Building A Minimum Viable Audience

I’ve soft-launched two startups in the past year…and I’m the only one that knows about it.

minimum viable audience
 

Many aspiring founders build a minimum viable product without a minimum viable audience. This is bad.

In order to truly understand market demand, there needs to be a feedback loop. For consumer web products, that feedback loop is people or an audience. Without one, it’s nearly impossible to test a product in the market…maybe that’s why we see people spend months building before they realize no one wants their product. There’s probably a group of lean startup disciples doing a golf clap somewhere.

The audience I used to test one of my “MVPs” was my blog’s readership.

For people that have read this blog over the past year, you may remember a section that was entitled “Britton Public Library.” I replicated it on my current tumblr below.

minimum viable audience
 

I dedicated a page of my blog to expose all of the digital content I had purchased and downloaded during my entrepreneurial journey. It was pretty vast considering my bank account had an on-and-off relationship with AppSumo. They no longer speak (learn why)

On the top of this page, I indicated that you could borrow this content from me for free. All you had to do was email me with a small ask, a provision I put in to limit hoarding.

minimum viable audience
 

The startup idea I was testing surrounded the notion of creating surplus from the digital assets that were collecting dust on my hard drive. I had hundreds of dollars of compelling, high quality content just hanging out. There’s absolutely no reason I should not be putting this capital to work in some way. My return could be recouping a very small monetary amount, or maybe just the good karma that comes with providing value to others. The bottom line was that anything was a higher return than I was receiving then.

I put this page up on my tumblr blog for two months and even tweeted it out a few times. Using Google Analytics, I determined that over 600 unique visitors viewed this page. Guess how many people emailed me about borrowing something? 1. And when I went to follow through, that person never even got back to me.

600+ people turned down free content that I had paid hundreds of dollars for. This was enough evidence for me to shelf this idea.

Beyond learning that maybe we’re not all ready to be cutting ribbons in front of our digital libraries, this experience taught me the value of an audience. Writing 60+ blog posts before this experiment provided me with a test bed to understand whether the market demanded my “MVP” (in its current state). Observing their interactions helped me to determine something that would have been otherwise very challenging and time consuming to do. This was invaluable and just one example of the many excellent benefits an audience provides.

The time to start building an audience to test your idea is not when you launch, but far before that. Why? Because audiences can provide you feedback prior to launching that will improve your odds of success as well as many other valuable things.

I don’t have a startup idea I’m pursuing and I’m very happy at my current job. But that doesn’t mean I’m not building for whatever’s next. Through blogging, networking, and engaging communities, I’m intentionally building a powerful asset in an audience. Maybe they’ll be early adopters. Maybe they’ll save months of my life by signaling lack of market demand. Maybe they’ll just be new people to grab beers with. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m much better off with them than without them which is why I continue investing my time to provide value to their lives.

Start building an audience folks.

 

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How to Drive 100+ Pageviews With 20 Seconds of Work

It’s no secret that including a link within your email signature is a simple way to promote your blog. But almost all people who do this still miss out on optimal traffic generation.

 

Few people realize that Google hides content that you’ve already seen in your inbox. For example, I just sent an email from my personal gmail to work one.

Pre-Send Compose View:

 

Default view from my work inbox:

 

 

The default Google view does not display the signature from my personal email. Why? Because I’ve forwarded messages to my work one already this week. Due to the fact I’ve already seen all the content within my email signature, Google’s default view hides it.

The only way to view my signature is by clicking the small elipsis under “Howdy”.

Expanded View After Clicking the Elipsis:

 

 

If your maintaining a static link to your blog (or any other site) within your signature, most of the people you frequently email aren’t even seeing it – you’re leaving pageview dinero on the table.

How to Optimize This

Instead of just linking to my blog, I link to each post individually within my signature following the precursor “Most Recent Thoughts.” In the instance above, I linked to my last post on How to Land Your Dream Job. This not only ensures my link appears, but also provides more compelling copy that’s likely to inspire a click.

What’s The ROI on This?

It took me 20 seconds to change the hyperlink in my email signature within my gmail settings. In order to measure the amount of traffic this drove, I used a Bit.ly link which I reserved entirely for the hyperlink within email signature.

It turns on that 45 people clicked on my “Most Recent Thoughts” link over the past 3 days. Granted I email a ton and participate in a few large google groups, but still for a personal blog, that’s not completely meaningless traffic.

Wait!! Scott, 45 does not equal 100. No it doesn’t. But from those 45 clicks three people re-shared this content via twitter. Assuming an equal number of referrals per tweet, I used Google Analytics to project that this link was responsible for over 100 page views…not too shabby for an extra 20 seconds of work.

Some bloggers will read this post and still believe engaging in this practice is not worth their time. That’s fine. I just think spending 20 seconds to optimize something that took two hours to create isn’t the worst idea ; ) #finish

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

Hacking Quora

What You Should Know About LinkedIn Search (Whoa Tumblr post!)

10 Reasons You Should Consider Blogging

One Approach To Land Your Dream Job

Stop Applying to Startups.

This was the title of an excellent post by Quinten Farmer on the challenges of landing a startup job through the traditional application process. The bottom line is it’s very challenging to stand out amongst a barrage of resumes if you don’t already have a connection to a company or taken the initiative to create one.

Fear not. There’s still hope to land your dream job. One way to accomplish this is to create a clever application or hook to stand out. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few case studies of how people have done this so that resume drop jockeys can see what this looks like:

Alec Brownstein – Y & R

Using the assumption that everyone Google’s themselves, Alec used Google Adwords to create PPC ads using the names of the top 5 creative directors in New York as keywords. For those less familiar with PPC, when these creative directors google’d their names, they saw a unique introduction from Alec at the top of the search results. See below

[youtube]http://youtu.be/7FRwCs99DWg[/youtube]
 

Matt Epstein – Google

Matt Epstein wanted to work at a little startup called Google. He took it upon himself to create a clever website called GooglePleaseHire.Me that featured a video outling why he’d be an ideal candidate. The site went viral accruing tons of media attention. Though he didn’t end up landing at gig at Google, apparently he had some pretty sweet other opportunities come his way.

Felix Delgado – SeatGeek

Instead of filling out an uninspiring form to indicate why he’d be the perfect fit for a marketing internship at ticket pioneer SeatGeek, Felix sent the founders a physical ticket he created. On the ticket was a unique bar code that directed viewers to a F.A.Q. page on his site, where he outlined why was the perfect fit for the internship. Yeah, he got the job.

seatgeek
Matt Vigliotta – SinglePlatform

My buddy and colleague at SinglePlatform Matt Vigliotta, wanted to grab the attention of our VP of Sales Adam Liebman after his introductory HR interview. So he created an awesome video that demonstrated his knowledge of the product and ability to articulate it effectively. Matt is now a Business Analyst at SinglePlatform and doing great.

These are just a few examples of people finding ways to stand out by thinking outside the box.

I think the most effective way to approach this is to develop a unique application that demonstrates the skills that an employer is looking for. I.E. If they’re looking for a marketing specialist, optimize your unique application in a way that displays your marketing abilities like Felix did.

Another way to approach it, is to use this as an opportunity to dispel any concerns they may have about your ability to do your job effectively. I once applied to a job that “preferred candidates with a technical background.” To put them at ease, I built a MySQL website (complete with login!) using the domain “IWantToWorkFor—-.com”. The site used the twitter bootstrap framework and its contents outlined why I’d be the perfect fit. Though I didn’t get the job, I made a strong, memorable impression. *It should be noted that not all of the people mentioned above landed the job they initially targeted (i.e. Matt Epstein) either. However, they did garner people’s attention, making them privy to some other great opportunities.

One Caveat:

One thing I’ve learned going the extra mile throughout the application process is the importance of balancing “standing out” and over-eagerness. Appearing too over-eager can turn some people off. If you come on too strong, you might fail the “beer test” (would I want to grab a beer with this guy?). It’s a thin line to tread and something to be mindful of.

An application form is a narrow, heavily trafficked gateway to landing your dream job. As Chris Sivers points out, the more that people do something, the less valuable it becomes. This frame implies that a traditional job submission is a sub-optimal way to communicate the value you can bring to an organization. I agree.

When you create a unique gateway, you put yourself into a separate bucket; one that signals that you’re willing to go the extra mile to accomplish a desired goal. That’s a pretty good place to be.

You can find other excellent examples of creative job applications and ways people have landed their dream jobs below:

6 Wickedly Creative Job Applications for the Digital Age

10 Creative and Inspiring Ways People Got Really Early Jobs at Hot Startups

 

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The Art of Making Things Easy

Many people miss opportunities because they don’t make things easy when they ask for something.

The best way to increase the number of positive responses you receive when you ask for anything, is to make it as easy as possible for the other person to follow through. The more difficult fulfilling a request appears, the less likely they are to do it.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight a few examples of “making things easy” done right so people know what this looks like.

Hiring

 

This is an email from my buddy David Fraga. Instead of making me hoof it over to the Shutterstock site to fetch all this information to forward along, he linked to it throughout the ask email. He even provided a link to a pre-populated search query for LinkedIn so that I didn’t have to figure out how to scan my network for potential candidates. This is a great example of making things easy.

Promotion

 

My friend Shaila sent me this email when she was trying to raise money for Entstitute. A lot of people just throw a link at you and say “hey can you do me a favor and share this! thanks.” Shaila went the extra mile and provided copy (with links) for both tweets and Facebook posts. She’s made the barrier to me following through as low as possible. Guess what? I did.

Inspiring Awareness

During cold outreach, I like to create a frame for my solution by highlighting the recipient’s problem. To maximize the effect, I try to make it incredibly easy for the recipient to verify their problem by linking to a clear demonstration of where they fall short. Here’s a hypothetical example I’d use if I was working for a commenting platform like Disqus.

Hi Mark,

I wanted to touch base because I noticed there’s no commenting functionality on your site….

The hyperlink would point to a destination on their site that evidences the exact shortcoming I’m referring to. When “Mark” reads this than clicks through, it very easy for him to verify he has a problem.

Asking for Introductions and Coffee

I’ve wrote posts on How to Ask For an Introduction and How to Ask For A Coffee Meeting before. Making it easy for the other person to fulfill your request is at the crux of both methodologies I propose.

 

Next time you ask for something, be honest with yourself – are making it as easy as possible for this person to follow through on your request? Making sure you are. It’s worth the extra few minutes.

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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering the Workforce

I’ve learned a lot from New York entrepreneur Vin Vacanti through his blog “How to Make it As A First Time Entrepreneur“. Recently he wrote a post on advice he would have given himself 5 years ago. It’s a great read that I suggest you check out.

Vin’s post inspired me to do some reflecting on my own journey. Here’s 10 things I wish I knew before entering the workforce 2 years ago:

Before Graduating
 

Nothing is more valuable than a mentor. When anyone young approaches me for career advice, I tell them to find the person whose best at what they want to get good at and go work for them – assuming you’re simpatico of course. I’m all about baptism by fire – but without an experienced mentor to calibrate your experiences, you’ll learn at a much slower rate and the process will be less enjoyable.

Busyness does not equal productivity. For the longest time I equated relentless busyness to solid progress even when I was opting for the path of least resistance. I’d clean my room before I could sit down to write a paper. I’d run errands instead of doing a problem set.

I’ve learned that the most successful people focus on figuring out how they can add the most value to whatever scenario they’re in and then execute, according to a well-thought out hierarchy of tasks. Often that means doing what’s hardest and slowest first.

Fortune favors the bold.  I knew this before I graduated, but didn’t start really living by it till later on. I’ll never forget one family vacation where I was out to dinner and we had this beautiful hostess that my family was cajoling me to go talk to.

“I’ll talk to her on the way out,” I said.

They left a minute before me to give me the open window. When I walked out…well, I just walked out. They were all waiting outside the car.

“Well?”

“I didn’t talk to her.”

“Why”

“I didn’t have the balls”

Well, the ones with the balls win.

I’ve never forgotten those words. Be it vacation romances or our careers, you never hit a shot you don’t take. I have a feeling that there are far more people who regret not taking more shots early on than people who wish they hadn’t taken so many…I wish I had started taking threes earlier.

Wake up early. Its amazing how shit doesn’t get done after 7 pm. We grab drinks instead of going to the gym. We watch Newsroom instead of slogging inch by inch towards our long term goals.

The past year has been the most productive year of my life and I mainly attribute it to one thing: waking up early. I spend the first few hours of my day working towards the things that are most important to me that I often find excuses to put off – no one’s giving you an out to grab a cold one at 5:45 am. I wish I had implemented this practice earlier in my life. It’s become my favorite part of the day. Besides, as James Altucher says, nothing good usually happens after 10pm : )

Always think long term. I was thinking about this the other day – when’s the last time I made a decision that was best for my long term interest and truly regretted it? I couldn’t think of one. However, I have no problem recalling many decisions early on in my professional journey (and life) where opting for my short-term preferences came back to bite me. It can be really hard to delay shot-term gratification, but I’m pretty sure it’s harder to change a previous decision that begets disappointment.

Carry a notebook in your back pocket, everywhere. I know this sounds ridiculous, but nothing has provided a greater intellectual jolt in my life than carrying a notebook with me wherever I go. I started doing this just over a year ago. There’s something so amazing about capturing every fleeting moment of brilliance we have – it frees me from walking around thinking about having to remember my thoughts because I can just write them down. I’ll spare you the details in this post because I’ve already written about how carrying a moleskin has changed my life before.

Lead with value. There was a point in my life that I was plagued with a “what’s in it for me mindset.” Nothing could be a bigger barrier to success for a young person than this attitude. Quite bluntly, I’ve learned you’ll go much further providing value to as many people as you can with little expectation for anything in return. Thanks Keith.

Always follow up. I missed out on a lot of opportunities early on because I didn’t follow up. I’d timidly throw my hat in the ring and if things didn’t pan out after the first try, I’d take solace in the fact that “I tried” and walk away. In hindsight this was so dumb.

Whatever the context, often time the reason that people don’t get back to you is not because they weren’t interested, but rather because something completely trivial happened that was out of your control. Don’t let something like someone else forgetting be the barrier to you seizing an incredible opportunity.

Life without balance has costs. I charged pretty hard professionally when I first got out of college. It’s done some good for me, but it’s also cost me in many ways. I’ve grown apart from friends and probably missed opportunities to meet amazing people for things that ultimately didn’t mean all that much. Damn AppSumo videos. The good news is, I’ve knipped this in the butt and have been making my way back to where I’m happiest – balanced.

There’s definitely a few other things I’m missing here, but for now I think this is a good start. I wonder what I’ll say I wish I knew when I was 24 in a few years. If there’s anything you wish you knew before entering the workforce that you’d feel like others would value, please feel free to share in the comments.

 

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I stole that from Vin too : )

BD Best Practice: Taking A LinkedIn Inventory

Business Development professionals live and die by their network. Thus, many of us end up living and dieing by our LinkedIn.

LinkedIn’s greatest value is that it provides transparency to the personal networks of  my immediate network in the form of 2nd degree connection. This information is often the gateway to the deals, partnerships, and sales we strive for on a continuous basis. Consequently, it’s in all business development practitioners best interest to expand their *true LinkedIn network. After all, the difference between the deal of a lifetime and no-deal could be just one warm introduction. But in order to even identify these opportunities there must be transparency.

A best practice to make sure you’re effectively engaging in this is to schedule a periodic “LinkedIn inventory” in order to make sure you’re connected with everyone that may be able to open the door for you. An excellent way to do this is to mine your email conversations by importing your contacts. How to do this on LinkedIn:

Step 1. Click Add Connections in the top right

Business Development LinkedIn
Step 2. Give Access LinkedIn access to your inbox

Business Development LinkedIn

Step 3. Search through contacts and identify people you should be connected to

Business Development LinkedIn

 Again, one connection can be all the difference in the world and you just never know who that person could be. For this reason, it’s a good idea to schedule this practice on a monthly basis so you don’t forget to do it. Is it time consuming? Yeah it can be. But they’re no free lunches out there and most successful create their good luck.

 

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*Your true LinkedIn network is composed of people you have a legitimate relationship with – not a dude you spoke to for 3 seconds at a meetup or some LinkedIn Tomcat from Indonesia that asked you to join his group because you had the word marketing in your profile. I’ll save this rant for a whole other post.