January 14, 2013

Best advice on starting a new business

Target audience: Businesses, entrepreneurs, startups.

David SparkIf you’ve ever tried to start a business, you know that you get thrown into a world of unknowns. Most of us are dependent on mentors and others to guide us through a realm where we’re bound to make tons of mistakes.

At The Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, I asked attendees and presenters, “What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about starting a business?” We edited down our favorite answers to create a video of the best crowdsourced advice on starting a business. Continue reading

July 23, 2012

Top 10 tips on how to get from 1 to 100K users

Target audience: Startups, corporations, small businesses, marketers, digital PR agencieis, social enterprises, Web publishers, educators.

Ayelet NoffHow do you get from one to 100,000 users? This is the million-dollar question that everyone’s trying to answer, isn’t it?

In my role as an evangelist of new technology products, I have pondered and researched this question for years now. In my research, I have recently come across a highly interesting discussion happening around this question on Quora.

There were many interesting answers given to this question. However, one of these responses, given by  Rick David, stood out, and I wanted to use some of the points illustrated in his response as the basic outline for my post, shed more light and detail on each step and include my own insights from my years of working in the industry.

So …. How do social sites go from 1 to 100K users? What techniques and methods are used to grow early?

  1. Create a good, simple product that solves a need in the market. No matter how great your marketing is and how thoroughly you follow each one of the steps written below, unless you have a good product that is clear to understand and fulfills a real need that exists in the market, you won’t be able to succeed in growing your network of users. Make sure the need is there before going forward.
  2. Do one thing well rather than doing a few things not so well. Make sure your product offering is good. Really good. It’s better to do one thing well than spreading yourself too wide. Have a simple product that does what it proposes to do and does it well. In many cases this will also enable you to focus on a niche market first before conquering the whole world. Once you figure out that your value proposition works in one niche, you can take on the whole world. Too many startups try to take on the whole world too quickly. Take it one step at a time.
  3. Invite all your friends and acquaintances. Once you’ve determined that your product is good and provides a solution to a real existing need, invite everyone you know to it. This should get you your first few hundred to a thousand visitors/users. Not only would this phase get you your first set of users, but it will also give you valuable feedback regarding what sort of response you get for the product, how to improve your offering and valuable time to fix bugs that are found. If even your friends are not entering the site, then you know that you’re not in the right direction.
  4. Word of mouth. When a site is good, people tell their friends about it even if the viral loop isn’t yet perfectly optimized. If you see that this viral loop is not occurring, you need to find out why. Go over your site offering, see what can be added/changed/integrated in order to make this viral loop a reality. Have you integrated enough social incentives in the product in order to make it viral? Have you added gamification features that will make the landscape more competitive and sticky? Are all the sharing options in place? This is very important. Make sure that you’re enabling your users to evangelize your product easily and spread the word.
  5. Blog and media coverage. Make sure to be where the early adopters hang out. This includes: Social networks and top tech blogs. If you’re going to pitch to a blogger for coverage, make sure you know what you’re doing. Otherwise you will probably damage your brand more than help it. If you’re not sure that you know how to pitch, hire a professional to do it. In the same way that you wouldn’t fix your car in-house, unless you’re a mechanic, you shouldn’t do your own pitching in-house unless: 1) You know how to pitch to perfection and  2) You have the personal connections with bloggers who you desire to write about your product. Make sure to nurture those media connections and be in contact with them on a regular basis.
  6. Buying traffic/users. Facebook ads and Google AdWords are some of the most common ways of bringing traffic to your site/product. No other company on earth knows more about you than Facebook. Facebook knows your age, your marital status, your hometown, your friends, your job, your likes, your dislikes, your hobbies, etc. Therefore there’s no better way to bring the correct target audience to your site/product, than via Facebook.
  7. SEO. Even a social site can be structured to generate a bunch of content pages that will do well in search engines. Yelp is great at this, and it looks like Hunch is going that way too.
  8. Viral growth – Invites. Your user flow and service need to be optimized so that users are incentivized to invite their friends. Add in an invite structure that will, on the one hand, give your site a feel of exclusivity (a limited number of invites), but on the other hand give the first users/influencers the power to invite up to a certain number of contacts so that they can better enjoy the service and feel “a part of the founding team of members.”
  9. Viral growth – Content creation. Sites like YouTube, Flickr and Posterous grow largely because users create content that draws in visitors, and some of those visitors convert into users that create more content, which draws in visitors. Take a look at your site or app. Does it require users to upload interesting content? If not, maybe you should rethink your strategy. New fresh content is what’s going to keep people coming back to your site.
  10. Retention. The often ignored aspect of growth is keeping your old users around. If they’re leaving, then you have a leaky bucket and your true active user count lags behind your registered user count. Try to find the source of your leak . Ask users for their feedback, ask people who have never been on your site to come with a fresh pair of eyes and tell you what’s wrong with your current offering. Don’t trust your own judgment. You’ve been around this product for way too long and are already blind to seeing what a fresh pairs of eyes can catch in seconds. Once you figure out what’s wrong with the process, you can start brainstorming on ways to stop the leak.  Once users love the service enough to stick around, then you can take the time to figure out the right way to get them to invite others.

I hope you find these tips valuable. Do feel free to share in the comments section what you consider to be some of the ways to get from 1 to 100K users.

June 6, 2012

‘Social TV’ just got a whole new meaning with Stevie

Ayelet NoffDo you “check in” to shows while you’re watching them? Does that make your TV watching experience social enough for ya? Well, sorry to disappoint, but that thing you’re doing whenever you watch TV and check in to a show is going to have to be called something else, because social TV is quickly evolving to a different type of activity altogether, more fitting of that name.

Social TV, right now, is simply a name for sharing with your connections across social media networks what you’re watching. That’s cool, but the social elements of it are kind of scarce – you tell people and you might get a sticker or badge for the effort. That’s not a two-way street, like social platforms should be. Discussing your TV viewing experience is mostly like Foursquare for TV shows.

Ryan Gosling

So what really is social TV? Let’s stick with the Foursquare metaphor for a bit. Think about a location-based service that, instead of telling other people where you are, creates places for you to be according to what your social connections share. That pub you just walked into is inspired by a tweet your friend made and the bartender just happens to be Ryan Gosling(because you like him on Facebook), the music playing is a song your boyfriend posted on your wall, and almost all the people there are your social connections.

While that would be awesome, there isn’t a location based service that does this yet. However, there is a social TV platform that does the same for all these check-in based wannabe social television platforms. I’m talking about a social TV platform that instead of helping you tell everyone what you’re watching, creates a television station you can watch completely made out of your social graph, tailored for you by your friends and connections, created by your social feeds and broadcast right to your browser.

Stevie TV: Content related to your friends’ top topics

This social TV station is called Stevie, and it has all you need in a station. The Stevie TV schedule is made up of various shows, each composed of content related to a specific topic from your friends and connections and popular among users across the Web. The shows run in a loop, and there are six of them, each more fun than the next.

The schedule starts with “Top Stories,” which shows you several top posts from your connections. “Fresh Picks” shows you new and exciting content and videos from friends and hot events coming up. “The Comedy Strip” is like a comedy central featuring friends and funny tweeps around the Web. “New Albums” features a photo album recently added by a friend. “Music Non Stop” features music you like, music your friends like and music your friends posted. Celeb TV is a gossip show that covers only the celebrities you like. Most of the shows also feature a real-time crawl of the latest and greatest general posts from your social network, and you can use “Stevie on Demand” to watch whatever show you want when you want it.

Most of the shows feature a news channel-style layout, in which you see a video in the middle (according to the theme of the show), a crawl at the bottom usually featuring content from connections and power users and a box on the side featuring what’s next or interesting information about your friends. For example, in “Music Non Stop” you see musicians your friends like.

So what does this mean for the future of social TV, or of any specialized social market? When will we see services create new experiences out of social graphs rather than amplify existing ones? Though hologram and robotics technology is still a ways away from being able to create my vision of the “Foursquare of the future,” services already exist that create radio and music stations according to your social profiles. Stevie is just the next step to a custom-made world.

Now to just get this Ryan Gosling shaped bartending robot and my life will be complete.

July 6, 2011

What kind of Web 3.0 world should we make?

Reid Hoffman
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (photo by JD Lasica)

Reid Hoffman on pervasive data and how it will impact business in the future

Christopher S. RollysonIn addition to being the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman is a Silicon Valley insider with rich insight into technology trends, markets and building companies.

I attended his presentation at SxSW, where his main message was that the future was bearing down on us, and he prophesied that it would “arrive sooner and be stranger than we think.”

  • He painted the context for his theme, “Web 3.0 as data,” with this timeline:
    • Web 1.0 was a low bandwidth environment in which individuals searched for files online (and on demand). The concept of “cyberspace” was separate from the “real” world. It was an anonymous world in which many people participated as animes.
    • Web 2.0 was a shift in which people increasingly participated with their real identities (MySpace notwithstanding), and the online world became increasingly integrated with the offline world. Social networks mapped social graphs (again, with real people), and most people blogged as themselves. Online became firmly embedded in offline life, as a way to help manage and navigate by using reviews and other buying tools. Wikileaks and the current revolutions in the Middle East are part of this larger trend.
    • Web 3.0 is mostly to do with the massive amounts of active and passive data we are generating. An example of passive data is phone calls from mobile devices. Bandwidth is increasing, which enables video, audio and graphic sharing and data. Hoffman advocates thinking hard about it and acting to protect data. Think about what kind of future we want to create.
  • Web 3.0’s data introduces significant risks to privacy because every transaction, passive and active, is linked to our real identities. Mobile device transactions are constantly tracked, and this is relevant because they are tied to real identities.
  • Hoffman’s biggest fear is how governments could use information to control people. Governments are organizations that are closest to what he called “pure power” (because they integrate information, legal authority and military/police power). They can mine email, text and all other digital data to learn anyone’s social graph.
  • Unlike corporations, government is not incented to care for citizens; he implied it is less accountable. Continue reading
December 20, 2010

What to look for in social media execution

idea execution
“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Jessica ValenzuelaThere is a lot of talk about social media, the latest and greatest in communication innovation spurred by social companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, DailyBooth and many niche destinations. With all the noise compared with signal, how do you start a social media program that works whether it is for a small business, a start-up, a product, a service, an organization or a brand?

The simple answer: details and scope of your social media execution should be based on what your goals are. Goals can be set on macro and micro levels. In large organizations, it’s a must that each business unit, team or department flows in sync to achieve the company’s social media goals.

It sounds simple — but executing it properly is not a simple matter.

There is no shortage of ideas

  • Gather the best ideas people from your organization. They do not necessarily have to be the upper management or executive-level types — sometimes the best ideas come from the mail room.
  • You’re a one-man or one-woman operation? Ask your friends and clients to collaborate with you. You’d be amazed at the ideas they’d come up to help grow your business or develop your personal brand.
  • Set clear goals that are approved and supported by the ultimate decision-maker of your social media program – the guy who has your program in his or her P&L.


  • Define your program requirements. Now that the goals are set and you have ideas — social media program managers need to create the scope of the program and the requirements list.
  • Any scale of social media program should consider these requirement areas:
  1. Define rules and variables
  2. Type of creative and development assets needed
  3. The resources you need to execute
  4. Identify distribution channels
  5. Performance metrics (data!)
  6. Risk and change management (Plan B/Plan C, in case Plan A sucks!)

You’re not a techie or a media person and don’t know anything about how all these social media tools can help you grow your business and shape your personal brand? Start small. Really small.

  • Check out Tumblr, a social media site that allows you to share information in various forms of media. It’s very easy and simple to use. Content can be auto shared to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. I use it more for fun!
  • WordPress is great for small or large operations. Highly customizable and an array of social and ecommerce plug-ins is available. We’re using it for a number of small and medium-scale client projects.
  • Get comfortable with exploring new technology and social media destinations. Be curious. It’s a great way to understand and learn about the demographic you’d like to engage your services or products with.
  • Build on top of what you’ve learned.
  • Continue reading

December 9, 2009

Le Web day 1: End of day show report

David SparkHere’s my end of day show report for Le Web, the Web 2.0 conference in Paris. I’ve been in Paris for the week reporting with the Traveling Geeks (watch video of us on a train). Watch the video for a quick summary of the companies I saw, plus a quick story at the end about an outbreak Robert Scoble had at the expense of the French entrepreneurs.

Companies and links mentioned in the video.