4 Things That Are Broken with Internet Marketing Today – A Classic Example [Updated 24/2]

Update 24/2 : I got fooled. This post is about a Facebook ad for a nightclub. I kept seeing the ads and I examined the link later – it doesn’t link to Club Hollywood as one would expect but to a shady dating site. I wouldn’t expect meeting the love of your life on that site..

Rest of the post makes sense even with this ad being an example of a scam, not of a social media campaign, so I’m leaving it up.

 

I came across the following Facebook ad some days ago. At first glance, why make a fuss? People come across 3000+ marketing messages every day, there are many worse than this.

Club Hollywood Ad

But at closer look this ad is symptomatic of internet marketing in general. There are four five things fundamentally broken with this ad:

 

1. Bad targeting

Facebook knows my age (mid-30′s), but I haven’t specified things like my hometown and  relationship status. I haven’t “liked” the club’s Page. Surely an ad for a mainstream meat market vaguely in my geographic area, in English, is not a good use of anyone’s ad budget and my Facebook feed.

2. Zero authenticity

You’d think a nightclub would use a photo of a “local beautiful woman” here, perhaps even shot on one of their advertised club nights.

Not quite. When you do an image search on Google with that image you learn it’s someone called Mechelle Montes, and you learn that from a forum where guys with an IQ of a toaster are discussing MILF photos anonymously.

Local Beautiful Woman?

[Addition 24/2: Given the scam context, the photo makes perfect sense]

3. Irrelevant landing pages

If you click through you end up on a generic homepage which is sub-optimal to say the least. A hopeful clicker will find no reference to local singles there.

[Addition 24/2: I am almost sure I clicked through to the landing page when I first noticed the ad but I guess I didn't. Lesson learned: will click on shady sites more often in the future]

4. Poor grammar

… is poor form, no matter what the language.

So this harmless nightclub ad is a caricature of internet marketing. We’re in a hurry and often spending money that’s not coming from our own pockets. So we cut corners on targeting, steal images or – on a good day – use tried and tested stock photos and treat copy as an afterthought. I, too have made these mistakes. (With the exception of featuring Ms Montes on my ads).

Decent targeting, some level of authenticity, reasonable landing pages and grammatically sound copy are not rocket science. They save marketing dollars and make internet a tiny bit better. How about let’s get them right more often?

Love letter to comedy

On Wednesday Komeediklubi, my little comedy club, will celebrate its 3rd birthday with a comedy show. 3 years is a long enough time to realize that I don’t just like stand-up comedy. Looking back at these 3 years I cannot help but admit that I love it, for better or worse.

Sometimes I forget that love is in play. When you have to carry chairs up and down the stairs after a comedy event, tired and sweaty, love is not the main thing on your mind. And there’s nothing romantic about having to juggle startup projects and worry about ticket sales for the next comedy event at the same time.

Comedy will save the world

But then there are the moments when you gain a new perspective on something during a comedy night or laugh so hard it hurts, or have a post-gig beer conversation with someone who is equally intelligent and funny. These are the moments you realise that laughter, if applied right, is a very powerful force.

Comedy has an important task of entertaining us on our brief stay in this world, it makes us laugh. But laughter is only the start of great comedy, because great comedy makes you think, too. It helps you see an event or belief in a different light. It can build a bridge between two worldviews separated by dogmas, prejudices, propaganda and such. I can’t quote a study that laughter causes lowering one’s guard and boosts empathy but I’m sure if you google it you’ll find I’m right.

Comedy’s other role in addition to entertaining us starts with political and socio-economic commentary at comedy nights and ends with the clear realisation that comedy will save the world. (Editor’s note: with the exception Russia. Putin may have screwed that country up so bad, it’s beyond repair).

In that sense comedy is a much better hobby to love than riding a jet ski, some multi-player game, kitesurfing (that I fondly practice) or darts. Fun things perhaps, but they bring about as much world peace and happiness as picking your nose or eating a yoghurt.

Full disclosure is on order here: it’s fun combined with the world-healing property that I love about comedy. If I wanted to save the world only, I would need to do something with a more quantifiable effect and in very different conditions. At this stage I tend to prefer a semi-lit room and laughter to war zones and people dying of disease. That’s about on the 20% mark on the scale of ‘armchair revolutionary to real doer’. At least I have managed to stand up!

From Lia Laats to John Gordillo – how I fell in love

I can’t say I have always loved stand-up comedy. Growing up in Soviet Estonia, there was no stand-up. Seeing our summerhouse-neighbour Lia Laats entertain guests at the village midsummer-night as a 5-year old was the closest thing there was to seeing live stand-up. I can’t pretend I was “instantly hooked” but I still remember the feeling around the fire. It was fucking great.

Fast forward about 20 years and I’m studying in Amsterdam. Most people don’t associate this city with comedy, but clubs like Boom Chicago and Toomler opened my eyes to stand-up. I was instantly hooked. In 2007 I moved to London which is a comedy heaven if you’re into British humour (not humor, mind you). Which I was. So I made it my habit to visit the various comedy clubs, always bugging friends to come along. I started to write the really good acts and the really bad acts down into my little black notebook (a .txt file, actually) to be able to see great ones again, and to avoid serial disappointment.

This black notebook came handy when I started toying with the idea of organising a comedy event in Estonia. In February 2010 I sent a rather unprofessional Facebook message to John Gordillo, the first name in my black book and one of my all-time favourites, and was ecstatic when he replied. After some swings and roundsabouts that year, John headlined the first ever Komeediklubi in November 2010 alongside Erich McElroy and Brett Goldstein. Which was fun.

Conditional love: club comedy comes first

It’s worth pointing out I don’t love all comedy. I prefer live comedy to Youtube and DVDs, and I prefer an intimate club comedy night to a big concert hall or stadium any day of the week. What draws me to the club comedy scene is that club sets are not perfect. Every line has not been rehearsed and finetuned to perfection and you’ll often see inspiration, the divine force, at work in front of your eyes. A Big Show is enjoyable but it doesn’t don’t move you, because it is usually a repetition of a previous stroke of genius, not stroke of genius in action.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve seen my fair share of uninspired and uninspiring comedy nights, and dragged friends along to see them (sorry if this was you!).

In the end there’s only love

Komeediklubi doesn’t operate in vacuum. Kinoteater and Monoteater are creating Estonian-language comedy from their different ends, and there are other enthusiasts around. Comedy Estonia has done the most to kickstart the Estonian stand-up scene, but I don’t fully appreciate their zero-sum-game worldview. And putting aside my personal preferences, having just one flavour of comedy events is not good, full stop.

So if nothing else, Komeediklubi has added some flavour to the Estonian comedy scene during the last 3 years. A flavour of dry British humour, unfancy atmosphere and comedy for the love of comedy.

When you love something you’re invincible. You may lose out on an opportunity, or lose a bit of money and brain cells with an event, or you may be outnumbered or outsmarted – but if you’re not outloved, you’re still winning. Because love for comedy, like any other kind of love, lives forever. And when you reach eternal life with your time-wasting hobby project, things are not as bad as they sound.

Happy 3rd birthday, Komeediklubi! May you live a 100 years old and remain laughable even fully grown up.

 

Last but not least – Komeediklubi would be nothing without the performers, the audience, the venue, the people that helped to spread the word, design the posters and put the chairs in place, without supporters and sponsors. You know who you are (and I know who you are). Thank you!

Referral marketing dilemma: you can influence so little, and yet do so much

With notable tech brands I’ve worked with a large chunk of new business has come from 2 channels. One is what analytics software refers to as Direct, or people typing your web address to the address bar of the browser. The other is brand search, or people searching for your company name. It’s natural for companies with a long history or a big advertising budget, but how do young tech companies gain the gravity to start attracting people in such a way?

With Skype this was partially attributed to the great work of our PR team but these two channels drive the majority of new business for companies like Pipedrive, too. I’m pretty sure the two posts Pipedrive has gotten on TechCrunch and a bit of Adwords haven’t generated any significant brand awareness to speak of.

What’s behind brand search and Direct is your users interrupting each others’ busy lives to tell about your product. A sacred moment for any entrepreneur or marketer for sure.

You get what you measure, plus a lot more

The challenge for marketers is that referrals is a large blind spot for marketing analytics. It’s difficult to tell what’s behind Direct visitors and signups exactly: a press article, a link shared via Skype or email or a monkey with an online typewriter and an infinite amount of time. There’s even a suitable term for it – dark social.

Web analytics shows just a tiny sliver of referral activity – usually referrals originating from social media and any built-in tell-a-friend programs, which may account for 5-30% of total referrals. (Even less if tracking has not been properly set up.) This means you know very little about the majority of referrals: who is behind them, what is their motivation and the golden question: how to get more referrals.

The bad news: you can’t do much to influence referrals

When you can’t see referrals in your web stats or backend data, there are other ways to start understanding referrals. The simplest way is to ask them.

In a recent referral study we asked users of a SaaS product what had prompted recommending this software. We found out people had good reasons for spreading the word. The bad news (and the good news) was that around 60% of customers made recommendations proactively, without the company or people around the customer having direct influence. 32% had been asked software recommendations in that specific niche and 22% had been asked good software tips in general. At the time the company wasn’t very active in asking for recommendations, but it was sobering to see influence over only around 3% of recommendations.

And when we asked about the main motivation to recommend the software then 60% or more people wanted to help someone or they just “really liked the software a lot”. Just 1% of people had made referrals to earn free months! (but again, this wasn’t communicated actively back in the day)

But there are still many things to do to get more referrals

The flip side of the fact you can’t influence the majority of referrals is that you CAN influence the minority. Every company can, for instance:

  • Add a straightforward way for people to recommend you. If you’re building a web tool, make sure you have a tell-a-friend functionality that’s easy to find and that functions well end to end. If you run a hair saloon, print referral flyers/invites. Referrals happen naturally anyway, you can improve end-to-end conversion and improve tracking by doing relatively little. For example having a pre-written referral email takes a lot of friction away for busy people or people who can’t express your value proposition in 2 sentences (that’s 99% of customers and 60% of your whole team) and can make a huge difference.
  • Ask for referrals. Everyone in sales knows this already, but surprisingly few tech companies ask for referrals. You don’t need to develop an elaborate referral program a la Airbnb or Transferwise immediately, asking nicely in an email is a good start.
  • Get the timing right. Referrals don’t happen evenly throughout the user life cycle. For gyms, the best time for referrals is around week 6 when you’ve seen some results but routine has not kicked in yet. For software this may be anywhere from day 2 (simple games) to months 2-4 (elaborate software that take time to learn and make an impact). Once you’ve found the sweet spot, set up a triggered notification or email for that time.
  • Similarly, you can optimize rewards. If just a few customers care about a monetary reward, try offering a charitable donation or recognition in exchange for recommendations instead.
  • Oh, and don’t forget to build a great product, so people want to spread the word about it (you heard it here first).

In conclusion, the fact that you can’t influence the majority referrals is good in several ways. If you’ve built something notable, you can count on Direct and brand search traffic to arrive on your doorstep without you doing anything. But perhaps more importantly, you can optimise end-to-end referral flow, timing of asking for referrals and rewards. Any time and money spent on this is guaranteed to be among your most profitable marketing activities.

Self-promotional blurb: I’ve started RecoWorks to help companies (and non-profits) build better referral programs. This is a small consulting shop initially, with a view to build a product or two soon. If you’d like more referrals or would like a second opinion on any referral marketing activities, give me a shout.

Photo credits: John P

How to do a successful Kickstarter campaign: 7 tips

Click & Grow recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for the Smart Herb Garden, raising $625,851 from 10,477 backers. I had the privilege to look after the marketing side of thing for this project and I really mean ‘privilege’. Running a Kickstarter campaign is a marketer’s dream job: it’s highly measurable, the duration is finite and the playing field is more level than is usual.

Although running Kickstarter campaigns has been written about extensively, quite a few people have inquired about the topic, so I typed up my observations. Here are 7 tips for running a successful Kickstarter campaign.

1. Have a good story. 

Having a good story is a good idea anyway but on Kickstarter it is crucial. A good Kickstarter story answers three questions:

- What is it and how does it make the world a better place? The first part is obvious, the second part isn’t: there aren’t very many Kickstarter success stories of things that promise more of the same or marginal improvements.

- Who are you to make this project happen? There are many examples of failed or severely delayed projects, so credibility matters. And because you don’t yet have a product, your own face is a big part of the story. Like marketing in the good old days!

- Why are you on Kickstarter? It helps to be clear how much do you need and how will you spend it.

2. Read articles and talk to people.

Many smart people have done it before, so it’d be a crime not to read up on Kickstarter’s own resources, blog posts of creators and Quora threads. Here are three posts ( 12 and 3) I found really useful, there are many more. And you’ll pick up even more if your get on the phone/Skype and chat to a couple of people that have ran a Kickstarter campaign.

3. Be part of the community.

This is kind of obvious but backing a couple of projects yourself and lurking in the comments section of projects is a great start.

4. Video and project page.

There are people more qualified to advise on video matters but I know this much: you need one part video shooting and editing skills and one part of aforementioned story to get a good result. If you hire external help for getting the video done, write a tight brief and take the time to thoroughly talk it through with the video maker before the work starts.

You also need to present your story well without the video. Good web copywriting principles apply – best pages are made easy to skim with sub-headers, illustrations and tables, as opposed to long paragraphs of text.

5. Make yourself visible on Kickstarter.com

Here’s where it gets a little less obvious. Most backers will likely discover your project on Kickstarter, not via your own mailing list or media. So you really want to be featured in places like “Popular”, “Staff picks” and the page that’s shown after you’ve backed a project. And the way to get there is earning your place by getting lots of people to back you in a relatively short amount of time. If you get listed well, you can expect every backer you convince yourself to drive 3,4 or more additional backers.

Our two main levers with the Smart Herb Garden were the existing Click & Grow community and PR. To engage the former, we had prepared three different mailing lists to go out the minute the project went live as well as personal email drafts to individual networks of team members. We also used paid promotion of our early Facebook announcements.

On the PR front we had identified a short list of six publications we really wanted to write about the project. We had pre-briefed them days before the project launch, in addition to a longer list of blogs and news sources that we contacted as the project went live. This secured coverage in Techcrunch, Gizmag, Mashable, CNET, etc which trickled down to other blogs in the following days.

Focusing the effort in the first 12 hours off the project got us our first backers, but perhaps even more importantly it got us listed throughout Kickstarter for the whole duration of the campaign. In the end more than 75% of pledges originated on Kickstarter.com.

6. When in Rome. 

… do as the Romans do. And I don’t mean frequent visits to public baths or lavish festivities, but following the best practices that work really well on Kickstarter. Early bird offers and limited pledge levels give a reason for your loyal community members to back your project early (and help get listed on Kickstarter). Kickstarter-special reward modifications make backing more interesting for your biggest fans.

Kickstarted famously is not a store so if you’re running a hardware project, there are also some restrictions compared to traditional pre-ordering. For example, you can’t offer multiple quantities of the same thing. What you can offer is “reasonable sets” of different products, for example two console remotes. We introduced a set of two herb gardens, one with a green lid and the other white all around, which was reasonable enough for Kickstarter.

7. Listen and adapt.

Last but not least, Kickstarter is a much more “live” campaign than most marketing I’ve done previously. You’ll get a ton of questions and feedback in comments and personal messages, and you’re expected to not just listen, but take action too. We changed quite a few things as a result of feedback and this seems to be the norm on Kickstarter. The good news is that this feedback is much easier to act upon compared to most situations, as you haven’t yet started the production process.

Reading feedback, replying and making the necessary adjustments to FAQ’s or project description takes at least a couple of hours every day, which is a good reason to make sure there’s a dedicated Kickstarter “project manager” in the team.

What I would do differently next time

Getting more than 10,000 people behind the Smart Herb Garden was definitely a good result, but the campaign was by no means perfect. Here’s what I’d do differently in the future:

- Show more face. There were no have native English speaks in the team, therefore we made a decision early on to minimise talk time on camera. A good substitution would have been showing US backers and potential backers instead, and there was even a great opportunity to record this, but timing was too tight to organise shooting. Also, in hindsight I would also have organised a couple of meet-ups with existing community and new backers.

- Don’t rush the video. We had hired external help for the video and had a very tight deadline. This meant that script writing started before we had throughly talked through the brief, and filming started before we had thoroughly talked through the script. In the end it all worked out fine, but we would have gotten the video done quicker and smoother by not rushing the very beginning.

- When you get into stretch goal territory, be more ambitious. The success of the project had us set stretch goals twice which kind of worked but in hindsight I’d set them once and for all.

It’s all about the team

While I had a say in marketing side of things the brains behind the project belonged to Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow. (My tip #8 would be to borrow some of Mattias’s entrepreneurial energy for any Kickstarter endeavours.) Liis and Priit from the Click & Grow team, people at Velvet & London AD (spacial thanks to Mari-Liis and Oliver!) and Max Borges Agency all made huge contributions. A good reminder that it’s all about the team.

Finally I’d also like to thank Peedu Tuisk of OCDesk for sharing his experience with me early on, and giving feedback later. Hope this blog post has gone some way in paying it forward. And if you have any questions, please add a comment or get in touch.

Venezuela reisikiri: Chavezi “avastamata pärlit” avastamas


Tänapäeval on üks korralik reis selline, millel on mingi kiiks juures. Näiteks läbid kontinendi CO2 jalajälge jätmata või siis sooritad rännaku käigus ekstreemsusi nagu üle lõunapooluse suusatamine või kaks aastat järjest Tätte laulude kuulamine. Meie reis oli hoopis vähem ambitsioonikas, läksime lihtsalt Kaasaga kuskile soojemasse kohta talve selgroogu murdma.

Reisi peamiseks sihtkohaks oli Adicora, tuuline kaluriküla Venezuela rannikul, ja pigem avastamata pärli kui turismimeka. Kuna miski kirjeldustes ei lõhnanud liigsete mugavuste järele, otsustasime reisile natuke väikekodanlikkust juurde pookida nii, et peatusime teel sinna mõned ööd ka Miamis ja Arubal.

Aruba

Aruba on üks parajalt väike, turvaline, mugav, mõne jaoks võibolla ka igav saareke Kariibi mere lõunaosas. Saar on oma loosungiks võtnud “One happy island”, mis iseendast sobis sinna hästi, aga “happy” on selgelt rahulolu, mitte õnnelik olemise tähenduses. Rahul paistsid nii Ameerika turistid, kes ühes paljudest headest söögikohtadest ennast suuremaks sõid või hotelli päikesevarju all lebasid, kui kohalikud, kelle tasku turistide raha ühel või teisel moel sattus. Aga südamest õnnelikke inimesi me eriti ei kohanud, nii et Aruba võiks kaaluda ka loosungi vahetamist “One island that looks like it’s on Prozac” vastu.

Saare suurust iseloomustas hästi üks reisijuht: äraeksimiseks on vaja erilist annet. Kui sa ei tea, kas oled õigel teel, siis jätka samas suunas sõitmist ja statistiliselt on tõenäoline, et jõuad igal juhul õige pea sinna, kuhu vaja. Suurem arv suunanäitusid oleks sellegipoolest saarele ainult kasuks olnud. Ringisõitmiseks oli põnevam saare tuulepealne külg koos Arikoki rahvuspargiga, edelarannikult leiab ainult rohkem või vähem rahvarohkeid randasid.

Ööbisime rendikorteris Noordi piirkonnas, suurtest hotellimürakatest veidi eemal. Otsisime rahu ja vaikust, aga kohe esimesel ööl oli katuselt kosta müra, mis oli selgelt liiga vali ka priskemate kasside või lindude kohta. Hiljem saime korteriomanikult, et katusel elavad kuus iguaani, koertest ja muudest tüütustest ohutus kõrguses. Verandaservale ronides oli iguaane vahel ka päikese käes peesitamas näha. Mõttega harjusime varsti, aga kolinaga mitte, ja nii mõnigi kord ärkasin selle peale keset kõige mõnusamat und üles.

Minu kättemaks oli magus, sõna otseses mõttes. Ühest kohalike roogade restoranist leidsin iguaanisupi ja tellisin selle kõhklemata. Kuidas iguaan külale…

Nelja päevaga saime söödud, ringi sõidetud ning esimesed surfitriibud tehtud ja oli aeg edasi Venezuela poole asuda.

Venezuala: Adicora ja Coro

Kui mõni päev enne reisi Välisministeeriumi kodulehele sattusime, ei teinud rõõmu Venezuela kohta öeldud “vältige võimalusel riiki reisimist”. Sama soovitas ka Miamis kohatud sõbra sõber, kes oli Venezuelast pärit. Röövimised ja mõrvad olid tema andmetel viimastel aastatel enneolematult sagedaseks saanud, ja just sama päeva hommikul oli uudistes juttu olnud kellestki saksa turistist, kes oli röövimise käigus tapetud. Sellest hoolimata otsustasime saatusele püstipäi vastu astuda ning ikkagi Venezuelasse sõita .

Tiibadega trolli meenutav lennuk viis meid Arubalt Punto Fijo lennujaama, sealt edasi Adicorasse oli tunnise autosõidu tee. Esmamulje Adicorast tõi meelde hulgaliselt lapsepõlvemalestusi, aga mitte helged perega Kloogarannas veedetud päevad, vaid poistekambaga Mustamäe tee garaazhide taga tühermaal mängimise. Kuigi pilti olid lisandunud palmid ja meri, andsid dominantse tooni hoopis halvasti ehitatud majad ning veepiiri pitsina palistav prügiriba.

Ehk siis avastasime end “avastamata pärlist”, mis oli väidetavalt ohtlik, aga selle eest kole. Isegi see osa minust, mis on koduks seiklusejanulisele rändurile, laiutas osavõtmatult käsi ning ei teinud vähimatki katset lohutada seda teist osa, mis otsis mõnusat rannapuhkust Kaasaga. Nimetatud Kaasa tegi küll vaprat nägu, aga oli selgelt aru saada, et ta pidas sel hetkel Välisministeeriumi usaldusväärsemaks allikaks kui mind.

Juhuslikult olin samal päeval Daniel Kahnemani “Thinking, fast and slow” raamatuga jõudnud sellesse peatükki, mis kirjeldab läbi mitme psühholoogilise eksperimendi värvikalt, kuidas nii elulugude, valusate meditsiiniliste protseduuride kui puhkuste puhul loeb kõige rohkem lõpp, mitte kestus ega kogetud ebameeldivuse hulk. Meil oli veel 12 päeva puhkust ees, ja oli veel aega lõppu mõni puhtam ja sõbralikum sihtkoht sokutada. Mul oli veel lootust!

Praktilise poole pealt on Venezuelasse vaja kaasa pakkida kaks asja. Esiteks hispaania keele oskus, sest inglise keelt rääkisid seal üsna vähesed. Ja teiseks sularaha. Kuigi kaardiga sai siin-seal maksta, oleks see elu pea kolm korda kallimaks muutnud. Nii nagu soome markadega mehkeldamise ajastu alguses Eestis, kehtis seal paralleelselt kaks valuutakurssi. Lennujaamas oli küll olemas ametlik valuutavahetuspunkt, aga sinna polnud isegi vaevutud inimest tööle võtma. Raha sai vahetada teise korruse söögikohas, mida naljatamisi restoraniks kutsuti. Vastavalt sellele, kas su näoilme oli näljane või küsiv, tõi ettekandja lauda kas menüü või bolivaride paki. Ühte silma uksel hoides (ju siis oli lennujaamas ka paar “määrimata” politseinikku) korraldas ta tehingu kiiresti ära, väike närvikõdi oli klientidele kauba peale.

 

Jahedale esmamuljele Venezuelast ja Adicorast lisandus puhkuse jooksul ka positiivset. Rand oli küll kasimata, aga tehnilisest küljest üks parimaid lohesurfikohti, mida näinud olen. Lai, liivane, inimtühi, ja nii ühtlase tuulega, et vabalt oleks saanud üksi vastu tuult sulgpalli mängida.

Tahaksin siia juurde öelda ka “ning inimesed olid jutukad ja sõbralikud”, aga see ei oleks päris tõsi. Jah, kohtasime tõeliselt toredaid inimesi, ja pidasin oma vigases hispaania keeles maha nii mõnegi lõbusa vestluse. Aga leidus ka neid, kes meiesuguseid turiste vaid pika altkulmu pilguga kostitasid. Teistsuguse pilguga, kui seda mujal Ladina-Ameerikas kohanud olen. Ilma Venezuela ajalooga tutvumata oleks olnud raske mõista, millest tuleneb selline ebasõbralikkus ja miks kuritegevust on nii palju. Aga kui riiki ikka peaaegu kogu selle ajaloo vältel juhitud sama hoolsalt nagu põrkeautot lõbustuspargis, on igati loogiline, et muutuvad väärtushinnangud ja osa ühiskonnast läheb tsivilisatsiooni vääramatut teed mööda vales suunas.

Ka süüa sai hästi ja rohkem või vähem ametlikumaid söögikohti oli päris palju. Küla parima roa otsing viis meid kord ühte sellisesse, kus toit oli sööklatoidu väljanägemisega ning tugevalt üle soolatud. “Kokk on vist armunud”, arvas Kaasa lustakalt. Nõustusin, ja nentisin, et mulle on tööalaselt kõvasti liiga tehtud. Kui toit on soolane nagu jeekim, siis on põhjuseks koka hästisujuv armuelu. Kui aga mina mõne arusaamatu kampaania korraldaksin, ei ütleks keegi kelmikalt, et “näe, turundusinimene on vist armunud”. Kahtlustan, et samamoodi tehakse iga päev liiga ka poliitikutele, arstidele ja ilmselt ka sulle, hea lugeja.

Vahetasime oma põhjamaise dieedi vist liiga kiiresti ja täielikult mereandide vastu, ja reisi teisel poolel kimbutasid seetõttu kõhuhädad. Tundsin ennast nagu läbikukkunud luuraja – ei suutnud midagi enda sees hoida. Huvitav seik oli asja juures see, et meie posada-pidaja, kes meie vaevustest kuulis, soovitas leevenduseks pepsit sidruniga. Esimest korda kogesin kultuuri, mille rahvameditsiin ei soovita kanget alkoholi. Kuigi võib ka olla, et see oli lihtsalt Pepsi erakordselt efektiivse reklaamimise tulemus.

Meie puhkuserutiin oli umbes selline: ärkad, jalutad merre ujuma, ostad puuvilja-veoautost imemaitsvad banaanid ja ananassi, surfad natuke, kirud elektri- või veekatkestust, sööd, ruttad kohe peale sööki tualetti, loed võrkkiiges, vaatad tähti. Päevad olid nii sarnased, et isegi sääski teadsime reisi lõpuks nimepidi.

Sellisest tihedast graafikust hoolimata õnnestus veidi ka lähiümbruse vaatamisväärsustega tutvuda. Vähem kui tunnise autosõidu kaugusel asus Venezuela kunagine pealinn ning ühtlasi riigi vanim linn Santa Ana de Coro. Coro koloniaalarhitektuur oli ilus, suures osas korda tehtud ja vanalinna osas oli igati mõnus jalutada.

Meil oli plaanis reisi lõppuossa paar päeva midagi helesinist ja mugavat plaanida (mul olid veel värskelt meeles Kahnemani raamatust loetud tarkused), aga seoses läheneva karnevali-nädalavahetuse ning lennufirma Tiara graafikumuudatusega, mis jättis ära kõik lennud 3 päeva järjest, jäime Adicorasse sisuliselt puhkuse lõpuni.

Hüvastijätt Venezuelaga oli intensiivne ja emotsiooniküllane. Peale check-ini tegemist käsutati kõik reisijad väikeste gruppide kaupa ruumi, kus pidi pealt vaatama, kuidas pahurad mundrimehed kogu su korralikult kokkuvolditud pagasi pahupidi keeravad. Proovisin alguses sellise hooletu tegutsemise vastu protesteerida, aga siis peatus pilk pikemalt mundrimehe kummikinnastel. See siin võiks ka palju hullem olla, mõtlesin ja lasin kaosel sündida. Viis lendu hiljem olime tagasi kodus.

Epiloog. Maailma Majandusfoorum valis Venezuela äsja maailma kõige ebasõbralikumaks riigiks turistide jaoks. See tundub liialdusena, aga kui keegi reisisoovitust küsib, siis ma ootaks veidi Venezuelasse minekuga. Las see riik puhkab end Chavezist korralikult välja, enne kui sinna minna.

Ilmus ka Ekspressi Kohvris.

What you know, doesn’t matter

The Achoo autopsy post has gotten good feedback and resulted in many good conversations. It wasn’t always pleasant to talk about the failure, but it helped to cement the learnings and, in a way, “get over it” faster.

Among other chats I did a largish Q&A session at a co-working space where I could go into more detail about the different mistakes we had made. Another thing to point out is that most of the time, we were aware of the mistakes we were making. We knew that focus is key to startups and that any successful social products always grow out of a tight small groups. But we thought “our product is so great, this doesn’t necessarily apply to us” and went with several target groups anyway. Same with our other mistakes. Just like a smoker knows that smoking is bad for health, but lights the next one anyway.

What you know, doesn’t necessarily matter, for startups and for other walks of life.

Closing Achoo, or how I learned that it’s all about the team

After around 18 months of (non-full time) work we’re shutting down Achoo. 13542 unique visitors, 1000+ users and one pivot later it’s a good time to move on to other things. Achoo won’t become the professional social network that shows what one has accomplished, and with whom. Mark my words: someone will crack that nut soon, and probably a startup not LinkedIn.

We made many popular startup mistakes but if I had to pick one I’d say the main reason we failed was that our servers kept crashing under the load. I wish:) The real reason lies in the words non-full time. We, and I should really say I, failed to get to a setup where the team can focus and take lots of shots at the goal. We were 3 people: a designer, a coder and a marketer, all good at what we do. And though we put in lots of hours, too many of them were evening hours away from each other.

All team members had other commitments of various levels, and our thinking was to moonlight until first signs of traction, and then go full time. Sounded good on paper, but this setup slowed us down and mostly working in Skype chats and Google docs limited our creativity. On a different level co-founders are also co-believers and if the team is not there for each other emotionally, you won’t get the 101% output necessary to bring a world-changing idea to life.

At this stage it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a dramatic divorce. We have the same view on closing Achoo and we might work together again – just not on another 18-month moonlighting project.

If the resourcing wasn’t enough we also got the process wrong. I fell in love with the idea rather than followed the process of getting user feedback before starting to build. Our comprehensive piece of market research was a month after our public beta launch, not before. And while I talked to lots of people about Achoo, I didn’t do enough of talking to our target group. Which neatly leads to the next mistake.

We lacked focus. Our go-to-market plan didn’t focus on one particular group of people. We had freelancers in mind but we also wanted to target a couple of other types (“let’s throw some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks”), and so we never properly penetrated any one target group. Which is not how you grow a social product.

Despite all this there are several things to be proud of – the design of Achoo, our hackatlon-like periods before major releases with intense pace and high spirits, our PR results and a couple of smaller wins. It’s just that in this day and age you need to get more than a couple of things right. You need to get almost all things right, and you definitely need to get all hands on the deck for a good while.

Big thank you to my co-founders for the journey, for mentors at various stages and to Ajujaht (the prize money we won there greatly helped to cover our outsourced development, marketing and travel costs)! The outcome isn’t great and it wasn’t always pleasant, but all in all it was fun and I learned how not to build a startup.

What next?

Not 100% sure yet, but I know I won’t be hoping to be the exception whose idea doesn’t need validation before building and I’ll work in a motivated team. I’ve started customer development for a marketing tracking tool, but for a month or two I’ll be keeping my ears open (as well as take my first long holiday in 2 years). You’re welcome to share this post and/or get in touch.

Hosewear makes bags out of recycled firehose

Hosewear is a young Estonian company (or dare I say startup) that makes bags out of recycled firehose. Ironically, written-off firehouse would otherwise be burnt. Ivar, the young man behind the project, contacted me about a year ago to discuss this up-cycling idea he had. I once led a successful project which made carrier bags out of used PVC ad banners of a supermarket chain, which were then sold in the very same chain, hence the contact.

Ivar was toying with the idea of using PVC banners for something, but ended up using firehose as the material. I like the idea of up-cycling and I liked the bag designs, so I volunteered to help with marketing and copywriting matters. This summer I also made a small investment in Hosewear.

Hosewear will not save the world, but there will be a little less smoke and waste due to its up-cycled bags, plus I hope you’ll agree the bags look damn good. Feedback and ideas welcome.

YCE Awards experience (In short: it was awesome)

I’ve just gotten back from London where I took part in YCE Media week. British Council had flown 17 young creative entrepreneurs* (hence the YCE acronym) from around the world to London – to network, get to know the UK and have a bit of fun in the process.

The group consisted of people either in film or interactive field. We had film makers, shoe designers, studio owners, web startup hustlers like yours truly (I was there representing Achoo), event organisers and more. Geography wise there were people from Indonesia to Colombia, from Ghana to Russia.


On the photo: Bassem from Egypt dancing with a 3D algorithmic being (the invisible one just next to Bassem) at Inition. Both busted some good moves.

The program was as diverse as our group. We visited startup hubs like The HUB Westminster and Seedcamp, companies like Mind Candy (maker of Moshi Monsters) and Inition (who do 3D wizardry. In medieval times this team would have burnt on stake, no questions asked) and agencies like Mother and Poke. On two days we were taken to Power to the Pixel festival and, last but not least, the MiniBar team put together a special event with us 17 giving pitches to the local scene. Lion’s share of the activities were with the whole group, but some days film folks were split from us geeks, visiting people at organisations like BAFTA.

As you might imagine, this resulted in many a good conversations, friendships, contacts made and beers had. I got a look on London from a new angle but most importantly each of us met people we would otherwise have not met.

Quadruple thanks to British Council for organising and letting yours truly be part of this! And dear reader, if you ever happen to stumble upon an opportunity to apply to YCE awards, take it!

* Clear discrimination against old unimaginative salarymen, but such is life.

Photo by British Council, more here

Tips & tricks for promoting events: hustling is the new normal

I didn’t enjoy last Sunday too much. I had 4 days to go until my next british stand-up comedy night and I had sold less than half the tickets needed to break even. I stared at the computer screen and refreshed the ticketing site’s page a couple of more times. Needless to say, this didn’t improve the situation.

Background: this was my 9th comedy night and since this is more of a hobby than work, I had treated the marketing side of things accordingly. A Facebook event, a fan page, a couple of tweets, a ticket giveway and the occasional radio or newspaper slot. First shows sold out effortlessly but each time I had had to work a little bit harder to sell the seats. This time it was crisis. It was time to put on my best hustling hat. This was my action plan:

Try promoted posts of Facebook. I promoted one of my Page posts to people that had “liked” the page and their friends, and though I don’t fully trust Facebook stats, it seems I got good value from my 11 dollars.

Go “creative”. “Share and win”-type Facebook promotions are primitive and probably not in agreement with T&C’s, but they appear to bloody work. I’ve been quite methodic about cleaning my news feed, but I keep seeing them promotions. I didn’t have an iPhone 5 to give away, so I did a parody promotion, taking advantage of the fact that the word for “share” and “divide by” is the same in Estonian. This got 13 shares – with average friend count at 150, this was around 2000 eyeballs. In a situation like this, every little helps.

This promotion, coupled with the promoted post and a couple of “normal” posts resulted in FB (vanity) metrics going through the roof. Looks nice, but I knew I had to do more than Facebook.

Set up an email list. Facebook has become increasingly noisy. Too many promotional messages, people turning off updates from Pages and email notifications. Sensing that, I had set up an email list a week before and gotten more than 100 people to sign up. I sent out my first ever newsletter.

Do a Google Plus listing. (This might be opening a can of worms, I know.) No-one’s on G+ to see your listing, but adding it has two benefits. It sends a good-looking email to everyone you invite (because people haven’t yet turned off notifications). More importantly you’ll secure some real estate in people’s Google Calendar.

Good old media. I asked a few friendly media contacts to see if and how they could spread the word. Obviously this requires establishing contacts beforehand, cold calling at this stage would have been an uphill battle.

Last but not least – the most powerful channel: asking nicely. I skyped, texted and emailed to a bunch of friends, acquaintances and people I thought would be interested, asking them to buy a ticket, spread the word, or both. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but it’s much more pleasant than having lots of empty seats on the night. A big thank you to all who helped!

Result: full house and a very good night of laughter. Plus, the fact that I had had to hustle made the whole thing even more rewarding.

Quick survey: it’s all about social

Today I did a quick follow-up survey with ansr.io* to sense check. And though the results** heavily skewed towards Facebook (where I shared the link) it confirmed my gut feel that in event promotion it’s all about social. Social as in Facebook and the old-fashioned social of talking to people. Naturally, what you promote must be worth talking to a friend about.

Hustling is the new normal

Going forward I don’t expect any of the things described above to work. I expect to sell few tickets if I do what I’ve always done before. And I’ll be prepared to hustle and look for new ways to get the word out. Marketing comedy events is very similar to marketing startups in that sense.

* Ansr.io is a promising and much needed tool, because SurveyMonkey is just one big collection of Upgrade buttons these days. But I’d give Teller and team another couple of weeks to iron out the bugs before you jump aboard.

** Tried to use Infogram for the graph but their service was so slow and unresponsive that I gave up. Not easy being an early adopter.