A foray into growth marketing

6 months of startups

I’ve build a website; now what?

Over the past 6 months I’ve built 4 “startups”. Yes, they’re more products than companies at this point but we’ll come back to it. There are a lot of checklists out there for how to get this, but I want to throw my opinion into the ring.

4 Weeks to Launch is exhausting. I don’t recommend it to others, but hopefully through my repetition and experimentation you can skip to success right away. Wouldn’t that be nice. Let’s just say the “Lean Startup” feels slow compared to how I’ve been approaching it. All that being said, it’s difficult to keep going. It’s hard to keep focused and keep working towards a goal when it feels so far away. More on this in future posts.

So what does the process look like after doing it 4 times over? What trends are there? While I keep iterating on the process, it’s pretty straightforward from a high level:

  • Pick an idea. It doesn’t have to be good.
  • Pick tools. How are you going to build it really quickly?
  • Build it. This is most people either go slowly or just plan forever and never take action.
  • Deploy. Get it out in the world as quickly as possible.

This can be done with no technical skills. The part that’s missing? Users.

The product for Guitar String Box, which is an ecommerce store, is finished. The strings are shipping from China in the next few weeks and I’m going to start focusing on marketing now. Check out guitarstringbox.com and let me know what you think. More importantly if you know anyone who plays guitar, sent it to them and shoot me an email to get 20% off.

User acquisition and strategy

User acquisition is something that I know about but haven’t ever focused on but is obviously essential for any business. You need customers. I talked with a friend of mine who has built a few different passive income businesses before and got her take on marketing. She’s monetized Instagram accounts and hacked her way to the front page of reddit before.

Her advice was simple, but actionable:

  • Define your users and user segments
  • Brainstorm as many different acquisition channels as possible
  • Prioritize your list based on how likely it is to work. (Will work, maybe work, might work)
  • Prioritize list based on how expensive it is to test
  • Test a few channels per week
  • Once you find 3 that work, reinvest in those channels

Now that the ecommerce store is finished (more or less) this is what I’ve started to do. I’m tempted to spend more time on the website making it look prettier, but I don’t want to distract from getting users. Everything I’m going to focus on now is going to be getting users.

The best place to start is with friends–can you get any of your friends to buy what you’re selling? If you can’t get them to buy it, why not? Ask them to give you negative feedback. People typically try to be nice to their friends, but if you ask for them to critique your product you’re more likely to figure out why they wouldn’t buy.

How do you keep yourself motivated? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

Startup 2: Week 2–Crap Idea equals Pivot

Note: 4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates.

I was excited last week to start building the Impulse Savings app. This week I’m scrapping it. This is how I tested my idea rapidly and realized I needed to pivot.

What is a pivot? Pivoting is a term used when changing an idea in a dramatic way–a 180. The lean startup methodology teaches that you need to recalibrate your idea based on continuous feedback. The feedback I got said Impulse Savings needed drastic change, so I changed it.

Vet your ideas

I vet my ideas with friends before starting them. I’ve been getting feedback on impulse savings for a few weeks and while it’s interesting it didn’t excite. No one wishes they had a savings app in their life, right? It wasn’t until I had a call with Andy (the marketing guru/genius/ninja) that my eyes truly opened to the uphill battle we were facing. The biggest issue, “why will anyone download this app?”

It doesn’t matter if you have the best, coolest, sexiest product if no one uses it.

Unfortunately for the app, people don’t spend their time looking for saving apps. It’s not a thing. The goal of this month is to build a tool that encourages savings. That’s it. Because we had clarity in our goal we were able to pivot without heartache. Often people get too attached to their ideas. To be a successful business, you need to listen to feedback and be adaptable.

Make the best decision with the information available that gets you closer to your goal. Don’t get distracted by the mile markers along the way.

The Pivot

People love games. People love celebrities. We wrapped the two together while helping people do the right thing aka saving money.

The game goes like this:
Given two celebrities pictures, you pick who you think has a higher net worth. If you’re right, you save $.25. The game get harder as you progress and 3 strikes and you’re maxed out!

We adapted the game structure from Free Rice, the hottest social-justice-game-website of 2007.

The concept is simple; correctly answer a vocab question and 10 grains of rice are donated to a charity. As you progress the questions get more and more difficult. Doing good makes you feel good, and the game still taps into the our competitive nature (I never got past my high score of level 42 but damn it if I tried!).

No users = losers

Why is this idea better than before the pivot? What makes an idea good? Andy helped me focus on solving marketing first which highlighted the weaknesses of impulse savings.

Your product is no good without users. Period. If you spend 15 years building the best product ever and have 0 users, your product sucks. If you have 100,000 users but your app looks like shit–guess what?–you’re crushing it and I want to meet you. NBC’s Sharks would agree with me too. Sales and users conquer all.

The most important step to our app working was getting it in the hands of as many people as possible. For this it needs to be interesting. Something people want. The impulse savings app on it’s own wasn’t quite there.

Test your idea by answering this hypothetical situation: Would you be excited enough or text/post about your idea if you stumbled across it online? If not then your idea may need a new spin.

Thinking cap time

We brainstormed for over an hour. What makes a financial app interesting? Some ideas were to introduce taboo topics, voyeurism, free money/winning, FOMO, social network. These tropes can make a product more engaging for consumers. Ever pay for in-app purchases by transferring money to your savings account? How about a savings lottery? Is it legal to gamble with your savings against others? What if you could sneak a look into how much your friends earn?

Now things were getting interesting. Each idea had a hook–edgy, or at least unique. This edge is what we were looking for. We then worked to tie it together and quickly–again, 4 weeks time doesn’t leave room for complexity!

Guessing celebrities net worth is fun. Paying yourself your own high score is wacky. C’est fini.

Next steps

I started by putting together mockups. You can see the work in progress (WIP) prototype here. As I update the designs the link will automatically update. Next up is finalizing the game rules and then building the backend code. Still optimistic for launching in 3 weeks!


Startup 1: Week 4–30 Day Startup Learnings

Note: 4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates.

This is the 4th week of my 4-week-old startup, JFDI.Ninja. I’ve faced a lot of bumps with getting up and running, both with JFDI.Ninja and 4 Weeks to Launch. I’ve learned a lot, both in what to do next time and also what not to do. Thanks for all the support in keeping me going with 4 Weeks to Launch!

JFDI.Ninja lives on!

JFDI.Ninja is up and running smoothly and with little maintenance. I estimate to get about 1000 unique visitors a month, though it may be lower depending on backlinks and SEO.

Only installed Google Analytics part way through, after launch.

Last week I hired a virtual assistant. All new tasks will be forwarded to him, with me doing review. We’ll see how it goes, but ultimately I built the business that solved the problem for me. If JFDI.Ninja gets more traffic I will set up the Google Form to go directly to Slack. By having multiple virtual assistants working on the tasks in Slack I can scale quickly.

Review of last week: scrappy marketing

Do what you like to do. I’ve been trying to beat myself into doing marketing and having little effectiveness. DON’T DO THIS! Figure out any way to not do what you don’t want to do. Hire someone, delegate, automate or work around it. I knew this in my head but sometimes you have to go through something painful to internalize it.

I don’t like scrappy marketing. So what do I do next time? Find something that is easier and more my pace. This means focusing on referability, or low paid acquisition cost. Referability relates to the product (I like) and paid acquisition relates to funnel optimization (something I also like). Commenting, cold messaging, and reddit-ing are all things I don’t like so I just won’t do them. Delegation at it’s finest is just effective laziness.

I had a friend email me with suggestions for marketing and thought I’d share since I found it useful:

  • [don’t] do adwords/fb ads at least until your know the LTV of the customer since your price is so low.
  • …advertise on entrepreneur fb groups. message the moderator to let them know the service and sometimes they will send out a message to the group about it.
  • reddit ads may be a good option since impression are so incredibly cheap.

T-Dog McAwesome ← that’s a real last name

JFDI.Ninja postmortem

What is a postmortem? Postmortem is a term popularized by startups. After completing a project the team discusses what went wrong (hopefully it’s not over a dead body).

  • Business was solving a “generic problem”.
    • A business should solve a specific problem for people
    • Isolate a specific pain (save money on cellphone overages), and target that with branding/ads
  • No “launch strategy”
    • Make plan on where to “launch” product for initial users. Be specific with links, audience sizes. Can delegate
  • No shareability
    • Add “share” buttons everywhere
  • Add testimonials from day 1
    • Testimonials give immediate credibility to a product
    • Get friends to give you testimonials so you have them on Day 1 or fake them until you have real ones
  • 24 hours is exhausting; moving to 48 hours
    • Don’t make a product that is stressful to produce. If it is, hire someone to be stressed for you.
  • Use google forms from day 1
    • Spreadsheets > Email.
  • Establish how to invoice from day 1
    • Billing through paypal ended up being another chore. Make sure you know how you will invoice/collect and make it painless

Metrics & goals

  1. See Metrics for JFDI.ninja
  2. See Metrics for 4 Weeks to Launch
  3. Week 2 Revenue: $6

4 Weeks to Launch vs JFDI.Ninja

If I’m honest with myself JFDI.Ninja wasn’t the focus of month 1–it was 4 Weeks to Launch. I’m working to build a sustainable system for launching businesses. Businesses are my goal and my product, and JFDI.Ninja was just that. I’m proud of what I’ve done in 1 month but also know that there’s a ton of more work to do. I’m excited to build off of what I’ve learned in the first month and push startup #2 further. I have big plans for it, and will teaming up with 2 people (one of whom does marketing!) for it.

The Ask

  • What do you hope to learn by reading 4 Weeks to Launch?
  • Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.

Startup 1: Week 3–Overnight** Success

Note: 4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started.

Overnight success is awesome, right? Wake up in the morning to see thousands of dollars in your bank account? Ok, that’s enough daydreaming. Back to reality.

We all have a vision of successful people. They are superhumans. Titans. Unlimited willpower, perfect problem-solving abilities, and the ability to work tirelessly. In truth successful people aren’t as super as imagined. They’re a combination of systems, testing for quick results, and having the right team.

#1 Build systems, not willpower

I’ve been struggling with blog posts because I’ve been trying to brute force my way into writing. Every Monday I begin by bashing my head against my keyboard for hours until I have a blog post. It hasn’t become easier.

That’s because willpower is really tough to “tap into”. It’s a finite resource, and is only useful in spurts. If it was limitless, then sure, we could solve all problems by force but willpower is not on willcall. That’s where systems come in.

Systems (and habits) are far more effective than willpower. Once a habit is in motion the amount of effort needed to sustain is reduced. It’s like going to the gym–going every week is more important than going for 5 hours once a month.

To help with my blogging I’ve built a writing schedule to work on blog posts throughout the week instead of just one day. I also made a blog post template document to help with getting started.

Simple systems like this may seem small but have power when put together. Don’t wait a “moment of inspiration” to get started. This isn’t sustainable and you will fizzle out. Instead, focus on your average speed. Pick a pace that is comfortable, and do it every single day. James Clear has a post about someone writing 3 books in 9 months using this technique.

Get scrappy–big results, small effort

I’ve also had trouble with gaining traction with JFDI.ninja in Week 2. Now that the product is finished (fun part), I need users (unfun part). And since I don’t enjoy marketing, I’ve stalled.

A nice side effect of 4 Weeks to Launch is exposing my weaknesses to the world. Marketing is one of those weaknesses. I was supposed to focus on marketing this week and didn’t.

How do I fix this?

Focus on the right mindset. Don’t sulk and complain, but come up with solutions. Ask yourself, “If I knew nothing about X but I had to have results in 24 hours, what would I do?”

This is a powerful question. As an open ended question, there are no wrong answers so you start focusing on solutions not blockers.

My list of scrappy hacks to get users:

  • Post on forums
  • Post in comment sections on blogs
  • Reach out to bloggers
  • Get on indiehackers.com
  • Post on Reddit
  • DM friends
  • Ask for people to share/refer
  • Tell more people about it
  • Redefine how to make it shareable and pitchable. It’s hard to describe
  • Pitch to press
  • Email people daily asking, “what’s 1 thing you’ve been putting off?”
  • Adwords/fb
  • Producthunt
  • Add social proof to website
  • Hand out fliers that say, “Get free time @ http://JFDI.ninja”

Voila! Readymade marketing strategy. I pared the list down to actionable tasks:

  • Find forums/blogs about productivity and post, offering my service
  • Reach out to bloggers about productivity and see if they will endorse my site
  • DM friends on social media and ask them to use JFDI.ninja or ask if they can refer busy friends
  • Add customer testimonials on the website
  • Post on Reddit

This week I’ll try as many different tactics as I can and see what sticks.

Seek professional free help

Most of us try to do everything on our own. Who wants to ask for help? I’ve many had friends and strangers offer to help with 4 Weeks to Launch, but have been stubborn.

But why not ask for help? Seriously, why not? You can’t build greatness on your own, so find others who are excited about what you’re doing.

I’m starting to get people involved with 4 Weeks to Launch. The more I get others involved the more 4 Weeks to Launch will succeed.

Metrics & goals

  1. See Metrics for JFDI.ninja
  2. See Metrics for 4 Weeks to Launch
  3. Week 2 Revenue: $8

This week’s plan/goals

  1. Focus: Get Users (weekly goals link)
  2. Revenue Goal: $50 or 25 orders by next post

This week has been a big learning experience. Hitting the marketing wall forced me to work on solving the problem, even if the solution will take time. Marketing is a huge part of building a company and without users there is no business!

What are you pissed at yourself for?

  • What long term goal do you have but you can’t quite seem stick to? Let me know in a comment and hold yourself accountable!
  • Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.