Friday, May 28, 2010

You know you have too many meetings when...

Friend: I just looked at my calendar for monday and thought, hey, that's not bad... only 4 meetings, at least one of which I don't need to attend

Friend: and then i realized its a holiday :)

Her whole office is closed on Monday for this holiday.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Good yesterday. Better today. Still better tomorrow."

Inspiration from....?

White Castle. :) From an old school poster of theirs.

Don't keep yourself DRY; be REAL instead

If you look up DRY in Google you'll probably get as a first result the Wikipedia entry for:

Don't Repeat Yourself

"Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system."

It's an excellent principle for software development and comes from an awesome book called The Pragmatic Programmer that I highly recommend to anyone in the software industry.

But a problem with this principle for developers and non-developers alike is that people (even unwittingly) apply it to all situations in their life.

They decide they should never repeat themselves or anyone else.

If they've already written a blog post about a topic, the topic is dead. If someone else has attacked a problem with a business, there's no way they can can start a business to handle the same problem.

I want to specifically tackle the teaching/written aspect today. I see a lot of bloggers write once and then give up on the topic. Like it's a dead issue now to them and their readers.

Sure a minority of an audience can get a little cranky when they want more material and to be learning something new (see the 37signals example below). But a huge part of an audience needs to keep hearing a message continually. There's all sorts of evidence as to why you should be considering exploring the same topics over and over.

Look at this example from Richard Feynman

That's a perfect example of how one person gets a message by being told about it a certain way, and someone needs something else.

Another common "stat" brought up is how someone needs to see an ad or a message 7-9 times before they can recall it or are aware of it. I can't find where this type of research originated, but check out this recent study done by Nielsen and Facebook:

"Taking the look at organic impressions one step further, recall, awareness and purchase intent were still rising after 10 or more exposures to the message. These results stand in strong contrast to the scant four impressions that usually influence growth in these dimensions for standard display campaigns. What’s more, the jump in awareness between the consumers who were exposed to between three and nine organic messages and those were exposed to 10 or more was a considerable 15 points."

Awareness about a brand jumped from 13% to 28% when someone was exposed to a message 10 or more times on Facebook.

Now that's advertising, and just goes to show you how inundated we are with marketing and noise.

But I bet it's a similar problem just trying to get teaching across.

You want to blog about something you think can make your readers lives better? You are competing against all the other information they are churning through all day. So I suspect your luck in making them aware of your message is about on par with how often someone needs to advertise to someone on Facebook before someone is even aware that they exist.

Now here are a couple examples of how some folks benefit by repeating themselves.


They've just launched a best selling book Rework. It so happens that Rework is pretty much a polished up retelling of stuff they've been blogging and speaking about for years. Sure, a minority of folks are disappointed, but they do already have a ton of messages that ring very true and are very useful for a lot more people in this world who has never heard of them. Here's their take (a podcast) on that criticism.

They repeat themselves constantly. And it works. New audience members and old, get their messages. Their messages are even more polished than they were before. New analogies are found. New ways of pitching an idea are found.

Tim Ash

Tim is an expert at website optimization. He's even written a very well reviewed book on the subject.

I've recently seen two articles pop up from Tim: one on the ClickZ website and one in Website Magazine.

They're both about Influence and what he's learned from Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. as well as his own experiences. And if you read them you'll see that there is some duplicate content in the articles, but they aren't identical.

And why shouldn't he do this? I'm probably the only one who even noticed this. Especially if it's a message he feels is worth spreading to more people who haven't seen it.

So next time you're blogging, writing, or thinking about reaching an audience. Don't sweat repeating yourself. If you have some opinions or beliefs go out and share them even if you feel like you've shared them before. At some point and for some parts of your audience, you are probably going to feel you need to polish and find new ways of teaching that message like Feynman discovered, but just because the core of the message remains the same shouldn't stop you from revisiting the topic.

As a teacher, as a blogger, as a speaker, as someone who is trying to grow an audience, don't keep yourself DRY but keep it REAL.

What does REAL stand for? This is where I had some trouble. I wanted to find a kick ass acronym and I don't think I'm good at this exercise.

Repeat Everything Awesome and Legendary? :)

Anyone have anything better for an acronym? Was trying to play with WARM. Wisdom Always Repeats ... ummm Meatballs. Or WET?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"How are you doing? I mean, I don't really give a crap, let's talk business."

In DK (Denmark) we'd greet with "hi" or "hello" instead of the US novels of "how are you doing? good, thanks, how about you? doing good, thank you".

- David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at 37signals had that to say about the common words we use to start a conversation here in the US.

That's sad. I don't disagree with the observation though. It's just sad that we waste our time on this insincere boilerplate.

We shouldn't be all business and skip the desire to find out the well being of the person we are about to greet.

I argue we should actually give a shit.

Have some sincerity in actually finding out how your friend, acquaintance, customer, neighbor, etc. is doing. As well share how you're actually doing.

I've started a habit of spending 150 words or less letting someone know how "I'm doing". They aren't going to get an earful. But if someone bothers to ask me, I spend 30 seconds or so actually telling them.

If someone ask's how I'm doing before asking me for customer support I might say:

"Hey there. I'm good, my wife and I started dance lessons a few weeks ago, and they've been fun, but I think we need to find a new dance studio as this one is all about the upsell. How's it going there? Oh, I see what you need to fix there..."

"Hello. Things are great, but I'm real sore. I started doing p90x about a month ago. It's this crazy home fitness thing that leaves me super sore every day. Great program, just needs a lot of time and commitment. What's been new with you? Thanks the for alert on XYZ..."

I don't need to go on a rant, or tell the people what I had for lunch. But if someone asks me how I'm doing, I go ahead and tell them.

The conversations that result from practicing this have been great.

There's a connection that gets made that's so much more rewarding than just the boilerplate "How are you. [Insert what I really want to talk to you about]" New things are uncovered and new friends are made.

And on the flip side, if I ask someone how they are doing? I mean it. I try and listen. If I don't get anything, I ask again. We've been programmed to feel like "you don't really care how I feel, and we're all in this on our own, so I'll get this question over with 'Good, how are you'."

So I try and help my conversation partner break out of this with some sincere interest in what they've been doing.

It might not be universally appreciated, but I know I enjoy connecting with the people around me a lot more when my conversations aren't just about what someone thinks they need or want on the business end.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Just be famous

Just be famous.

What a 3 year old can teach you about improving your business or career

audience - noun
the part of the general public interested in a source of information or entertainment

It's not a surprise, but forming an audience is a huge way in order to grow a business or career.

An audience chooses to be there because they are interested in what you have to say. They are there giving you permission to give them knowledge and help.

And for a business, they may even buy something you're selling to make their lives better.

One trouble though that plagues most people about the audience angle is they feel they have nothing to say.

I can't believe how many people I know who want to improve their business or careers but then get stuck finding an audience. And they're stuck because they feel like they don't possibly have anything to say and can't possibly help anyone more than someone else can.

"There's so many more people who know so much more than I do" is the popular lament.

Guess what. There will always be someone doing what you want to be doing better than you.

But that's not the point. The point is even a 3 year old can have an audience.

I was at a friend's birthday party the other night, and had a great conversation with another friend I hadn't seen in a while. He's been a newish dad with a 1 year old and 3 year old.

This guy was just gushing about his kids. Friggin loves them!

One thing that he was amazed by was how much his 1 year old looks up to the 3 year old. The dad could see it in the 1 year old's expressions and face. The 1 year old would just glue his attention onto the 3 year old like he was some kind of celebrity living in this house.

Because to this 1 year old he is.

To the 1 year old, here's a little person who's just a little bigger than him, totally kicking ass around this place. To the 1 year old, his brother is a king and has figured out how to conquer all these challenges in the 1 year old's path. He can walk, and make good use of communication. He's probably able to use a bathroom. :) And on and on in that list of accomplishments.

Why is this important? Because it should teach us, that we don't have to be Steve Jobs or Michael Jordan to teach people and find an audience.

There's something about us that we know more than a bunch of other people, and those people are probably looking for some help, and we are in a great place to do that. We can still relate to the people that need teaching.

The 1 year old doesn't look up to his dad like he looks up to his 3 year old brother, even though his dad could easily kick both their assess in a painting contest.

"I am better than your kids." If you've never seen this painting before, you're welcome. :)

He looks up to his brother because they can relate to each other.

If you're in a struggle to grow a business, think about this 3 year old.

You have a wealth of knowledge at your disposal. You have so much to teach people who want to follow in your footsteps and who'd look up to you.

You don't need to have enormous fame and accomplishments to be able to teach and form an audience. You don't even have to be that much further ahead than those that could use some help.

You just need to be able to help. Of course you should still be humble and recognize there is a lot you don't know.

But I guarantee someone could use your help today and would love to be your audience.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Treasure in my parents' basement

My parents are moving soon, and I helped a bit with packing and sorting through some of my old things in their basement last night.

I found some treasure.

The first thing that caught my attention was my very first Entrepreneur magazine.

I bought this thing on a flight to one of my first interviews for a full time job. :) Ahh the irony.

I remember sitting near a Chemical Engineering professor on the plane, and he spotted the magazine apparently. Because off the plane he was asking if I own a business.

"One day I hope."

Took awhile to get here from there, but some stuff finally clicked.

The world was a lot different in 1998 :) For the best software for small business: Windows 98, Word 97, Access 97, Netscape Communicator.

Nice keepsake.

A few things that have some real practical value: books.

I've been reading and blogging a little about psychology and persuasion. And one of the books on my Amazon Wishlist is Influence by Robert Cialdini. Looks like my sister read this in college perhaps, because there it was on the bookshelf.

Looks like she also read Flow by Csikzentmihalya. Which is another book I see coming up a lot in discussions of lean startups.

And finally, a book that I remember influencing me a great deal in college Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

"In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for the contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life - the beginning of suffering, rejection, peaces and, finally, wisdom."

I think it requires a reread.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance."

- Crash Davis (Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham)

You need to find a balance between total confidence and the beginner's mind. You can apply this to everything?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Picasso was a failure

photo by: J. Crocker

How many works did Picasso create in his lifetime?



How many works of Picasso's could you name or describe?

2? 5?

Take an art history course? Maybe you know 12?

Looking at those kinds of numbers, you might think Picasso was a failure.

But you know better.

It takes a lot of work. A lot of practice to become a master. Picasso just kept making shit. It sounds like much of Picasso's early work was even set on fire by the guy himself to keep his apartment warm because he was broke. We don't even know the totality of what he created.

Another example of a company who's constantly failing is 37signals. They don't talk about it all the time, but they keep failing. You might think they are doing gangbusters with their very popular book Rework out there on bestseller lists, Jason Fried writing an article in Inc magazine each month, or their products making millions.

But they keep failing.

Don't believe me?

Listen to their latest podcast.

"We tried out these ideas in public, we tried them out on the blog, and we took the ones that were the best...The shit that nobody cared about, or we didn't care about anymore or that bombed out is not going to make it in."

-David at 37signals (in the first few minutes)

They keep making stuff. They keep practicing. Not everything works. Not everything gets into the best selling book or gets repeated.

More failures of 37signals? Highrise version 1. You didn't even get to see it. They blew 3 months on it. Then they had to throw it out because they were on the wrong track. But then they created the Highrise you see today.

Remember the 37signal's Gig Board? Yeah, they have the Job Board. They used to have the Gig Board too. Doesn't exist anymore. I suspect because it wasn't doing what they first imagined it would do. Not enough gigs to have a separate place for them. So it got canned and now sort of rolls up into the Job Board.

On a similar note, Olivia Wilde of House fame had this to say about being more confident because you will get there:

I get asked a lot what motivates me. Practice. I'm going to fail at a lot of things. I'm going to keep trying to not let them fail of course, but they'll fail. I'll keep writing blog posts no one cares about. Making features that don't work out like I want them too. Trying new ways to grow our company that fails to reach a single person.

A bunch of them are going to bomb out. But a few won't.

A few might be remembered and make a big difference. A few already have, and for that I know the odds are high that if I keep going. If I keep practicing. If I keep working on being better than yesterday. I'll be able to make a few more works of art.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10 Observations on Duct Tape Marketing's Dirty Little Marketing Research Secret

"the one place I turn to keep myself rooted in how the world thinks and buys, you know, marketing research, is PEOPLE magazine." - John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing)

Interesting. I was taking a gander at the book Duct Tape Marketing, and this advice about People magazine was kind of unique.

After all, often, we are what we read, and so as someone who helps run a company, writes software, does customer support, does marketing, writes more software, etc. I'm constantly reading the likes of Hacker News, Wired, Reddit, technology and marketing blogs.

But I'd probably bet a good majority of customers of popular software on the web (like say Basecamp) haven't even heard of Hacker News. But I bet they've at least skimmed a People magazine more than once.

"My teeth are so white and I don't like them to feel too slippery, but I do use Listerine and I do floss everyday. But I don’t brush them everyday. I’ll use a shirt or something ... I know it's gross, but I always have fresh breath." - Jessica Simpson on Ellen Degeneres

Ha. Found on

So I thought I'd take John's advice and buy my first People and give it a look and write down any observations. They don't all probably have any kind of application to what I want to do, but they do spark some ideas.

1) First of all, I was embarrassed to buy this magazine at the 7-11. Rolled it up immediately under my arm after leaving the store. :)

2) Before even buying the magazine I ran a tool called Term Extractor from SEOMoz (a search engine marketing company) over the website to see what kinds of terms stood out.

Some that stood out to me: style, baby, watch, star style, celebrity site, sightings. And of course Sandra Bullock, Sandra Bullock, Sandra Bullock.

3) Pictures trump copy.

I know People is half celebrity gawking, but I was still surprised at how much larger and more promninent pictures are to text in this magazine. A bunch of the text is even tough to read against the photos.

There was even a section I saw that had Jessica Simpson's face next to it, but had nothing to do with Jessica Simpson. It was a little blurb about the games section of Makes you think you could/should spend a lot more time picking images/photos for a website rather than the text describing what your product does.

4) The magazine has an incredible amount of ads about food. Why this surprised me was because the magazine is a lot about pictures of people that look a lot hungrier than me. If you were to tear out all the pages without ads, you'd swear this was some kind of Food Network magazine. And not just healthy food so you can look like the celebs. A lot of chocolate, ice cream and even cream cheese.

There's even an ad for a Google Android phone and the copy of the ad is "Locate stars, planets or a decent taco".

Still a fair share of calorie cutting food. All with enormous pics again. And when the ads aren't about "people food", they are about pet food.

Does looking at skinny celebs make us hungry and easily persuaded to eat something?

5) The strong correlation to food remains with the two books that are featured in the magazine's ads. But not like you think. They aren't cookbooks. But the very first book advertised has a headline of a testimonial with one word: "Delicious". And the title of the other one is "Women Food and God".

6) The Sandra Bullock news is probably obvious. People magazine and the rest of the world is obsessed about celebrity infidelity. There's even an ad for something called Maghound that takes advantage of this with a headline "Desperate Housewives Caught With Handyman". And the ad features two of the "Desperate Housewives" characters on the covers of different magazines laying on a table with Handyman magazine.

There's also a strange contrast with the other ad on this page for children's book. Weird.

7) Another ad tries to tap into the magazine's obsession with movies by making the ad look like a typical movie poster advertisement. It was for kitty litter :)

8) Not even sure what to say about this Snicker's ad. Kind of clever. Sort of a fake celebrity endorsement. Snicker's is the best selling chocolate bar by the way with annual global sales of $2 billion.

9) An article that caught my eye is about a cat that has 1.5 million Twitter followers! That's 3 times as many as Tom Cruise.

10) Another article profiles 3 "Extreme Job Hunters". All 3 are doing some pretty atypical things to find jobs. Lawson Clarke really stands out. He created a pretty crazy portfolio site, with the homepage inspired by a centerfold of Burt Reynolds in a 1972 Cosmopolitan magazine.


So regardless of your opinion of the content of People magazine, there's a whole lot of folks, many of whom you know, work with, sell to, etc, that are reading things like this. Keeping an eye on People just might generate some ideas on how to create products, advertising and writing in a language or style your users are likely very comfortable with.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Psychological manipulation - what I learned trying to save money on a sandwich

I've got a soft spot in my heart for psychological stuff. Especially the stuff that triggers us to do things. I'm not sure why. I think I just really like to understand my brain more, because it can be an awfully weird place.

How's this for weird?

"Studies 1–5 showed that people are disproportionately likely to live in places whose names resemble their own first or last names (e.g., people named Louis are disproportionately likely to live in St. Louis)... Studies 7–10 suggested that people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names (e.g., people named Dennis or Denise are overrepresented among dentists)."

I picked up a book again I hadn't read for a long time called Triggers by Joseph Sugarman. I hear he was the guy that came up with the advertising selling those Blublocker sunglasses, and it sounds like they sold an insane amount of them. I even remember buying a pair :)

There's a trigger in there that I remember using a couple times at my old job. Well it was specifically to help this girl Stephanie save a little money at lunch.

A bunch of us at work would go to this sub shop constantly. Stephanie would only get the veggie sub. The veggie sub was $5. But Stephanie also noticed that the place had a Special sub every day for $2.75. And the veggie sub was just the Special with the meat not added. But every time Stephanie ordered the veggie sub and tried to explain her point, she was met with "we can't do that, it's $5".

So we tried a technique that I had learned in Triggers.

In Triggers, Joe explains a very similar situation where he is trying to order ice cream. He asks the waitress for chocolate ice cream with whipped cream. The waitress translated that for herself and for him and said "well, that's a sundae without the syrup, which is extra". Joe would get frustrated and begrudgingly pay the extra.

But one day Joe decided to not order the whipped cream to save a little money. However, as she was leaving with his order he gave into his whipped cream addiction, and asked her as she was walking away if she could add whipped cream. This time he was only charged for just the ice cream. Not the extra amount of a sundae.

He experimented with this over and over. He even had a friend try this with him. During the exact same meal, he ordered the original way "chocolate ice cream with whipped cream", but his friend ordered just "chocolate ice cream" and then asked for whipped cream as she was talking away.

Sure enough, Joe was charged for a sundae, and the friend was only charged for chocolate ice cream.

We felt that Stephanie was stuck in a weird situation because we knew that this veggie sub was just the Special without the meat. Why should the veggie cost more?

I noticed Stephanie was doing something similar to Joe. She'd go up to the order counter and say "veggie sub please".

So one day I had Stephanie ask for the Special. But as they were about to make the sub, she just asked as an afterthought "Can you hold the meat please?". And they gladly did it every time.

In commerce this is the psychology used to get people to keep adding upgrades onto their orders. You get someone to commit to an initial purchase at a simple/cheaper price, and then you ask them if they want more. It's easier now to get them to say yes.

This is what GoDaddy does in spades. Love or hate GoDaddy, they are kicking ass at it.

Harper Reed, the previous CTO of Threadless, was telling me about buying the magicJack. Here's an awesome photo of Harper and the mayor of Chicago that I thoroughly enjoy.

The magicJack is that phone device on the informercial that's a way to make calls using your computer and current phones. It's pretty cheap. But at the end of buying the thing, Harper was surprised at all the add ons he'd added to his cart and gladly paid for.

Use this knowledge as you see fit. It obviously can help some marketing and sales campaigns make more money. It also can help you understand how you're manipulated a little bit to buy more stuff.

And it might even save you a couple bucks at a sandwich shop.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

If at first you don't succeed, send them some crazy handwritten envelope & note.

About a couple years ago Lynette and I visited a restaurant called Sapori with my partner here at Inkling, Adam, and his wife. Adam had some fond memories of this place.

Trouble was, I didn't like my meal. Lynette's wasn't any great shakes either. So there wasn't any draw to really go back to this place and give it a second chance. Lynette and I have an endless list of restaurants we still want to try for a first chance in Chicago.

But then 12 months ago, almost exactly, since my half birthday is in May, I got an envelope in the mail just like this

This wasn't fake handwriting like the AT&T example I blogged about before, this was some real person writing all over the front and back of this envelope.

It immediately got my attention. Who on earth is personally writing me like this, and celebrating my half birthday? The Chef at Sapori!?

Inside was a gift certificate. I forget the denomination. It might have been like $19.30 or something. (I've seen him use some uneven looking numbers for his gift certificates/coupons before as well.)

And sure enough, this little marketing gimmick got Lynette and I to have dinner at Sapori again, and this time we thoroughly enjoyed it. And it had nothing to do with the gimmick anymore. This time the food kicked some ass.

Whoever this guy Chef Anthony is he's got a great little marketing tactic going on in celebrating people's half birthdays as well as getting his direct mail marketing noticed.

It worked on me 12 months ago, and now I was excited to get my second half birthday certificate from the guy this month. I can't wait to go back to Sapori again.

I've got an email out to him to see if he wouldn't mind sharing anything he's learned about this campaign he's been running. How was he inspired to do this? Who does he learn from? Who's doing all the writing on these certificates and envelopes since it must be somewhat time consuming? And how successful has it been for him? I'll follow up this post to let you know if I hear back.

Here's a couple more shots of the back of the envelope and the inside letter he sent.


44 stamps

I've been reading about guerrilla marketing tactics. And saw one I've seen before, but seemed fitting considering the one above seems to work on me. Instead of using a single stamp on your envelope, use 44 1 cent stamps. If someone got an envelope plastered in stamps, they probably are going to notice it, and might open that thing up.


I might try a bit of snail mail marketing myself. It seems that most web based companies are only thinking about web based ways of marketing themselves, and that would seem to miss all the great offline opportunities to get yourself noticed.

Here's an example of a postcard I plan on trying to market our collaboration tool for small businesses.

I'll let you know how it goes.