?

Over on Quora, an anonymous user posted very revealing insights on Apples’ investment activities. The answer: to stay ahead, they over-invest in their supply chain.

Put simply, new components are not cheap. The upfront capital requirement to build manufacturing plans is huge, and the margins shrink so quickly as technology moves that manufacturers cannot raise capital. According to the anonymous responder, Apple pay a significant portion of the factory construction cost in exchange for exclusive rights to the output for a set period of time, and then for a discount once this period expires.

Not only does this allow Apple to come out with new components long before rivals, but these components are impossible to duplicate (think of how long Apple had the touch screen monopoly for).

By the time competitors catch up on component production, Apples’ lower cost period is in play. That means that every time a competitor buys a component, they are potentially overpaying so that the factory can subsidize Apples discount.

Not only does Apple seemingly have a superior software, user experience and a higher price tag, but superior hardware that is sourced more cheaply than competitors. As competition increases and competitors catch up, it will be interesting to see how heavily Apple restrict their supply lines, especially with reports showing that Apple staked a consortium for the winning bid on the remaining Nortel patents.

It reminds me of the military strategy: control the supply lines, and if you must supply your enemy, make sure they pay (see how this is working with Libya and Oil.)

If you want to see the original Quora post, click here.

July 10, 2011

RIM placing focus on Talent Acquisition?

As soon as meetings end, I am known to send a LinkedIN connection request. Every day I check to see who has viewed my profile. Call me an addict, if you wish.

Yesterday I was faced with an ad asking me to consider job openings Research in Motion (RIM). I’m not sure if this is a new ad unit, or whether I’ve simply never seen it before, but I find it to be rather interesting. Clearly, based on something in my profile, RIM is targeting me to apply for jobs.

I’m not sure whether this is because my current location is listed as Toronto, because of my listed interests in technology, my background in startups, my listed positions in enterprise, or some combination. 

What I do find interesting is RIM’s decision to run these ads at this moment in time. The company is facing aggravated shareholders, declining stock values, less impressive quarters and is currently laying off employees. It makes me wonder if:

  1. This was lined up long before the layoffs, and the timing is just poor;
  2. As a result of current state, RIM is struggling to attract experienced hires;
  3. RIM is finally filling some talent gaps in product development (and mistakenly targeted me); or
  4. RIM just really really like me.

Either way, I found the ad unit, and the timing, to be rather interesting.

May 5, 2011

Wall Street Journal Launch Wikileaks Killer – and promise to out you in the process

The mice that power the great wheel known as the internet have been running hard today. Plenty of big news, such as the Wall Street Journal launching a Wikileaks killer, called ‘Safehouse’.

The WSJ claim that all entries will be reviewed by an Editor, who will decide the correct course of action. It’s only been a matter of time until somebody tries to capitalize on the Wikileaks success, and the WSJ make sense: they have a huge journalistic reach, and the ability shed light on issues where others may not.

But, friends, let’s take the WSJ as an example of how to NOT write a terms of service. A T.O.S. should understand your users, their motivation, and ensure that you are protected without alienating users. When we read the T.O.S. for Safehouse:

“”we reserve the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process, to operate our systems properly, to protect the property or rights of Dow Jones or any affiliated companies, and to safeguard the interests of others”

I don’t claim to be a genius (well, today at least) but something tells me this is not an attractive proposition to whistleblowers. Whether you consider whistleblowing ethical or not, clearly the WSJ have stumbled. If they have not alienated their potential user base already with this move, it will only take one execution of this rule to erode any trust they build.

March 7, 2011

Warren Buffet's principles for a sound business

We startups often get distracted in our own world, management practices, business models, financial structures, etc. We like to think that the “other side” (big business / the dark side) is totally different and lacks the approaches / insights we have. It’s true that the startup / technology space is unique in many ways, but quite often there are very direct parallels between the most successful big business and the most successful startups (once they become a business, that is.)

Berkshire Hathaway, philosophically, get many things right (and their website is amazing.) I ran across an article the other day in which Warren Buffett listed his 6 guiding principles for building a solid business, in the context of acquisition targets:

  1. Large purchases (at least $75 million of pre-tax earnings unless the business will fit into one of our existing units)
  2. Demonstrated consistent earning power (future projections are of no interest to us, nor are “turnaround” situations)
  3. Businesses earning good returns on equity while employing little or no debt
  4. Management in place (we can’t supply it)
  5. Simple businesses (if there’s lots of technology, we won’t understand it)
  6. An offering price (we don’t want to waste our time or that of the seller by talking, even preliminarily, about a transaction when price is unknown.

Source: How Buffett’s Most Recent Big Deals Have Done by Michael J. De La Merced

Perhaps we are not so different after all?

Note: This entry was taken from an article I found via DealBook (NYTimes). If you don’t subscribe, you should. Thanks to Spencer Thompson for the tip.
February 20, 2011

Planning your Web Marketing channels

The problem with technology, and social sites in general, is they are easy, cheap and fast to set up. There is a growing trend to create presences for the sake of a presence, and quite often these channels are created with ill-defined goals.

There is nothing wrong with experimentation, but as we enter a maturity stage of web marketing, it is important to clearly define the ‘why’.

Before creating any web channel (website, webinar, social media presence), you should sit down and ask Why? What is the purpose of this channel? How does it fit into your broader strategy? What do we want out of this channel?

It is a very simple exercise, but the results will save you plenty of headaches moving forwards. I’ve created a basic table below, which I’ve regularly used as a tool to refine and validate my thinking.

This exercise is relatively simple, yet being forced to sit down and jot ideas down on paper can uncover many red herrings, and ensures your thinking is valid.

If you are targeting Existing customers, it is important to define a purpose too, such as:

  • Customer Support;
  • Sharing information;
  • Increasing up-sells;
  • Increasing satisfaction;
  • Building community; or
  • Increased referrals.

Now, you have a (basic) macro view of our organizational channels and tactics. Another exercise I often follow is digging a little deeper on my audience, in a macro sense. Are you looking at existing customers, or trying to find new ones? How will you find new users? This quick macro view helps you manage all channels your organization is running, and find potential synergies / overlaps among them.

If you are targeting New customers:

If you are targeting new customers, firstly ask whether they currently use this channel:

  • If yes, why? How often?
  • If no, why not? Where else are they? Fish where the fish are. If your target market is not already on Facebook don’t try and drag them there. It takes a lot of time and effort to bring people to a new channel, why not just meet them where they already are?

How will we attract users to this channel?

As much as I’d love for ‘build it and they will come’ to be a viable strategy, it is not. We need to sit down and define how we will funnel our target market into each channel. Established channels can serve as viable tools to populate a new one.

Finally, metrics for success and objectives cannot be overlooked. Your metrics and objectives should correlate, with the objective being a defined volume of your metric. For example, if your purpose for a webinar was lead generation, the metric may be qualified leads, with the objective being 10 qualified leads. If your purpose was awareness, your metric may be unique visitors with an objective of 1,000.

It is important to note that there are many metrics that should be measured which lead to your objective metric; in the lead example above, unique visitors will lead to e-mail subscriptions, which will lead to qualified leads. Often, these metrics work together to form a funnel, which I will write about later in the month. For this exercise, I frequently list the key, last-touch metric that is required to reach my goal.

Once you have this completed table, you will that:

  1. You have been forced to think through each of your planned tactics, and have likely changed directions once or twice based upon it (the why); and
  2. You now have a nice table outlining everything you are working on. As your organization scales, it is easier for new workers to pick up where you left off.

I hope you found this one helpful! It is an exercise that, as mentioned, I often use.