Guest Blog Post – Gabriel Weinberg, Founder of DuckDuckGo

HAPPY RELEASE DAY!!!! Today is the launch of Traction – How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, co-authored by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares and in support of the release, I’m thrilled to host a guest post by Gabriel Weinberg, founder of the search engine DuckDuckGo, that provides insight to what you can expect from this invaluable startup marketing handbook. The concepts are applicable to any startup endeavor and a resource I’d recommend to any entrepreneur. But don’t take my word for it…the reviews speak volumes.  With success stories like Seth Godin and Alexis Ohanian singing its praises, you can’t go wrong. My advice? One-click. NOW.

6 Common Traction Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

I’ve made every one of these six common mistakes in the pursuit of traction. They’re so easy to make because they’re all counter-intuitive, working against your natural instincts. I hope you can avoid them! Like with a lot of issues, the first step is recognizing and acknowledging you have a problem.

Mistake #1: Not seeking traction early enough.

The secret to a successful launch is to focus on getting traction right from the beginning of product development, by continually pouring a steady stream of cold customers into your product (leaky bucket) while you are building it.

hand holding a tin bucket with holes on black background

That’s the only way to really find out where the leaks are, as your beta customers are too close to you and don’t have fresh eyes. By running fast and cheap traction tests, you also figure out pre-launch what niche to market to initially, what marketing will resonate with that niche, and what marketing channel to use to reach them. In other words, you discover a credible distribution strategy, such that when you launch you can actually get traction right away.

Mistake #2: Not setting an explicit traction goal.

Your traction goal should be enough traction to reach an inflection point in your company. When just starting out, this is usually one of three things:

  1. Enough traction to raise money;
  2. Enough traction to be profitably self-sustaining; or
  3. Enough traction to prove to your extended team that you have product/market fit.

Once you have a hard number, you can measure your traction efforts against this explicit traction goal. If a marketing strategy in its best case won’t move the needle in terms of your goal, then you shouldn’t do it, even if you know it will get you some traction.

Mistake #3: Not considering all 19 traction channels.

cono redondo target con sombra rojoIn talking to and studying hundreds of successful entrepreneurs for Traction (the book), we found that there are 19 different customer acquisition channels companies use to get traction.

A key insight was that often the most successful startups were using under-utilized channels in their industry. In other words, asking what channels are good for B2B or B2C or a particular situation is the wrong question. The right question is how could I possibly use each of the 19 channels, quickly followed by a creative brainstorm. This is the first step in our Bullseye Framework for getting traction.

Mistake #4: Not doing fast and cheap traction tests.

When testing traction channels, the goal is to run fast and cheap marketing tests to roughly answer the following three questions:

  1. How much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
  2. How many customers are available through this channel?
  3. Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the kind of customers that you want right now?

Some founders mess up this step by prematurely scaling their marketing efforts. Keep in mind that, when testing channels, you are not trying to get a lot of traction with a channel just yet. Instead, you are simply trying to determine if it’s a channel that could move the needle for your startup. Your main consideration at this point is speed — to get data and to prove your assumptions.

Mistake #5: Not focusing on one core channel.

At any stage in a startup’s life cycle, one traction channel usually dominates in terms of customer acquisition. That is why we suggest focusing on one at a time, but only after you’ve identified a channel that seems like it could actually achieve your traction goal.

The way this step gets most often messed up by founders and marketers is by keeping around distracting marketing efforts in other traction channels, especially earlier efforts that no longer move the needle but once did. This is additionally confusing because oftentimes focusing on your core channel involves channel strategies that utilize other traction channels. One channel is still dominant, but others feed into it. Focusing is the only way to truly become an expert at your core channel, which you need to do if you’re going to uncover cutting edge tactics within it, which often have non-linear rewards.

Mistake #6: Not using a structured approach.

There are nineteen different traction channels, and most founders consider only a few. That’s a big mistake because often under-utilized channels in a given industry have the greatest growth potential. Yet, at the same time, you can’t try all nineteen at once effectively.

You need to apply a framework for getting traction like the Bullseye Framework we present in Traction. It is a simple, three-step framework that involves brainstorming across all channels, testing a few at a time, and then focusing on whatever channel seems capable and most probable of reaching your pre-defined traction goal (you defined one right?). Whether you use our framework or another or your own, please take a structured approach to getting traction.

Economical stock market graph

Whistle While You Work…Or Run…Or Play Foosball

My workspace is pretty standard, very practical, but kind of boring if I’m being honest. Lots of desk space, tons of papers covering said space, cabinets, laptops, ever-present mug of coffee. I try to keep it organized but it’s not easy when ideas are constantly flowing out of my head and onto Post-Its. My name is Kristen and I’m a Post-It addict. Whenever I get a thought, I jot it down and stick it…well, wherever I can find space, which is a commodity.

Post it papers flying out from laptop

I sometimes wonder, how awesome would it be to create a workspace according to my own dream specifications? Like maybe a space where I could take a quick break and run on the treadmill to keep the creative juices flowing? With plush couches where I can plop down when the knots in my neck tighten after being hunched over my laptop for hours on end? One with large, floor to ceiling windows, lots of greenery, light, airy rooms and a fabulous view for inspiration? Maybe one with a nicely stocked refrigerator with lots of champagne so I can reward myself after spending the day agonizing over scenes and plot twists? It would be awesome to have a large-screen wall hanging television for those times I just need a mental break and want to watch re-runs of Impractical Jokers. And of course, a huge whiteboard for all those dang Post-Its would be nice!

modern empty office interior

Well, guess what? There is a company out there that can help me achieve my work zen, called WeWork. You signup to become a member and select from several packages that allow you different levels of access to custom workspaces. You can book a space for a day or longer, depending on your needs. Maybe you just want to have a couple of days a month where you venture off to another location to keep things percolating. You have that option with WeWork. And if you happen to be traveling to another location and need to reserve a spot while you are there, go to WeWork for options! It’s that simple.

The company has space in all the big hubs across the United States, with additional locations in Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

So even if you aren’t traveling for business, maybe you just need a periodic escape to recharge your batteries. Comfort + mental calm = PRODUCTIVITY!!!

What Would You Do To Win A $50 Amazon Gift Card???

Maybe you’d sign up for my super-awesome exclusive reader list???

If you’re reading this and have already signed up, FANTASTIC! Thank you!!! But for all of you who are still not convinced, give me a chance to make you a fan!!! I think I’m a lot of fun! And you may find we have a lot in common!!

You’d get a monthly email with great giveaways, the inside scoop on book updates, new releases, my favorite beauty and fashion finds, contests, and cool posts from my entrepreneur blog, The Idea Mama.

So, for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card, all you need to do is sign up by clicking this link!

The giveaway will be open until August 5 at midnight EST. Don’t miss out!

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What Happens In Vegas…Is Up To YOU!

Las Vegas. Ah yes, it’s America’s playground. I mean, where else can you take a gondola ride, watch a volcano erupt, visit the Eiffel Tower, prepare for a zombie attack, get married in a Denny’s and tour a gold mine? So many wildly insane possibilities…but doing them alone? Not so much fun.

I recently caught up with Jamie Brewster, founder of The Vegas Hookup, a social networking site where singles and couples can connect with like-minded people who want to share a fabulous time in Sin City. Signing up is easy and once you become a member, you enter your itinerary and search for cohorts! And then you roll the dice!!

TheVegasHookup

Jamie, how did you come up with the idea for The Vegas Hookup? How long have you been in business?

I’ve always loved connecting people in all aspects of life.  Online dating has become one of the most popular ways to connect nowadays. Las Vegas is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the world! I wondered what would happen if I connected the two, so that shy people could make a meaningful connection BEFORE they arrived in Sin City. It was literally that simple. My goal is to enhance the Vegas-bound travelers’ experiences so they can have the time of their lives! We’ve been “live” since April of 2014.

In your own words, why use The Vegas Hookup? What’s the benefit to a prospective client? What sets it apart from a hotel concierge, Twitter or a Facebook group for Vegas lovers?

Our site was created to help people connect with each other before they arrive.  Not everyone is brave enough or confident enough to approach someone they don’t know. We break the ice for them. What sets us apart from using a hotel concierge, for example, would be the opportunity to screen your prospective date and get to know him/her a bit before committing to meet them in Las Vegas. Not to mention that a concierge can only supply escorts. Las Vegas is a large city with many people coming and going daily. Let us introduce you to prospective connections who are traveling when you are!

What value-adds do you offer that would convert one-time users into repeat clients?

As a member of The Vegas Hookup, you have access to exclusive deals found within our site. To encourage repeat business, we will continue to offer the best entertainment deals we possibly can. Not only that, after using our services, you will see for yourself that having the ability to “pick your partner-in-crime” before arriving saves a lot of time and hassle. Hoping to meet someone while walking down the Strip is always a gamble. Pun intended.

What made you decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship?

I’ve always had the desire to be my own boss. Coming up with an idea and bringing it to fruition is the American dream, right?

How do you define success?

In life, I define success as being happy, having a healthy family and experiencing little to no stress in paying my bills. Extreme success would mean I get to quit my day job. LOL! As an entrepreneur, I define success as creating a self-sufficient web-based business that enjoys daily growth and a establishing client base that has had a blast because of what I’ve created!

What is your favorite part about running your own business?

I embraced the opportunity to make my idea a reality and then watched it catch on with Vegas-bound travelers from literally all over the world! We have registered users in more than 35 different countries to date, and all of them have one thing in common: They want to have the time of their lives in Las Vegas and they come to us to help make that happen!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced to date with The Vegas Hookup and how have you addressed them?

The biggest challenge is growing our site organically. We have zero advertising budget, but have still been able to grow to over 2,300 users in over 35 countries! Like most startups, we are located in the Bay Area, so we are not physically present in Las Vegas. With that being said, we know exactly what is going on in Las Vegas daily and pass that knowledge on to our users.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur?

Hustle, effective communication skills and a thick skin. There will always be doubters who will attempt to dissuade you. You must believe in your idea and go to any lengths to achieve your goals.

Where do you see The Vegas Hookup in 5 years, 10 years?

We have big plans for The Vegas Hookup in the coming years… An app is the next big project on deck.. The other ideas I have to keep secret so we don’t get “scooped”! Suffice to say that we will be the “Go To” app to “hookup” all aspects of your social lives!

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Well, I’m not sure I’d consider myself a “successful entrepreneur” yet. As far as sacrifices go, I’ve spent a lot of money on this business to date and I’m just your normal, average Joe – a social worker that lives pay check to pay check. I’m married with 2 kids living in the Bay Area where the cost of living is ridiculous, so I guess, I’d have to say cutting corners in other areas of our lives is the sacrifice that allows me to pursue this dream of self-sufficiency. I’m a firm believer that nothing worth having comes easy.

Check out The Vegas Hookup:

Can You Be Disruptive Enough To Win $50K??

TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 is upon us. It’s time to take the party to NYC, for the bargain price of $2,995. General admission gets you access to ALL – rub elbows with up and coming entrepreneurs, hear from industry superstars, check out all the cutting edge technology…maybe party is an understatement. =)

Courtesy of TechCrunch

Courtesy of TechCrunch

You may recognize the event name from the HBO show Silicon Valley. Season 2 premiered on Sunday night and although I had high hopes of being able to stay up until 10, it wasn’t happening. So Hubby and I watched last night and it was awesome. Long time coming, definitely didn’t disappoint.

Anyway, I digress.

Last season, Pied Piper presented their compression algorithm at Tech Crunch Disrupt in Cali. All I remember thinking was, how flipping cool would it be to actually GO? Answer – SUPER COOL. The Hackathon, a 24-hour event for developers and designers, kicks off the festivities and guess what? It really happens just like in the show. All the companies present their creations but only one takes home the famed Disrupt Cup and $50,000 prize. Hundreds of startups will be in attendance…only one will claim the top prize and instant stardom (okay, maybe not the last part but they’ll at least they’ll be able to keep the lights on until some VC throws some more seed money at them).

It would be AWESOME to hear from people like Ben Rubin and Kayvon Beykpour, CEOs of Meerkat and Periscope respectively, Carly Fiorina, the former boss of HP, and Dennis Crowley who’ll chat about Foursquare and Swarm.

Energy, entrepreneurship and excitement will be exploding out of the Manhattan Center in a few short weeks.

How ironic that I’ll be headed to the Valley at the same time. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Compete At Your Peril?

I just started reading “Zero To One” by Silicon Valley innovator, entrepreneur and prominent venture capitalist, Peter Thiel. He presents a unique way of thinking as a key ingredient for startup success. Startups have to generate new ideas and act on them rapidly to grow and expand their operations. That’s really the only way they can survive. They have to think out of the box and react quickly to take advantage of perceived market trends. Because of their small size, they can be nimble and test/document/respond to their ideas and deliver them in market with tight turnaround timeframes.

But that’s not an easy feat when you have to deal with that pesky little problem called competition. Yes, it fuels the creative flames but sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the rat race. As a small business owner, you need to make sure your brand stands out from the rest in a positive way otherwise you’ll never get the recognition you need to prosper.

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Competition is healthy to a point. It drives us to excel but it can divert our attention from developing new ways of becoming even better. Think of it this way. You make giglets and compete with three other giglet manufacturers. It’s all-out war between your companies because you are all struggling to be the number one giglet manufacturer in the world, all focused on being more attractive to prospective buyers, using new colors, shapes and sizes to differentiate your offerings from those of your foes, tearing down the competition at every turn, thinking, hoping and praying these methods will advance your sales goals.

But you’re all missing the critical element of innovation. Changing small facets of your product to make it look a little nicer isn’t transformational. It’s imitative and largely ineffective in the grand scheme of things. Focusing all your efforts on competing with others in your space is a waste of time, effort and resources and will only get you marginal results until another giglet manufacturer comes along and figures out how to take the show to the next level. Then POOF! Your giglets are history.

Instead, figure out what your brand brings to the table, what your value proposition is and how you can make your offering more relevant to the lives of your targeted customers. Do something BRAND NEW and go from ZERO to ONE. That type of thinking and execution results in positive impacts to your bottom line. Get out of the way of your competition. Let them spend their precious time battling for that top spot. You focus energy, time and effort on what makes your offering inherently great or how you can GET TO GREAT.

Your path to the top will then be within reach.

Spreading The Seed

I love spinning tales of romance in the Silicon Valley setting. I’m told I seriously over-glamorize the lifestyles of my heroes and heroines but whatever. I write FICTION so isn’t that kind of a requirement? I mean, I have to keep things interesting. right? WINK, WINK

As an entrepreneur, I am fascinated with goings-on in the Valley. There’s such an aura over Sand Hill Road; it’s just bubbling over with innovation, creativity and energy. Being part of that atmosphere, collaborating with fellow creatives and networking with famed venture capitalists must be so charging to a budding startup CEO. And coupled with the drive to build the next big thing? Well, the possibilities seem endless. Sounds like a dream (this is where my romanticizing comes into play)…but what companies really get to LIVE it?

funny silicon valley welcome sign

Enter Y-Combinator.

Y-Combinator provides seed money to a certain number of startups deemed worthy to relocate to Silicon Valley for a three-month period. Seed funding is the earliest stage of venture funding for a company and it helps pay expenses, allowing startups to focus on development with no added stresses.

If selected for the program, startups have access to proven innovators who will help shape and bring early ideas to fruition. They will learn how to deliver a polished pitch to investors and how to close a deal and acquire more funding, if needed. It all culminates in a Demo Day, where the elite group is granted an opportunity to present their work to carefully selected audiences.

All this in exchange for a small financial stake in each company. Sounds like small potatoes, considering most startups would never get this opportunity on their own. Networking is so key…sometimes you need to give a little to get a lot.

Just as an aside, Hubby has already advised me not to get any bright ideas about applying. LOL.