Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    2nd place at Lean Startup Machine!

    It's 12:30AM right now and I still cannot believe that I won second place at Lean Startup Machine (LSM). Just 24 hours before, I had resigned myself to just trying to finish the workshop.

    Wait what’s LSM?
    Lean Startup Machine is a Friday through Sunday crash course on Eric Ries’s Lean Startup principles. People come together at 6PM Friday and pitch their idea to the rest of the attendees. The only requirement of pitches is that idea must not have had any work done on them. Pitches are voted on and the top 9 are allowed to form teams. Some came with their startups and pre-existing teams but their restriction was that for the weekend they had to work on ideas and they could not recruit new team members.

    After the teams were formed, we set forth to validate our idea for the rest of the weekend. Validation of an idea can come in many forms such as clicks on a buy button, signups for a notification once the product is launched, and the most coveted of all, actual money. Basically, teams had to show beyond a reasonable doubt that people wanted their idea and if no one wanted their original idea then they had to pivot (kill) or change the idea until somebody would.

    Back to me…
    My friend An (UX designer) and I came to LSM together with plans to work on the same team. We listened to the pitches and decided to join Dane, who had this idea for a check in app for pool boys. He explained that his friend runs a pool cleaning company and loses $20 thousand a year on disputed hours. An app that could prove when the pool boys arrived would solve his friend's problems. Two others joined our group and we set off brainstorming on how to validate.

    In the middle of a workshop, I made the observation that it might be hard to reach pool businesses on a weekend to validate our idea. The rest of the group agreed and we switched the idea to Yelp for yoga instructors.

    At the bar with the group I was dealing with doubts about the new idea. When I asked Dane his opinion about the idea, he suggested that we break off and switch back to the check in app. I agreed but while brainstorming for the check in app, we came upon the problem of where to find validation on a weekend. Dane suggested switching to yet another idea and at my wit’s end, I agreed.

    We settled on the first idea that Dane had first pitched to the attendees, which was a customer relationship management (CRM) solution that lived in Facebook. It was an extremely niche product that was targeted at an industry which I was not too interested in. However, I went along with it anyway because we could reach realtors on the weekend and more importantly Dane was very experienced in the space as he was currently running four software businesses targeted at realtors.

    Working through the process
    Saturday morning, we started testing the assumptions we had made about why real estate agents would want to buy our product.  Dane and I start learning about the CRM solutions that real estate agents use. I suggested to Dane that he email his client lists and he shoots off an email to about 1000 real estate agents stating that he was looking to talk about contact database software this weekend and that this was a “one time offer.” Annoyingly, Dane put my phone number in the email.

    Out of the 1000 we sent out, we got about 10 responses in a couple of hours.

    The first response from the email blast actually came in the form of a text.

    We received and made over 5 phone calls. These calls proved to be invaluable as we learned about the many CRM solutions that real estate agents were currently using and the frustrating communication problems between them. We learned that some of them were buying solutions that had way too many features and were overly complex.

    Our testing led us to kill our Facebook idea, as we learned that a good number of realtors did not feel comfortable adding their clients as friends.

    From the many mentions of Gmail, we pivoted and came up with ProDap, a super basic CRM solution that lived in Gmail.  Real estate agents would be able to use ProDap to assign action plans to their clients. These action plans would automatically populate their Google calendar.

    I photoshopped together a screenshot of the product and with Dane’s guidance, built a landing page for it.

    Dane then email blasted his client lists with a link to the landing page and we waited.

    I took to Twitter and tweeted out a link to the landing page to real estate agents.

    The results were fairly impressive. In three hours, we had managed to get 97 people to the landing page. 32 of them clicked on “Buy Now” button and of those 32 who clicked “Buy Now” and learned that there actually was not a product yet, 8 of them signed up to beta test.

    Combining those statistics with some quotes from our phone conversations, I thought we made a decent showing of our work.

    Closing thoughts
    I learned a lot from Dane especially in the areas of copy writing and salesmanship. The best piece of advice Dane gave me was to stop thinking of business ideas and instead just ask people what their problems are. Initially, I had thought that I knew all there was to know about Lean Startup methodology, but LSM has shown me that knowing and applying are two very different things. This weekend has given me much more structure with which to apply my anthropology to customer development.

    It is always a shock to hear people speak well of my skills. Whenever Dane told me what an awesome partner I was, I always questioned the truth behind it because for the most part I felt pretty lost without Dane’s direction.

    Did I expect to win? HELL NO! It was the biggest surprise ever, especially since on Saturday Dane disappeared to take a nap without telling me. When I could not find him, it annoyed me a great deal so I headed to the bar and watched UFC. In hindsight, that two hour break was actually a great idea because we came back invigorated, however, at the time it seemed like a colossal waste of time since An’s team was working diligently the entire day. Sunday at 11AM was even more nerve wracking as Dane called his uncle, a realtor with 200 agents under him, and he told use that he would not buy ProDap. For the presentation, I ran out of time halfway through my slide deck that did not even have all the “requirements” listed in the LSM manual. Knowing how much work some people put into their ideas and competing with actual businesses, I am still dumbstruck over how we got second place.

    Honestly, I do not think we deserved to win. Considering, that the amount of effort we put into ProDap paled in comparison to many other teams and the fact that we were terrible at following directions. I am still scratching my head over how we managed to pull this off.

    Will we be going further with this idea? Probably not, since Dane more interested in pursuing spirituality right now and I was never really interested in the real estate space. However, Dane has offered to guide me and connect me with his Pakistani developer who costs $600 a month if I do decide to go forward with ProDap. So you never know!

    2nd place never felt so good!

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    Old Interview Questionaire

    Couple months ago, I was interviewing for an internship at a online education startup.  It was the most intense interview process I have ever been through, consisting of 3 Skype sessions with the marketing team, 1 phone call with the founder and a long questionnaire.  I ended up getting an offer, but turned it down to work at InternMatch.

    Below are my responses to the questionnaire, which gives a good representation of my thought process, skills as well as glimpses of my personality .

    If you did not already do this, please write 2 concise paragraphs explaining why you are interested in working at Company X.

    A few weeks into starting my first startup internship at Wednesdays.com, I bought the Lean Startup lecture series from Company X.  Since then each time I logged on, I saw Company X getting bigger and better with each iteration.  In addition, I kept reading about how Company X was the future of online learning on GigaOm and TechCrunch.  With all that in mind, when it came to apply for summer internships, Company X was a no brainer.  

    However, more than just wanting to join a promising company, I want to work with a cutting edge team.  Being at Wednesdays.com and hanging around the startup scene in the bay, San Diego and Shanghai have given me an appreciation of the companies that 500 Startups invests in.  I strongly believe that if Dave puts his money down on a startup, it must mean they have a great team.  Steel sharpens steel and I am looking to learn from the best, which I see happening at Company X.         

    Provide 2-3 “crazy ideas” for things Company X isn’t doing today that could have a HUGE impact on our success. 

    (For this question I went increasingly more crazy with each idea) 

    Offer package deals or subscriptions to clubs, organizations, corporations and schools
    Quickly sign up a large number of users by soliciting them all at once via their club, organization, company or school.  Organizations are always looking to help their members grow and develop new skills, so the idea of affordable courses that their members can take on their own time would be appealing.  User acquisition costs would also go down because Company X would be chasing a smaller number of leads. In addition, Company X would get a big boost in credibility by having major corporations and organizations signed on to the platform. 

    Meetups/Schedule office hours for popular courses 
    Utilizing a service like wednesdays.com or grubwithus.com to start building a physical community through meals, happy hours or coffee meet ups.  Using one of those services to connect instructors with their students or students with each other; call the meetings office hours or study groups to give them an academic feel.  Perhaps even charge in a fee per person for the meeting and offer the instructors a cut of the fee as an incentive to show up.  Company X can sell tickets to the meetings as an add on to the course.

    Get on national television
    A tried and true publicity stunt is having sports fans hold up placards to make a billboard.  Bribing fans with some coupons for food or drink that they could redeem at the park or stadium would most likely convince them to hold a piece of cardboard for a minute or two.  The message could be something short and sweet like "learn online" before switching to the Company X logo in order for TV viewers to quickly get it the message of what Company X is about.  This stunt may have a higher chance of success at a college game, where security is more lax and students are more enthusiastic about holding signs. This is possibly the cheapest way to get on national television, with hot dogs costing no more than $10 each and requiring only a couple hundred, at most a thousand fans to create a large enough billboard.

    Name a real person (who you don’t know) that should be an instructor on Company X. Draft a sample cold email that could be sent to him/her inviting them to create a course on Company X.

    As one of the most decorated grapplers and a living legend in the sport, many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students look up to you and are dying to learn from you.  Unfortunately, due to factors like distance and cost, most of them will never get the opportunity to train with you at your New York academy.  

    But now with Company X, students anywhere in the world can still learn from you.      

    More reasons to teach on Company X:

    70,000 courses viewed a month and skyrocketing
                    - Catch up to and surpass the Gracie University in no time
    Company X is mobile
                    - Students can take your lessons onto the matt with their smartphones
    Lower costs and less time
                    - No more minting DVDs, processing payments 
                    - Learn a variation in competition? Update the lesson instantly!
    Interact across the world
                    - Quickly and easily answer questions with students through the site
    Email me back and I can walk you through the set up process so you can start teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the world. 

    Jonathan Lau
    Company X Sports Representative

    Provide a link to something funny. 
    (Led to a Rick Roll page on my blog)

    So let's get real :-). We're a startup. We work very hard. 12 hour days are the norm (not the exception) and we typically work multiple hours on the weekend. Is that cool with you? *

    Not a problem! At my CAUSE internship in LA I worked overnight at the office during crunch time and even slept on the office floor once.  Currently at Wednesdays.com we hacker hours on a regular basis.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    Volunteering My Marketing Skills

    A few months ago, a non-profit that I was volunteering for asked me to take a look at some survey data that they had collected from one of their movie screenings and advise on marketing. 


    63% Female
    Upon seeing that the majority of attendees were women, I wanted to know if this was because the film was more geared towards female audiences or if it was reflective of the nonprofit membership.  If indeed the majority of members are female, I advised that the nonprofit should work towards tailoring their ad copy towards women and perhaps even think about doing some women only events.

    40.1% Chinese speaking
    From the survey, I noted that there could be a large number Chinese speakers.  Adding up the numbers: 32.8% Chinese + 7.3% Taiwanese = Theoretical 40.1% of the audience was Chinese speaking.  This number is most likely inflated, due to the high number of American born Chinese that do not speak their native language. 

    However, the percentage is high enough that it does warrant looking into run ads in different languages. Chinese language ads in Chinese language newspapers could be a cost effective way to do print advertising.  It is my guess that ad space in the ethnic newspapers are much cheaper that San Diego Tribune.  In addition, there is a strong word of mouth effect due to their strong ties in the community.  Ethnic language radio stations would be a great channel to target local ethnic communities as well.

    35.2% of social media age
    • 17.6% of attendees were aged 26 - 34 = Ideal social media targets
    • 17.6% of attendees were aged 35 - 44 = Good social media users

    The nonprofit should invest time in engaging its users with the end goal of having them attend screenings.  Leading up to the screening, background information on the movie and trivia should be posted on the Facebook page.  Facebook ads targeting people with an interest in Asian film located in the San Diego area should also be considered.  Applying the rationale of ethnic language ads onto Facebook would make them stand out even more.   

    How did you hear about tonight's event?

    Word of mouth 46.7%
    With a little under half the attendees hearing about the screening through word of mouth, I believe that an effort should be made to make the message about the movie as clear and succinct as possible.  Upon reading the copy of the screening, people should be able to tell their friends in two to three sentences what the movie is about and why they want to watch it.  This could be done by clearly stating what type of movie it is (Coming of age, war, spy etc), then summarizing the major themes and closing with a unique identifier (audience choice, winner of festival, etc).   

    Newsletter 38.5%
    Taking into account the large percentage of attendees who heard about the screening through the electronic newsletter, with the even larger percentage of those who heard it from word of mouth, it makes sense to build in a link or button that instantly tweets or Facebook shares the event especially given the percentage that are of social media age.  This function in the electronic newsletter would integrate in well with the nonprofits social media efforts.   

    Where in San Diego do you currently live?

    I Google mapped locations of all the attendees, so that it could help in the choosing of future event locations.  Utlizing this map, it would be easy to choose a location that would be most convenient for the greatest number of members.  In addition, it could be used to determine where to target marketing campaigns.   

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Financial Horizons Marketing Campaign: Execution

    The $1500 dollars that I had for the marketing budget ended up being much more than I could spend.  Due to a time shortage, we ended up doing a very traditional marketing campaign.


    Many groups on campus hand out flyer on Library walk, the main quad area at UCSD.  Due to a shortage of manpower and a disregard for its effectiveness, I decided against actively handing out flyers.  Instead, I focused on putting up flyers in high traffic locations, targeting buildings and lecture halls that were most popular with economic students.  In addition, I tried my best to flyer the captive audience in the dorms and on-campus apartments.


    Two banners were hung at the Price Center, probably the most trafficked building in the whole school.  I advised to hang them in areas that were immediately visible to

    Ad/Email copy

    The ad copy was tailored for the economic times.  This year's class is graduating at a time of high unemployment and they feel the pressure as their graduation date approaches.  Adding to the sense of hopelessness is the fact that many college students simply do not know what they want to do.

    I wanted the ad copy to convey a sense of direction to the lost students and an internship/job opportunity for the graduating ones.  In order to do that, I put in easily recognizable corporate names and a slogan that hinted at the opportunity of getting hired. In addition, corporate brands and hot financial segments were bolded to pop at the viewer.

    Sample copy:
    UCSB is invited to the 7th Annual Financial Horizons Conference! 
    On Saturday, March 3rd 9am - 3pm, come visit sunny UC San Diego to get educated on the best paid industry in the US by leaders in the field. 
    This year's speakers include current and former executives from Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Morgan Stanley, Moody's, the Federal Reserve and many more top name companies.

    Expert speakers such as:
    • Lou Kerner - Former VP of Equity Research at Goldman Sachs
    • Wyatt Wachtel - Senior VP at York Capital Management
    • Emmy Sobieski - Former VP at OppenheimerFunds
    will be covering a wide variety of topics including hedge funds, private equity, investment strategies and accounting. 
    Attend, Learn, Network and get Hired. 
    The conference is FREE, but registration closes on February 29th and spots are limited!
    Register today at http://bit.ly/UIS_Conference

    Conference itinerary with additional details is attached.

    Slogan selection

    "Attend, network, get hired"
    Initially, there it was "maybe get hired" but in the end I ended up dropping the "maybe" making it more short and succinct.  

    Facebook ads

    Facebook ads played up the hiring angle of the conference.  The ad copy featured big names in finance and were paired up with iconic images of Wall Street as well as Asian traders.


    Sample ads: