37 Tactics I used to grow my company to $50k/month in sales without spending a penny on marketing.

A few years ago, I grew my E-commerce site from $0 to $50k in monthly revenue just 3 months after launching. We didn’t have a physical presence and I didn’t spend one penny on marketing, every single sale came from free online channels. This past year, I used these exact same tactics to start a startup. We’ve since raised over $2.5M in VC funding and scored some marquee customers. Here are 37 of my favorite tactics. I’m happy to expand on any of these and provide more detailed commentary in the comments.

  1. Trade mentions and tweets with other companies and thought leaders. Companies with a similar number of followers will be more willing to cross promote.
  2. Share your startup on Betalist
  3. Create a Crunchbase page
  4. Respond to unanswered questions in your niche on Quora. Look for questions with a lot of people waiting for an answer.
  5. Share your website on Startupli.st or Erlibird.com
  6. Submit a free press release using a service like PRlog
  7. Sign up for a service like Mention.com, respond to anyone that mentions your brand, one of your competitors, or asks a question about your space.
  8. Launch a topic at Scoop.it and post your website into your topic page
  9. Message meetup coordinators and ask for speaking gigs at local events.
  10. Film your speaking gigs and share videos of your talks on your blog
  11. Use tools like MajesticSEO to see who links to your competitors, outreach to those websites and ask for links.
  12. Encourage social shares by using a service like Twilighter
  13. Send personalized E-mails to your existing users, ask for referrals or their help promoting your company.
  14. Create an infographic, share on free distribution sites like Visual.ly and Pinterest.
  15. Write a post called “Our competitor vs Our Company” – This will attract search engine traffic looking for reviews of your competitor
  16. Submit a presentation to Slideshare
  17. Giveaway a free e-book, ask users to sign up to your newsletter to download it.
  18. Create a “how-to” guide for something that is difficult in your industry.
  19. Promote your company in your E-mail signature
  20. Launch an E-mail newsletter using a free service like MailChimp.
  21. Get your startup featured on existing newsletters such as Startupdigest
  22. Submit your site to ProductHunt
  23. Find what blogs appear in Google for your target keywords, leave relevant comments on those blogs.
  24. Ask for feedback on Hackernews using their ShowHN forum
  25. Teach a class on skillshare.com or generalassemb.ly about your industry or niche
  26. Outreach to bloggers and influencers, invite them to share your content. If you mention them in your content, they’re more likely to share it.
  27. Write guest posts on other blogs
  28. If you’re a B2B startup, you can reach out directly to target customers on LinkedIn.
  29. Contact school alumni on LinkedIn, leverage their advice and assistance
  30. Pinpoint a young or new journalist at a big publication, offer them an exclusive on your content. Provide them with data that only you have access to. New journalists are hungry for connections and will be more willing to work with you.
  31. Giveaway your product for free to Youtubers and review bloggers in exchange for promotion.
  32. Start a drip E-mail marketing campaign
  33. Create a deal on AppSumo
  34. Invite your existing customers to provide feedback on the next version of your product. You can send them a survey or a WuFoo form to do this easily.
  35. Determine what questions people in your niche are asking, create blog posts answering those questions
  36. Run a free promotion or giveaway if users follow you on social media
  37. Manually reach out to Twitter followers of similar companies in your space. If you don’t want to reach out, just follow them.

Buying in China and selling in USA. The New American Dream

Hi r/entrepreneur I’ve followed this sub for quite a while, I enjoy the (rare) good posts, and I’d like to tell my story and hope you takeaway some useful knowledge. I was a 2009 college graduate, so I didn’t even have a chance to join the workforce in any meaningful way. Entrepreneurship is just natural to me and I hope I can sustain it over a lifetime

My entrepreneur journey began selling football tickets during college at U of Florida. Imagine an 18-year old white kid standing next to the veteran scalpers and hawking tickets. It was the best experience I could imagine. I think of it as rejection therapy Learning to not be afraid of a ‘no’ is a very important part of being an entrepreneur. After college, I started buying and selling tickets online using TicketMaster and Stubhub. Selling tickets could be its own thread, it’s such an interesting space. There are fortunes being made buying tickets to in-demand events online. It’s just rather tedious (imagine entering 50,000 captcha phrases a year) Also, scalping tickets online doesn’t provide ‘value’ to anyone. I read the domain parking thread today and it makes me proud to be making money by delivering value, not withholding it for profit.

I grew tired of tickets and decided to visit a friend in China. I stayed for 6 weeks and bought some watches to bring back for gifts. One watch was especially cool and people asked about it everywhere I went. I got back in touch with my friend in China (who was just teaching English at the time) and he traced it back to a supplier. I thought I needed an investor/partner so I contacted the only rich guy I knew and he gave me $4,000 to be my 50/50 partner. I ordered 800 watches for $3 each, and paid some guy $3,000 to make me a website.

Lesson 1 DON’T SPEND MORE THAN $300 ON YOUR FIRST WEB PRESENCE

I scrapped that site in less than a month and built my own on Shopify. If you can operate your facebook page, you can setup a Shopify account, it’s stupid easy. I set the price at $65.

Lesson 2 PRICE HIGH

It gives you so many advantages. Better customers, less returns, room for wholesale/distributors, and a higher perceived value. Anyway, I created a fun brand around this. We did fun photoshoots, ran contests in the community (facebook ads were really cheap back then), and we really gained some customers. In a stroke of good luck, I got in touch with a Groupon rep and they agreed to run a deal for my watches. I was one of the first products to run on Groupon. (Remember, Groupon was mainly for services like spas and meals at the time) This went well initially, and they slated me for a Black Friday national deal. They sold 7,000 of my ‘deals’ in 3 days. Turns out my supplier back in China was just a trade company, and he couldn’t pull off a deal of my size on his ‘credit’ He almost completely screwed up the whole deal, and it was literally one of the lowest points of my life. In the end, I fulfilled about 70% of the orders successfully, and the other 30% basically told me I ruined their Christmas and got refunds. Funny thing was, Groupon still paid me out the entire amount even though there were almost 2,000 really upset customers (an omen that Groupon did not have their house in order and had their own crash coming) This company was calledTIKKR by the way. The site is still up but I’m not really in business anymore. I might try to revive it someday. But I could see the writing on the wall. There were at least 50 companies I knew of that sold the exact same watch, including Walgreens which sold it without a brand name for $4.99. I dropped my price and got what I could out of it, but I needed a new idea. Also I had returns and warranties like mad and it cost me a ton of cash, the watches were just cheap…

I honestly don’t remember how it came about, but I became aware of bamboo sunglasses being a thing. I was approached by my China friends to start something together. We were hanging out in Chicago that summer (2012 I think) which happened to be Groupon headquarters. I had a friend who worked there, and he got me access to their sales floor so I just kind of hung around and bothered people until I found the girl who sold fashion accessories.

Lesson 3 To get that big break, sometimes you just have to hang around until something happens to you. Not sure if that really qualifies as a legit ‘lesson’ but whatever.

I got her to agree to run us on a national scale. She told us to prepare 10,000 units for sale. I don’t know how, but we got $180,000 together between 3 partners . The China guys, the Groupon insider, and me. (Actually I do know how, I used my TIKKR money with a big boost from Bank of Mom. Hi mom!) The China guys handled production, I handled branding, marketing, and everything else and the Groupon guy was the Groupon guy. I came up with Woodies (and I even bought Woodies.com for $4,000 from some Canadian dude who was selling hockey stick chairs) The idea came from the old Woodie station wagons where the frame was made from wood. I rented a few cars for the photoshoots I was obsessed with Ashley Sky at the time and I had the crazy idea to hire her for a photoshoot. I contacted her people and to my amazement, she was only like $600 for a day and she had 100k instagram followers! I figured we would make that money back with one post from her. The Groupon sale went live and we sold like 4,000 instead of 10,000.

Lesson 4 Be optimistic in general, but be realistic when it comes to forecasts.

I can’t remember how many times I had a deal setup where I was like, yea I’m going to pay off all my student loans with this deal. It was usually mildly successful, but after all the bills were paid off, I wasn’t as far ahead as I thought I would be. It reminds me of the Old Man and the Sea. You land this HUGE deal, but by the time you drag it to shore, a bunch of little things have brought it back to size. Overhead, customer service time, returns/warranties, new orders, customs fees, shipping really add up. So with that ‘poor’ sales showing, the China guys ran into their own cash-flow problems. Groupon guy and I were forced to buy them out basically. But we had a real business with real customers and we were rolling. We now had $140,000 capital base after paying off the China guys, not enough for a big order, so I noticed Kickstarter was really blowing up, and thought I could bridge our cash-flow with a blockbuster kickstarter campaign. This is where things get pretty interesting. I got it in my head I wanted to hire Kendall Jenner for this campaign. Somehow I tracked down her modeling agency and eventually her direct manager. They quoted me $100,000 for the day. I created a Pinterest board and sent it to her and asked if she would do it for $25,000 plus a bunch of incentives and they said YES! I was completely thrown off and not sure what to do. I ran some projections and thought that I could make up most of that money if we raised a lot of kickstarter money. I hired Ashley Sky,Damaris Aguiar, Kendall Jenner, Aygemang Clay, Lyall Aston photographed it, Sagette Van Embden videoed it, Lina Palacios styled it, Mary Guthrie was hair and makeup. It was a giant production. I couldn’t believe it. I flew everyone out to Malibu, CA using Southwest Airlines buddy passes! Imagine Ashley Sky and Damaris Aguiar (so hot) standing at the Southwest ticket counter like wtf is standby? I’m over here sweating bullets hoping we don’t get stuck in New Orleans and I look like a fraud. Actually I fought those type of feelings a lot during this period.

Lesson 5 Don’t ever put yourself down.

Entrepreneurship is a crazy, improvisational dance. Sometimes I would look around at my competition and think they had it figured out, they were following a plan, they were ‘professionals’ and I was just doing my best to pretend. That’s BS, we’re ALL making it up as we go! Don’t put this process on a pedestal, fake it til you make it! Anywho, I rent out a Malibu HQ using Airbnb and rented a van for the day. I still can’t help but laughing when I remember this scene: I’m driving a large van with Kendall Jenner, Ashley Sky, Damaris Aguiar, and some bros, in the mountains of Malibu, I’m driving kind of fast around the curves because we’re late for the call time I set for us. I’m wearing a captain’s hat because that was my thing during that time. and Kendall’s manager scolded me for taking the turns too fast. Fun times

Here is how the campaign turned out

So, I got Kendall to agree to Instagram/tweet/facebook the kickstarter campaign, but what I didn’t realize is kickstarter is not mainstream and it just didn’t convert. I raised like $30,000 in revenue against a cost of like $70,000. I can’t say whether I would do it again given hindsight. It has led to great brand recognition because Kendall has kind of blew up and become a mega celebrity. AND her management let me write that contract so I have rights to those photos forever. One tweet by her got me close to 20,000 email subscribers which has been a stream of income ever since. (Shoutout Mailchimp!) *Monkeyrewards fyi Since then, I’ve been trying to come up with new designs, build on the brand, and leverage the list that came from Kendall Jenner’s gravity to make sales. It’s pretty seasonal, coming mostly during the summer and Christmas season. I have some big plans for 2015, but I have to keep them quiet for the time being, maybe there will be a follow-up post this next year

All that was a year ago and Woodies has had some good times and some slow times. I got into wood watches which have been really good sellers. I started selling on Amazon *affiliate, which has been a great boost to the bottom line.

Keep in mind that during this whole time I barely took a paycheck, and moved back in with mom in Tulsa, OK during a dry spell. I don’t spend a lot of money, I have zero savings (except for a few Bitcoins) I actually travel most of the year, I’m in Thailand right now writing this to you. So to summarize, I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, and my success is best characterized by a few BIG wins, and mostly small, gradual losses. In between, my life has been great, I get to travel, work remotely, perform autonomous, creative work, do photoshoots with hot models, and learn a lot about myself and the world around me. I wouldn’t trade it back and I’m optimistic about he future

Tech that makes all this possible:

Shipwire & Amazon FBA (Amazon FBA > Shipwire if you’re wondering)

All Google Products: Gmail, Google Drive, Google Forms, Analytics

Xero for accounting

Shopify for e-commerce

[Fiverr](Fiverr.com) to boost online reviews

Alibaba for finding suppliers. Once you find them, visit them, and invest in a relationship with them

Mailchimp for Email marketing (the best thing going in my opinion)

Flexport for freight forwarding, definitely changing the game

Other takeaways:

Wholesale business and international shipping are both great if you like to waste huge amounts of time chasing small amounts of money. Stick to domestic until you’re really big-time.

Never commit to big upfront costs. Always start small and test

Have a solid accounting system and data management system. It’ll come in handy when you need it

I’ve got to shout out my friend and one-time employee Joanna (she just started OnceBitten ) I was rarely as productive as when I had someone else keeping me accountable and adding great ideas and hard work to the process. I guess the lesson is if you’re going to hire somebody, make sure they’re really, really good and pay them well

Things I haven’t quite solved yet:

Customer Service management (I hate answering emails for real)

Taxes

CRM like Salesforce or something (is this necessary guys?)

I could go on, but I think this is enough. If you’re still reading this, I’ll answer questions if anyone wants to ask about business in China, solo-travel, branding, ecommerce, etc I’m not an expert in many things, but I know a little bit about a lot

See you at the Beach!

Cory Stout, Owner Woodies

A couple shout-outs: My other entrepreneur homies doing big things! RevelryDresses(group orders of sorority dresses)

OtisandEleanor(bluetooth speakers from bamboo)

OriginalGrain(wood watches, prob better than mine :) )

edit: Just want to say I’m enjoying hearing from you all. I’m doing solo travel right now, so it’s nice to connect with other entrepreneurs out there

source: http://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/comments/2tq5k8/buying_in_china_and_selling_in_usa_the_new/

The very best tools to use in my online business

From: http://mytrafficmentor.com/top-tools/

The Essentials

Aweber – This is one is probably pretty obvious. If you’re not building a list of engaged subscribers, you’re NOT building a business. I wish someone would have kicked me in the butt and forced me to start building my list from Day 1. It should be the sole, primary focus of your business.

WordPress – This is the #1 blogging platform online. Makes it super easy to create great-looking websites on the fly. I remember back in the day when I used to code websites by hand. Can you imagine? Oh… how things have changed :) WordPress makes it super easy to create great looking websites.

Lead Pages – This is a tool that I WISH was around when I first got started. Lead Pages makes it super easy to create squeeze pages, landing pages, launch pages, sales pages, webinar invites, welcome gates, and much, much more. Plus, they’re completely mobile responsive. Allows you to create new pages in 5 minutes or less. Which I love – because that means I can get things into the market even faster.

OptimizePress 2.0 – OP is very similar to LeadPages in that it allows you to create squeeze pages, pre-launch pages, sales letters, and complete funnels. It’s a bit more ‘techie’ than Lead Pages – but offers more flexibility. I own both LeadPages and OptimizePress and use both. I like Optimize Press in particular for creating my membership and product areas. (i.e. the look and feel of the product area itself). Which LeadPages doesn’t provide. So while they do have a lot of cross-over – I find both of them indespensable. I use LeadPages when I want to deploy something quickly and OP when I want more flexibility and options.

Wishlist Member – Turn any WordPress site into a full-blown membership site. This is the software I use to run ALL of my products. Integrates directly with PayPal, Clickbank, Infusionsoft, and many others.

Wishlist is essentially for creating membership sites but you can use it to create ANY type of product.

Wistia – This is where I host all of my videos. It works extremely well for video hosting and creating custom video players. But what I like best about it is that I’m able to upload my raw GoToWebinar files and create a video player that is compatible with all mobile devices.

Camtasia Studio – This is the software I use to create ALL of our videos. It’s one of the best when it comes to creating screencast videos. In fact, all of our products have been created entirely on Camtasia.

Adtrackz Gold – This is where I do all of my tracking so that I know exactly how much traffic is coming from each traffic source. Along with how many of those visitors are converting into subscribers and sales.

If you don’t know the effectiveness of each of your different traffic sources – there’s no way to scale. You MUST measure to improve.

GoToWebinar – Webinars are one of the most powerful tools for marketing and engaging with your community.

DiyWPBlog.com – This guy is a tech wizard who makes my life easier.

PayPal – We use PayPal as our main payment processor for almost all of our products.

GumRoad – This PayPal alternative is becoming VERY popular online. GumRoad allows you to setup your product and start taking payments in a matter of minutes. Here’s a great video about this all-in-one platform.

DigiResults.com – Create an affiliate program for your products quickly and easily. DigiResults also allows you to setup instant payments for your affiliates.

Hybrid Connect – Create beautiful, engaging pop-ups for your blog and dramatically increase your opt-in rate.

Graphic Design

99designs.com – 99Designs has created a revolutionary design process where you actually have multiple designers competing to win your bid. So you can have hundreds of different designers creating multiple designs for you and you only have to pay the one you like best.

GraphicRiver.net – This is my secret spot for finding really cool graphics to use inside my product download areas and within my membership site.

ThemeForest.net – Another under-the-radar site. Here you’ll find a HUGE collection of incredible WordPress themes.

KillerCovers.com – Amazing designs for your eBooks, DVDs, CDs, etc.

DimpleArt.com – Very affordable, high-quality caricatures you can create for your website, squeeze page, and overall branding. Also makes a great gift for JV partners.

Dribbble.com – Premium graphic designers for just about any project. Used by Niel Patel.

Video

Splasheo – Awesome online service for creating professional looking intros and outros for your videos. Run by Gideon Shalwick.

LeadPlayer – WordPress plugin that allows you to customize your YouTube videos. Add an opt-in box at the beginning, middle or end of your video. Create active hyperlinks inside your videos. Customize your video player design. And track your analytics. Leadplayer is one of the best ways to start generating more leads and revenue from your videos.

SEO & Keyword Research:

SEMRush – Strap on your ninja spy glasses. This is by far my favorite SEO competitive intelligence tool. One of the few tools available that will show you EXACTLY which keyword phrases your competitors are ranking for. Priceless.

I’ve used this tool to uncover hundreds of untapped keyword phrases
with very little competition.

Long Tail Pro – This is by far one of my favorite keyword tools. It’s quick, easy, and spits out hundreds of keywords in a matter of seconds.

But even more importantly, it then allows you to see exactly
how competitive those keywords are. (a.k.a. how long it will
take to rank for those particular keywords in Google)

I know a lot of people like Market Samurai. And Market Samurai
IS a great tool. But it’s also a bit bloated and clunky.

In terms of speed – Long Tail Pro runs at least 10x faster. And when I’m doing my work – I appreciate speed.

AccuRankTracker – This is by far my favorite tool for tracking all of my keywords and their ranking in Google. AccuRankTracker allows you to track an unlimited number of websites and keywords for one-low price.

Productivity:

LastPass – Password manager that makes web browsing easier and more secure. No longer will you have to worry about remembering hundreds of different passwords. Plus, LastPass allows you to securely share login details with your team members.

EverNote – This is one of my favorite tools online. I use it every day. Evernote allows you to take notes, save url’s, web clips, files, images and entire webpages. I use it to create my online swipe file. Mark down ideas for new products. Keep a running list of article ideas, subject lines and more.

TimeTrade – Online Appointment Scheduling. Take the headache out of going back and forth trying to coordinate appointments with your clients. Let them schedule a meeting based on your availability.

Wunderlist.com – It’s like a to-do list on steroids :)

FreeMind – My favorite free mind mapping software. I use mindmaps to outline articles, webinars, new products, and business ideas.

LeechBlock – A Firefox extension that allows you to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.

Marketing:

SocialOomph – My favorite social media software. Allows you to automate your tweets, Facebook posts, LikedIn updates, and more!

Facebook Ads – This is my favorite (highly-scalable) on-demand traffic source. Our best-performing ads are Sponsored Stories that appear in the News Feed.

PerfectAudience.com – My favorite retargeting platform.

BuySellAds.com – Purchase ads that go live within 24 hours.

DedicatedEmails.com – This company will take your solo ad marketing to a completely new level. Run by Brian and Mike Litman.

Outsourcing:

VirtualStaffFinder.com – A few months ago I hired my very first full-time VA and this is where I found my superstar! Virtual Staff Finder helps you find the very best Philipino VA based on your specific needs.

SpeechPad – On demand transcription service.

Miscellaneous:

osTicket – A widely-used open source support ticket system. It seamlessly integrates inquiries created via email, phone and web-based forms into a simple easy-to-use multi-user web interface. Manage, organize and archive all your support requests and responses in one place while providing your customers with the accountability and responsiveness they deserve. osTicket is an
attractive alternative to higher-cost and complex customer support systems; simple, lightweight, reliable, and easy to setup and use. The best part is, it’s completely free. (Easily installed from cPanel using Fantastico).

Doc2PDF.net – Convert any Microsoft Word document into a PDF.

Zamzar.com – A Free online conversion tool that allows you to convert nearly unlimited types of media file formats, including documents, images, audio, videos, etc… Convert your files to different formats quickly and easily.

YouConvertIt.com – Similar to ZamZar, this site allows you to convert almost any type of file.

Vletter.com – handwriting fonts

Shrink-O-Matic – Dramatically reduce the file size of your images. Increase the speed of your website. Images can really slow down your website. Be sure to optimize them with something like Shrink-O-Matic or TinyPNG.

TinyPNG.org – Shrink your png images while preserving quality and transparency.

The inner workings of a subscription based company. $100K in 6 months! How we did it and what’s next!

First posted on Reddit

TLDR: I bought a site on reddit for 4K, partnered with another redditor, and together we spent 2 months completely retooling the business. We followed this up with 3 months of marketing, and we’re now less than 30 days away from $100K in revenue.

This is a post on how we did it.

(Read time: ~15 minutes).

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy! I’ll get right to it.

THE INNER WORKINGS OF A SUBSCRIPTION BOX COMPANY.

So about 6 months ago, I came across this thread from a guy looking to sell a website he owned:

I contacted him and found out that it was wetshaveclub.com, a wet shaving subscription box. I felt like I could make it work given the fact that dollar shave club had proven out the model. “Ok, Let’s do it!” This was the extent of my analysis on this. The site owner sent me a screenshot of his revenue, I offered about 15X his monthly profits, and we wrapped everything up that same weekend. We skipped the usual back and forth dance people go through when they’re buying websites. I sent over the money, he sent over the passwords, and that was that.

I reached out to redditor u/kaster who I had been talking to on skype for some time. He had read my original series of posts, followed it to launch and grow a local business to 40k/month, sold it, and spent a few months in Costa Rica on vacation. We had never met, but I felt like he would be the perfect person to work on this with me. This is a guy that does not play around when an opportunity presents itself. Case in point: A few weeks later he was in his car for a 5-day drive from California to the east coast so we could work on this. (Kevin’s Facebook post as he was hitting the road).

Ok, so here’s what we did to get moving:

Step 1: Website Rebranding
The original website needed some work and we set out to change the look and feel of it. Design is critical, and even more so with a consumer product where emotion is a large component of the buying decision. Click to see of our branding efforts.

Step 2: Expanding the Product line and raising prices
So the original service only delivered soaps and at a price of $12 per month. We felt that we had to double that price to make this worthwhile. In order to do this we had to expand the product line and provide more value. Click to see how we expanded our product line.

Step 3: Box Rebranding
Since we were now shipping more products (and we had rebranded the site), the next effort was to find a box that worked. We called around to different box suppliers and had them send us samples. We settled on Salazar packaging. We sent them our box design and they got on it. Click to see our box rebranding efforts.

Step 4: Increasing prices and adding annual option
Everything so far took us about 2 months of balls-to-the-wall work, but things were starting to shape up. We were then able to increase prices to $29 for the monthly box instead of $12. We also added an annual version at a reduced monthly rate to see if people would prepay for an entire year. And they did. Click to see our new pricing options.

Step 5: Marketing
So with our conversion rates up, and our box at a higher price point we were able to unleash the hounds. You’ll see that most of what we do is completely free marketing mixed in with a few paid sources. Click to see how we drive traffic.

Step 6: Ordering, Warehouse and Shipping
So with the results of our efforts, we needed space. We were shipping from our living room and while I had a small office, there was no way we could do it from there any longer. So we found an office/warehouse, moved in 10 days later and got everything set up. Click to peep the warehouse.

BonusOur new office.

So the result of all this work: We’re going to hit $100K in revenue in the next 30 days, and just passed $78K (Obligatory screenshot). We did $22K last month (Cratejoy screenshot)-They have pretty awesome analytics btw, and we’re on pace to do $35K in September. We think we can hit our first $100K month in 6-12 months and join the ranks of /u/bandholz from beardbrand.com. Dude knows his stuff and I respect how much he shares with the community. In some ways I think we’re cut from the same cloth, he’s just smarter and better looking!

What Comes Next: We’re launching an accompanying ecommerce store. This way, when folks find products that they like in the box, they can order more of them. In addition, we can expand the product line a bit to include additional grooming products and other men’s accessories. Click for a sneak peak of the upcoming store.

TAKEAWAYS FROM ALL OF THIS!

This is hard work and we made a lot of mistakes and will continue to make more. We’re working every day on providing a better customer experience and trying to improve the product line. We went into this not knowing a thing about selling and shipping products, logistics, inventory, warehousing, or even wet shaving for that matter. But we live in the information age. Anything under the sun can be figured out if you’re resourceful enough and willing to bust your ass until you make yourself an expert in that thing. We’re not well connected, nor do we access to a gazillion dollars in VC funding. We just work. Hard. And we’re just getting started.

The companies that made this happen:

Cratejoy.com for our subscription box web platform. (Awesome service and Amir rocks!)
Salazarpackaging.com for our box (Great to work with)
Sonicprint.com for our inserts (Karen is the bomb)
99designs.com for our design work (I wish I owned this company)
Uline.com for our warehouse shelving and box fill (Their delivery speed is insane)
Shipstation.com: (Integrates with cratejoy to handle our shipping. This gives us life!!)
Endicia.com: (Integrates with Shipstation so we just print labels from our computer. The truth!)
Stripe.com: Payment processor (You already know)
Perfectaudience.com: Re-targeting (Works. Well! ROI positive and helps with branding too)
Kabbage.com: $15,000 Line of credit (Surprisingly smooth experience)
Gleam.io: Contests (Super awesome set up and easy to add virality to your contests through sharing)
TeamBeachBody.com: (haha, we do insanity every morning before work! Thanks Sean T)

If you’ve made it this far, props.

This is where the case study ends!


But if you’re interested in taking a look at the mindset that has gotten us to this point, read on.

Launching something:
I read almost every front-page thread on r/entrepreneur and have done so for the past 2 years, so I know a lot of folks are stuck right now with coming up with something to launch. Here’s what I would do if I wanted to start a new business today and had no idea what to do next:

1) Check your bank account for something you’ve spent money on in the last 12 months. Bonus points if it’s a recurring service of some sort (Your customer lifetime value is instantly boosted, and you can thrive even with a high customer acquisition cost). Either way, you know it’s something that people already spend money on. This simple rule eliminates fantasy ideas: “If I get enough members I’ll figure out how to monetize it later.” Later never comes, so ideas like these don’t get a minute of my time. The only things I work on are things where I can make money starting on DAY ONE!

2)Narrow down the list to things where a lot of people are making money in that industry. Competition is good. I know, this goes against everything you’ve learned somewhere. But the more thriving competition you find, the more money is being made, and the larger the market. Join the party, throw your hat in the ring, and be at least as smart as somebody there. Most people search for a great idea with no competition without realizing that this makes it almost impossible to start something.

3) Narrow things further to something that can be delivered with a simple but well designed website that cost no more than a month’s salary. If it’s a product, you’ll then have to find someone that will let you re-sell his or her product. If it’s a service, you simply have to find someone that already provides that service. In both cases (product or service) you’re just re-selling something, and with a well-designed website, you’ll double your chances that your supplier will feel comfortable enough to let you resell their thing. Yes, good design is important for both your customers and your suppliers! Don’t launch with bad design!!! MVP or not!

4) When you get that “Yes” from a supplier, make sure you set things up so that you’re not in the customer’s way. Make things as easy as possible for them to do business with you. Seriously, remove all hoops. They should be able to do business with you as easily as they do business with Amazon. If you don’t need that extra field on the form, get rid of that shit. As easy as humanly possible!

5) Market your thing until you pass out. If your thing is something that really speaks to a person’s identity like grooming, fashion, makeup, fitness, etc. you can kill on social media (twitter, instagram, Facebook, YouTube). If your thing is more detached from a person’s identity like say a car wash or home cleaning, your best conversions will come through search (adwords, seo, yelp).


A few additional thoughts:
I think that a lot of “startup best practices” work well for people that have access to funding. For the rest of us, some of the generally accepted ideas end up pushing folks further away from launching something. Consider:

Validation: Validation in my opinion is for fantasy ideas. If you stay away from having to come up with an awesome idea, you won’t need validation in the first place. There are plenty of things you can do that other companies have already validated for you. And when you find that thing, stop worrying about competition. Competition IS the validation.

Competition: Stop measuring this by quantity. One of the first things you’ll hear is “the market is oversaturated”! This is meaningless, yet this single phrase has stopped more potential entrepreneurs in their tracks than…well I honestly can’t think of anything that beats this. Start looking at the quality of the competition instead, and you’ll often find that the market is saturated with a LOT of bad players, and they’re making a LOT of money despite being so bad.** This is the perfect situation.

Business plans: This often ends up being a way to push action further down the road. If It’s longer than one page you’re wasting your time. Download something like this, fill that bad boy out, and get to work.

LLC/incorporation: Unless the company can pay for it, it’s not happening. So this only happens AFTER the company is making money. One more excuse…GONE!

Business Analysis: Demographic data, market analysis, the economic outlook… blah blah blah. More ways to kick the can down the road and to feel that you’re doing something when you’re really not. I just get to work. If a lot of people are making money doing this thing, the startup cost is low, and there is no sorcery involved, it can be done!

Fear of your idea being stolen: Ideas hold little intrinsic value without execution. However, you can start to extract value when you get feedback on it, massaging it, push and poke it, and really run it through the wringer. And the only way to do this is to tell people about it. This goes against our most basic instincts because we’re fearful that our ideas might be stolen. Well the reality is, most people are sitting on the bench with a gazillion ideas of their own that they are not executing on. You just added one more to that list. Either way, if an idea cannot survive competition it’s probably not that good in the first place. In addition, what happens when you launch? You can’t run a business without telling anybody about it. You’ll often get this response, “ But I’ll lose my first-mover’s advantage?”. Well good. I would never want to be the first mover anyhow. First movers bare a tremendous cost in educating customers. Most of us don’t have the money to bare that cost. The folks that are second and onwards, can just slide in and benefit from all of that work. For example, I don’t have to explain the concept of a subscription box service sending you shaving equipment every month. Most people already know what this is, thanks to Dollar Shave Club. Bottom line: Try to get over this stuff.

Find something you’re passionate about: Nah son. Find something that is viable. I’m passionate about table tennis, but I’m not looking to turn that passion into a business. When it comes to business, I’m far more passionate about providing a good product/service that has good margins, than about being able to marry that business to any hobby or other exciting pursuit I may have in my regular life. This way, I’m free to work on the best opportunity that arises without limitation. And honestly, quite often the least sexy industries are where the big money is being made. So while most of the brainpower is busy chasing sexy mobile apps and such, you can make bank by selling ugly widgets or providing basic services. It’s tough to pay bills with app downloads.

A note to Engineers and consultants: Resist the urge to complicate things. For technical folks, it seems like the inclination to complicate things is overwhelming. So a problem like “find people that need lawn service and connect them with people that provide lawn service” becomes, “well how about we use Zillow’s APi to pull a picture of the lawn, and the customer confirms it by drawing an outline of the area to be serviced and we tie that into Google maps and feed everything into a pricing algorithm”…. and on and on. Unfortunately, many of these guys do not make it. More often than not simplicity wins. Get out of the customer’s way.

Start something small to get practice: You don’t get good at running marathons by reading about running marathons. And you don’t get good at business by reading about business. You get good by doing. And doing it over and over again. But just like you wouldn’t expect to win the first marathon you entered, why put so much pressure on yourself to win at the first company you start? Or worse yet, paralyze yourself with fear into never running at all because you’re afraid you won’t win? It doesn’t make sense with marathons and it doesn’t make sense with business. So while a lot of folks over-analyze every minutia about the thing, people like Kevin and me would have already downloaded a training regiment, bought a pair of shoes, and hit the bricks.

What if I fail? Nothing happens! It’s literally the most mundane non-event imaginable. I spend a day or two wrapping up any loose ends, head to the movies or do something fun, and by the next day I’m already figuring out what the next thing is. My personal experience hasn’t been “Try->Win”, it has been more like “try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, try, fail win, win, win, win.” With each failure you get better, and then things just start to come easy. Don’t be afraid of failing, it’s like the best and cheapest MBA you’ll ever get.

Naysayers: If you’re doing something…I mean anything, you’ll meet them. Whether it’s in real life, on the Internet, or wherever else. Sometimes it’s even your friends and family. I keep an imgur album of the best ones I come across. Sometimes for a little motivation, and sometimes just to look back and smile. For example, recently I mentioned in passing that my next big project will be a restaurant, and I already have a list of comment screenshots explaining why I won’t succeed. :-)

Here’s one of my favorite ones from a few years back when I was making $4k per month, from what was a new company at the time. This was the top comment on Hacker News.

That little company now pays me a 6 figure salary. What intrigued me about this comment was the fact that it was so thoughtfully written. This wasn’t a troll. This was someone that provided a seemingly well-reasoned analysis of where he thought I would be in 12 months, complete with business school type analysis: barriers to entry, competitive landscape, etc.

So why is this important? Because this is exactly what many of us do to ourselves.

We have a naysayer living permanently inside our heads that is constantly appraising and analyzing every business idea we entertain. And the analysis sounds just as reasoned, and well thought-out and measured as the one I posted above. Not a bad thing on its face, but the guy in our head typically skews negative. Shut that dude up! Or you’ll analyze and over think and what-if every single idea until you convince yourself it won’t work. Over time this messes with your confidence, and you end up paralyzed. Say what you want about the guy, but Kanye was right about this:Most people are held back by their perception of themselves! It’s a brutal feedback loop.

At some point we have to just say “Fuck It” and get to work!

Okay peeps, hope this was helpful to at least one person. Oh, and for making it this far even if you skimmed…:-)

AMA

How startups such as Dropbox, Airbnb, Groupon and others acquired their first users.

A while back I asked whether people would be interested in reading about the stories behind the launches of well-known startups. People seemed to like the idea, so I went ahead and compiled some details on the user acquisition strategies used by a few of the better known companies. I wrote more in-depth articles, but I’ll share the most interesting aspects here.

  • Dropbox going from 5000 to 75,000 wait-list signups in one night

Back in 2008, Dropbox was struggling to get new users. They were running an Adsense campaign, unsuccessfully. For every $300 they spent, they’d acquire a user who paid for the $99 product. After going at this for a while, Drew Houtson and his team decided to try something different.

Drew made a simple, four minute video showing off how Dropbox worked. Because the service doesn’t sound as impressive in text, having a video to show off how it actually functioned worked wonders. Here’s a link to the video. Another aspect of the video that is important to note is that it was tailored to the community it was being shown to. Drew was a member of the Digg community, and knew what kinds of things they’d appreciate. If you pay close attention, the video is full of references to things like TPS reports and Tom Cruise. It was full of inside jokes, and quickly got voted to the top of Digg. By the next day, they had 70,000 new signups.

Another thing that Dropbox did that we might be able to emulate while marketing our own products is offering extra services for social shares. Dropbox ran an extensive campaign during which you could share the service on Facebook and Twitter for an additional 128MB of space. It was something the users wanted (as opposed to just giving away a peice of technology in a raffle), and lead to 2.8 million invitations being sent during the first 30 days.

Full write-up with history, a few more details, etc.

  • How reddit and Quora got past the chicken and egg problem of having no content / users

Quora and reddit solved the “empty site = no users / no users = empty site” problem in similar ways. The founders of both services spent the first months filling them with content themselves.

On Quora, the founders simply answered and asked lots of questions under their own profiles. But the reddit approach was a bit more interesting. Instead of just using their own accounts, the founders would create fake users to make it look like there were multiple people submitting links. Their ‘submit link’ form featured a third slot: “Username”. According to Steve Huffman, reddit cofounder, it took several months until they didn’t have to submit content themselves to fill up the front page.

They also focused on keeping everybody in the same place in the beginning. reddit had no subreddits, and Quora was mostly focused on technology. Instead of having users spread out, everyone was in the same place- making the community feel bigger than it was.

Quora and reddit write-up

  • Foursquare

Foursquare took the old concept of local apps and added several interesting features that really attracted attention, like the badges. Becoming the “mayor”, or the person who checks in the most at a certain place, quickly became an addiction for people.

They also gave merchants the opportunity to interact with their customers a lot better than most apps. After the business claimed their Foursquare page, they could interact with the people who were checking in at their establishment- whether they just wanted to chat with their most active customers, or actually wanted to reward people who check in.

And lastly, a huge part of Foursquare’s growth was due to their city by city strategy. Every time they expanded to a new city, they had a huge amount of new users signing up due to the word of mouth effect (“have you heard that Foursquare just came to our city?”) and local media covering the app.

Foursquare write-up

  • Groupon started with a local MVP

I really like the story behind Groupon because it is a great example of the things we repeat on this subreddit so much. Start local, and make a minimal viable product.

Groupon started as local as they could get. They went around the office building that they were renting a space in, asking people to sign up. Their first campaign? Half-priced pizzas at the restaurant on the first floor. The first 500 signups came from here.

After that, they stuck to focusing on local products and services. Because big companies such as Amazon or Wal-Mart were able to negotiate such low prices, not even a big group-buying website could compete with them when it came to items such as televisions and phones. So instead, Groupon focused on unique products from local businesses. A lot of these smaller establishments had never even tried marketing, so Groupon’s offer was enticing. They were able to negotiate much better prices.

As far as the MVP goes, Andrew Mason didn’t want to waste time developing a full platform around the Groupon idea. Instead of trying to build a big team like he had with his first business venture, he got a few people together and set up a WordPress blog that the team would post offers on. Coupons were individually emailed, and no one had a clear idea of what their role or title in the company really was. They spent their first months focusing on seeing how many users they could get as quickly as possible in order to validate the idea, and then started looking into the business side of the company once it was clear that they were onto something big.

And lastly, Groupon focused on offers that were inherently social early on. They had deals for things like cafes, restaurants or movies. These are all things that you invite other people to, so it naturally lead to people sharing the website.

Groupon write-up

  • Tinder

Tinder had two things going for it. It started local, and it was dead simple.

The app did a great job at taking the tired concept of dating online and re-doing it completely. Instead of directories of people and search, you simply have a person’s image appear, and you swipe left or right. It’s basically the same feature that made HotOrNot and Facemash fun, brought to mobile. The double opt-in feature helped with the problem that lots of users have on traditional dating websites: if you are an attractive female, you’re swamped with messages. If you’re a guy who isn’t having a lot of luck on the website, most of your messages go unanswered. Because you aren’t able to message somebody on Tinder without them also liking you, both these problems were solved to a large extent.

And more interestingly, Tinder also started locally. Having 50 users in a small space is a lot better for this kind of app than having 5000 spread out users. Here’s my favorite part: they threw exclusive parties at USC. To enter, you had to install Tinder on your phone. You can just imagine the amount of word-of-mouth they got out of that.

Tinder write-up

  • Airbnb used another platform [Craigslist] to get early users

I also found Airbnb’s strategy interesting. Unlike with reddit and Quora, putting up fake offers wasn’t going to work. So instead, they did something a bit different. They used a marketplace that already had a lot of vacation homes to grow: Craigslist. A lot of the people who posted their homes on Craigslist’s vacation homes section received an odd email from a “big fan of Airbnb.”

I am emailing you because you have one of the nicest listings in Craigslist in the Tahoe area, and I want to recommend you feature it to one of the largest vacation rental marketplaces on the web, Airbnb. The site already has 3,000,000 page views a month! Check it out here: http://www.airbnb.com

Each one came accompanied by a semi-anonymous Gmail account, such as Jill D. The thing is, these messages worked. Lots of people started posting their homes on Airbnb as well as Craigslist, which solved the big problem of having users check for places only to find an empty website. The supply side is a lot harder to fill up on a website like Airbnb.

And as a side note, one thing that also helped early on was going around to user’s homes and helping them with their photos. This is a great example of doing things that don’t scale early on. They went from $200 a week to $400 after updating their website with the new photos for each offering. It might not seem that big considering the money Airbnb makes today, but I know that a lot of /r/Entrepreneur users would love that kind of increase in profit.

Airbnb write-up

Those are the ones I have done so far. I enjoyed digging around to see exactly how they were able to get such large numbers of users in such little amounts of time. In the original thread, I mentioned that I was thinking about posting these on some website related to startup stories. I might do that someday, if I get enough content written and people like these. But for now, I just posted them on a personal site so that people can read them. Good enough for me.

Takeaway

The whole point of this is to look at what successful startups did, and see if we can apply it to our own marketing. Some key points to consider:

  • Try making a video to explain your service, if text isn’t doing it justice. And if you do, make sure to target the community you’ll be sharing to.
  • The best way to make your new community not look like a ghost town is to fill it up yourself. Whether you take the reddit approach of fake users or go with Quora’s team of active members depends on what kind of community it is. Having fake users on Quora, an important aspect of which is credentials for every user, wouldn’t have worked.
  • Is there already an existing user base on another service that you can tap into? Try taking Airbnb’s approach and seeing if you can get some of them onto your website. When doing this, it’s important to note that what you’re offering should be better in some way.
  • Local is key in a lot of these stories. It’s much easier and cheaper to focus on one subset of people than trying to get them all.

BearBrand Reddit Story

Original reddit thread here

Hello fellow entrepreneurs! I figured I’d jump in the boat and share my latest startup.

The Background

I would consider myself a serial entrepreneur, except I haven’t had the successes to back it up. So, I suppose I can say I’m a serial starter-upper. As in, I like to start projects but find it difficult to finish.

My first real venture was back in 2009 when I tried to create a vinyl wall graphic business. Built all the infrastructure, but got too scared to market it. After doing that for a few months I jumped back into the corporate world and worked at Merrill Lynch for a while.

I got the bug to be on my own and started essentially a freelance graphic design / web design business. It’s just myself and it brings in cash – but it’s not anything to really brag about when it comes to building a business. What it does provide is the ability to start projects on the side and I’m going to share with you my most recent and to me, my most exciting project.

The Beard

When I left Merrill Lynch I decided to grow my beard out for a year, or as the say in the bearded world – a yeard. As my beard grew I got connected with various bearded communities online and IRL. I found the people who are passionate about the bearded lifestyle are pretty much epic. (find some of them over at /r/beards)

I went to a beard competition in Portland in January of 2012 and had one of the best times of my life. I shit you not, before you die you must go to a beard competition. It was shortly after that event that I decided to startup a blog where I talk about the bearded lifestyle and help shape my vision of an urban beardsman.

The Vision

I want the company to be more about just beards, and about the lifestyle. My vision has always been to sell products beyond just beard related products. Ultimately it would become an apparel company that caters to the urban beardsman. I called the company Beardbrand

The goal was to build a community of followers through various social media platforms and then when ingrained in the community, build products that they want. I started with a partner when he was in between jobs and he lost focus when he took a full time job. After a bit of time it started to flutter away. I maintained consistent content on Tumblr, but beyond that didn’t do much work.

Fast forward to Nov/Dec 2012 and I get contacted by a reporter of the NY Times who is doing an article on beard products. We chat for a while and she says the article will be published in a few months. Well, at the time I figured it’d just be nice to see my name in the paper and just keep Beardbrand on the back-burner.

It was around this time that another side project with 3 other business partners was struggling to get off the ground. It was a big idea with lots of investment and an unknown timeframe for revenue or profit. Our goal was always about getting income coming into the door as quickly as possible, but we couldn’t seem to get it to work.

The Execution

So it was at this point we decided to scrap that project and put our heads together for Beardbrand. Knowing the NY Times article was coming out soon I connected with a bearded buddy who is making mustache wax and beard oil and negotiated a wholesale deal for only 3 products.

While I am a web designer by trade, I wanted to lean on the infrastructure and security of Shopify. I have built a website on Magento before and I’m not impressed with the ability of WordPress to scale and be secure.

Using one of their free templates I setup the website in a couple of days and launched it a day before the article posted. The timeframe was so tight that our first orders were being drop shipped by my vendor.

With the release of the article we were able to get about $500 in sales in the first week. This is very exciting for me because I have never gone from launch to revenue so quickly. It’s also encouraging because the people ordering are individuals that I don’t personally know.

The Future

I’m in week 3 or 4 of the business and I am working to build a more steady stream of sales. We are working to develop a strategy for new products and will be attending beard competitions around the nation to help promote the brand.

I’m sure there are struggles ahead, and I’m not selling enough to pay myself, but the thrill of revenue is probably one of my favorite experiences.

TL;DR

I launched Beardbrand using Shopify right before the NY Times published Taming of the Beard. Was able to generate $500+ in sales in one week.

—————————————————–

So, back in February 2012 I went to a beard competition in Portland, OR. I had an absolute blast and just loved the culture of the event. This was about 9 months into growing my yeard (aka year long beard). I had been writing about my beard growth journey on my personal website and Business Insider for a while and noticed there was a market that wasn’t being served.

Basically, there are a lot of bearded people are very passionate about their beard and subsequently the style associated with the beard. I came up with the name Beardbrand and with the help of a friend we started to post content on Tumblr and my blog. The goal was always to sell products that identified with the bearded lifestyle, but not something that was kitschy like a lot of products out there. We wanted to focus on quality, on style, and “coolness.”

After about a month, my partner got bored with the project and ended up taking a full time job. It stalled for a few months, but I continued to post sporadic content to my blog, YouTube, and tumblr blog. I pretty much shelved the project. Well, in November 2012 a reporter from the NY Times contacted me about doing a story on beard products. We talked for a while and the article was going to come out in January.

Meanwhile, I was working with another group of entrepreneurs on a project that wasn’t taking off. We decided to halt that project and turn our efforts to Beardbrand in anticipation of the NY Times article. I had been a customer of the product line I currently carry and the manufacturer was willing to sell to me wholesale. I got the store up 1 or 2 days before the article was posted with only 3 products. That was January 28th, 2013.

We had a nice boost from sales from the article, but dried up quickly. I did some tweaking to the store layout and design and almost immediately sales seemed to pick up. It’s amazing what fonts and colors do for a website.

As of today, we’ve had customers purchase from 5 different continents, 9 different countries, and all over America. In just a couple of months we’ve already had several repeat customers.

Been writing about the bearded lifestyle for a long time. Saw no one was selling quality, stylish products for the market and wanted to help out. Launched store in anticipation of NY Times article.

February was $25 shy of $1k, March was only about $600, and then April. I really started seeing a boost in sales after tweaking my website design. Hopefully next month I can do $3 – $4k. I want to get up to about $10k/month so I can feel confident working on it full time.

No one asked this question. We purchase and fulfill our own products. That has kept our product listings low, but margins high. We are going with the slow but steady growth strategy with attention to each product.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to run a business on low prices – but I’m pretty good at high quality, high service type of business.

I resell the beard oil and wax, so those photos were handled by the manufacturer. I personally took the photos for the button, decal, and t-shirts (after spending a bit too much on a lens). I used an Olympus Pen Mini for the photographs.

I’m trying to bootstrap and find people passionate about my brand where I can exchange products for good photos. Some stuff is in the works – but we’ll see how it turns out.

———————————————————————————————————

Original reddit post here

My business: Beardbrand

My last post in April was about how we passed $2k and the growth continued into May. I wanted to send a thank you to this wonderful subreddit for all the help and tips y’all have provided.

I learned so much about my online presence through the feedback I received. My store looks completely different than when I started because of the advice from y’all. For instance:

  • I started off with 3 products and a slider.
  • Removing the slider and adding products instantly increased sales
  • I tweaked my product descriptions based on the suggestions from this group
  • Ultimately, we purchased a new Shopify template that integrates video and makes it easier to find information about our products

Company Updates

We originally had 4 founders, but one of our founders has stepped back to focus on his primary business so we are down to three. I am developing our own line of beard oils and will be releasing those products this month. If anyone has recommendations for launches of products – I’m all ears.

We purchased banner ads on ArtofManliness.com, but didn’t see the same results as Google AdWords and other retargeting. Our marketing strategy is built primarily on YouTube, AdWords, Retargeting, and social media marketing.

We will be working with a fulfillment house to handle our orders. We did this because of our own personal desires to have a location independent store. We’ll be dropping off our inventory tomorrow, so hopefully it allows us to focus on marketing and growth rather than shipping.

Any other questions or suggestions, please comment away!

EDIT: Also, my business cards came in today! :D http://imgur.com/a/3NZnT

We’ve been pushing more of the “bearded” care products over the shaving products. Lots of competition in the shaving market. I haven’t shaved in 2+ years, so I don’t even know what it’s about anymore. Ha!

We essentially want to become the “Art of Shaving” but the “Art of Bearding.” We’ll be adding products over time and a sample kit is in the works. We just want to make sure it’s done right and stays at our high standard.

I don’t have much flexibility with pricing for the Woodsman line, but when we role out our own products I’ll have a lot more control w/ kitting them up and building packages for customers.

What fullfillment house are you using? Ive been looking for a new one for quite some time. Did you find a local shop or a national chain? thanks!

I went with a local guy. Their prices were a lot better than Amazon’s shop. Although we will probably take a hit shipping out of the Northwest rather than being centrally located in Chicago or Texas or something.

I also feel like I have a little more control with the fact they are local.

Moo has great cards and that’s where I get my stickers from, but I don’t print my business cards there because they are European sized – just one of my OCD habits.

I print it with a commercial printing company in Charlotte, NC were I was employed for several years. It’s first class service for unique projects and very reasonably priced. The company is Boingo Graphics and if you want the contact information for my sales rep shoot me a PM. I can confidently say he’s the best in the industry.

Can you explain your thinking when you removed your slider? Was it that it was taking up prime space on your homepage where you could display more products, or does the public generally not like sliders? Thanks!

It was just product photos and didn’t really entice people to buy (no pricing or information or anything). It also pushed the product listings to below the fold.

Guys on this subreddit helped me realize that my store is about selling products, not necessarily looking pretty. I needed to make it as easy as possible for my customers to find the products they were looking for and buy.

Our customers don’t necessarily buy for the product, they buy for the experience. They want to be part of something that is new and up coming and something their friends probably haven’t heard of. They want to identify with the “urban beardsman” movement. They also value design and a clean look from the online store they are shopping from.

When one shops on Amazon they see a long listing of competing products. The value we bring to the table can’t be accurately displayed on an Amazon storefront. If they pull up the products on Amazon, they won’t know anything about urban beardsman and the bearded lifestyle. Only the products.

Is it normal to lose 80% of your potential sales from cart to payment like that? Seems like people are getting cold feet for some reason, and if you could correct that you’d be exponentially richer.

I really don’t know. I’m sure a lot of it has to do w/ people wanting to know how much shipping is. We haven’t focused any energy on improving these numbers, but will be on our list.

Google remarketing is the easy way. It basically makes people who dropped out of your funnel see ads about the beard oil they left hanging everywhere they go for a few days. It’s no more expensive PPC than AdWords, roughly, and it targets the specific people who almost bought.

The hard but fun way is focusing your collateral efforts on relationship building. Giving away guides in exchange for an email address, you can build a good database of people who visit your site. Then, when one of these known accounts drops out of the cart, you can automatically email them.

Starting with a friendly “you forgot your oil in our cart. We’ll save it for you, click here to claim it” a day later, “Sorry, I used one of the products in your shipment, but I put a new one in, plus a free something” a few days later, and eventually a “20% off your saved order later on”.

Once you start tracking your regulars and making sure they’re happy, you’ll be able to manage your return purchase rates as well. Remember, getting a new customer is 6x as much work (and costly) as getting a return purchase from an existing one.

Our gross profit is about 50%, but we are constantly dumping money into new products, marketing, fulfillment, and other business expenses so we aren’t actually pulling out any money right now.

We want to build the business without taking on debt. Lean startup baby! :D

“It’s not terrible but it could stand an improvement. Considering you are selling a very niche product I would expect that to be higher. Also, the checkout to purchased rate could be worked on – that is after you find out the shipping costs.

Suggestions:

  • Set up Google Analytics goals to get more detail on the conversion rates throughout your funnel.
  • Add the shipping cost estimator before the cart page, on the product page as a modal popup or a link perhaps. That should make the product page to cart conversion more accurately reflect actual purchase intentions.
  • When you add something to the cart, and then checkout that cart, you’re presented with account registration first. If you can present that passively you’ll see better conversion – i.e. collect shipping and/or payment details before account creation. You can do this here by making the checkout click go directly to the checkout as guest form (starts to collect the data) and having a “Create an account” checkbox (default checked) in that form. That way the customer flow is not as broken by account creation.

That’s as far as I went in checkout. If you want some help with the goal setup in GA or whatnot, feel free to PM. I do ecommerce consulting for a living and hold a PhD in this stuff. I’m actually on vacation and should not be on reddit! Best of luck with the store.”

We used Forward Printing because of their printing process. It allows for a softer ink feel on the shirt. The only downside is they are 100% cotton t-shirts.

When I want to go with the Anvil Sustainable T-Shirts I’ll likely use Blue Button who uses water based inks (very soft) and help at risk teenagers get on their feet.

“Hey guys! I love supporting manly startups! We offer strategy and technical implementation of online ad campaigns. We haven’t launched our proposed Adwords changes on Beardbrand yet, but here is my 2 second general adwords advice:

  1. Google setup is fine if you’re just getting started, but the campaigns they build out generally are optimized for Google revenue vs. your revenue. Use them for free, and then:
  2. Change broad match keywords to phrase match or modified broad with a “+” sign
  3. Make sure to setup conversion tracking and get switched over to CPA bidding as soon as you can
  4. Develop a LARGE negative keyword list. Start by guessing about what could be irrelevant then add more based on actual feedback from searchers using the “Keyword Details” link – it shows the actual search terms you’re paying for.
  5. Write lots of ad variations with only a few keywords per ad group. Varying capitalization, offers, sentence order, etc can yield really great results.
  6. Work on your site so the pages PPC traffic land on explain your brand as if they’ve never heard of you before (they haven’t) and try to have the keywords you’re targeting on those pages.

I’m late for a trip. Hope that is a good start. PM me or better yet dm me on twitter @reilly3000 if you have any Q’s”

 —————————————————-

 Original reddit post here

My Store: Beardbrand

It’s been a couple months since my last update so I figured in to what’s going on with Beardbrand and our successes and challenges. Before I get into the details, let me share some things that make me really excited about this business. Yes, watching sales grow gets me excited, but these comments from our beardsmen really take the cake.

  • I have a 23 month old son who has never been a fan of my beard; so it is hard to get some good hugs sometimes. So I purchased the Morocco beard oil and he was watching me put it on the other day and was fascinated to smell it (he likes to smell things). He then wanted to smell my beard. That night when I was putting him to sleep he put his head up and smelled my beard on my cheek and gave me a big kiss and said ‘Good!’. You and your Beardbrand made me a happy father!
  • Hey Dude(s) and Dudettes? Wanted you to know my order is already here. Damn that was FAST! I appreciate the super quick shipping. As a person who almost exclusively shops online, this leaves a great first impression. I also wanted to thank you for making a presence in the clean-shaven world and supporting those of us rocking great and epic beards. The Youtube videos really left an impression and caused me to change my buying decision to you folks instead of a faceless Amazon merchant. The personal touch means a lot to someone like me. Keep making vids!
  • Just wanna say, I have the beardbrand pin on my backpack and have gotten recognized by a few of your customers in the city.

What’s New

  • We developed and launched our own product line
  • We stopped using Google Adwords and stick with PPC (Banners & Social)
  • We got our first celebrity hookup (Ricki Hall)
  • We’ve decided to stay small and try not to hire employees, instead outsource things that aren’t our core compentancies
  • We acquired our first retailers
  • Our urban beardsman are really awesome
  • We upgraded to the top Shopify plan
  • Tweaked our website navigation to highlight our Tumblr page

What’s working

  • Being social has been very good to us. Our Email, YouTube, Tumblr, Blog, and Facebook pages are big drivers to our store and our brand.
  • Our outsourced fulfillment has been great. We are getting products out very quickly.
  • Our urban beardsmen (our customers) are really identifying with the branding and vision
  • Adding products has helped drive our average sale from $30/order to about $55/order
  • Our lifestyle advertisements are more effective than our product ads
  • I wouldn’t want to be business partners with anyone else but the two partners I’m working with. They are great

Challenges

  • We are having a hard time keeping our locally made wood products in stock. We don’t want to sacrifice quality and finding people you trust and that charge a price that we can make a profit on is challenging.
  • I’m not 100% sure our marketing dollars are breaking even, but I feel like they are. We have pulled back our adwords budget and are sticking with remarketing and social media advertising. Analytics shows $589 revenue for $1100 spent on advertising.
  • I want to have everything ready before selling, and I am somewhat scared of getting a big wholesale order for our beard oils.

The Future

So, as of today, I still have not paid myself and it would be nice to make some money for all my hardwork. I’m very lucky to have a wonderful wife to help support us during the lean startup phases and my goal is to build beardbrand to a point that I can be the breadwinner. We’ve got a little girl on the way so I am definitely on the clock! I’m thinking at about $20k in monthly sales, we’ll have a comfortable margin to reinvest in the company and start paying me.

We will be rolling out more lifestyle products for our beardsman. We will stay away from clothing and focus more on accessories. We will be sticking with high quality products and a custom experience.

I am debating about selling shaving equipment. It would be for our mustache’d and partial beard beardsman and I have some Shave Oil in stock – just haven’t put it on the store.

I’m sure there is a lot more, so just ask away and I’ll answer anything.

We are trying to build the company to be a lifestyle company and influence how others will interact. The big vision is to do what DC shoes did for the skater scene as what we can do with the bearded lifestyle. We’ll see how feasible that is.

That being said, we are continuously rolling out new products and testing new markets. Much like any industry, there is a chance the market deteriorates so we will adapt based on that. Also, our target demographics are probably late 20’s to early 40’s which I don’t really see as “youth.”

Beardbrand’s guide to building a brand

Originally poster here.

First off, I think this is the type of content /r/entrepreneur needs. If you found value in it; please upvote and get involved in the comments.

Intro

I am Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand, and we build and sell beard care products; as well as other items for the bearded lifestyle. Our tagline is that “We foster style for the urban beardsman.” Many startup companies focus on selling their products, but they neglect building their brand. While simply selling is difficult, it’s still easier than creating a brand. This guide shows how we are building a brand with Beardbrand and what you should focus on. Keep in mind that not all businesses need to build a brand, but if you are B2C company it should be a pretty high priority.

Advantages of building a brand

  • Customers will be more loyal
  • Your products can carry a higher price point
  • Word of mouth marketing / viral marketing is more common
  • Valuation of your company will be higher (One example: the US company Electrolux sold their brand and nothing else to the Sweedish Electrolux. Their new brand is now known as Aerus.)

Disadvantages of building a brand

  • It’s more expensive
  • It’s a longer strategy
  • Must invest in more company culture to ensure brand is not tarnished
  • Return on investment is not as clear as call to action marketing
  • A tarnished brand loses all the hardwork you’ve done to build it up

The Start

First you will want to commit to building a brand, and all the challenges that presents. You will have to be prepared to say “no” and stick to your guns. Inconsistency is the death to brands. Spend a lot of time up front to truly understand what you want to be and how you want to present your company.

With Beardbrand we developed the term “urban beardsman” which describes a man with a beard who cares about their style, their grooming habits, and who has a plan and a vision with their personal life. Traditionally beardsmen were thought of as hippies, bikers, outdoorsmen, or homeless folks. We wanted to unite people who didn’t feel like they fit those labels.

To get this rolling we place an emphasis on design and branding. Our logo is simple and clean. Our primary colors are black and white and secondary color is cyan. We have had our tagline front and center on our store since we created it. Fortunately, I am a self taught designer and have implemented a lot of our designs. If you do not have those skills, you will need to invest in a quality designer. Most likely you won’t find those at Fiverr, 99 designs, or any of those spec work places. Try instead to search for them via Dribbble, /r/graphic_design, your local AIGA club, or other places designers like to hang out.

Plan on establishing a relationship with a designer you can trust and work with. You’ll want to send all (or at least a majority of) your designs to them so that you create brand consistency. All designers have different styles, and like I said before; inconsistency a roadblock to building a quality brand. A good designer can also help you with brand guidelines to keep you and others on track. It’s essentially a blueprint on how to keep things consistent.

The Build

First off, it’s important that you walk the walk. IE; the image you are trying to create of your brand is something you actually eat, drink, sleep and live. You’ll want to tie together your branding across all your channels. That means your actions, business cards, website, merchandise, advertisements, emails, marketing, etc must all be cohesive. To show you how we did it, here are a few elements Beardbrand has created.

In addition to your brand’s design and feel, your company also has a brand on how it performs. Based on our target audience, we decided to provide a premium experience to our customers. To us that means quality products, fast shipping, no hassle customer service, and no sales pressure. How this reflects on our business is that we are using premium oils that put beard care first, quality packaging, shipping within one business day, making things right with customers when things go wrong, and offer no discounts or sales on our store.

When we attend events, trade shows, or put on parties – then we carry the same attitude and image that we portray online. We try to be as friendly as possible, not pressure anyone into anything, and have a good time. There is more to life than just selling beard products.

The Sacrifices

We frequently get suggestions to do things differently. We are always have open ears (in fact made a lot of changes based on Reddit’s friendly advice) but sometimes we’ve got to say “no” and do it for the right reason (or at least you think they are right). Here are a couple of examples.

  • I’ve had multiple marketing professionals tell us that we need to put our products on sale. I stand by our viewpoint that our product is fantastic, and when people are ready to buy they will buy. Granted, we might be missing out on some opportunity; but we feel in the long run we prefer the culture of quality over immediate gratification. We use Nordstrom’s and Lululemon as inspiration.
  • We don’t put advertisements on our YouTube videos. We are approaching 1 million views and I’m sure I could have had a few thousand extra dollars, but it’s a more pleasureable experience not watching ads when people watch our videos.
  • We stick to style inspiration on Facebook. In a land of 10 day old internet memes, we could exponentially grow our user base by simply posting beard meme’s. While, it may slow us down in growth; it’s more important for us to accurately show we are about.
  • We market with no direct performance tracking. Some examples: We are putting a party on down in SXSW called SXBB. | We are buying ads that simply have photos of beardsmen and no call to action. | We are building an Ambassador program where we give out freebies to the select few beardsmen who really represent the image well. | Plus many other things.
  • We’ve spent way more on business cards, PR kits, and other items than your typical company

The Results

  • In less than a year we went from $0 in sales to $120k/month in sales.
  • We have a higher repeat customer rate than industry average
  • Our 7k email list gets 46.6% open rate and 13% click rate
  • Our users gladly write reviews of their experiences and share it on social media
  • Customers will tell us that they purchase from us because of our videos and our vision
  • Building our business is a very pleasant and enjoyable experience

Ultimately, I tried to cover everything, but I’m sure I missed a lot. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

TL;DR Building a brand is hard work but doable; this is how we are doing it. Most important thing; be consistent and be the company that you present yourself as.

Q&A (only A actually)

1. )Our online marketing consists of:

  • Facebook Ads (Branding/Direct sales & shows up in the feed)
  • Adwords (Direct sales strategy)
  • Retargeting (90% Branding)
  • A couple niche websites, ie: http://thebeardsman.co.uk/

The goal is to drive people to the website using Facebook & Adwords, then stay in front of them with retargeting. I’m meeting with our online marketing company today and will have more hard numbers. But our growth has correlated with our investment in online advertising and we continue to find it a valuable use of our resources.

2) They are a small local fulfillment company and they are awesome. We use Pacific Fulfillment.

3) I’m a big fan of ShipStation and our fulfillment house will log into an account we created for them to handle all the orders. It’s been great.

4) My emails are generally me just speaking what’s on my mind. I try to keep it to 3 short paragraphs and keep it on topic of beards or our store. Within those paragraphs I’ll usually have 2 or 3 links and then my signature.

Again, try to keep things simple, not salesy, and fairly regular.

5)

How to write Facebook Ads

Ben gave us a very simple, reliable format to follow with the ad example. It had Four main ad copy parts.

Headline
Reason to act now
What specifically to do next / Call To Action
Qualify the Click (In the Ad Image)

– Headline –
The template was “The Perfect Gift For ______”. This template does not explicitly communicate a benefit, but it does clearly force you to pick one specific target market. That is a big key, especially since you should be targeting a specific demographic in your ad targeting. So if I am targeting Interest “X” in my ad, then my headline should be something like “The Perfect Gift For X”. When you have the targeting in the ad, the group mentioned in the headline, and item all being a good match, we have the start of a great ad.

– Reason To Act Now –
The template here usaully involves some type of limited time discount. This works for a couple of reasons. It let’s people know their is intrinsic value in the deal right now because they will save 50% or they will not pay shipping or whatever the dsicount is. The other benefit is scarcity. This is huge. We as humans all perform better under deadlines. If you give me forever to buy your product, a good chunk of people will let themselves take forever to buy it and that basically means never. Scarcity is a powerful trigger and should be used in most cases. It doesn’t always have to be time, but that types of scarcity is a deeper discussion and not important now. Time scarcity or quantity scarcity works well here.

– What To Do Next or Call To Action –
It is funny to us as the one doing the selling that we would have to tell people what to do next, but it is absolutely true. Everytime I think about this topic I am reminded of training my dog in agility. It was totally obvious to me that I wanted him to jump over the bar and in between the two poles sticking straight up. It however was not so obvious to him. He went around it. He went under it. He ran away from it. He ran into it and knocked it down. He did everything you could think of except jump over it. Of course with some training he eventually got it, but that is the point. You can’t assume that the person reading your ad knows what to do. You have to clearly tell them exactly what to do next. In this template our example is something like “Click to Buy” or “Click to Order” or something like that. You can test but be specific.

– Qualify The Click –
Since we are often times paying per click, we don’t want anyone to go to the website unless they know the deal and are good with it. In this case the best way to do that is to tell the price up front. If it is 10 bucks and no shipping, tell them that. If it is $25 and regular $30, say that. This helps them know what to expect, and saves you some money by not getting people to click that aren’t that interested. It doesn’t prevent everyone from doing it, but it helps save money in wasted clicks. It also really helps people in knowing what to expect when they click. This often times can go in the product image space, but it doesn’t have to go there. It should be somewhere in the ad though.

Ultimately it is important to realize that the ad does not sell the product. The ad invites the reader to click and puts them in RIGHT FRAME OF MIND to make a purchase decision once they get to the website. You don’t have to sell the item in the ad. You don’t have to list out ALL the features and benefits. You don’t have to cram 100 words into the ad. You only need to get their attention (call out to them in the headline), tell them why now is a good time to check this out (reason to act now b/c of a sale which is limited by quanity or time), tell them exactly what to do (click here to order), and then make sure to qualify them by telling them the price (reg $25, now only $15).

Wow, who knew so much was going on in just 3 lines of text!

Now let’s apply this to Mitch’s ad.

The latest version of Mitch’s ad is below. Originally he had significantly more text on the ad and Ben recommended to trim it down which he did. Let’s see how the ad works in reference to the template Ben gave us.

1. Still Too much text. – Originally people were suprised at how the ad got approved with so much text and may have thought that Mitch got away with something and had an advantage. The reality is that it wasn’t an advantage and in my opinion the ad still has too much text. FB doesn’t restrict text amounts to make it harder for marketers. They do it to imrpove user experience and actually improve our likelyhood of the ad converting. No one is going to read a big block of text in a news feed ad. You don’t like it, I don’t like it. You have a very narrow window for someone to say, “oh what’s that?” is this for me? yes or no…. gone or click. Happens in probably 3 to 5 seconds or less. As we progress, we will see why the amount of text in the ad is totally irrelevant and we should focus on what actually needs to be in the ad.

2. Ad does not call out to a SPECIFIC audience. This is a big one. Having a lot of text is one thing. Having a lot of text not talking to a specific audience is a whole other, much bigger problem. From looking at this I can think of three specific audiences that might be interested in this stove. Each one is different and the ad would need to call out to one of them. Ask yourself if the headline follows the template given and if not, what is missing? There is no specific audience mentioned. When an ad says, “This is perfect for for a, b, c, and d” something in our mind tells us, “oh that is not for you”, even if it might be. We all love knowing something is made just for me or my group.

Here is a quick list of 3 groups that you could specifically target for this product.

– Preppers / Doomsday / Survivalist / DIY types – These types are all about having a good Plan B and surviving when they have to go “off the grid”. SurvivalLife.com is one of the premiere prepper webistes that effectively uses direct response marketing to sell their products. Just yesterday they sent out an email on this very subject. I have scanned it and attached it to the email. Look at how they specifically speak to that audience. See how that language is different then what you might expect if they were writing it to the hiker or the tailgator.

An example might be
Headline – The perfect gift for the prepared prepper. or The perfect gift for the off the grid chef or The perfect “Plan B” for the prerpared prepper. Or something like that. It must say “Hey You, this is is good for you”

– Hikers / Hunters / Sportsman – This group is all about lightweight or ease of use on the trail. Not really concerned about dodging government surveillance or surving the appocolypse. Headline examples could be.

The perfect lightweight stove for hikers
The Most reliable stove for hikers
or something like that.

If you really dig into what they want it could be things like
– Drop 2 lbs of gear from your pack with this stove (Shaving off ounces is a big deal to them. I know guys that hollow out their tooth brushes to save weight. Watch videos on YouTube about “Ultra Light Weight Hiking, to get into their psychology)
– Perfect stove When their is Bad Weather on the trail ( It is a little long, but I am getting at the reliability of it. Hikers want to know they can rely on their gear.)
– Boil water in Seconds (This goes to the reliablity and ease of use. Notice in this case I didn’t call out specifically to hikers, but I did take an activity that they specifically would relate to and is ties to something they likely want)
These are more advanced adaptions of the formula. Don’t try these at home. Just kidding. But seriously, don’t try them until you really get into the minds of the people you are selling to. When you have a bigger fan page, read their comments and get a deeper understanding of what they like and don’t like. For now, stick with something basic and solid like The perfect gift for _______.

– Tailgators / RV types – This group is all about fun and ease of use. Imagine being at a game or at an RV park and you run out of stove tops for your chili or carne asada tacos. That would suck! Tragedy defined.

Headline examples could be…
The Perfect stove for cooking at the game
The Perfect Stove For The tailgating
The Best Stove in The RV Park
The Best Addition to your next RV cookout

Notice overall how different the headlines become when you simply focus on one demographic.

Could you sell to all three items at the same time? Yes
Could you sell the same item to all three at the same time with the same ad? No.

Just run three different ads calling out specifically to each group and see which group likes the product the best.

3. Does the ad tell me why I should act now? Yes. It says 48 hour sale. However, because there is so much other text all over saying different things, the message of the sale duration is dilluted. My recommendation is to get rid of the second bloc of text and in its place mention the sale and the savings.

Save $4 dollars today, 48 Hour Sale
Save $4 When You Order In The next 48 Hours
Special Sale Price, 48 Hours Only
as some examples to try

4. Does the ad tell me specifically what to do next and how to do it? No. It tells me what to do, BUY IT NOW. But it does not tell me how to do it, what specific action to take. Click Here to BUY It Now.

5. Does the ad qualify the click? Yes. It tells me the price. He could also include other terms like shipping, but test that. I had lots of cart abandons and played around with shipping and my sales went up.

I do not know what your targeting is but hopefully this run down of the ad copy helps you with your targeting and may have provided you with some other niches to target this product.

Hopefully this was helpful and it in no way was meant to disparage. I also hope this helps get people ready for the upcoming copy discussion and gets them thinking about how they might be able to test and improve some of their own ads. Even if they are killing it now with their ads.

Let me know if you have any questions. Good luck everyone.

PS. I could not attach the scanned email on this post. I will upload it in the files section. Look for “Gmail – How to become an off the grid chef”

1956906_10152313758745844_224851049_o

The Hacker’s Guide to Getting Press

By Austen

Preface

There’s nothing a startup (or any company, really) needs quite as much as press. It brings in traffic and users/customers, social validation and legitimacy all at the same time. Those are things it’s hard to get enough of.

It’s taken me years of trial and error, the help of a lot of other really smart marketers, and tons of time playing with hacks and tweaking language and strategy to figure out what works across the board and boil it down to a repeatable process. So far it has worked to help my company and others get published in:

Time Magazine
BBC
The Guardian
TechCrunch
PandoDaily
Slate
Gizmodo
and hundreds of smaller blogs/websites. Some are under NDAs, so I won’t be disclosing all of the details, but this process, if followed the way I spell it out below, should work well for you.

A special hat-tip goes out to colleagues Fit Marketing for helping me (and paying me) to come up with this stuff.

Overview

On the surface, the process of getting press seems reasonably simple. All you need to do is find a reporter or blogger that might like to write about you, and you email them your pitch. But doing that well and making it scale can become very complex very quickly. We’ll take you through step by step, and by the end of this guide it should take you less than a day to email up to 1,000 relevant press contacts with all the right information and messaging that would make them want to write about you. Even the crappiest companies should get a half dozen or so mentions in the press when doing so. We’ll cover:

    1. The overall strategy and approach
    2. How to find the publications that would be likely to write about you, and to programmatically break them down into manageable lists.
    3. Finding the angle to pitch
    4. Creating a press kit
    5. Writing the perfect, personalized email (at scale)
    6. How to send large amounts of email, pre-populating fields and allowing for personalization.

Now, let’s go get you some press.

Overall Strategy and Approach

Customer Profiling

Whenever I begin a marketing effort, I like to really try to get into the mind of the person I’m “selling” to, regardless of what it is I may be selling. In this case, we’re selling to the reporter, and what we’re selling is that we’re legitimate and interesting enough that their audience will want to hear about us.

There’s also a pecking order among reporters. The high-profile bloggers and reporters (think Alexia Tsosis, Sarah Lacy, Robert Scoble) can spend most of their time on investigative journalism and analysis, while some of the lower/younger reporters have a large quota they have to meet and can barely rephrase press releases before they throw them on their blog. It takes a unique strategy to reach the different places on the totem pole.

Though they all have their weaknesses and pet interests, (Robert Scoble, for example, is a sucker for anything involving Google Glass or fine alcohol), it rarely makes sense to pitch the highest tier first when we’re looking for press coverage. They’re big enough that if what you’re doing isn’t shaking up Silicon Valley they probably don’t care. Our strategy will actually be quite the reverse.

One of the first things reporters do when your pitch lands in their inbox is see what other reporters are saying about you (or if anyone has written about you at all). Reporters, naturally, like to see some level of social proof before they make a move. If other people are writing about you that signals that you’re worth writing about. We’re going to use that to our advantage.

The Press Pyramid

To solve the “What do I find if I Google you” problem, we will build a pyramid of press mentions, starting with the blogs and sites that are small and hungry for content, and work our way up to the 800-pound gorillas.

Press Pyramid

So we want to start at the bottom rung; the hobbyist with a decent following, the small tech blog just getting started, and the small companies doing what they can to pay the bills with a little traffic and some well-placed Adsense ads, etc. But most of them are blogs you don’t read often and may not have even heard of, so how do we find them? (This is where it gets fun.)

List Building

The first thing we need to do, before we can separate the websites out into their separate tiers, is generate a mammoth list of blogs that we can easily import into tools that we’ll be using later.

All we’ll need in the beginning are URLs of publications that write about companies like ours. We have tools to find contact information within those blogs, but the tools have to know where to start.

A word of caution: Blogs that are “vaguely related” and reporters who write about things “kind of like” your company will not write about you. If I make iPad cases, a blog that writes about iPad apps isn’t even worth approaching. So when we build the list, let’s make sure to narrow our searches as closely as we can.

Now let’s go build our list of URLs.

List-Building Method 1: Blog Rankings

We’re going to use a couple of sites that rank blogs within their categories, and scrape for the URLs blogs in the applicable categories.

First, download the Scraper Chrome Extension (or its equivalent in the browser of your choice).

Now we go to our blog ranking website. Let’s start with Alltop. Go to Alltop and find your category, remembering to be as narrow as possible.

We’ll use my startup, Grasswire as an example. Grasswire is a newsroom for the Internet; it lets everyday people fact-check and sort social media content as it streams in real-time. So we’re going to find all of the blogs related to “social media” and “journalism.”

The Alltop social media page looks like this:

Get Press for Your Startup

We see the classic suspects: TechCrunch and Mashable, but also some sites you might not be familiar with: Smartbrief on Social Media and Social Media Examiner. We need to add them to our list (which will basically be a huge Google Doc to begin with).

Right-click on one of the sites in red, and click on the scraper tool.

Hacking the Press

Then click “export to Google Docs.”

Now we have a a fairly decent list of sites with their URLs that might write about us.

Repeat the process in as many categories as exactly match your company (I would do journalism as well), and then we’ll switch over to BlogRank.

BlogRank is a bit more complicated to scrape from. First, search for your category using the search bar. It will ask you to select a “view,” but it doesn’t really matter what view you choose, since we’ll be scraping them all anyway.

Again, we’re going to right click on the name of a blog, and say “scrape.” You’ll see the scraper tool pop up just as it did with AllTop, but this time it only appears to pull in one blog. It’s not scraping all of the content we want it to, because BlogRank is set up in HTML tables. We need to modify what the scraper is looking for.

Screenshot 2013-11-28 23.20.54 (1)

With the scraper window still open, we’re going to edit the XPath reference at the top-left of the tool.

The XPath probably says something like //div[3]/table[2]/tbody/tr[2]/td/a. All we have to do to make it scrape everything is to change the final number in tr[2] (which stands for “table row 2″) to tr[*], which tells the scraper to gather every row.

So change our XPath reference should now be //div[3]/table[2]/tbody/tr[*]/td/a. Click “scrape” at the bottom of the tool, and your results on the right side should look like they did for Alltop. We’re ready to export to Google Docs.

Screenshot 2013-11-28 23.24.12

Repeat the process for any other categories in BlogRank, and we should have a list of hundreds of blogs relevant to what we want to target.

We’ll expand the list with one more hack later, but we’ll treat that separately, so we’ll just work with this for now.

There are some duplicates, and scraping BlogRank brought in the URLs for the RSS feeds as well (which we don’t want), so we need to clean this list up before we can manipulate and import it.

Scrubbing the list

If we take the BlogRank Google Docs we just created, we can see that the odd rows from row 3 on only contain the RSS URLs we don’t want. Let’s get rid of those.

This is a bit hack-y and I’m sure there’s a better way, but it works for me. In cell C1, enter the following =MOD(ROW(),2), then copy that formula down (once your cursor turns into the cross when hovering over the bottom-right corner of the cell) to the rest of the spreadsheet. The result should be every odd C cell (C1, C3, C5, etc.) containing a “1″ and every even C cell (C2, C4, C6) containing a “0″.

Now select the entire C column, click on “Data” and select “Sort sheet by column C A ->Z”

The numbers in column C won’t change, but the rest of your sheet will be nicely separated out for easy deletion. Find anything that’s empty in column A and delete its row. Once you’ve done this, you should have a column that is strictly blog URLs that we can import into the tools we’ll use later.

Do this for each Google Doc spreadsheet you created, and then combine them into one giant list – hopefully it’s over 700 total sites at this point.

We will inevitably have some duplicates, so once we have everything combined let’s get rid of them.

In the new cell C1, enter =UNIQUE(A:B) and hit “enter.” This should create a list with only the unique entries in columns C and D. You can’t yet delete columns A and B, since they’re linked to columns C and D using a formula, so copy and paste the values from columns C and D and paste them in a fresh Google Doc.

What you just created is an enormous list of all of the top blog URLs in the categories and industries that would be most likely to write about you. Give yourself a pat on the back; that’s pretty awesome. But we’re only getting started – before we start building a press kit and sending out emails, there’s yet another way to generate a list. This list takes a lot less time to create, so don’t worry.

List Building Method 2: Google News

Getting a list of blogs in our categories may not cover all the bases. The next method to build our list will be scraping the results from the Google News API.

Thankfully the good folks over at Customer Development Labs have already built a tool that will scrape and download Google News for us.

All we have to do is go to their tool, enter a keyword (it could be a competitor, a keyword, a problem you’re trying to solve, etc.) and it will spit out a nicely formatted .CSV file of all the articles that have been written about that keyword in the past few days.

This is, of course, much easier to use and manipulate than our other list,. I haven’t found anything of a particular region to be of any value, so I would delete those (unless you’re from that region or your product is specifically relevant there), but other than that I would leave the CSV file as is, or copy and paste the information into your Google Doc.

This can be a little bit annoying, but hopefully, if you combined the two methods, in just a few minutes we have found over 1,000 URLs.

It will be easy to go from URL to email address later (I promise), so let’s put together something to send the reporters.

Creating Your Angle

News isn’t worthy of publishing just because it exists. Part of the job of any journalist or reporter is curation — deciding what is worthy of being published in their publication, whether that be a blog or the New York Times. Your job as someone looking for press is to show them how you meet their standards and/or would be interesting to their audience.

We could go into all sorts of journalism principles that determine why something makes it into a publication and what principles they use, but really it’s just common sense.

Is it timely? Is it relevant? Is it interesting? Why would someone like you be interested in reading this?

Again, we’ll take my startup, Grasswire, for example. Grasswire is an Internet newsroom that lets everyone fact-check and sort social media content in real-time. But what does that mean?

That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is…what the Black Pearl really is…is freedom.” – Jack Sparrow

What grasswire needs is an Internet newsroom. But what grasswire is is democratization of journalism and information. It’s turning over the power of governments and corporations to everyday people. It’s letting ordinary people control the information that determines how they see the world.

Not many people want to read about yet another social media tool. People love to read about freedom.

So in the initial pitch we won’t go deep into detail about how the technology works, what APIs we pull from, why the UI/UX look like they do, etc. We talk about the story of grasswire. What we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and why it needs to be done. Reporters don’t like products very often, but they always love missions.

Grasswire also had the benefit of the angle that I lived in my car for three months to get it off the ground; that’s interesting to anyone, if only to understand how I lived in a car, where I slept, where I showered, etc. That also goes in the arsenal, and should be mentioned when we’re sending our email, and kept in mind as we develop our press kit, which it is now time to do.

The Press Kit

Now we have an even bigger list of sites that would potentially write about our startup; I usually start working with a list of 1,000 or so URLs. We’ll create a semi-automated way of sending the emails in a minute, what we have to do now is create something to send them.

The Press Kit, basically a .zip file of all of the content for the reporter to use, will vary from startup to startup. Grasswire‘s original press kit (will download as a .zip) was honestly mediocre. But that press kit combined with a few emails got us our first press (BBC, The Guardian, Slate, Yahoo Finance, etc.) before we even had a product. Let’s look over the basic structure of a press kit.

A press kit should include the following:

  • Company Overview
  • Founder Photos
  • Logo(s)
  • Press Mentions
  • Product Screenshots (or photographs)

The Grasswire press kit included another document we called the “Grasswire Story,” because the idea that I lived in my car for a few months to get it off the ground was quite compelling. If you can think of anything else specific to your company that would make for an interesting story, include it in a separate document.

Company Overview

The company overview is a very simple document that explains who you are and what you do. Think of it as an elevator pitch for newspapers.

For Grasswire we included a tagline, a one-sentence description, three “how it works” paragraphs, and a bit of a call to action. An example might look something like this (note: this is a press kit for a real company we did work for, and it got them more than a little bit of press, from AllThingsD to the Wall Street Journal.

Underwater Audio Overview

Tagline: Waterproof iPods and headphones for swimmers

Description: Underwater Audio has developed technology that allows us to waterproof ipods, headphones, and other electronic devices for swimmers.

How it works: Underwater Audio music players come waterproofed from the inside out. They look, feel, and smell like any other 2GB iPod Shuffle — but they work underwater.

Underwater Audio seals the iPod from the inside out using a proprietary process, and we have tested it at a depth of 200 feet (though we don’t recommend Underwater Audio for diving). Dunk it in water, leave it there, it still works.

The Underwater Audio player will work with any headphones, though under the water you’ll need waterproof headphones to create a watertight seal with your ear to have good audio. Our recommended picks are available along with your iPod on UnderwaterAudio.com

Underwater Audio iPods and bundles are available at UnderwaterAudio.com starting at $149.

Of course, Underwater Audio is fairly easy to describe — they sell waterpoof iPods. Your company might be a little bit more nebulous, but you should be able to nail it down to both a one-sentence description and a short explanation that’s not more than a couple paragraphs. I like to start out pretending like I’m explaining a company to a five-year-old, then making my explanation more technical and detailed from there if necessary.

Founder Photos

Yes, this can be a bit weird, but some publications really like them. Send headshots if you have to, but really if there’s an interesting angle to your story you can tell them through your founder photos as well. Most of the Grasswire team photos were published because my co-founder and I were standing in front of the car where I lived while we got Grasswire off the ground. Underwater Audios might be something underwater with a waterproof iPod demoing the product. These are rarely used, so you can go out on a limb. Put them all in a folder.

Logos

I’ve had some reporters ask for .ai or .psd folders that will scale better, while most prefer simple .png logos. It’s not dificult to throw them all in a folder, send them off, and let the reporters decide.

Press Mentions

This is basically to show some social proof; it’s just a document with links to other articles that have been written about you.

Product Screenshots/Videos/Photographs

The most important of these three are screenshots. It’s really difficult to explain how a product works without a visual; everything seems incredibly abstract. Include any other product demo videos or photographs that a reporter may want to include. Remember the strategy here is to give them every piece of content they could possibly use, and let them decide what is relevant for their type of media.

The Email

We’re almost ready to start systematically gathering reporters’ emails and sending them our press kit, but first we need some text to populate the email.

Ask 10 reporters what they would like to see in press pitches, and all 10 of them will say “keep it short.” And when they say short, they mean it – looking through our press pitches, anything that was longer than two (really short) paragraphs cut our response rates in half. So I like to boil my pitches down to three really easy parts.

  1. Introduction
  2. One-sentence pitch
  3. Offer/ask (sample or press kit)

Here’s the general framework for an email that works really well.

Hey [name],

My name is Austen from Underwater Audio. We developed a technology that makes iPods completely waterproof — it’s some pretty cool technology you (and your readers might be interested in. We’re at underwateraudio.com, and I have a [press kit/sample] I’d like to send your way to [review/check out] if you’d be interested. Let me know!

Thanks,
Austen Allred
[contact info]

The most important part of that email, to wax Steve Jobs-like, is what isn’t there. No long introductions, no links, no videos, no demos, just “We’re here, are you interested?” I’ve also gone back and forth with varying levels of personalization, a la “I read your article about x and I really liked y” or “I’m a huge fan of your work” enough to make it clear that an email is really personalized, but the difference in results has been negligible, especially because you don’t know the writer or his publication.

It’s really easy for a reporter to hit reply and say “Yeah, send me what you’ve got,” and then you’re introduced and talking. It can be tempting to send 1,000 press kits out or tons of links on the initial email, but trust me; this gets much better results.

Also note that you’ll want to avoid links, especially considering you’ll be sending about emails in bulk. 1,000 similar emails with the same link will look really spammy to email providers, and you will probably start hitting spam folders.

Sending the Emails

So we’ve got a press kit ready, some email text to send, and list of sites to send them to. It’s time to start gathering some email addresses and sending some emails (this is, surprisingly enough, the same step).

To save us hours of time we’re going to use Buzzstream. Buzzstream lets you navigate to sites, automatically pulls contact information, lets you send pre-populated but personalized emails, and helps you follow up on those emails. The starter pack, which will be enough to meet our needs, is $29/month (with a 14-day free trial!), so it’s well worth our time to not have to do all of this manually.

Open up your BuzzStream account, and you’ll see this page:

paste URLs

Hit “paste URLs” and paste the URLs from your Google Docs (you still have them, right?)

Click “add websites,” and wait a minute for BuzzStream to do its job. It usually takes somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes for it to process 1,000 websites.

get a drink

What you have now is a giant list of websites with email addresses, Twitter handles, etc.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.13.39 PM

I use “domain authority” as the best sort method to decide how legitimate a blog or website is. Generally the biggest (TechCrunch, Wired, etc.) will be 90+; really, really good blogs will be 80+. Anything 40-70 is either a smaller blog or a mommy/amateur blog.

If you’re looking to go straight to the top, look at 80-100. If you’re looking to start at the bottom and build your way up in legitimacy, go for the 40-70. I don’t even bother with anything that has a domain authority lower than 30.

Now we have our list; let’s go to work.

Reaching Out

The temptation here is going to be to send a mass email blast. Fight that temptation. Even if it takes us a couple days to pore through and send out 500 really good emails, it will be worth it. I promise.

Buzzstream makes it easy for you to take an email template and fill it in with variables (e.g. “[firstname]” or “[sitename]“. Once it finds the right contact info it will automatically plug that information in, so you could be pretty close to simply hitting “send” for every email you write and moving on to the next site.

It’s also possible to reach out on Twitter; but this doesn’t scale very well.

First, if there are one or two blogs that would be your ideal publications. Find the ideal person there, and reach out to them on Twitter. Try sending a message somewhat like this:

@username hey I have something to send you about [your angle]. What’s a good email?

This creates a bit of a personal relationship, and if you’re vague enough and your angle is interesting enough, few will refuse to give you their email address.

I like to send two tweets, but of course refrain from tweeting at 50 people. First because that’s annoying, second because the other reporters will see you blindly reaching out, and third because you’ll be suspended from Twitter for spamming.

Some reporters’ contact info won’t be brought up as well as some others, but make sure to find the right person to contact. If you’re Grasswire, don’t email the person who writes about The Internet of Things. It’s worth spending twice as much time to find the right person.

Now we’re going to open up the “BuzzBar,” which will let us go through our list of websites, open them up, and pull and send information to contacts. It will track the emails we’ve sent, remind us to send follow-ups, and let us get rid of the sites we don’t like.

I try to send 500/day if I’m working a full day (yes, it’s a full day’s work to send 500 emails).

Follow Up

If you don’t receive a response after a couple days, you can use BuzzStream to follow up. But don’t be annoying.

Remember that running a company is a marathon, not a sprint (a startup is kind of a sprint then a marathon), and you may want to get coverage from these reporters again. So be cordial, don’t burn any bridges, and be grateful if anyone writes about you.

Let me know how it worked for you on Twitter, and reach out to me by email (see the link in the navigation to the left) if you have any questions or concerns. If you are running into trouble other people might be too, so I’d love to help you out.