Category Archives: Startups

Three Most Underutilized Marketing Strategies for Early-Stage Startups


Disclosure: We have a  one-day workshop coming up with Sean Percival at Coloft that focuses on these three marketing tactics. Regardless of whether you join us for the workshop, I think you’ll benefit from knowing these strategies exist.

I had the chance to chat with Sean Percival, who recently joined the Distribution Team at 500 Startups where he also blogs for them about marketing. He shared some insight he gained from assisting their portfolio companies with marketing. The most exciting insight to me was that after helping dozens of companies, he’s been able to identify three things that early-stage startups often need help with: drip marketing, retargeting, and SEO tune-up.

Since early-stage companies lack the bandwidth to try every marketing strategy available, it’s important that they quickly identify strategies most likely to be both effective and cost-efficient. Why not learn from the experience of others and focus on what’s working for them?

Drip Marketing

Drip Marketing is where you send multiple pre-written emails to customers over time. Unlike traditional email campaigns where you send an email to everyone at the same time, these messages are usually timed to be sent X, Y, and Z number of days after the user provides their email address.

For example, Neil Patel on his personal blog sets up a series of seven emails where the first six are educational and the seventh is his pitch. There are plenty of things to think about when implementing a drip marketing strategy, so check out this infographic before you start.


Retargeting is where you run ads that only show to people who’ve already visited your site. You can take it a step further and, for example, target a specific ad to people who’ve abandoned their shopping cart. Services like AdRoll make this possible, check out their article: How Retargeting Works.

Though a few years old, this survey amongst marketers suggested Retargeting as the most underutilized marketing strategy.

SEO Tune-Up

If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization and this breaks down into a lot of smaller strategies that basically help people find your site through search engines. If you want to know all that goes into SEO, two great resources are The Beginner’s Guide to SEO ( or The 2013 SEO Checklist (

Some Final Words…

Every business is unique, so every company has the responsibility to analyze which marketing strategies work best for them. If you want a broader understanding of marketing a tech startup, you should probably check out The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel & Bronson Taylor.

If you want to master these three strategies and happen to live in Los Angeles, check out the one-day workshop with Sean Percival on September 28th: Drip Marketing, Retargeting, and SEO Tune-Up (only $299 for early-bird pricing!).


Developing a Curriculum for Entrepreneurship

This Summer, I have the honor of teaching an accelerator program for the Santa Monica Youth Tech Program. 14 hand picked high-school students will split up into teams and work on two civic tech startup ideas out of Coloft, 5 days a week for 5 weeks. Two hours each day, their minds are mine to shape.

While I’ve been a guest speaker at a few university courses, this is the first time I’m developing a full curriculum on my own. It’s intimidating.

These are the steps I took:

1) I looked back at my favorite courses I’ve taken and reflected on what I liked/disliked about them most.

2) I looked through similar curriculums that I was able to find online.

3) I read up on instructional design theories.

4) I found this article on what you need to do the first day of class. Then realized Carnegie-Melon had all these great resources to help guide curriculum design. It was nice to have this list of instructional strategies, and these things to think about when planning course content & schedule.

But mostly, it was a lot of throwing ideas on post-its, organizing it, realizing things I was missing, re-doing the process, etc.

The course starts next week, and I have my first week of classes all planned out! While I have a basic outline of what I’m teaching, the later classes will have to adjust based on the progress level of the students.

The five major topics I’m covering are:

  1. Startup Fundamentals – Personal goals, Business Model Canvas, Validation Board, User Personas, Keyword Research
  2. Design – Branding, Photoshop, Illustrator, Wireframing
  3. Development – HTML/CSS, WordPress, eCommerce Tools
  4. Digital Marketing – Analytics, SEO, Social Media, Paid Advertising
  5. Fundraising – Relationship Building, Pitch Deck, Pitch Practice

Best Online Resources for Entrepreneurs, Organized.

This will most likely always be a work in progress. Please don’t hesitate to add resources or input in the comments! I tried not to have too many services that were similar to each other, and mostly went with venture backed solutions where it existed. Hoping to turn this into a more interactive resource down the road.

I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to start learning.

Get Inspired

Learn to Code Online

Learn to Build a Startup

Learn Creative & Technical Skills

Take University Classes Online for Free

  • Coursera – Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, John Hopkins, etc.
  • Edx – Harvard, MIT, Cornell, UC Berkley, etc.

I have an idea/ I’m just getting started

Brainstorming/Understanding Your Business

  • Business Model Canvas – Fill this out to get a good sense of your business. Better with the book, but not completely necessary. Watch the 2 min video.
  • Validation Board – Use this to continuously test your riskiest assumptions and to update your business model canvas as you learn more about your business. Developed by the authors of The Lean Startup & The Lean Entrepreneur.
  • Mindmeister – An online mind-mapping tool, great for collaborating.


  • Lean Domain Search – Enter a word you want in your domain and it will give you a list of available domain names that includes your word.
  • – Enter a word or words you want in your domain and it will give you a list of available domain names and if the username is available on major social networks.
  • Namechk – Enter a username and it will let you know if it’s available across a large number of social networks.
  • Igor Naming Guide – A systematic process for picking the right name for your business.

Startup Research

  • Google Keyword Tool – Look up search volume for your product, service, or keywords.
  • Google Trends – Look up search trends for your product, service, or keyword.
  • Quora – Great Q&A site. Lots of great answers for technology entrepreneurs.
  • Crunchbase – A database of technology companies. Get to know your competitors, how much they’ve raised, and from who.
  • Angellist – A database of startups and angels. Find local startups and angel investors in your industry.
  • Seed-DB – A database of accelerators and incubators.

Automated Research Tools

  • Google Alerts – Set up alerts for keywords relevant to your business, get recent news directly in your email inbox.
  • – Automatically generates an online newspaper from articles shared by Twitter accounts you follow. You can customize this even more by setting it to follow specific lists or hashtags.

Early Customer Validation

  • SurveyMonkey – Create surveys and send them to your friends.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turks – A little complex to use, but you can pay a little bit of money to survey lots of random people.
  • Pickfu – Let random people vote between two options. A simpler version of Amazon Mechanical Turks. 50 answers for $20.

Collaborating With Your Team

I’m Ready to Get a Few Things Up Online

Buy a domain name + hosting

Get a Splash Page Up

  • LaunchRock – Pretty easy to use, but not much customization.
  • KickOffLabs – A little more customization.
  • Unbounce – A drag & drop interface for creating your splash page. Super easy to set up A/B testing. Great for price elasticity testing, etc.

Set Up Your Social Media Profiles

Design Tools

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Subscription based access to Photoshop, Illustrator, and more!
  • Pixlr – A free online tool, similar to Photoshop (less robust).
  • Flickr – Use advanced search tools to search for Creative Commons licensed images you can use for free (as long as you credit the photographer somewhere on your site!)
  • iStockPhoto – Purchase professional stock photos for use on website/marketing material.
  • VectorStock – Purchase cheap vector designs to use on your website/marketing material.
  • The Noun Project – Great place to find cheap and free (public domain) icons.
  • Google Fonts
  • 9 Best Free Image Editors – If you don’t want to pay for Photoshop, check out these free image editors, compiled by Mashable.

Hire a Designer

  • 99 Designs – Crowdsourced design work. Get multiple people to submit ideas and only pay for the one you like.
  • Sortfolio – Sort through web designers by city & budget and look through their portfolio.
  • oDesk – Hire freelancers.
  • Elance – Hire freelancers.

 Let’s Get Building!

Wireframing Tools

  • Balsamiq – Drag & drop interface for wireframing websites. You can build in multiple pages and interactive buttons.
  • POP – Convert your sketches into an interactive prototype of your mobile app.

DIY Web Building Tools

  • – This content management system powers 1 in 6 active websites online. It’s worth learning to use. Most hosting services provide a one-click install of WordPress, which will allow you to host it on your own domain name. It’s worth learning how to use, and a great way to build your Minimum Viable Product.
  • ThemeForest – A place to buy premium WordPress themes.
  • Woothemes – Another place to buy great WordPress themes.
  • Shopify – Set up an e-commerce enabled store with no coding experience.
  • Magento Go – Set up an e-commerce enabled store with no coding experience.
  • Sublime Text – Learning to code yourself? Sublime Text is just one of many text editors great for coding.
  • Heroku – Learn to code on rails? Heroku will handle your web hosting.
  • Github – Version tracking is something you really oughta do if you’re coding, and Github is how you’ll do it.

 Find a development agency

  • GroupTalent – You send them basic information about what you need, and they’ll help you with the details of the spec, budgeting, timeline, and match you with the a qualified development team for your needs. Accepts job listings from $5k to $150k.
  • Guru – Freelancing website with a focus on development talent.
  • oDesk – Freelancing website.
  • Elance – Freelancing website.
  • TheyMakeApps – Search for mobile app developers by location and budget, then check out their portfolios.

Charging Money

  • Paypal – Probably the easiest way to start collecting money.
  • Dwolla – The new kid on the block, $0.25 fee max on any transaction. To find out how they do it, read this article.
  • Shopify – DIY eCommerce platform. Super easy to set up shop and start selling.
  • Magento – eCommerce platform. More complex, more customizable.
  • – Payment Gateway
  • Freshbooks – Service business? Accounting, time tracking, and billing.
  • Square – Charging money in person? Use Square.

Collect Recurring Payments

Is my site any good? Let’s make it better!

 Web Analytics

User Testing

  • – Get videos of visitors speaking their thoughts as they visit your site and a written summary of their experience with your site.
  • CrazyEgg – Get a heat map of where people are clicking on your site and how far down they scroll on any page.

Optimize Your Website

  • Optimizely – Great tool for A/B testing on a website that you already have up and running. Super easy to use, definitely worth messing around with their free demo.
  • Kissmetrics – A serious analytics tool that helps you optimize your website.
  • Qualaroo – Collect insights by asking your customers questions unintrusively.
  • Olark – Live chat with your customers.
  • Get Satisfaction – Customer engagement tool.

 Let’s Drive Some Traffic to My Site!

Social Media Tools

  • Hootsuite – Manage a number of social media profiles, schedule posts, and set up streams based on Twitter lists or hashtags.
  • Wildfire App – Social media campaign tool.

Press Release Distribution

Identify Influencers

  • Google Blog Search – Search for blogs about your topic.
  • Technorati – Blog search engine.
  • Klout – Find top social media influencers.
  • BlogDash – A blogger outreach network. Identify and reach out to bloggers.
  • GroupHigh – Identify and reach out to influencers. Paid solution.
  • Traackr – The most expensive, but supposedly the most advanced platform for identifying influencers.

Online Advertising Platforms

Keeping the Business Running

Finance Tools

  • – Personal finance manager
  • inDinero – Basically a for businesses.
  • Quickbooks – Small Business Accounting Software.
  • Freshbooks – Service business? Accounting, time tracking, and billing.
  • Expensify – Track your expenses.

Legal Stuff/ Document Samples

Tech Tools for People with a Startup Idea

Here’s a few tools to get you started…

First figure out what you’re trying to sell. Use Google Trends and Google Keyword Tool to identify the keywords that someone would use to find your product. This should give you a vague idea of the market, if it’s growing or shrinking, and the set of keywords you’ll start with for your SEO and marketing copy.

Search the keywords from above on Google to see what kind of competitors exist. Take note of their branding, domain name, products/features available, and pricing. It’s good to know these things when figuring out what you need to do.

If it looks like they’re well-funded, take a peek on Crunchbase or Angellist to see if they have any notable investors and how much they’ve raised. It’s never a bad idea to do a quick Google New Search to see if they’ve been mentioned in any major publications.

Then you can use a site like LeanDomainSearch to see if there are any great domain names that contain any of your keywords. Perhaps you’ll go with a made up name, but this will get you thinking about a good name for your company. If you find a good one, you can use NameChk to see if it’s available on social networks.

147 Online Services for Entrepreneurs: Ver 1

Version 1 (in no particular order):

  1. WordPress
  2. Mailchimp
  3. Eventbrite
  4. Twitter
  5. Facebook
  6. Google Drive
  7. Pinterest
  8. Instagram
  9. 1Password
  10. Hootsuite
  11. Buffer App
  12. PRweb
  13. Crunchbase
  14. Angellist
  15. Github
  16. Heroku
  17. Treehouse
  18. Codeschool
  19. Codecademy
  20. General Assembly
  21. Lynda
  22. Tuts+
  23. Quora
  24. Google Analytics
  25. Google Keyword Tool
  26. Google Trends
  27. Google Apps
  28. Godaddy
  29. Bluehost
  30. Tumblr
  31. Flickr
  32. iStockPhoto
  33. Elance
  34. Odesk
  35. 99designs
  36. Craigslist
  37. Taskrabbit
  38. Recurly
  39. Chargify
  40. Shopify
  41. IFTTT
  42. Zapier
  43. Adobe Creative Cloud
  45. inDinero
  46. Quickbooks
  47. Adroll
  48. Google Adwords
  49. Facebook Ads
  50. Twitter Ads
  51. Mixergy
  52. The Noun Project
  53. VectorStock
  54. PRNewsWire
  55. Freshbooks
  56. Asana
  57. Boomerang (Gmail)
  58. Speedtest
  59. Foursquare
  60. TED
  61. Klout
  62. AppSumo
  63. Paypal
  64. Square
  65. Kissmetrics
  66. Crazy Egg
  67. Udacity
  68. Udemy
  69. Wolfram Alpha
  70. Google Calendar
  72. Skype
  73. Wikipedia
  75. Newsle
  77. Legalzoom
  78. Seed-DB
  79. Magento
  80. StackOverflow
  81. Zazzle
  82. Dropbox
  83. Google Fonts
  84. Olark
  85. Wildfire
  86. Salesforce
  87. Basecamp
  88. Highrise
  89. Justunfollow
  90. Gotomeeting
  91. Woothemes
  92. Themeforest
  93. Moo Cards
  94. Tungle
  95. Meetup
  96. Rapportive
  97. Youtube
  98. Vimeo
  99. Get Satisfaction
  101. Qualaroo
  102. Survey Monkey
  103. Proprofs
  104. Wufoo
  106. Zendesk
  107. Mechanical Turk
  108. Namechk
  109. Wix
  110. Launchrock
  111. Expensify
  112. Docstoc
  113. Pocket
  114. Startup Digest
  115. Second Market
  116. Balsamiq
  117. Prezi
  119. Grouptalent
  120. Theymakeapps
  121. Desktime
  122. SEOmoz
  123. Optimizely
  124. Unbounce
  125. Kickstarter
  126. Crowdfunder
  128. Glassdoor
  129. Founderdating
  130. Pickfu
  131. Slideshare
  132. Designcrowd
  133. Leandomainsearch
  134. Piktochart
  135. Mindmeister
  137. Sharethis
  138. Addthis
  139. Constant Contact
  140. Vertical Response
  141. Amazon Web Services
  142. Jing
  143. CallFire
  144. Coursera
  145. Edx
  146. Grubhub
  147. Pixlr

7 Simple Productivity Tips Backed By Science

Here’s 7 productivity tips I like from the Buffer blog. Read the original article if you want to know more about any of these. For me, just simply glancing through the 7 key points is enough to inspire me.

  1. Help someone today – it will make you happier and more productive.
  2. Develop a daily routine.
  3. Deal with something only once.
  4. Take a nap.
  5. Keep a journal with you at all times.
  6. Learn to use the word “no” more effectively.
  7. Avoiding the snooze button once and for all.

In case you didn’t realize, my blog is my “journal”. It’s good for keeping track of things that inspire me or resources I want to go back to. Unfortunately, it’s not great for keeping track of all the things I’m doing or working on because I can’t share everything I do at work (I really wish I could, and some day will definitely be doing this).

Testing Facebook Ads

I’m currently learning to test Facebook ads. I had a few ads run week, but they had horrible click thru rates (CTR), time to get aggressive with testing. Before I start just setting up ads like I did last week, this week I’m first documenting a logical process for doing this. So here we go:

1. Decide on a destination.

In my case, I want to first start running ads that get a decent CTR, so I’m sending them to the homepage URL. I’ll be using the Google URL builder to track the campaigns in Google Analytics, but that comes later.

2. Decide on a budget.

How much are you willing to spend total? What’s your daily limit? Plan on spending at least $250 if you want to see results (according to sources – sorry no link).

I’m testing with a daily ad budget of $50, which may be low. My hope is that I’m currently only testing and once we see better results, we’ll put more money in.

3. Decide what to test.

You can test too many things on Facebook ads. You can test the headline, copy, and image of the ad itself, and there are 10 targeting options you can test too. Testing everything at once doesn’t make sense, because you have no idea what’s working and what’s not.

Since I have a pretty good sense of who I’m targeting, I’ve decided to keep that locked in and test the ad headline and image only. Since I’m testing two of each, that results in 4 different variations of the campaign. Should be a good start.

4. Set a max CPC bid.

I’ve read in multiple places that it’s a good idea to set a higher max CPC on your ads so they get approved and shown faster and more often. Then, once you have a decent CTR (of over .15%), then you can drop the max CPC and let it ride. If you can’t get above .15% CTR, drop the ad.

5. Check daily, drop underperforming ads, add new tests.

This strategy from Quora. Makes sense, yeah? Wish me luck!


Stats About Facebook Ads: Click-Thru Rates (CTR) & Cost Per Click (CPC)

What’s a good Click Thru Rate (CTR) for Facebook ads?

A CTR is calculated by dividing the number of times your ad has been shown to people (impressions), by the number of times people clicked on the ad.

  • Optimal CTR: 0.11%-0.16%
  • Above Avg CTR: 0.07%-0.09%
  • Average CTR: 0.04%-0.05%
  • Below Avg CTR: 0.02%-0.03%
  • Poor CTR: 0.01%

Ad placements in Newsfeed get 1-7% CTR.

Source: Andrew McDermott on Quora

What’s the average cost-per-click (CPC) for Facebook ads?

  • Facebook advertisers see an average CPC of $0.80.
  • Ads driving traffic to links outside Facebook saw an average CPC of $1.08.
  • Ads driving traffic to links within Facebook saw an average CPC of $0.70.

Source: Social Fresh survey

Also, here‘s a good Quora article on how to drive down CPC rates on Facebook. It’s also good to know that your past performance (CTR) is the most important factor. Here’s the simple math:

See, every Pay Per Click campaign is a gamble for Facebook. Every time a PPC ad is shown and not clicked Facebook is losing money. This puts engaging advertisers in great demand.

For instance, a campaign with a click-bid of $1 from an advertiser who is averaging a .05% CTR is worth LESS to Facebook than an advertiser who averages .15% with a $0.34 bid.

Source: How are CPC and suggested bids calculated? on Quora

Older Workers Should Continue to Learn and Teach More

A recent study that analyzed 80,000 profiles on Stack Overflow found that older developers are more proficient than younger developers even in newer programming languages. They analyzed the reputation of answers on the Q&A site in different languages, and programmers apparently continued to have answers with better reputations, up until at least 50 years of age.

You have to take into account that perhaps as you grow older, you feel less of a need to answer questions unless you’re really good and know that people need you. Regardless, I think it’s amazing that in the developer community, people who are older not only find the need to help and teach the younger generation, but they’re actually outperforming them.

I feel like this isn’t the case with all industries. I would love to understand how you can make all industries work that way, where the older generations are not only engaged in the trade, but continue to learn and teach younger generations. I feel like the general workforce would be happier if that were the case.

I have $5. What is the best way to invest and grow my money? [via Quora]

Every once i while, there’s a Quora answer that just blows your mind. This is one of them, I had to share:

SOURCE: Investing: I have $5. What is the best way to invest and grow my money?

I remember reading Tina Sellig’s (executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) book- What I wish I knew when I was 20. (I don’t know Tina, though I wish I did, and I love her book.)

She gave her students the exact same problem. Here are her words, with my emphasis. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, just skim and read the words in bold.

“What would you do to earn money if all you had was five dollars and two hours? This is the assignment I gave students in one of my classes atStanford University, as part of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program…

 Each of fourteen teams received an envelope with five dollars of “seed funding” and was told they could spend as much time as they wanted planning. However, once they cracked open the envelope, they had two hours to generate as much money as possible. I gave them from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the assignment. 

Then, on Sunday evening, each team had to send me one slide describing what they had done, and on Monday afternoon each team had three minutes to present their project to the class. They were encouraged to be entrepreneurial by identifying opportunities, challenging assumptions, leveraging the limited resources they had, and by being creative.

What would you do if you were given this challenge? When I ask this question to most groups, someone usually shouts out, “Go to Las Vegas,” or “Buy a lottery ticket.” This gets a big laugh.. These folks would take a significant risk in return for a small chance at earning a big reward. 

The next most common suggestion is to set up a car wash or lemonade stand, using the five dollars to purchase the starting materials. This is a fine option for those interested in earning a few extra dollars of spending money in two hours.

 But most of my students eventually found a way to move far beyond the standard responses. They took seriously the challenge to question traditional assumptions—exposing a wealth of possibilities—in order to create as much value as possible.

How did they do this? Here’s a clue: the teams that made the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all. They realized that focusing on the money actually framed the problem way too tightly. They understood that five dollars is essentially nothing and decided to reinterpret the problem more broadly:What can we do to make money if we start with absolutely nothing? 

They ramped up their observation skills, tapped into their talents, and unlocked their creativity to identify problems in their midst—problems they experienced or noticed others experiencing—problems they might have seen before but had never thought to solve. These problems were nagging but not necessarily at the forefront of anyone’s mind. By unearthing these problems and then working to solve them, the winning teams brought in over $600, and the average return on the five dollar investment was 4,000 percent! If you take into account that many of the teams didn’t use the funds at all, then their financial returns were infinite.

So what did they do? All of the teams were remarkably inventive. One groupidentified a problem common in a lot of college towns—the frustratingly long lines at popular restaurants on Saturday night. The team decided to help those people who didn’t want to wait in line. They paired off and booked reservations at several restaurants. As the times for their reservations approached, they sold each reservation for up to twenty dollars to customers who were happy to avoid a long wait. 

As the evening wore on, they made several interesting observations. First, they realized that the female students were better at selling the reservations than the male students, probably because customers were more comfortable being approached by the young women. They adjusted their plan so that the male students ran around town making reservations at different restaurants while the female students sold those places in line. They also learned that the entire operation worked best at restaurants that use vibrating pagers to alert customers when their table is ready. Physically swapping pagers made customers feel as though they were receiving something tangible for their money. They were more comfortable handing over their money and pager in exchange for the new pager. This had an additional bonus—teams could then sell the newly acquired pager as the later reservation time grew nearer.

Another team took an even simpler approach. They set up a stand in front of the student union where they offered to measure bicycle tire pressure for free. If the tires needed filling, they added air for one dollar. At first they thought they were taking advantage of their fellow students, who could easily go to a nearby gas station to have their tires filled. But after their first few customers, the students realized that the bicyclists were incredibly grateful. Even though the cyclists could get their tires filled for free nearby, and the task was easy for the students to perform, they soon realized that they were providing a convenient and valuable service. In fact, halfway through the two hour period, the team stopped asking for a specific payment and requested donations instead. Their income soared. They made much more when their customers were reciprocating for a free service than when asked to pay a fixed price. 

For this team, as well as for the team making restaurant reservations, experimenting along the way paid off. The iterative process, where small changes are made in response to customer feedback, allowed them to optimize their strategy on the fly.

Each of these projects brought in a few hundred dollars, and their fellow classmates were duly impressed. However, the team that generated the greatest profit looked at the resources at their disposal through completely different lenses, and made $650. These students determined that the most valuable asset they had was neither the five dollars nor the two hours. Instead, their insight was that their most precious resource was their three-minute presentation time on Monday. They decided to sell it to a company that wanted to recruit the students in the class. The team created a three-minute“commercial” for that company and showed it to the students during the time they would have presented what they had done the prior week. This was brilliant. They recognized that they had a fabulously valuable asset—that others didn’t even notice—just waiting to be mined.

– Page on Psychologytoday

You’re framing the problem too tightly. 5 dollars is as good as nothing. Buy yourself a coffee and figure out how you can solve existing problems for free, and then charge for that. 

(Better yet, buy that coffee for someone you respect or admire.)

Cool story, right? Inspiring.