Startup – Social media business strategies blog Fri, 29 Dec 2017 08:16:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2 Google Demo Day award winners Fri, 18 Nov 2016 20:35:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> BeerOrCoffee lets people who use a mobile app connect at a cafe (or elsewhere) in real time.

BeerOrCoffee lets people who use a mobile app connect at a cafe (or elsewhere) in real time.

Target audience: Startups, entrepreneurs, technologists, innovators, businesses, digital marketers, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaIhaven’t had time until now to write about Google Demo Day Women’s Edition, which drew hundreds of participants to Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters on Nov. 3. Two of the startups won the top awards and garnered special praise, and I got to interview one of the startup’s founders.

Beer or Coffee

Perhaps the day’s most straightforward concept, yet tough to pull off, BeerOrCoffee is a Brazil-based startup led by Roberta Vasconcellos, named a “30 Under 30” mover and shaker by Forbes.

BeerOrCoffee (tagline: “Meet people. Expand your network”) starts with the simple truth that it’s hard to meet interesting new people these days. BeerOrCoffee is a mobile app to instantly connect nearby people over beer or coffee who want to expand their network, to expand their knowledge or find new business opportunities.

Here’s how it works: Fire it up, see who’s around you who might share some of your specific interests, and suggest sitting down at a nearby public place such as a bar, cafe or hotel restaurant. The app shows your interests and photo and other basic info. Once someone agrees to meet, you buy them the first drink.

The app can even automatically suggest people around you that you might want to meet based on your profile. It can work as a social app, helping expand your network of friends, as well as a business app, helping you grow your professional connections at a conference or event.

CEO Roberta Vasconcellos at Google Demo Day. She says of her app BeerOrCoffee: ""It's like an Uber for meeting people. Just press a button and you'll meet people who share the same interests."

CEO Roberta Vasconcellos at Google Demo Day. She says of her app BeerOrCoffee: “It’s like an Uber for meeting people. Just press a button and you’ll meet people who share the same interests.” (Photo by JD Lasica)

The challenge, as with all similar apps, is to get it into the devices of hundreds of thousands and millions of people. It’s certainly one that I would use in a heartbeat. I’m often at large events and parties and, since it’s impossible to meet everyone in the room, I often leave with the feeling that I didn’t connect with folks that I should have.

“We need each other — to be happy, to create great things together — and BeerOrCoffee uses technology to connect people from online to offline and face to face,” she says. “It’s like an Uber for meeting people. Just press a button and you’ll meet people who share the same interests.”

BeerOrCoffee started out one year ago at Startup Chile and is currently based in Brazil and Chile but has plans to expand worldwide, has recently opened a San Francisco office and plans to the U.S. market early in 2017.

As far as safety concerns: BeerOrCoffee has a high-quality private community that grows by invitation only. People can either be invited by someone that is already on the app or receive an invitation from the communities that are part of BeerOrCoffee.

They’re growing 79 percent month over month, Vasconcellos says, and their expansion plans are based on who downloads the app and where. So download it now from the App Store (for Apple devices) or on Google Play (Android).

I just did.


Some of the top audio programs available on Castbox.

Some of the top audio programs available on Castbox.


The top prize at Google Demo Day went to the Beijing-based team at CastBox, an audio platform app offering more than 400,000 podcasts, radio channels and audiobooks providing localized content across 135 countries.

CastBox is also an easy way to stream media from your Android device to your TV. “Cast” videos, photos or music from your Android to the big screen. Cast photo albums and videos from your Facebook account in seconds.

Founded by a former Google employee with an app gene, Castbox has had 3 million installs within 10 months and has 500,000 people using the app daily for a mind-blowing average user time of 2 hours per day.

Download Castbox for your iOS device or for Android.

Takeaways from Launch Scale 2016 Wed, 16 Nov 2016 23:48:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Jason Calacanis & David Sacks

Launch founder Jason Calacanis chats with Zenefits CEO David Sacks at LaunchScale. (Photo by JD Lasica)

Solid advice for startup founders, from startup founders

Target audience: Startup founders and teams, entrepreneurs, angel investors, VCs, businesses, brands, digital marketers, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaAs regular readers of know, I’ve attended every Launch conference and every TechCrunch Disrupt conference since the very first one back in 2007. And the past couple of years, I’ve attended Launch Scale, a free invitation-only event put on by Jason Calacanis to provide startup founders with insights from industry leaders and fellow founders. (I’m the co-founder and CEO of Cruiseable.)

This year’s event, held Monday and Tuesday at BeSpoke in Westfield Centre in San Francisco, drew a few hundred founders to hear speakers such as angels/VCs Christine Tsai, Josh Elman, Cyan Banister, Jonathon Triest, CEOs David Sacks of Zenefits, Glenn Kelman of Redfin, Stacey Ferreira of Forge, James Siminoff of Ring, Mei Siauw of LeadIQ, author/futurist Robert Scoble and others.

Here are a few highlights and takeaways that founders who weren’t able to attend should find useful.

cyan banister

Cyan Banister: “Don’t be afraid to change, but don’t change too drastically.” (Photo by JD Lasica)

Foundational advice for startup success

Cyan Banister of Founders Fund offered some basic foundational advice to startups: Establish milestones — it’s good to have “big hairy goals.”

Begin by understanding what you’re trying to accomplish. “What do you stand for? Write it down!”

It’s not all about the numbers — don’t forget to reward employees and your brand ambassadors, especially those who go above and beyond. Give people responsibility and ownership.

Be open to criticism from your team members. Take the feedback and try to become a better leader.
— Cyan Banister

Do weekly check-ins. Enable 360-degree feedback and make sure you listen to criticism from your team members. “Take the feedback and try to become a better leader,” she said.

Be stingy with titles, or be flat with your organizational hierarchy. “Don’t hand them out like candy. It hurts them when they move on and can’t get another job because they have a title they haven’t earned.”

Delegate. Trust others to help you drive success. “Too many (direct) reports equals death.” Once you get past a half dozen or two folks who report to you, it’s time to figure out how to spread out the responsibilities.

Study your competition. “Pick things from other companies that you love and put them into your own company,” she said. “But you can’t just copy and paste, because you’re not Tony Hsieh and Zappos.” Hsieh famously said, “Zappos is a customer service company that happens to sell shoes.”

Iterate. Don’t pivot wildly. “Don’t be afraid to change, but don’t change too drastically and rip everything up, which creates distrust.”

Don’t routinely discard employees who aren’t superstars. “If there’s a trap door beneath your chair, you’ll create a culture of fear. I don’t recommend making your employees scared.” On the other hand, if your employees are expecting a 9-to-5 culture, “they might as well go to IBM or Cisco.”

jason demant

Jason Demant of Bento discusses the company’s successful business model change. (Photo by JD Lasica)

Trump, Clinton and free speech

David Sacks, former founder of Yammer and now CEO of Zenefits, answered Jason’s question about Trump’s election this way: “The country is very polarized right now. The last thing you want to do is bring that polarization into your company.”

And while the speakers criticized those in Silicon Valley seeking to punish billionaire Peter Thiel for his support and financial backing of Donald Trump, their criticism (interestingly) drew no applause. Thiel has free speech rights, but so do the rest of us, and his being the valley’s top apologist for Trump was a disgrace. If companies want to distance themselves from Trump’s racism and misogyny by distancing themselves from Thiel, that’s their right. It is, however, a difficult issue that the valley is still working through.

Practical advice for gaining traction

Jason Demant, founder-CEO of Bento, gave an enlightening talk about the startup’s pivot from a consumer play to its new business model as a B2B2C. Bento was selling ready-made Bento boxes for $11 when it turned out that it cost $30 all told to produce and deliver. Demant ultimately had to run the numbers himself instead of relying on outside experts to do so, and so they pivoted so that they now provide instant meals for a number of already established brands like Zesty and Caviar.

I asked Demant if the change from a B2C to a B2B2C company affected Bento’s go to market strategy and he said absolutely, it’s completely different now, and in the short term you won’t be seeing Bento branding in their marketing.

“It’s hard to let go of your vision,” he said. “But after we made the pivot, the team began to speak a common language with clear goals. We can now talk about margins and have a scoreboard of how we’re doing. And the current investors  have more confidence in the company.”

Mei Siauw of Indonesia, co-founder and CEO of freemium software LeadIQ, had several suggestions on lead generation:

First impressions make a big difference, so try to personalize everything. Up your email game. “Happy users refer others,” she said. “Put a GIF inside your email to make it less boring.”

Be aggressive with your marketing. LeadIQ began asking for users’ phone numbers. Sign-ups dropped, but those who did register wound up converting at a 13 percent rate vs. 3.6 percent rate beforehand.

Edgar Blazona, founder and CEO of BenchMade Modern, said his startup learned not to send newcomers to their home page but to a “how it works” landing page that educates them about how they can order custom sofas online.

Craig Zingerline, CEO of Votion, said it’s critical to give new customers a frictionless onboarding process. “Give them more information about your company. Give them a quick start guide, with tips and tricks. We’ve created 5-minute videos and the click-through rates are very high. This has been a game changer for us.”

“Make it easy for them to get in touch with you,” he adds. Votion uses Intercom as their online chat service, and they capture 61% of the email addresses of people who reach out to them via chat.

And, critically, make sure you respond within 15 minutes of their initial query, even if it’s just to say, “I’ll get back to you every 30 minutes until we have an answer.” Zingerline says, “It really goes a long way. We try to establish this as part of our DNA.”


Robert Scoble during his talk on mixed reality. (Photo by JD Lasica)

Keeping it real: ‘Crush your competitors’

Matt Ocko, managing partner of dcvc, had some no-nonsense advice: “A well-run company has no irreplaceable parts. No one is indispensable.”

And: “VCs don’t own your life,” so keep things in perspective. “Don’t enter a ‘doom loop’ by making overly aggressive promises you can’t keep.”

Dr. Adir Shiffman, an Australian serial tech startup founder, investor and executive chairman of the global athlete analytics company Catapult Sports, also offered a take-no-prisoners call to arms: “If you want to become and remain the No. 1 brand in the world in your sector, crush your competitors.” Don’t play nice or try to forge strategic partnerships with them.

Use ruses, he said. Get your competitors to waste resources. Confuse them with misinformation. Outflank them — don’t take them head on.

Patents? “They’re a great shield but a terrible sword,” Shiffman said, “They may help you sell the company but they’re not going to help you win in the market.”

Robert Scoble, co-author of the new book The Fourth Transformation, also gave a fascinating talk about “mixed reality”: the intersection of augmented reality and virtual reality. I’ll be writing a review here soon so I’ll incorporate his talk into that review.

Lots to chew over. If there was one piece of feedback I’d offer to the program organizers for next year, it would be to get more actionable — to get over the fear of promoting for-profit companies, to foster more conversations on stage about how to reduce costs through outsourcing payroll, HR, accounting, PR, marketing surveys, etc., etc. to third parties. Even the chat with David Sacks gave no insights into why a startup might benefit from using Zenefits.

Meantime, keep an eye out for the next Launch Festival, the biggest, best and baddest startup conference in the world, coming in March 2017 (dates not yet announced).

10 rules of branding for your startup or small biz Mon, 19 Sep 2016 07:08:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Vincent-at-preso

Vincent Dignan at his “Growth Hack Your Sales” workshop in San Francisco (photo by JD Lasica).

Target audience: Businesses, brands, digital marketers, advertising agencies, PR pros, SEO specialists, entrepreneurs, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaLast month I attended one of the most eye-opening startup marketing/growth hacking talks I’ve seen in years, so I wanted to share some highlights for you in a short multi-part series. (I used to do this a lot more often before launching a startup!)

The event, called “Growth Hack Your Sales & Personal Branding!” and held at Galvanize in San Francisco’s SoMa, drew about 70 attendees. It was part of a multi-pronged series of presentations put on by digital marketing wunderkind Vincent Dignan, who proved his social chops by raising $95,516 on Indiegogo for the series of digital guides, “secret sauce” courses and client consultations he provides.

Vincent, who’s young enough to pass for a teenager (and may well be for all I know), is constantly online and his writings have garnered more than 150 million page views and 50 million visitors. The lad is British but has a serious case of Silicon Valley fever, so hopes to move to the U.S. next year. (He’s also available to speak at conferences, and I highly recommend him.)

This event promised “a step-by-step guide of growth hacking methods & tactics for getting users, traffic and revenue,” and who could resist that?

Vincent’s 148-slide presentation flew by too fast for the attendees to dive in too deeply, but he seemed to have his finger on the pulse of millennials and the next generation of post-mass media consumers. Here are some nuggets I thought you’d like especially valuable.

10 rules of personal branding

Vincent conveyed these 10 rules of “personal branding,” which is less about personal branding and more about building a brand for your startup, small business or client’s company:

  1. No one cares about you.
  2. People only care about what you give to them or do for them.
  3. Be everywhere but choose text, video, photos (or all three)
  4. Use influencers but don’t rely on them
  5. Building your brand is 10% content, 90% distribution
  6. 1 in 5 good posts is all you need for people to remember
  7. Copy until you develop your own style
  8. Never say no to public appearances
  9. Scale worldwide as soon as possible
  10. Be vulnerable: say what people are really feeling.

Vincent Dignan in San Francisco
Vincent at an earlier workshop in San Francisco.

The main takeaways here (and I’m extrapolating from what I remember of Vincent’s points) are that it’s easy to mistake personal storytelling and transparency for self-absorption. Don’t focus on the job you’re doing or how much you’re producing. Focus on your users or customers and how you’re going to improve their lives/save them time/help them meet their goals.

We live in a multimedia, multi-format, multi-screen world, so don’t just focus on writing a text-based blog. The next generation of users/customers (don’t call them consumers) are especially absorbed by rich visuals. Engage with people in their own (visual) language.

Influencers can help you spread your message. But a lot of campaigns that rely on social media influencers come up short because the A-listers don’t have sufficient and ongoing buy-in to your product, service or cause.

Don’t rely on the assumption, “If you create great content, they will come.” They may not. You have to work, work, work to get the word out across multiple distribution channels. Build your email list. Build a devoted following and show thought leadership on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Not every post you create has to be a home run. But don’t create one middling, muddled post after another on the theory that quantity is more important than quality. It’s not.

In a hat tip to Andy Warhol (to say nothing of Picasso and Steve Jobs), Vincent advised us to copy and steal at first. Your own voice and style will come in time.

You’re your brand’s best ambassador, so take advantage of opportunities to appear before relevant audiences. Be proactive and approach event and conference organizers six months or more before their next event in your sector.

I wouldn’t recommend this to every startup or business, especially if you haven’t achieved product-market fit yet, but Vincent’s advice is to try to scale globally sooner rather than later by using tools such as Twitter and Eventbrite.

And finally, I’ve been talking about the power of “being vulnerable” in my own public appearances for nearly a decade. Authenticity is the coin of the realm. Remove the mask, discard the filters, share what’s true and genuine.

Vincent Dignan in NYC
Vincent at a growth hacking/personal branding workshop in New York.

More growth hacking tips

You might also like Vincent’s presentation “How to Attract Humans” at Startup Britain in 2015.

And if you’re in the SF Bay Area, you should check out the outstanding talks available at Galvanize SF. I’ll be attending “How to Go from 0 to 4 Million Users in 1 Year” next Tuesday.

And Vincent will be speaking the same night at London Startup Marketing on “Let’s solve your startup marketing problems…50 Key Growth Hacks To Scale Your Business.”

Glip: A dazzling new project management tool Thu, 27 Aug 2015 11:00:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Cruiseable-on-Glip
A screenshot of a recent Cruiseable team video chat on Glip.

And the major disappointment that is Disqus

This is part three of a new series on “Rise of a startup: Cruiseable.” Today’s installment looks at how we’re using Glip and Disqus. Also see:

• Part 1: Great tech startups begin with a great development team
• Part 2: Followerwonk: A powerful tool to up your Twitter game

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, startup teams, angel investors, venture capitalists, developers, businesses, innovators, educators, students, journalists, travel analysts.

JD LasicaFor months, we’ve been hacking our way through the launch of the Cruiseable website and mobile app by relying on a frankly random collection of collaboration tools, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Sites, Google Groups, Google Hangouts, Skype, Basecamp, Asana and Trello.

It’s a small miracle we managed to launch with a beautiful-looking site despite the mishmosh of tools that resembles a five-car pileup on I-80.

But now we’ve hit upon an integrated tool that brings order to the chaos: Glip.

It’s the coolest project management tool that you’ve never heard of. And we’re a startup, so we don’t have a big budget for this stuff. We’re paying $5 per team member per month for 10 staffers, which isn’t nothing — but it’s well worth the investment.

Glip screenshot
A screenshot of Cruiseable’s Glip account.

Glip is one part communications platform, one part task management tool and one part resource clearinghouse. Up until a month ago we still had team members and contractors emailing each other on their personal accounts (and I’d wince at every hotmail and aol email address) and we’d wonder why our correspondence would get lost or go unanswered.

Now, Glip tracks every written communication you’ve had with each colleague, either one one one, or as part of a Team (Cruiseable General, Growth hacking, Marcom, Business Development) or an ad hoc group that you set up with specific individuals. It’s like an archived Skype chat, only friendlier and more versatile.

You can set tasks for people to carry out (or to ignore — but at least there’s a record!). You can create a resource database by adding relevant Notes. You can add other documents in other formats to a nearly bottomless directory of Files.

Business video chat at an affordable price

The coolest feature, though, is the one that still needs some work: video chats. We switched from Skype (which kept crashing with six or more participants) to Google Hangouts (which has always had shitty resolution and maxed us out at 10) to Glip and were stunned at the fidelity of the video. WOW! The videocam images really pop, at least for those of us with modern laptops.

You can invite outsiders into your circle, which we’ve done, to good effect. And you can share your screen. (Goodbye, overpriced GoToMeeting and fussy JoinMe.)

On the downside, Glip still needs some work. Its video chat feature appears powered by a third party,, and every time I start a video chat, it prompts me to download the app. [Note: Glip has now partnered with RingCentral.] And Glip’s Twitter presence is pretty much nonexistent.

Glip has integrations with Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Google Drive and Hangouts, which we have yet to explore. All in all, it’s genius. For an agile startup like Cruiseable, this is just what we needed. Thank you, Glipsters!

Disqus: We’re using it, but we’re not happy about it

Our mantra at Cruiseable is, build where we need to and borrow where it’s good enough.

Any modern startup has to offer customers and users a voice on your site or platform. So we needed a conversation solution that wasn’t a bulletin board.

I’ve long been disappointed by the dismal state of comment plug-ins. Intense Debate wasn’t an option; we built our own CMS instead of using WordPress. We’ve heard good and bad things (but mostly bad) about Livefyre. Facebook Comments was tempting, but it lacked the ability to integrate with our users’ avatars/icons. There are others out there, but none seemed particularly robust.

So we went with dull and serviceable but reliable Disqus.

What we didn’t realize is how utterly unconfigurable it is.

Want to increase the tiny font size, which was clearly engineered by 20somethings and not for an audience of 40- to 70-year-olds? You can’t.

Want to add color to the bland gray color scheme? Want to link to the user’s profile page on your site instead of to her previous comments on Disqus? Want to say ADD IMAGE instead of relying on the teeny tiny hidden-away image icon? Want to add a Flag link at the bottom of a comments on your site? Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t.

Disappointing would be an understatement for a product from a company founded in 2007.

The discussion industry, such as it is, needs a serious kick in the ass.

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Followerwonk: A powerful tool to up your Twitter game Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:01:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Here’s a video showing you how we’re using FollowerWonk for our new startup, Cruiseable.

And why increasing your @contacts score is vital to your brand’s health

This is part two of a five-part series on “Rise of a startup: Cruiseable.” Today’s installment looks at how we’re using Followerwonk to increase Cruiseable’s footprint in social media. Also see:

Part 1: Great tech startups begin with a great development team

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, startup teams, angel investors, venture capitalists, developers, businesses, innovators, educators, students, journalists, travel analysts.

JD LasicaAnyone who’s programming/scheduling social media updates or running social marketing campaigns for a startup knows that there’s a wealth of good tools out there. If anything, the field is oversaturated with too many choices.

One powerful tool that I think is underappreciated is Followerwonk, a tool from the geniuses at Moz, the inbound marketing software powerhouse, that lets you analyze, optimize and grow your Twitter following. It’s free for 30 days and then costs $149 per month unless you just register for a new free trial. 

Cruiseable score on Followerwonk

Andrew Kamphey, who runs a social marketing consultancy in Los Angeles, has been working with us since April, and we’ve grown Cruiseable’s Twitter following from 600 in April to 5,000 in July (when this instructional video was made) to more than 10,000 today. (Bonus for us: He’s worked in key posts aboard Royal Caribbean ships and has a great idea around the sharing economy for cruises.) Followers isn’t the ultimate metric on Twitter, but it’s one key indicator of whether a brand is gaining traction.

The #1 key metric you may be overlooking? @mentions

Well, the other week Andrew sent me a fascinating, unsolicited screencast about how Cruiseable is doing on FollowerWonk. And as part of our ongoing commitment to transparency, we’ve decided to share it with you. (Remember, this was one month and 5,000 followers ago.)

Here are some of the learnings we’re squeezing out of FollowerWonk — you can likely tease out actionable insights for your brand as well:

• Followerwonk is the only free or low-cost tool that I know of that lets you search Twitter users’ bios for keywords. (I’m sure there are some higher-end paid tools that do this.) Bios offer many more relevant signals than random tweets when you want to zero in on influencers in your sector.

• Twitter doesn’t give you any native capability to look at which top influencers are following you and whom you’re cluelessly not following back. Followerwonk makes it super easy to see the rankings of your followers. For example, in only a few months’ time we had four followers with more than a million followers and another 10 with 500,000 to 1 million followers. Fortunately, we were following all of them, as well as thousands of folks throughout the long tail.


• FollowerWonk gives you an at-a-glance heat map of where most of your followers are located. (We have a lot followers in Los Angeles, (as well as Miami, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Seattle and London.) And, importantly,it lets you drill down to the state, city, neighborhood and see who exactly is following you, so you can get a better sense of your online community.

“If you look at what real people are interested in and what they’re tweeting about, that’s gold.”
— Andrew Kamphey

“I have spent hours on the map alone,” Andrew says. “One, it gives you a good idea of where people are. Two, you can click on their profile and click on it and reach out to them. And third, you can find out what people tweet about at a micro-level. You can look at all the analytics in the world but that that doesn’t tell you what to tweet about. But if you look at what real people are interested in and what they’re tweeting about, that’s gold.”

• Probably the least understood value of Twitter is the ability to foster one-on-one interactions, rather than mass media announcements. Brands like Nike (95 percent), Moz (75 percent) and SproutSocial (68 percent) have been doing a stellar job of engaging their followers through these @contacts interactions. We’ve been upping our score considerably since Andrew pointed this out to us. I’ve never heard of @contacts, so I think Moz is combining @mentions and @replies and calling them @contacts.

Let’s see, what else?

• Like some other analytics tools (SEMrush,, Followerwonk lets you see how your competitors are doing on Twitter with their followers.

• Followerwonk shows you the most active hours of your followers, which takes the guesswork out of deciding when to schedule your key tweets to get the most traction.

• Our Social Authority score was 41 last month; it stands at 52 now. More importantly, like any good analytics tool, it gives you a yardstick to see how you’re faring over time with regard to retweets, url mentions and those all-important @mentions.

Andrew makes the good point that you shouldn’t focus exclusively at the top of the Twitter food chain. All those folks with more than half a million followers get bombarded with retweet requests. A better strategy, he says, is to schmooze up those with 1,000 to 5,000 followers — your peers in the real sense of the word.

FollowerWonk isn’t perfect — it’s still unnecessarily geeky, and a month ago it showed our @contacts at 0.5% and today it says it’s at 79% (the truth is somewhere in between) — but it’s head and shoulders above other Twitter analytics tools in its class.

Next in this series: Glip and Disqus, a pleasant and unpleasant surprise.

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Great tech startups begin with a great development team Mon, 10 Aug 2015 10:44:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> ela-coders-mill
Ela Goczyńska-Han, COO/Business Development Chief of Coders Mill, at the company’s table at the Launch Festival in San Francisco in March (Photo by JD Lasica).

This is part one of a five-part series on “Rise of a startup: Cruiseable.” Today’s installment looks at the decision to hire an overseas development team, Coders Mill.

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, startup teams, angel investors, venture capitalists, developers, businesses, innovators, educators, students, journalists, travel analysts.

JD LasicaDuring the past 16 months, as longtime readers know (and this blog goes back a long way, to May 2001), I’ve gone full throttle into startup mode, working with my co-founder Giacomo Balli on a travel tech startup called Cruiseable. We’re out to make it much easier and more fun for people to discover, plan and book great cruise vacations.

Over that span, friends, colleagues and strangers have asked me to write about our journey. And while I don’t lay claim to unlocking major new business processes or media insights, I do think some of what we’re doing will be of interest to other entrepreneurs (current and aspiring), as well as journalists, innovators, analysts and anyone interested in how the travel tech and cruise worlds work.

Unlike most startups that come out of Greater Silicon Valley (which includes San Francisco, which now spawns more startups than the original Silicon Valley), we decided not to spin out a few prototypes, test them, iterate and move on to something else if things didn’t immediately click.

That approach doesn’t work if you’re setting your sites higher — and we’re out to bring some rockin’ new social and mobile innovation to the $38 billion cruise industry. So we spent the first few weeks not coding, but researching. Learning. Absorbing all kinds of reports about the connected traveler, millennial travelers and the next generation of collaborative and empowered travelers.


The plumbing & development process come first

We decided to pursue Gretzky economics. Skate to where the puck’s gonna be.

Game plan in hand, target audiences identified and branding solidified (I managed to purchase the domain a few months earlier), our next step was not to build out a team, or whip up some prototypes, or invest months of time in pursuit of angel investors who shared our vision of empowered travelers.

No. We began by finding a great development team that could help construct the basic scaffolding for Cruiseable.

The quality of overseas development houses has risen markedly in recent years, especially in Poland, Ukraine, Romania and elsewhere on the Continent

We knew we wanted to be a “mobile priority” startup. While the rest of the world is moving to mobile, discovering and booking cruises is chiefly done on the Web. So we decided to create a single database that would simultaneously feed both a mobile app and our website. Any action you take on the site would be instantly reflected on the app, and vice-versa.

We did it, and it’s very, very cool.

With that single-database, no-jerry-rigging requirement in mind, we looked around for a solid development house. My co-founder is an all-star mobile app developer, but Objective C for iOS is a completely different animal than Python, PHP, Joomla and all the other code bases and development frameworks out there. (And from my years as the chief executive of Ourmedia, I sure as heck knew we weren’t going with Drupal.)

We had a finite budget and big ambitions. The quality of overseas development houses has risen markedly in recent years, especially in Poland, Ukraine, Romania and elsewhere on the Continent. I had given a talk in Krakow, Poland, two summers ago on The Social Startup to a large audience of developers and entrepreneurs. So it didn’t take much convincing from Don Dodge of Google Ventures, one of our advisors, to point us to Coders Mill, whose CEO put on the conference I spoke at.

Settling on Python and a development process

After several deep dives into our vision for the site and app, we agreed that Python was the most industrial-strength programming language and code base that could scale to thousands and eventually millions of users.

We’ve developed quite a relationship. Giacomo has flown to Krakow and met with the team, and the Coders Mill COO, Ela Goczyńska-Han, flew to San Francisco in March to meet with me and attend the Launch Festival. (In fact I introduced Ela to Launch founder and longtime friend Jason Calacanis.)

Scrum methodology

The language barrier reared up once or twice early on (my Polish is limited to the occasional Na zdrowie), but it was really just a communication rhythm that we needed to establish. The developers’ English is quite good. We’ve been using Trello as our project management system, to good effect, supplemented by emails and monthly “sprint calls” over Skype, where we discuss the deliverables for them to tackle in the next sprint. (In fact, the latest one just ended, at 2:30 am, a few minutes ago.)

We use Moqups as a prototyping tool, a beta site before pushing code to production, Google docs for listing and checking off tasks, Github as our code repository, Linode as our hosting service, toggl for tracking hours, and Scrum as our incremental agile software development method. (Hey, after working at Microsoft and at three startups, I actually know what all this stuff does. And it’s awesome.)

Oh, and I’ve been using Bank of America quite a bit to wire funds to Krakow, until we find the right set of angel investors who have the insight to join us on our quest for world domination. (Here’s our impressive team — more on them, and other tools we use, and the launch of Cruiseable, in our next installment.)

Would I recommend Coders Mill to other startups? Yes. It’s always good to work shoulder to shoulder with your developers, but when funds are limited, a development house like Coders Mill is a life saver.

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Does your small business or startup qualify for Wikipedia? Mon, 27 Jul 2015 10:02:48 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Wikipedia-and-Google-Knowledge-Graph

Target audience: Small businesses, startups, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

By Mike Wood

mike-woodWikipedia is the seventh most visited website in the world. Since its inception, companies have been using it as a way to establish their brands. Wikipedia can be a great way to promote your business, but you can’t just go in and create a promotional entry — you have to follow the rules.

For companies such as General Motors, Citibank and Facebook, there’s no question that they qualify for an entry in Wikipedia. The tough part comes when evaluating if a small business or startup qualifies for a Wikipedia page.

Why have a Wikipedia page?

Wikipedia has tough guidelines for inclusion and failing to meet those guidelines will result in the deletion of your article

Wikipedia contains more than 30 million articles, it’s read in over 285 languages and has 530 million visitors worldwide. In addition, more than 50 percent of people in the United States use Wikipedia on a monthly basis. This means that even though the accuracy of any given Wikipedia entry is disputable, people really don’t care. They still use it to determine if they should do business with a company or not.

Wikipedia has an amazing search footprint. More than 95 percent of searches return results from Wikipedia on the first page of Google search results — so much so that Google incorporates information from Wikipedia into its knowledge graph.

Having a Wikipedia page can increase your branding power. It will show up on page one of Google and also helps the page rank for your own website.


Start by getting coverage by reputable media

Before you go jumping into creating and posting a Wikipedia page about your company, it’s important to know if you qualify for a page. Wikipedia has tough guidelines for inclusion and failing to meet those guidelines will result in the deletion of your article — and a potential block from being able to recreate the article in the future.

In order to qualify for a page, you must meet Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. These guidelines basically state that you need to have significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the topic.

What types of sources meet the definition of significant, reliable and independent Significant coverage means that there is more than one source that talks about you in depth. Brief mentions do not count. You need articles that discuss you as the main topic of the article.

Reliable sources can be narrowed down to those who have fact checkers. Using well-known publications such as the New York Times, national magazines, business journals and other major publications is acceptable. Using sources such as online forums or social media profiles don’t make the cut.

Independent coverage is simple. You basically need high-quality sources that are not self-published. Don’t plan on using press releases or your own website to establish notability. If you do, deletion of your article is inevitable.

In addition to the general notability guidelines above, there are individual notability guidelines for specific topics. If you want more in-depth analysis of what constitutes Wikipedia notability, you can download the guide to notability free of charge.

Examples of who qualifies and who doesn’t

To make things a little easier, I evaluated two companies that potentially could qualify for Wikipedia pages. The first is Ubooly and the other is Takhfifan. Both are startups and both have references when you search for them in Google News. And, neither have a Wikipedia page at the time of this posting.

Ubooly is a little stuffed animal with interactive games and playbacks. It incorporates your iPhone or iPod and is intended for children ages four to nine. JD Lasica previously profiled the company for in 2013. Looking at Google, there are plenty of references that come up. You can see in the image below that there are articles in Fast Company, Denver Business Journal, TechCrunch and more.

Ubooly-search-results-WikipediaIt’s clear that there is significant coverage, and I will save time by telling you that all of these sources are considered reliable by Wikipedia. The coverage is in-depth as it speaks directly about Ubooly and not just brief mentions (the company name is in the title of each reference). The coverage is also spread about various topics (acquisition, funding, company overview, technology feature), which makes the coverage more than in-depth. Based on media coverage, Ubooly would meet guidelines for inclusion in Wikipedia.

Takhfifan is a different story. On the surface it looks like it would qualify for a Wikipedia page. However, it falls a little short. The company is similar to Groupon and based in Iran. The company is talked about quite a bit in the press, but it has very little in-depth coverage.

Takhfifan-search-results-WikipediaThe references that return all include information about Takhfifan, but they are not articles written about the company. Each article is about business in Iran and incorporates information about the company, but none of them feature the company directly. These references would be great for the Wikipedia article about the economy of Iran but would not qualify to establish the notability of Takhfifan.

Making the decision to create a Wikipedia article

Once you determine if you qualify for a page, you need to make a decision about actually creating one. While there are many positives to creating a Wikipedia page, there are also some negatives. Once such negative is that the site is open source and anyone can edit an entry. This means that someone else could potentially introduce information about your startup or business on the Wikipedia page you create. There are also conflict of interest guidelines on Wikipedia that discourage you from creating articles about yourself.

Final thoughts on promotion and Wikipedia

While having a Wikipedia can be exciting, it is not something you have to do to increase your brand presence. I see too many companies so addicted to having a Wikipedia entry that they wind up missing the bigger picture. There are plenty of ways to promote your business outside of Wikipedia. Sometimes the best thing to do is leave it in the hands of the wiki gods and hope that your entry will be created once you have enough press to qualify.

Michael Wood is an online marketing expert and owner of He specializes in reputation and brand management, article writing and professional Wikipedia editing. He is an expert Wikipedia editor and has helped hundreds of businesses and people post their articles to the site where they have otherwise failed. He is a regular contributor to many online publications that have included AllBusiness Experts, Business Insider, Business2Community and Social Media Today.
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The recipe for success that earned a $1.5 billion payday Tue, 23 Jun 2015 10:20:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Lynda Weinman
Lynda Weinman at the Traction conference in Vancouver (Photo by JD Lasica).

This is the second of a two-part series on the Traction conference. Also see:
• Part 1: Traction: How to spur growth for your startup

Target audience: Startup teams, entrepreneurs, small businesses, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

JD LasicaYesterday I highlighted some takeaways from the cool new Traction conference that debuted last Wednesday and Thursday in Vancouver. The event drew roughly 800 entrepreneurs, startup team members, marketers and angel investors.

One of the inspiring keynotes of the event came from Lynda Weinman, founder of, which LinkedIn purchased for $1.5 billion in April. (She mentioned that she’ll be leaving LinkedIn soon to pursue another entrepreneurial opportunity.)

Lynda recounted her journey from running in-person computer training courses to the dotcom crash of 2000-2001, which forced the company to pivot to online tutorials. That early mover advantage gave the ability to set the pace for all the e-learning sites that followed.

A journey that started with humble beginnings

In one telling slide, Weinman traced the journey from tiny startup to a $1.5 billion exit. Her story was not only impressive but instructive: To become a successful business, you need a singular driving purpose and someone who’s relentless at the helm.

Here’s her “What I did” slide in full:

  • Believed in myself
  • Stuck my neck out
  • Proved that I had marketability
  • Tried and iterated
  • Didn’t take no for an answer
  • Followed my heart and passion
  • Thought a lot about my audience
  • Seized the opportunity
  • Listened to others and to myself

It’s as good a recipe for success as any I’ve seen.

Traction: How to spur growth for your startup Mon, 22 Jun 2015 10:51:29 +0000 Continue reading ]]> traction-audience
Attendees at last week’s Traction conference in Vancouver (Photo by JD Lasica).

This is the first of a two-part series on the Traction conference.

Target audience: Startup teams, entrepreneurs, small businesses, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

JD LasicaI‘m just back from one of the best inaugural tech events on the West Coast: the two-day Traction conference, which drew some 800 entrepreneurs, startup team members, marketers and angels to Vancouver last week.

Speakers included marketing superstar Neil Patel, Lynda Weinman (whose was purchased by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion), Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez, SurveyMonkey president Selina Tobaccowala, Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, and a host of others.

Here’s my Flickr album of 23 photos taken at the conference.

Highlights of the Traction conference

I’ve been on Twitter for eight years, but I’m a bit old-fashioned in that I think a blog post summary will offer more long-term value than thousands of uncontextualized tweets, so here are some of the highlights I gleaned while attending the conference as both an entrepreneur and journalist:

• “In a world where 1,200 startups are launching every year, the hard thing is no longer, Can you build a product as a startup? The hard part is, Can you get traction? … Traction trumps everything.” — Justin Mares, co-author, “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.”

• Mares on Marc Andreessen and his famed venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz: “The No. 1 reason they pass on entrepreneurs they’d otherwise back is because the founders focus on product to the exclusion of everything else.”

• Great insights from Aliisa Hodges, growth manager at Mixpanel: “If you’re not using A-B testing, you’re not serious about growth.” And: “Pick just one metric of success and focus on that.” And: “Focus not just on user acquisition but on user retention.”

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite: "Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, at Traction conference “One of the pieces of advice I have for anybody is just look for the big waves, If you can find a big, economic seismic shift in the market and get in front of that, you are going to be in a way better place than trying to change something that is not as progressive,” he said.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite: Look for a big wave and get in front of it.

• Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite: “One of the pieces of advice I have for anybody is just look for the big waves. If you can find a big, economic seismic shift in the market and get in front of that, you are going to (do well).”

• Aatif Awan, head of growth at LinkedIn, agreed. “Your one metric shouldn’t be your sign-up number, it should be something like your weekly users and looking at what are they doing for you.”

• “Revenue per customer is the ultimate metric, even more important than conversion rate,” said Ben Yoskovitz, co-author of “Lean Analytics.”

• Nate Moch, VP of growth at Zillow: “Build urgency into your product. Include messaging like, ’50 other people are looking at this right now!’” … “When you send emails to your customers, you should be sending them content, not marketing.”

• Robert Cezar Matei, head of growth at Quora, offered this secret of success: “It’s about dozens of small or medium-size wins.”

• Ivan Kirign, CEO of YesGraph, offered this tip on getting things done: “Some people on the Airbnb growth team learned Android just so they could make changes to the code base directly.”

• Brian Balfour, VP of growth at HubSpot: “The most powerful word in metrics is ‘Why?'”

• “It’s significantly harder to get traction for apps than for the Web,” observed one speaker.

• “Hitting the gas pedal on growth prematurely can spell disaster,” said another.

• Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio: “A/B testing, followed through to its logical conclusion, would lead every site to become a porn site.”

Startup Grind: ‘Find your golden purpose’ Thu, 12 Feb 2015 21:16:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Jeff-Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman, who was part of the founding team at Priceline and now runs ColorJar.

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, startup teams, businesses, anyone who cares about innovation.

JD LasicaI‘m back from Startup Grind 2015 in Silicon Valley’s Redwood City, an annual two-day affair that attracts thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world.

Here’s my Flickr photo set of 47 shots from the conference, which featured Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, Bill Maris of Google Ventures, Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison and Houzz co-founder Adi Tatarko, among many others.

But the talk I was most taken with was by Jeff Hoffman, a veteran entrepreneur and public speaker who was on Priceline’s founding team and now runs ColorJar. Jeff encouraged the assembled startup founders to “find your golden purpose.”

I’ll be writing about my new startup, Cruiseable, in the coming weeks, and during my entrepreneurial journey I’ve come across many of the two-dimensional characters that Hoffman inveighed against: founders who are in it for the money, entrepreneurs who can’t decide which of a half dozen great ideas to focus on, investors who probe for an exit strategy before the startup has a solid entrance strategy.

Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, at Startup Grind and part of my Flickr set

Steps to achieve your golden purpose

Some of Hoffman’s admonitions may sound familiar to those who’ve been in the startup trenches for a while. But it’s worth holding up as an example of stellar advice to anyone who’s looking to make a difference in the world, whether you’re working at a startup, a nonprofit or elsewhere. New entrepreneurs in particular should find his advice salient.

First, solve a real problem. When you encounter it, see if others have that problem too and want it solved.

Second, don’t focus on the money. “Focus on excellence, because money follows excellence when you build something amazing. Until then, it’s just a PowerPoint.”

Third, if you have six excellent ideas, set five of them free and focus on one. “You achieve excellence by finding something in the world that you can be the best at.” Amazon, he reminded us, “won a gold medal in books” instead of starting out as a marketplace for everything.

Fourth, you can’t do it all yourself, so assemble a great team. “Hire people smarter than you. From day one you should be planning to hand off everything you’re not great at.”

Fifth, find and understand your customers. “You can’t talk to them in sales mode or service mode. Go and hang out with them, have pizza and beer. Find out about their lives and desires.”

And finally, Hoffman advised, find your golden purpose. “You’ll find your golden purpose at the intersection of three things: Are you doing the thing you’re the best at? Are you doing the thing you love? And are you doing something the world values? If you are, then amazing things happen.”


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