“The whole vibe of start-up companies in Silicon Valley with twenty-five-year-old CEOs wearing shelltoes is Russell’s Def Jam style filtered through different industries. The business ideal for a whole generation went from growing up and wearing a suit every day to never growing up and wearing sneakers to the boardroom.”
— jay-z “decoded”

Don’t Be Ashamed of Success

I read an article on Pando the other day about the leader of an Angel group who told a group of Entrepreneurs ‘No’ to their idea, simply because of the cars they drove. Seriously, simply because they showed-up to the meeting in a BMW, Mercedes and an Audi, this angel fund leader pre-judged this group of entrepreneurs as a) not having a good idea b) most likely being lazy c) not having the drive to succeed.

I certainly understand his point of view, but disagree with his logic and his conclusion. Just because I drive a nice car, or wear a J.Crew jacket, or carry a Gucci laptop bag, doesn’t necessarily make my drive to succeed is any more or less than the kid who lives in a dorm room with 3 roommates and eats ramen for dinner. It could simply mean a) I like nice things  or b) could have a ton of personal debt. 

Sure, this group of founders in the story certainly could have sold their cars and contributed the money from that sale to whatever it was that they were working on. But that doesn’t necessarily improve their odds of success. I personally know of a couple people who are worth several hundred million dollars who have raised venture money several times for their projects. They do this for multiple reasons the least of which being they wanted to put their own money at risk (something they could have easily done). 

Ideas and work should be judged on their merits, and my past success (or failures). Not by the car I drive, the clothes I wear or where I live.  

Growth Hacking, Redux

No more cocoa leave-io, one two three
One two three, all of this to me, is a mystery
I hear you motherfuckers talk about it
But I stay seein bodies with the motherfuckin chalk around it
And I’m down with the shit too
For the stupid motherfuckers wanna try to use Kung-Fu

- Notorious B.I.G. “Things Done Changed”

Growth hacking. It’s a term that just won’t go away. It’s like a silicon valley zombie that confronts you at every turn. I’ve been on record about this before. I read a blog post from a friend the other night about it and it initiated a mini-tweet storm from me. I’ll borrow a page from the rebranded genius.com and elaborate a bit on that tweet storm here. 

Lots of people think growth hacking is marketing 2.0. Go ahead, Google the term growth hacker or hacking and see how many results you get. I’m not going to hide from the fact that uber, airbnb, twilio and others have had success ‘hacking’ growth, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spending money to acquire customers. I’m not saying you can’t be successful growth hacking, but the companies that are tend to be more the exception than the rule. 

Uber does an awesome job at refer-a-friend. Airbnb (it’s been alleged) used to SPAM craigslist. Novel ideas, but sustainable? Not really. Doing the basics of marketing, search, display, tv, mail, database segmentation, lead nurturing, drip emails, and content marketing all need to be done to acquire AND retain customers. Sure, it’s hard to compete against bigger companies who have limitless cash reserves, but if you’re continually optimizing and tweaking your messaging and your landing pages, you’ll survive, if not thrive. 

The reason why ‘growth hacking’ worked for for Uber is the fact that they have an AMAZING product. They positioned themselves as your own personalized driver. Prior to Uber, your choice of public transportation was a bus, a train, a bicycle, walking or a dirty, stinky cab. The timing was right for Uber to come in and disrupt the marketplace with a new idea. A super clean car, a friendly driver and a frictionless way to pay for your ride was EXACTLY what the public needed and wanted. 

This is fairly obvious, but sometimes, you have to point out the obvious. If your product is garbage, you can put ‘FREE’ around it or you can have hot naked celebrities giving it away and it won’t matter; nobody’s going to use it. The first rule in any kind of organization is make sure the product is something people will want. 

I’m not saying don’t growth hack. What I’m saying is don’t focus on it, don’t let it consume you. There’s a funny saying I once read that was something along the lines of “David Ogilvy would have left growth hacking to an intern.” That’s absolutely true. Senior level marketers need to focus on the basics. Define the strategy, execute the tactics, move the needle. If you find a way to move product on the cheap (that is scalable), great, test it. If there’s a growth hack that becomes repeatable, just add it to your arsenal.  

Super inspiring video about the important question of ‘why’. A friend shared this with me recently and it demonstrates why (pun intended) some people and companies are successful while others aren’t. 

Paying to Play is Part of the Game

Earlier this week, famed tech blogger Michael Arrington called out Microsoft for having a vendor contact him on their behalf to write a blog post about the “new and improved” Internet Explorer” web browser. 

I don’t think Mike is wrong for calling attention to this. But the fact of the matter is lots and lots of brands do this. It might not be as obvious as Microsoft’s latest attempt, but it happens quite frequently. Why? It’s simply part of the game.

Content distributors (with a decent sized audience) understand the position they are in. They know that when they tweet/instagram/blog something, the products or experiences they talk about are consumed by thousands (and in some cases millions) of consumers. This inevitably leads to clicks, website visits, app downloads and ultimately sales for the brands that are mentioned. 

The FTC has established clear guidelines on what is required for product endorsements, and ultimately, brands should be responsible enough to ensure that those rules are adhered to. While some people may not be fans of this type of advertising, it’s simply another arrow for brands and advertisers to use to reach their consumers and sell products. 

The Future of ME-Commerce

Anonymous Anonymity

There has been a small to-do lately about the morality of so-called anonymous social media apps like Secret and Whisper. The problem, according to critics, is that people can say mean things about others and (theoretically) get away with it by hiding behind the anonymity of not being identified. 

While I don’t fundamentally disagree with this line of thinking (and let’s be honest, bullying is a legitimate problem that these app makers need to manage) in the grand scheme of things this really shouldn’t prevent founders from exploring the benefit that anonymity brings to people’s lives. 

There are numerous benefits to being anonymous online, in an increasing world where anonymity escapes us. I have found myself enjoying Secret lately - more for a source of entertainment - but also for an opportunity to voice things that I probably wouldn’t want to tweet about. Saying these apps should be abolished is silly and is akin to saying eBay or walmart.com should be shut down because they sell guns. 

I think these apps of some value (probably not in the billions) but they certainly give rise to a certain want / need in the social media sphere. But God forbid marketers start asking themselves “What’s our Secret strategy?”

Bubbles, Bubbles, Everywhere You Look

Lots and lots of talk recently about mythical bubbles in tech. And, why not? When Facebook is buying companies for billions and billions and billions, it’s easy to see why non-technologists (whatever that means) are getting all hot and bothered about whether we’re back in the throws of a 1999-2001 bubble - with the not so subtle (err hopeful) implication that there will be another dot-com crash. Heck, yesterday  CNBC devoted two different segments to the ‘bubble myth’ inside of the hour I was on the treadmill and they even asked my friend Tristan about his thoughts on it. 

While it’s clear that there’s some frothiness in the private and public markets, it’s hard to believe this will in any way end up similar to how 2001 ended. I’ve tried raising money 3 times since 2008 and have failed all three times. I don’t think it’s because I’ve had dumb ideas, or didn’t have the ability to execute, but more rather that investors are still smart enough not to through money at things and people that are unproven. 

Building a real business is still hard - very hard. Not everyone can do it. Yes, there have been some ridiculous valuations on private companies. Yes, the nasdaq dropped 2.5% (after rising ~ 70% + in the last two years - and never mind the fact that we experienced a minor depression only 3 short years ago) on Friday and yes private busses/shuttles taking people to their job is a ‘must-have’ for any serious company in tech. However, getting a venture capitalist to say yes once (let alone do follow-on financing) is still very hard. More importantly, getting millions of customers will barely get you a seed round these days, let alone a Series A or Series B. 

Again, I’m not naive enough to think things aren’t frothy, but comparing the start-ups of today to pets.com and/or webvan is pretty ridiculous. I personally believe tech is in the infancy of a revolution, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the early 1800s. But then again, I’m probably a little biased. I could be wrong. I hope I’m not. 

The Future of TV

One thing I’m continually amazed by is watching my 8 year old and his fascination with his iPad. These days, he spends more time watching content from youtube and other sources than he does changing the channel on the cable box. This obviously points to trouble for content companies and advertisers as baby boomers and gen-x’ers move out of the prime of their lives and younger generations become more in charge of how they spend their money.

One interesting way model that is being tested is that of the WWE and their new ‘Network’ that is available on AppleTV, their website and other non-traditional television platforms. The WWE is essentially taking control and ownership of when their fans will have access to their content and more importantly, completely by-passing traditional distribution outlets in granting their fans access to what they want.

I remember a couple of years ago, the WWE was running promos (hey, I had a 6 year old at the time) for what appeared to be their own cable channel. Luckily for them, it never came to pass and instead, they created their own network that gave access to everyone who has an internet connection. 

What’s surprising to me is the more traditional (legitimate) sports leagues have not taken a similar approach. Sure, I can get NBAtv or MLBtv via the internet, but it’s difficult for me to get the depth of content that I can get via the WWE network, nor, can I watch playoffs/title games (legally) online.

As content creators continue to get smarter and more technologically comfortable about delivering content to consumers, there is going to be increasing pressure on service providers and cable companies to squeeze more dollars from consumers and/or content companies. My guess is there will be no easy solution that makes every body happen. Service providers may even go down the path of choking service of certain content companies unless they or their consumers pay more for the content (i.e., no net neutrality). This will require all three parties working together to find an amicable solution.