Go Wide and Deep

As a marketing student, I’m scared. For the first time, there are other students who are better suited to take a job in marketing over myself: journalism and computer science majors. Before you start calling me insane, let me explain.

As online marketing starts to really spread out into two paths of content-driven marketing and product-driven marketing, people with those areas of experience will be better suited for the roles students like myself are going after. Who better than a journalism major well versed in writing feature stories or an undergrad with a deep knowledge of building web applications?

It’s true that most journalism students will still try their luck at writing for a publication and many computer science students wouldn’t even consider marketing as a career. However, there will be a few in each field of study who will venture towards marketing (at some point) and those are the ones I’m worried about.

These students may not be marketers at heart, but they have a deep knowledge for areas greatly needed to drive sales and ROI at most businesses today. And what they lack in marketing depth, they can make up for in marketing breadth. They understand, or learn to understand, a wide amount about marketing, but may not necessarily be the best at marketing there is (a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak).

Marketing Breadth

I see what Coke’s attempting to do by creating their own publication and how companies like Dropbox are using referral models like The Great Space Race to get students using there software or a freemium model to get people to upgrade to a paid service. Continue reading

BU Room Swap: Building a Website To Solve a Problem

Last semester, myself and a couple of other students (Matt Auerbach, Guy Aridor) set out to build BURoomSwap, a website we thought could help those on our college campus who were looking to switch to a new dorm if they didn’t like where they were living or weren’t getting along with their roommate.

The BU process for swapping involves going to housing, filling out a card with your information and then flipping through a binder of countless others looking for a new living arrangement. And if that seems like enough, you can also put up a card at each dorm you’re interested in switching into.

This archaic process is a pain in the ass – I know from first hand experience of having to go to the housing office and the dorms multiple times to re-check the binder for new postings.

Our solution was a simple website where you post where you currently live and where you want to live. From there we easily match you to someone who wants what you have and you can chose to propose swapping with them or not. Simple. Easy. Solves the problem.

BURoomSwap.com

We weren’t really sure if people would use the site or not, but with over 300 submissions (and a solid number of room accepts) in only a couple of weeks, we know we’ve probably done a better job then what’s currently available.

A few of things I learned while building it that I think are helpful to other students interested in entrepreneurship:

  • You don’t have to build the next big thing to learn about being entrepreneurial. We didn’t set out to build a business. We just set out to solve a problem. It is a small problem, but it’s still a problem and one we felt we could fix. Working on this small venture though still taught us a lot about building something from scratch, working with others who had complimentary skills, and trying to get someone to use something they don’t necessarily have to.
  • You don’t have to be technical to be a product manager, but you do have to understand product and what’s technically possible. Well, the truth is, there are certain times where you do have to be technical in order to be a product manager. But in many cases, as long as you understand product and get the ramifications of what is and isn’t technically possible, you can still act as a product manager. Even though I can’t code (I’m learning…), my ability to wireframe and come up with user flow as well as managing conflicts and building out a timeline were integral to the site being built. Continue reading

5 Steps for Marketers to Become “Growth Hackers”

There was a really awesome post on Andrew Chen’s blog the other day on how Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing. Basically, the gist of it was that marketers today need to be a hybrid marketer and coder, particularly in the startup world.

While I do believe we will see a number of developers helping on the marketing side, I think that this role will be mostly taken on by the marketing types.  The problem is there simply aren’t enough developers. It doesn’t make sense for a company to make an all-technical growth team instead of putting those folks on product where they’re more essential. Also, marketers will be better marketers than engineers will — it’s just a difference in how both types think.   Lastly, I think engineers who are also growth hackers are more of the entrepreneurial type — they’re probably already building there own company.

So what do marketers need to do in order to become growth hackers? I think there are a few steps.

  1. Get analytical and know how to optimize: You need to be thinking in terms of ROI or the bottom line or how to move the needle.  If you aren’t able to figure out how many people who clicked on A button caused X number of people to buy Y, that’s a bit of a problem.  It’s really important to not only understand how to track this information, but also to be able to optimize it for better results.  So for example, figure out why only Z number of people clicked on A when you expected Y and understand how you can fix the problem.
  2. Understand API’s and their capabilities: The digital marketer (and engineer’s) best friend is the API.  It not only can take out a lot of the hassle in building your product, but can also help enhance it and and help it grow.  Nowaday’s, nearly every growing startup has an API.  My suggestion would be to look at those sites API sections, see what their capable of, and read case uses.  It’ll give you a better understanding of how you can leverage that API for your own company.  I had this crazy idea I wanted to implement in school for my marketing friends called APIron Chef.  Essentially it would be like the Food Network show: you have to create an application using a secret ingredient (i.e. the main API) as the main flavor.  You can certainly use other ingredients (i.e. different API’s), but your main ingredient still needs to be the main API. In my friends case, we’d create wireframe mockups for our app idea — I kind of think of it as a hackathon for non-technical folks. (I actually am going to be doing this next semester, so if you go to BU and are interested in participating, stay tuned).
  3. Learn how to build (without technical skills):  There are some really awesome websites out there that can actually help you do your marketing much easier.  If you don’t know how to build a landing page yet or easily set up a blog, that’s a problem.  You should know about tools like LaunchRock and understand how to use them. Once you do, you want know how you lived without them.
  4. Attend a Hackathon, or hang out with some engineers: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in regards to the way engineers work compared to marketers, it’s this – time is valuable.  It sounds so logical and yet in ad agencies they sit there endlessly trying to come up with new headlines to use for days until they finally come up with one great one.  An engineer thinks “How much value will I get out of the time and effort I put in?”  Unlike an advertiser, they’d spend 20 minutes brainstorming different headlines with one other person, pick the five best and then A/B test them in display ads online or on their website until they’ve found the most impactful message. Try attending a hackathon or working with some engineers — it’ll give you new insights on how you can work and be more productive in your job. How does this relate to growth hacking? The more time you don’t waste, the more time you can use to market effectively — it’s all about being efficient.
  5. Learn to Code: I know it’s scary, but it’s super important if you want to become a better growth hacker.  Seriously. Check out this post if you don’t believe me.

There’s a new digital line being created from social media savvy to hard core hacker.  You don’t necessarily need to be a technical wunderkind, but if you’re a marketer and you’re not willing to do at least bullet points 1-4, that may be a problem.  The new era of marketing is not coming, it’s here now.

(Side note: please don’t ever call yourself a Growth Hacker.  I really hope the term goes the way of Rockstars and Ninjas) 

Entrepreneurship Cheat Sheet from @Vacanti

I had the opportunity to attend the East Coast Startup Summit this weekend at Princeton University.  It was a great experience and I learned a ton from a number of the speakers including Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway, and Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed.

One of the most educational conversations was one we had with Vin Vacanti, CEO and co-founder of Yipit, an aggregator and filter for all the (daily) deals available online.

Below is a cheat sheet I’ve created for would-be (student) entrepreneurs based on our conversation with Vin:

Learn to Code

Vin mentioned that if you’re interested in tech startups, you should teach yourself to code.  This was actually a point brought up by a number of the speakers and I definitely agree myself (and did before the conference).

Vin had actually not known how to code going in to building Yipit but taught himself so he wouldn’t have to outsource a core competency of his business from the outset. The best idea, according to Vin, is to spend about 3-6 months just teaching yourself to code and then used that knowledge to build prototypes.

Vin mentioned that the best languages to learn are Ruby (on Rails) and Python (Django).  I suggest using Rails for Zombies or Learn Python the Hard Way.  Other resources to learn to code include Codecademy.

Creating Business Should Be The Same as Creating Experiments

Vin mentioned that every business idea you have should be looked at like an experiment.  Your idea is a hypothesis and your job is to try and prove your hypothesis right/wrong.  If it fails, figure out why and test it again, this time with a tweaked experiment.

Try Failure

A Harvard grad and former Wall Street guy, Vin actually hadn’t failed up until he decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur.  He mentioned that everyone should try failing.  In other words, you have to get over the idea of following a path of going to school and getting a cushy job.  Instead, try a bunch of different things and don’t be afraid if it doesn’t work out.

Vin also mentioned that if you hit rock bottom, that’s when you truly become the most innovative and creative because then you really have nothing to lose.

The Ideal Co-Founder

Vin mentioned that there we’re three qualities to a great co-founder:

  1. Someone you trust: you should find someone who you can look to as a friend and will be loyal to the business.
  2. Someone you’ve worked with: you may still find someone loyal and trustworthy, but your working styles may not mesh.  Think back on all the group projects you had in school.  Which of those people did you work well with? You may end up finding your co-founder in that group of peers.
  3. Someone with complementary skills: Lastly, you need to make sure that your cofounder has complementary skills.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you should be the programmer and they should be the business guy.  Complementary skills can even include one person being the creative, big-picture type and the other person being the methodical, small-picture type.
4 Necessities to Building a Great Company
Vin also mentioned for things he learned had helped him build Yipit into the successful startup it is today:
  1. How to build a landing page: Building a landing page is a great way to easily gauge if people will be interested in your product.  If you get a lot of sign-ups and people show interest, you may be on to something.
  2. Build quickly, build fast: There’s no point in spending a lot of time building a product if it may fail.  Vin mentioned they built Yipit in three days.  They didn’t have the more technically advanced parts of their product built yet, but they knew it wouldn’t be worth the extra effort if people weren’t interested in their idea.  After three days though, they knew they were on to something — building quickly also allowed them to be ahead of others who had a similar idea.  From there, Vin and his co-founder iterated they’re product quickly to better fit the needs of their consumers.
  3. Build relationships: In the startup world, nothing is more important then the people you know.  Build relationships with those who can help you.  They may end up being your next cofounder, investor, or employee.
  4. Build your network: Going off of building relationships, it’s important to also build your network.  You can’t do it alone in the startup world — the more quality people you have around you that can help and advise you, the more likely you are to succeed.

After hearing from Vin, I realized more so that entrepreneurship and starting a business isn’t just about knowing how to creatively market your product, or knowing how to build some shiny technical object, or just really being good with financials — it’s about being good at the art and science of business and learning that failure is not only okay, but the only way to learn and grow as an entrepreneur.

A Summer of Airbnb: 12 Weeks, 12 NYC Neighborhoods

We had an assignment in class to try and come up with an individual creation that we could actually make.  My idea was to see if I could live in NYC for free, meet different people, and write about my experiences.

I’m bracing myself for an amazing summer in New York City, but there’s still one thing I’ve yet to nail down — a place to live.

Let’s face it: even if you have a full time job, an apartment in New York City can be pricey. For a college student, those rates can seem astronomically higher in your mind.

It got me thinking though. Maybe I should just forgo the whole sublet/NYU rental approach every other college student does to make their “dreams come true” in the city that never sleeps.   Maybe I should just push my luck and find a new place to sleep by every week.

I’ve been looking at Airbnb as an option, and while the rates fall somewhere in between getting a hotel and actually renting a place, it could be interesting to see if I can have Airbnb sponsor me in in return for a little exposure.  There’s also CouchSurfing which is free, but I’d prefer to work with Airbnb because there booking process is a bit easier to work with.

I think the benefits of living in other people’s homes for an entire three months could be extremely interesting.  New York City is known for it’s eclectic population and there’s a lot to be learned whether I spend a week on the Upper East Side with a well-to-do family or a few days with a musician in the Village.

Although my main goal was to essentially live in NYC for free, I think there’s a story that can be told from an experience like this. Why not create a web series on living like a local in all of New York’s different neighborhoods?  What if I put myself up to the challenge of learning about NYC from actual New Yorkers?

The rules would be simple:

  • You can’t stay in host’s apartment or home for more than one week.
  • You can’t stay in a particular neighborhood for more than one week.
  • Each borough can only be stayed in for 5 weeks maximum.
  • You must document your stay via video and traditional blogging.

Each week a new episode would be posted online for viewers to watch.  You’d learn about the best places to hang out, eat, drink, and play, all from a local’s perspective.

The best part is that you’d be getting different perspectives on New York City from at least 12 different people in 12 different neighborhoods. And, since they know they’re respective areas best, you’d learn about the best places in Astoria to eat from an Astorian or the best Beer Garden in Williamsburg from a local hipster.

Of course, the hard part would be getting Airbnb to fund this.  I’ve decided to set up a Kickstarter page (note, this is a preview link) to start and raise money.  Those funds would go towards paying for housing as well as some initial production equipment.  If Airbnb would like to help out, they’re more than welcome to as well.

I think a web series like this could be an interesting experiment.  There’s so much to see and do in New York City — you might as well try and do it with the people who know best.

6 Quick Takeaways from a #SXSW Rookie

It’s been one and a half days since I’ve been in Austin and I’ve been blown away/overwhelmed/underwhelmed/confused during my time at SXSW Interactive.

I wasn’t really so sure what to expect when coming here, but I think despite the rain, I’m starting to understand what SXSW is all about.

I got to the Convention Center a bit late this morning (driver got lost) so I have some downtime now to write a blog post.

Here are some of my quick takeaways from a SXSW rookie.  Hope these help for anyone who is considering coming in the future.

    1. Stay in Downtown:

I made the mistake of picking a hotel in the Northwest Arboretum.  While my hotel is on the shuttle route, I could have easily avoided 30 minute treks to the Convention Center had I realized how far I was from all of the action.  The closer you get to the Convention Center, the more expensive the hotels get.  However, you may end up paying the same price due to cab rides and the shuttle rides you’ll be taking.

  1. ABC (Always Be Charging): You will burn through your iPad, laptop, and cell phone battery at SXSW.  Whenever you see an outlet, make sure to charge up.
  2. You’ll get shut out of panels: If you really want to go to a panel, make sure to get there early.  I got shut out of a number of panels since I’ve been here.  It sucks, but I’m getting used to learning that I have to sometimes skip a previous panel to go to a better one.
  3. Research speakers before you pick their panels: There are so many panels and sessions to choose from, probability says most of them are going to suck.  To avoid these issues, make sure to research panelists to see they are credible sources and even see if you can find them speaking in videos on YouTube.
  4. Free food & free drinks everywhere: Seriously, every place you go to has an open bar or gives out free beers (it’s awesome!).  There’s also a lot of free food — mostly barbecue and Tex-Mex.  You can easily go the entire trip without paying for a single meal.
  5. Meet tons of people: If you’re a business, this is really the only benefit you’ll get from being here.  Since most people come down to SXSW, it’s really convenient to set up a number of business meetings.  This will be the biggest return on investment for your trip — having an employee speak on a panel or giving out grilled cheese will only get you so far(unless your GroupMe).  Also, don’t feel embarrassed to just randomly tweet at someone and see if they want to meet — chances are, they will!

There are more takeaways I’ve got since being here, but I’ll leave my post at 6 for now.  More to come soon!

Exploring New Ad Agency Revenue Models (courtesy of BBH)

Startup philosophy and intrepreneurship go against the very nature of what an ad agency is all about (see more).  That’s why what Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and Chupa Chups Lollipops worked on together is all the more astounding.

Chupa Chups is not the biggest client and they certainly don’t have the biggest budget to work with, but BBH certainly found a way to game the marketing system and get the most bang for their buck.

The Chupa Chups brand, much like the lollipops themselves, is fun, irreverent and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

According to Corrado Bianchi, international marketing director of Chupa Chups’ Italian parent company, Perfetti Van Melle, ”the brand philosophy of Chupa Chups is all about giving youth a respite from the seriousness of everyday life, similar to the role gaming plays in our target audience’s life” (via AdAge).

As a result of this key insight, BBH made a Facebook game for the Chupa Chups targeted demographic to play during their down time.  More surprisingly, an ad agency actually made a good branded Facebook game.

In Chupa Chucker, a game reminiscent of the PC and mobile game Zuma, players shoot “brain spam” with lollipops, trying to get as many points as they can before time runs out.

There’s even a bit of a backstory: R4V3N, the Chupa Chucker World Champion who plays the game with his mouth (on a Chupa Chups lollipop joystick, of course), needs to be beat and you’re gonna be the one to do it.

Continue reading

Can Ad Agencies Be Digital Incubators?

The digital advertising (communications) industry is the most creative, least innovative type of business currently in existence.

Digital ad agencies come up with some truly unique concepts and campaigns for clients, but they are certainly void of innovation when it comes to shaking up the way they can make money for themselves.

What do I mean exactly?

With developers, idea men (and women), designers and all of the resources needed to innovate from the ground up, ad agencies are the prime place for scalable, startup-like initiatives to happen.

However, with a few exceptions, we don’t often find an ad agency trying to incubate new ideas that can help their own company in the long run. Continue reading

Why There’s More to The Melt Than Grilled Cheese

the melt restaurantIn September, I started writing a post on The Melt, a new restaurant venture in San Francisco.  Then school got in the way of me finishing it – here’s the post.

There’s been a lot of hubbub in Silicon Valley about a new start-up that recently launched.  It’s not a cloud computing software or a new social network.

It’s a grilled cheese restaurant.  Yes, there have been a few venture capital firms that have actually invested in The Melt, a restaurant that specializes in the art of grilling bread and cheese sandwiches.  Even more peculiar – the guy who started The Melt has tons of experience in tech, but no experience in retail, restaurants, or (most importantly) food.

Their hook (to separate themselves from food-chain mediocrity): tech do-dad’s and thingamabobs that no restaurant in existence has really implemented before at the core of their business.

Examples of this include paying by mobile phone and geo-fencing with coupons and ordering when you are within walking distance of the store.

On the surface, this idea seems doomed for failure — you’re selling a low cost, easy to make sandwich at a high price that many people don’t usually consider gourmet enough or complicated enough to warrant ordering at a restaurant.

The truth is, The Melt will probably fail.  But what if The Melt was designed with the idea that it may fail? What if this is all some big elaborate testing playground that has nothing to do with churning out some hot new chain restaurant that wants to go mano-y-mano with the Chipotles and Five Guys of the country?

The evidence proving this theory may just be there if you read between the lines:

1) This isn’t about grilled cheese, it’s about retail.  If you look at the history of the investors and the board of directors to The Melt, it certainly doesn’t scream RESTAURANT.  However, there are some members who certainly invoke awesome retail experience, most notably Ron Johnson.  As the head of retail at Apple, Ron made visiting their stores an experience, not a chore.  He redefined what shopping for a computer should be.

The restaurant industry is ripe for innovation in dining experience, especially when it comes to technological advancements.  Why not create your own store as the model for what the new American dining experience should be and then license out your technologies to McDonald’s and Subway’s across America?

2) Low cost, high margin product + easy to make + quick entry into market = less risk.  If the core product at The Melt, isn’t the product but the experience, why grilled cheese?  It’s simple. The Melt’s variable costs are extremely low and more importantly, a grilled cheese at $6 a pop has an extremely high margin.  In addition, making a product that’s easy to make means it’s easy to train staff and have a pretty low overhead (for a restaurant). Continue reading

4 Biz Dev Tips that Can Be Applied to The Job Hunt

Last night I attended Startups Partnering with Big Companies: Best Practices, an event for business development folks in New York City.  Among the panelists was foursquare‘s VP of BizDev, Tristan Walker.

Tristan gave some amazing insight on the panel when Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and team member at Hashable, asked about how a BizDev person should go about creating partnerships and relationships with big companies.

Tristan jotted down four bullet points on a napkin which he gave to me when the night was done. The advice was so good, I wanted to make sure I got what he wrote down correctly.  When I looked back over his notes, I saw that his insight could be applied to a lot more than just BizDev, specifically the job search.  Here are my thoughts on how each point relates to finding employment:

  • Nothing to lose, be persistant: Tristan mentioned how if you really want to partner with a company/brand you should just reach out.  There’s really no risk in trying, only reward.  I think this can be applied to emailing potential people you’d like to meet as well.  Personally, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve wanted to meet with people who I thought could be a great resource for advice and knowledge.  Never once was I turned down and the best part was that I usually got a free meal out of the deal too.  Being persistant and realizing you have nothing to lose is really important to get the job and more importantly, be a hustler.  Afterall, had Tristan never emailed Dennis Crowley eight times, who know’s if he’s be working at foursquare right now?
  • Build a great product – they’ll find you: More poetically, what Tristan meant to say here was: If you build it, they will come.  Tristan explained how he’s been lucky that he works on a great product like foursquare that eases the job of trying to create partnerships.  In the job world, you have to look at yourself as a product too.  It’s important to hone your skills, hustle, and be a real team player.  Without those traits, the product (read: yourself) that you’re portraying to potential partners (read: employers) will be undesirable and not worth their time to look at.
  • Focus and do your homework: Tristan mentioned how important it was that no matter what vertical and company he was looking at, he was well versed in the lingo of the business.  For example, Tristan brought up how when he met with Pepsi he made sure to learn as much about the CPG vertical as possible.  In the job world, you can’t half-ass your way into a position.  You have to know what you’re talking about and be able to back it up.  Tristan also mentioned how yes, you can be picky on who you choose to work with.  I think many students underestimate this statement.  I personally wouldn’t take an internship with a company if I didn’t like the way they executed their business or their actual product.  This past summer I had a few offers from some pretty cool start-ups in New Yorks.  However, I never applied to a company if I thought their start-up’s idea sucked or their vision at the top was murky — at the end of the day, I wasn’t planning on taking an internship just for the sake of taking an internship.  I wanted to work for a company doing interesting things that had a vision at the top as well.
  • Practice Humility: Even if you do your homework, you have to realize you don’t know everything and there’s still room to learn and grow.  My advice with the job world is simple — when you interview or meet with someone, listen to what they have to say.  Don’t own the conversation, but be a part of it.  It’ll show you care about what the other person says.  More importantly, because most people love the sound of their own voice, the person you spoke with will be impressed with you and even think the conversation went exceedingly well. It’s surprising how people will be impressed with your silence as you listen to their stories of how they rose to the top of their company and/or industry.
Overall, the BizDev event was an amazing learning experience for me.  It gave me more knowledge of another field I can pursue in startup land.  I think I still have a lot to learn, but these 4 tips were definitely an excellent place to start.