Sunday, May 5, 2013

    How About Growth Talks for ACTUAL startups?

    The work of fabled growth teams of the web giants, all solely focus on optimization. They don't really work on sourcing more people to the top of the funnel, rather they optimize the funnel by examining user behavior and building rengagement features. The work of these growth teams is interesting and invaluable, but pretty much inapplicable to any startup that does not have a massive amount of traction.

    So why are growth talks like the Growth Hacking Conference being marketed to startups?

    When I looked at the line up of speakers, stacked with notable names from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I guessed 99% of the conference to be about internal product optimizations. Basically, the speakers would be talking about retention and rengagement more than about how to get more users.

    ... and I was right.

    The speakers extolled the virtues of their 50+ employee growth teams that had project managers, developers, designers and data scientists. They talked about how these teams crunched massive amounts of user data to move buttons, redesign flows and build re-engagement features that led to 10x growth on some high level metric.

    Well what the fuck can 3 person startups take from talks like that? True startups lack not only the resources, but the users to execute on anything the speakers touched on.

    What startups need are more talks like those at the Growthathon. Udemy co-founder and Growth Hacking conference organizer Gagan Biyani spoke at the Growthathon about hiring workers in the Philippines off of and paying them $5 an hour to scour the web and solicit teachers to post courses on Udemy. It's unorthodox tactics like that are going to get startups their first 100,000 users. Unfortunately, such scrappy user acquisition tactics were nowhere to be found at the conference.

    In Conclusion

    If  are looking to grow your newly founded startup, ignore all the hot talks on funnel optimization driven growth because it doesn't apply to you. Stick to the blog posts on how to get your 1,000 users, or better yet, explore the tactics of the affiliate marketing world where cold user acquisition is the way of life.

    For future growth talks to be applicable to startups, there needs to be a shift to cheap, scalable and trackable user acquisition tactics.

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    Wednesday, January 30, 2013

    Identifying and Stealing Customers from your Competitors

    Hustler (Photo credit: jonas_l)
    Learn how to reach out to a competitor's customers and shake some sense into them.

    Seeing customers using a competing product is painful, especially since your product is cheaper, faster, more user friendly, better looking, and etc. If only you could show your competitor's customers everything they are missing out on, then you could turn them into your customers.  This blog post lays out a process that I have executed in the past to "poach" customers from competitors.  

    **This process works mainly for web businesses that require users to create profiles or publicly list some identifying information about themselves.  

    Customer information to look for on a competitor's site

    Name and/or Location and/or Picture and/or Company
    Use the information to Google the customer and hopefully find some contact info.

    Twitter handle
    Reaching out to customers via tweets is free and most people do not have a large number of mentions so when they do get one they pay attention. (More about Twitter outreach)

    Facebook profile
    Facebook has implemented paid messages which greatly increase the chance of your message being seen.  In fact, with the advent of the Other Inbox, it is not even worth the effort to send a free message as FB users are not notified when they receive a message in the Other Inbox.  Most FB users do not even know that the Other Inbox exists.  
    LinkedIn Profile
    LinkedIn users will usually list out some kind of contact information in their public profile such as email, website and links to other social media accounts.  Also, most LinkedIn users will also accept somewhat tailored connection invites.  Almost all LinkedIn users share all their contact info to connections via their profile.    

    Finding a customer's email

    Email remains the best converting communication channel.  With some of the information listed above, you may be able to discover an email by running through:
    If you know what company the customer is from, you might be able to grab their email on  This works best for smaller companies or if the customer's company title is readily apparent.

    Checking the registration info of a customer's domain could get you an email, phone number and address.

    Pitching your product

    After gathering the relevant contact information, it is time to build your pitch.  
    • It is best to reach out with social media without selling first, before trying to sell in a cold email email.  
    • Drive prospective customers to specifically built landing pages that show them why your product is better than the one they are using.  
    • Lastly, do not forget to tag your outreach links with UTM codes so you know which distribution channel is driving traffic and converting.

    Expect some Backlash

    The large majority of people do not mind getting these solicitations. However, there is a small minority that consider poaching highly unethical and will make you aware of it. Chances are that you will never convert these people into customers, however, it is a good idea to have a strategy in place to keep the situation from escalating (ie. file a BBB complaint). 

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    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    Google Analytics: Setting up a Custom Growth Report

    This isn't a trade secret or anything, but everybody should know how to quickly set up a custom Google Analytics report that tracks all the growth campaigns they are running.

    A recent conversation with Marek from CrowdTilt about growth tactics inspired this blog post.  At one point in the conversation, Marek asked me how much time I spent gathering and deciphering analytics versus actually executing a growth tactic.  This question confused me because I spend close to no time looking sorting through the analytics of the tactics I am executing.  Marek's question made me wonder if I was spending too little time on analytics.  However, I soon realized that Marek was tracking his analytics in an extremely time intensive way, while acting on the same data points I was.

    I think it was Eric Ries that said something about making all your data easily accessible and in one place.  Basically, analytics only works when it is easy and fast.  The majority of time should be spent executing and testing tactics, not gathering analytics and deciphering what tactic is working.  

    Image representing Google Analytics as depicte...
    Image via CrunchBase
    "Everything in one place" is the philosophy when I set up a custom Google Analytics report (Good tutorial on setting up custom reports).  Basically, I get all the results of my growth campaigns to show up in one custom report by tagging all my campaign links with the same unique UTM.

    An example of a custom report I set up:

    As you can see, there is a filter for the Source UTM "JLAUTest1" which means that only traffic coming in with a link tagged with that Source UTM shows up in the report.  I distinguish between tactics by tagging the Campaign UTMs accordingly.  It is best to name the Campaign UTMs in a way that you can immediately tell what tactic it relates to.

    Campaign UTMs allow me to see which tactic the traffic came from

    Building UTM tagged links painlessly

    The Google Analytics URL Builder Chrome extension is ugly but it works!
    I quickly build all my UTM links using the Google Analytics URL Builder Chrome extension.  The extension lets me save presets as well, so I do not have manually renter in the UTM each time.  It even has built in shortening so I can track clicks in real time.  I advise using the bundling feature in to stay organized with your links.


    It really is that easy and quick to track which one of your growth tactics is working.
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    Monday, January 7, 2013

    Detained by the Police for the first time in my life

    Thanks for the random detention and release SFPD!
    A little over two hours ago, I was walking through the Stockton tunnel hurrying to grab a bite to eat and catch a movie at the Century theater, when a police car pulls up next to me.  The officer in the car tells me to stop and come towards the car.  The officer steps out of the car and immediately grabs my wrist.  I ask him what is going on and he asks me if I was in a fight.  I show him my hands and ask him if they look like they have been in a fight.
    His partner comes over grabs my hand and puts it behind my back and puts me in handcuffs.  Nobody explained to me what was going on.  The officer who put the handcuffs asks me if I have any weapons on me,  I tell him about the knife in my right pocket.  He takes the knife out and starts searching through all my pockets.  The officer takes out my iPhone and even reads my message notifications.  I politely ask him not to read my messages and the officer tells me he has not accessed my phone or pressed any buttons and was just reading what was in plain view.  The officer searching me repeatedly asks me if I had ever been arrested, to which I answered "no."  My calmness must have confused the officers and one of them even asked the officer searching me why I was so calm.  After going through all my pockets, the officer tells me to sit down on the ground.  When the first officer who grabbed me saw the knife, he told me "not so innocent now."

    At this point in time, I realized why getting detained was so intimidating and humiliating.  Here I was sitting on the concrete in handcuffs, with absolutely no idea what was going on and every time I try to ask the officer, he tells me that I am a liar and that I know what happened.  The officers repeatedly affirm to each other that I am guilty.  As they walk me across the street officer holding on to me yells out that even though he would like me to get hit by a car, he had to watch out for them.  I see an Indian girl across the street standing with the police, she sees me and afterwards, the police kind of self congratulate themselves and once again tell me I am guilty.  "Did I just got id'ed by a witness?" I thought to myself.

    The officer that cuffed me puts me in the back of a squad car and drives off.  We park at an intersection for a bit as he waits for commands and starts looking me up on his computer.  From scraps of conversations I had overheard I gathered that there had been assault with a metal pipe near my apartment, however I was not sure.  I once again ask the officer what is going on, and he told me that I was going to be booked and going to prison and that I should shut up not stop asking stupid questions.  I sighed and leaned back in my seat.  I thought about reaching for my phone that they had put back in my pocket to text Stefan my roommate, but I decided to just wait it out.

    I get driven to the Chinatown police station, where I am researched, stripped of my possessions and cuffed to a bench.  Both of my hands are still cuffed behind my back at this point and I see the officer who put me in cuffs really happy and joking with his fellow officers.  I hear one of the officers ask if they should just single cuff me, but the officer who put me in cuffs tells him no and to leave me be.  More waiting in the cold room, I am starting to feel the effects of the adrenaline rush.  My mouth is dry and I am starting to shiver.  I hear the officers talking about how my record is clean and the detaining officer replies "only in San Francisco" as if he was sure that I have been arrested in another city.  I wait some more and the detaining officer comes out of the back room and asks me for my phone number and address.  This time the officer seems nicer, they must have figured out from my college ids and clean record that I was probably not their guy.  The officer even agrees to get me a glass of water and single cuff me to the bench.  Things were finally looking up.

    After some more waiting, the inspector comes out and tells me to finish my water and that he was going to interview me.  I get re-cuffed and led to the interview room, which surprisingly was not like the cold interrogation rooms I had read about.  When I ask the inspector if I can get a lawyer, he tells me that he just wants my side of the story and that it is in my best interest to answer his questions.  Before he starts interrogating me, the inspector reads me my Miranda rights and against nagging doubts, I go along with the first question.  The inspector asks me if I knew anything about the assault that took place on Grant and I respond that I do not know anything about that incident.  He proceeds to tell me not to lie and that a witness had seen me walk away from the scene and dump a metal pipe.  The inspector asks me what I was doing with a metal pipe.  I roll my eyes at the loaded question and tell him "I want a lawyer."  The interview ends immediately and I get taken back out to the waiting room and single cuffed to the bench again.

    A little more waiting later, the officer who put cuffs on me walks out and tells me "it's my lucky day" and I am free to go.  I tell him I am not sure how lucky I am since all I wanted to do tonight was watch a movie and he tells me things could have been worse. When I ask the officer what happened, he answers that the witness did not end up seeing the whole attack after all and that she had only caught the end of it.  The officer warns me about the knife and how it is close to the 3.5" limit and that I should probably carry something smaller.  He walks me out of the station and explains to me that I had just been detained, not arrested, and that they always treat people they detain in this way.  There were no apologies and the officer even got defensive when I asked him for his card.  Before waving me off, the officer told me that this did not mean I was not guilty and just like that the hour long ordeal was over.            

    After this experience, I can really understand how getting picked up multiple times for nothing could really get someone to hate the police.  Immediately when they put the cuffs on, you feel like a criminal, then all the bravado talk between the officers gets you intimidated and makes you feel even more guilty.  I am really glad I read all those Quora posts about what to do when arrested and as a result was able to keep calm.  I kind of knew what to expect when they put the cuffs on me, recognized the tricks during the interrogation and after the first question asked for a lawyer.

    A note to my friends, when detained or arrested, the police are NEVER on your side, they are not your friends and are never trying to just help you out.  When questioned about anything other than your contact information, just shut the fuck up, ask for your lawyer and wait for things to get sorted out.

    Most importantly, know your rights.

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    Internship City Guides

    The most enjoyable projects I worked on during my time at InternMatch has got to be the summer internship city guides.  It was not challenging work, but it was a ton of fun researching housing, dining and entertainment in NYC and San Diego.

    I wrote my first city guide on San Diego back when I was still an intern and still a student at UCSD.  It seems fitting that I end my time at InternMatch by publishing a New York City guide.
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    2013 Resolutions

    I looked back at my 2012 resolutions and it looks like I went zero for three.  The only resolution I can kind of lay claim to is "Develop my own copy writing process,"  My copy has improved leaps and bounds in the past six months, but I still cannot say that I have a process.

    Let's hope that in 2013 I will be more successful in accomplishing my resolutions.

    Write more growth tactics posts

    I think I have discovered my niche!  And it's in developing scalable user acquisition and lead generation strategies, also known as growth hacking here in the startup world.  In 2013, I hope to develop and refine more growth tactics and put them on this blog.  People seem to be really hungry for step by step growth hacks and I think this is an area where I can really get some recognition.  There does not seem to be any growth people talking about the tools and tactics that they are using so hopefully I can fill that void. 

    Launch my passive income business

    Working with Dane Maxwell at Lean Startup Machine San Diego really changed my view on what I was capable of doing in terms of starting my own business.  With my new found growth skills, I think this is the year that I can create a successful passive income business.  Most likely, I will be developing one of the ideas that Dane and I discussed at LSM San Diego or doing something with on campus recruiters.  In 2013, I resolve to begin my market research and start building and hopefully complete the product.  With some luck, maybe I will even make 100k in combined income this year.  I can dream can't I? 

    Launch CharityLens

    A couple of months ago, my friend Max told me he was tired of the rat race and was looking to start a nonprofit.  In his search of how to escape the rat race while still developing marketable skills, Max came upon Kids with Cameras, a non profit that provides cameras and teaches photography to marginalized children in communities around the world.  He quickly realized that Kids with Cameras and its partner organizations were doing an absolutely terrible job of selling the amazing pictures that the kids were taking.

    When Max told me his idea, I immediately saw the potential and agreed to help him.  We immediately started brainstorming in the foodcourt and by the time things were closing, we had come up with the name CharityLens and had a rough plan to execute on.  Over the next month, we registered the domain name, built landing pages, setup social media accounts and got our logo.  In 2013, I resolve to get everything launched and sell our first photo! 
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    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    How to Run a Successful Student Ambassador Program

    A lot of companies, especially startups seem to be utilizing campus ambassadors to acquire student users and build a college brand. After talking to various ambassadors and observing their on-campus marketing activities, I have noticed that most companies do not seem to be putting much effort into their ambassador programs, in fact few of them seem to have a structured program at all.

    My Experience

    I managed the most successful InternMatch Campus Ambassador program in the company’s history. Seven campus ambassadors that I personally hired signed up 2500+ students over the course of 10 weeks. The top performing campus ambassador signed up 700+ students.

    Things to Consider Before Interviewing Your First Ambassador

    Size of target campuses

    The ROI for small campuses may not be enough to warrant placing an ambassador in. Ambassadors on smaller campuses reach fewer students with each marketing campaign, while exerting the same amount of effort. There is a temptation to target small elite universities, but I strongly advise companies to focus on placing ambassadors in large public universities instead due to the much better ROI.

    University Marketing Policy

    Certain universities like Stanford and NYU heavily restrict the types of marketing students can do on campus for businesses. For instance, both of those universities do not allow students to pitch in class on behalf of a private business. It may not be worth placing an ambassador on a campus that severely limits on-campus marketing activities. As a general rule, public universities are much less strict about on campus marketing than private universities.


    An ambassador program should not cost your company an arm and a leg, but compensation is important to keep students on board. Paid labor is much more reliable than unpaid labor and you need every ounce of reliability you can get in a remote working environment.

    Key Interview Questions

    Gauging time commitment 

    Asking straight up how many hours a student is willing to commit to the job is not indicative of how much time the student actually has to spare. Instead, ask how many classes the student is taking and how many extracurriculars they are involved in. In my personal experience, with a normal class load of four courses a student can work a maximum of 20 hours a week, beyond that the quality of work and reliability suffers.


    Due to the remote nature of a campus ambassador role, it is important for the student to have some knowledge of on campus marketing. The quickest and most effective way to judge a student’s marketing chops is to ask them how they would go about achieving a key metric on their campus and what kind of material support they would want from the company. This application question will provide a good picture of how creative and experienced the student is.

    Running the Program


    Most students take on internships to acquire practical skills. Failure to teach these skills in your ambassador program will lead students to drop out, especially if you are not paying them as well. I highly suggest that you run workshops during the course of the internship program on marketing tactics and tools. In my exit interviews, all the InternMatch ambassadors said the weekly hour long workshops where I taught things such as social media marketing, guerrilla marketing and how to use Unbounce were the best part of the program and provided them with skills that they could apply after the program.


    Keeping campus ambassadors motivated and accountable is a tough. A big part of it is the lack of communication in a remote working environment. To combat this, I ran weekly one on one calls to check up on each campus ambassador’s progress, set weekly goals and also answer any questions. These calls could last from 5 to 15 minutes and were an important part of keeping ambassadors engaged. In the exit interviews, the ambassadors reported that the calls were the biggest motivating factor to deliver sign ups every week as they did not want to have to explain their lack of progress on the phone.


    Traditional on campus marketing methods will most likely not be time efficient for your single ambassador on campus. For example, a single person flyering and tabling is much less effective than a team. Instead, look for ways to force multiply your ambassador’s marketing efforts such as through the use of Facebook college groups, mass emails or events.


    A campus ambassador program can be an effective way to acquire college users, however, many companies underestimate the amount of time and energy required to run an ambassador program. It would be a mistake to think that an ambassador program is all about instructing a student to hand out flyers on their campus.
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