Becoming Better at Staying in Touch

As the previous year came to end I’ve decided to take my first personal retreat to decompress and digest all that has happened in 2017 both for OpsYard as well as my personal life.

I’ve been fortunate enough to grow my little product studio from me plus another person working part-time, into a team of 9 with revenue in the mid-six figures range.

As someone with no experience running a small organization, I’ve had to learn everything from accounting, sales and hiring for company/process fit.

To those of you that went through it, you know what it is, to those that are about to start their journey, I’ll boil my advice to two words: consistency and perseverance.

This growth came at a cost, which I’ve been warned about by my parents.

You have to make sacrifices if you want to focus and grow.

My biggest sacrifice in 2017 was my friends and family, I’ve neglected to maintain relationships with the very people that pushed me get to where I’m today.

This is something I see as a pattern in my fellow entrepreneurs.

Those that are on the climb, dedicate 99% of their energy to growing their business, once they achieve what they set out to do which could take a couple years but usually ends up being decades, it’s already too late. They have lost their childhood friends, distant relatives and their immediate family barely knows them.

Of course these are some broad generalizations.

This lead me to think about how I can both achieve the aggressive goals I set out for OpsYard in 2018 but the same time become better at staying in touch with family and friends.

Since I like to think in how to break down things into a repeatable process, below is my little outline on how to approach the problem.

Shout out to Jono Lai (@jonathanlai) for introducing me to the concept of: “the different ways people show love” from the book “The 5 Love Languages”.

If I had to put it in “lean startup” terms:

Hypothesis:

  • Business owners have a tough time maintaining meaningful relationships with their friends and family.

Solution:

  • Provide an easy way to set simple recurring reminders for these relationships.

Product:

  • Take the concept of a bare-bones CRM & apply behavioral psychology principles as limitations of the software.

This, of course, sounds like taking something that should intrinsically be a human interaction dictated by love/friendships into a soulless process dictated by a machine.

However, if the outcome of using it is that I build a stronger bond with even 10% of those I want to, the net result is better than what would’ve probably happened otherwise.

Now since this is a passion project that I might tinker with over time, I’m building it myself (first time writing code in over a year) with a very limited time budget.

This drives the scope of what I can do to a minimum, so instead of building a full blow web or mobile app, I’ll start with the basics:

  1. Simple entry form (Who / When / Where)
  2. Authentication on each reminder via Email Link (Slack style)
  3. Email Reminders frequency based Social Groups

The social group limitations are loosely based on the Dunbar’s number which is

“A suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”.

 

Those will be limited to:

  • Family: 10 people
  • Friends 20 people
  • Acquaintances: 30 people

Following what I defined in the hypothesis, these limitations should significantly benefit the target user in the long run.

I think this provides a good outline of what I’ll be building over the next couple of days.

If you have advice on how to you’d approach this problem or would like to get access to this project, shoot me a message on Twitter or just visit the project page.

Creating a Simple Landing Page

Before diving in on talking to potential customers you should focus on creating a place where they can find out more about what you’re doing.

This can range from a PDF pitch deck, explainer video to full-blown website with fancy design.

Since at the early stages you should avoid investing too much time in fancy presentations, I’d recommend sticking to a simple one-page website in a sales letter format.

Two books I really like on this topic:

the boron letters - book the ultimate sales letter - book

Why sales letter format?

Because at this point no one has most likely heard of you or your idea.

You’re looking to break a bunch of doubts someone might have when considering doing business with You.

Often people focus on describing the features they’ll be offering, but forget to mention the benefits the customer will get out of using their product.

Another way to think about this is to use a framework, an effective one is Pain/Dream/Solution which I’ve learned from

In the case of the tool I’m building I’d look something like this:

pain dream solution - segmentfinder

There’s a clear value proposition based on the way I’ve framed the problem I’m solving.

I’m a big proponent of attaching a price to your product as early as possible, otherwise, you’re introducing a lot of noise in your customer discovery conversations by including “window shoppers” thus wasting time on those won’t end up paying either way.

Pricing is a topic sooo complex that there are endless blog posts dedicated to it.

My take on it, established businesses don’t really nickel & dime when it comes to paying for services that add to their bottom line.

I spend around $1,500 a month on various SaaS software to run a small digital agency & bill my clients $xx,xxx monthly for services.

The only thing that’s worth mentioning here is the avg price of apps in the Shopify Apps store, from looking at around 100 I’d say it’s $5 to $40 on average.

A little low for my taste, let’s start with $30/mo & see how the conversation goes from there.

website code unsplash

Now here’s where a lot of people get hung up, getting a website up & running.

You don’t need anything custom designed when starting out, I recommend going with a barebones Squarespace or little more advanced Unbounce website.

Since I already have an account at @Landingi, that’s what I’ll go with.

landingi page builder

Here’s what I came up with:

segment-wizard-landing-page

Ok, now that we have a website with the relevant copy on it, let’s find a domain name.

The reason I left it for last, is that I’ve fallen into the trap of registering domain names for new ideas with following through on them, now I have +20 domains just hanging out.

At the pre-customer stages I don’t really care about the name that much, you can always change it later.

As long as it’s relevant to what you’re doing & is somewhat short, that’s good enough.

In my case, since the tool does customer segmentation, I’m going to look for a domain that contains that word in the root domain.

Favorite tool I use for that comes from a recommendation by @walter it’s called lean domain search.com

lean domain search

The initial list looks like this:

After asking a couple of friends, I decided to go with:

You can check out the current landing page at SegmentWizard.com

In the next blog post, we’ll be looking at how to get in touch with your potential customers & how to collect feedback that’ll help shape our initial Shopify App.

If you want to stay up to date & be alerted when the next part comes out, make sure to go to NoMoonshots.com & subscribe to the newsletter.

Identify a Problem worth Solving – Shopify App

Since the bulk of my consulting work is winding down for Q4.

I’ve decided to dive deeper into exploring new internal projects I’d like to work on.

In the past couple of months through client work, I’ve gotten more familiar with Ad Tech space

Mainly how medium to large e-commerce companies setup & optimize their PPC funnels.

So over the next couple of days, I’ll document my process of building a new app from scratch in a series of daily tweets.

Today we’ll start with identifying a problem worth solving.

 

I recommend looking at markets you already have relationships since it will allow to jumpstart alot of customer discovery type conversations.

In my case, I’m going after the AdTech space for e-commerce companies.

Based on conversations with people in the industry, Facebook & Shopify are the way to go for small to medium-sized companies.

A quick search on the App Store for “Facebook Ads” yields 57 apps, majority of them with a paid plan & multiple reviews.

Great! This proves that there is market demand in that category & people are willing to pay for a solution.

It’s worth keeping in mind that software either makes or saves more money for their customers.

Now keeping all those constraints in mind, let’s go and identify a problem worth solving.

This part isn’t easy to do document, but the best resource I can recommend on the topic is this talk a talk by @amyhoy.

For me, the process yielded that people hate downloading & uploading CSV files between the 2 platforms.

Based on 2 quick conversations with people that run stores, if I’d automate that process, they’d pay around $5-10 for that.

That’s not enough.

Since that problem is mainly encountered by people that rely on paid acquisition channels.

Let’s see how else I can deliver value to them.

What separates those that are new to PPC vs those that are professionals?

Optimization of their Ad Campaigns.

The easiest way to optimize your campaigns is to segment your customers into groups based on the purchasing history.

I decided to ask actual store owners what are the most effective segments they use in their stores via multiple Shopify/Facebooks groups.

Thanks @kennedy for a very helpful response!

Now that I have a small problem & larger one I can solve before I move on let’s see if it’s even technically possible.

 

Seems reasonably easy to connect the two together in the way I want.

So now I have a solution that can generate the most effective segments and automatically sync them on a daily basis.

How much is it worth though?

One way to find out, ask them.

However, before we get there first we have to come up with a good offer in order to up our chances of connecting with the right people.

That’s what I’ll be covering in the next entry.

Why You should Start a Business on Top of a Marketplace

Business is Business, software or psychical goods.

No matter if you’re selling software, a house cleaning service or beef jerky there are three things you look at: product, price and who you sell it to.

In most cases we rely on what we already know how to do or make based on previous experience.

What people are willing to pay is easy to determine since for most businesses there’s already competition out there. If there isn’t any competition then most likely it’s a bad sign of no demand in the market.

There’s always an exception to the rule, but taking that path can be can ten fold more difficult.

We can define a customer in many ways, but lets stick to basics and point out:

  • Who? (age, gender, occupation, education, interests, income level)
  • Where? (where are they located)
  • When? (when do they want it)
  • What? (what do they want)
  • Why? (why do they want it)

Ok, knowing what we’re selling, to whom and for how much takes care of the basics. Now let’s tackle the hard part: How do I let them know that I have what they need.

Marketing & Distribution.

In the early days of running a business, generating revenue and making sure you have positive cash flow is key.

A healthy balance should be at 10 percent time spent on improving the product or service versus 90 percent on marketing and testing different distribution channels

There’s a million and one ways to approach marketing and with the amount of easily accessible information on the internet I won’t get into the details.

Often enough people forget about leveraging existing pockets of demand.

So, what’s this magical place, where people ready to buy are looking for what I’m selling?

All I’ll say is that it’s been around for centuries and hiding in plain site.

Enter the Marketplace.

If you’re my age or older, then you most likely remember going to the local market as kid. Usually on a Sunday morning with your parents to pick up fresh vegetables, eggs or just listen to the shopkeepers haggle over prices.

The local farmers market is definitely still around, but due to the ever growing need for more convenience, we mostly shop at WholeFoods or Shoprite, get it delivered via services like Instacart or simply just stick to eating out.

By definition, a marketplace connects buyers with sellers and takes a fee for facilitating that.

In the digital age, such marketplaces exist for almost any vertical you can imagine:

  • Don’t have enough things on your phone? — App Store by Apple
  • Looking for handmade or vintage clothing? — Etsy
  • Want to learn how to write code? — Udemy
  • Kitchen sink isn’t draining properly? — AngiesList

Most of the above-mentioned examples feature some level of vetting before you’re allowed to join and once you do, your life depends on positive customer feedback. Usually reflected as reviews, star ratings or a numerical score.

That’s also the exact reason why people tend to favor marketplaces. Taking the least amount of risk while spending money is what in the end drives the marketplace economy.

Of course this breeds cut-throat competition, since your product, design, customer service have to be constantly improving, in order to stay in the game.

Brick & Mortar analogies for days

Lets look at it from a perspective of opening a local burger joint.

If you wanted to open your own standalone restaurant, besides it being a really bad idea (I suggest reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain), you’re looking at insurance, rent, renovation, equipment, food costs, licenses, staffing, decor, deliveries, repairs, cleaning and a laundry list of another hundred or so items before you even get to the most important part. Getting customers in the door.

Now let’s say, I could offer you a way to cut your monthly expenses in half and guarantee a decent amount of foot traffic. Oh yeah, did I mention they’re already hungry and looking to sink their teeth into some good food.

Sound like a great deal, right?

Well, here’s the catch: the place I have in mind wouldn’t allow you to be the only burger joint around (negotiable). Also building your own brand would be somewhat harder than if you owned the place.

However, you’d have a much higher chance of succeeding in the short term and if all goes well, through building a loyal customer base and positive cash flow to one day owning your own space.

Still interested?

Great!

I’m sure that the various weekend food markets such as: Smorgasburg, Berwick Street Market would be a great place to start.

If you’re in a place that doesn’t have something along those lines, I’m sure there’s a Food Court or Strip Mall somewhere near. Sure, that’s a less glamorous option but we’re in business to make money and turn a profit, not look cool.

Maximize your chances for Success

If this is your first time around the block and you want to improve your chances of succeeding, then I think that joining a marketplace is the way to go.

You’ll have to most likely give up a nice chunk of your revenue and deal with the existing limitations of the platform.

One way or the other you have to start somewhere and why not do it in a place takes care of the hard part for you.

The Art of Never Finishing Things & My Cure for It

 

For the past couple of months, I’ve had the chance to travel the world while taking time off from work in order to focus on improving my physical health. Now that I’ve met the goals I set out to achieve before departing on my journey through Europe and Asia, I can’t wait to jump right back into what I love doing the most, building things.

Since 5 months in the world of tech is like a decade in the brick and mortar world, I figured that the best way for me to catch on things is to build small projects that meet current tech trends and my own interests at the same time.

Like with anything we do, there’s always an underlying reason for everything that doesn’t seem that obvious at first.

In this case, it’s mainly having a challenge that is short and diverse enough to start a habit of actually shipping side projects to the outside world.

You might ask, why is that so important to me.

In the past couple of years whenever I had some extra time I always worked on smaller projects that at the time always seemed like the next big thing.

The funny thing is… some of them actually were.

So why am I not a millionaire by now you might ask?

Well, the main difference ,I think, between having a good idea and actually sweeping the market off its feet is: shipping it & getting initial traction. The follow through & grind comes as second fiddle in comparison.

Here’s a couple of examples of projects that I’ve built & shipped but didn’t get anywhere since I’ve lacked some fundamental knowledge of customer development and getting traction:

TribeReminder (1/14) vs Bond (6/14)

StoopShop (02/13) vs CrateJoy (10/13)

PrimalSupply (5/13) vs Epic Provisions (6/10)

So, as you can see some of them worked out (for those that persevered), some were total flops and in the end, the main difference between those two is having the ability to quickly reach some level of initial traction that allowed them to go further.

This, of course, is a theme that I’ve noticed while working with startups in Silicon Valley or with clients at a large digital agency in New York City.

Lessons learned from those projects or from my own endeavors could fill a book if I really sat down and started writing.

However, since I’m not necessarily a good writer I would usually send my more curious clients a copy of a couple of books I believed showed them the “right way of doing things”, those included “The Lean Startup“, “Rework” or “Blue Ocean Strategy”.

The problem with those, however, is, that people get too hung up on specific examples or applications of a given framework.

That’s why nowadays I try to break down everything into a repeatable process and leave the actual implementation flexible.

Now, what I mean by that, is that each successful business can be broken down to Product / People / Process. Something I’ve picked up from Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of CampingWorld.

So, as long as you have a good product that meets the market need, a team of good people behind it and a repeatable process for each aspect of the business, be it product development, marketing or bookkeeping, you have a very high chance of doing really well in the market.

The products I want to build in this challenge fall into common categories (e-book, script, productized service, web app) which for the most part should follow an already well-defined process, starting from idea to actually have something I can share with others.

In order not to get bored, plus feel the pressure of a deadline, I’ll try my best to start and finish each project in the timespan of two weeks.

Since some of these categories are related to markets I have no experience with, I’ll be inviting experts in those fields to advise along the way.Those that either saw the patterns or want to know more about the inspiration behind this project should check out:

StairStep Approach by Rob Walling

24 Hour Challenge by Nathan Barry

MegaMaker by Justin Jackson