Marketing Resources for Startups – Go from Zero to Traction in 90 Days

Did you know I occasionally write for the VerticalResponse blog? I do it more frequently there than I do here, and even then it’s not that frequent. But the other bloggers there are of awesomely high caliber so, really, you should be reading them.

I wrote this for you there: Marketing Resources for Startups – Go From Zero to Traction in 90 Days. You’re welcome.

Philip Rosedale is an Inspiring Geek

I attended last night’s IdeaMensch event at Rally Pad, which turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enlightening event. Among the speakers were Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy, who came off as cocky, no nonsense and totally kick-ass, and Philip Rosedale who, I was surprised to find, was humble, intensely nerdy and – not as surprising – also totally kick-ass.

Philip Rosedale. Credit: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Rosedale is the guy behind former media darling Second Life, where folks engage in a free, open-ended online world, building it as they go along. It predates the current media darling MineCraft by about a decade, but seems to have lost favor with the geek community. As Rosedale pointed out in last night’s speech, Second Life grew to a community of about 1 million active users, then flattened growth. In startup land, flat growth means death. Nevermind the fact that those 1 million users still produce about $700 million in annual revenue, which Rosedale says is more than enough to keep the servers spinning, the developers fixing bugs and adding functionality and the company running. Continue reading

Onward California

I’m impressed with the message of the UC System’s new ad campaign, “Onward California“. I discovered it by clicking through on an ad – something I rarely do – that mentioned I was able to surf the web thanks to a UC Irvine graduate who helped develop the HTTP protocol.

How has a UC grad touched your life? Well, you’re reading the blog of one right now.

At a time when our state is suffering through budget shortages, falling house prices, record unemployment and the grim specter of bankruptcy, it’s wise to demonstrate the power education has to transform society and lives. Ultimately, it’s a beg for money to support the system, which is suffering like the rest of the state, but they’ve made the value proposition clear: UC grads make the world better, and investing in their future has a huge, provable return on that investment.

Stop – Web 2.0 Time

This is why I have not jumped on the “Web 2.0” bandwagon, nor is it likely I will: MC Hammer joins panel of Web 2.0 “experts” at TechCrunch20 conference. Putting MC Hammer on a panel alongside folks like Caterina Fake and Rajeev Motwani – two highly knowledgable computer professionals in their own right – to determine which projects should receive VC exposure diminishes the importance of the whole process. I don’t care that he’s a consultant on a stealth web property – does he know the difference between a blog and a wiki? Does he know about community building? Does he even know any HTML?
Web 2.0 is a bit of a joke. It’s a series of extremely loosely connected ideas that really weren’t in search of a unifying name. The sooner we can get past the hype and get on with simply building and supporting extremely useful, highly connected web-based applications – no matter what you want to call them – the better off the entire industry will be. Trying to build every little thing so that it fits into some kind of artificial Web 2.0 mold in order to ride the current wave of hype does far more harm than good. Build a product your customers need and love to use and you’ll win, period.

Yes, I’m cranky. Can you tell?

Officially Fictitious

Went out and got my Fictitious Business Name statement today, which officially puts me in business as Robert D. Zazueta, dba TechKnowMe. Man, does that feel good.

Very simple and very cheap. I drove down to the Contra Costa County Recorder’s office, filled out a form and handed them $15. After that I walked next door – literally – to the Contra Costa News Register office, which apparently specializes in publishing legal announcements. The official requirement is that you post your FBN announcement in a “newspaper of record” for four consecutive weeks. I was wary working with the company right next door – they have the benefit of location, so they can afford to be a bit pricey – but it only cost $50 and it was officially official. It was harder to get married.

So what does an FBN really do for me? Frankly, not a whole heck of a lot. It makes it so that I’m legally allowed to operate under that name in my county, which means I can cash checks made out to TechKnowMe – a rather big deal considering my cards all say TechKnowMe. It also provides *some* light protection in a trademark case should anyone try to steal my company’s name. Other than that, though, the FBN really exists to protect the consumer. If someone gets scammed by a company, they can theoretically go to the county and get my information, which ought to lead them to me. Of course, if I were scamming people, I wouldn’t use an FBN.

The next step is to get my business licenses and such so that I can willingly through money at my local government a couple of times a year. Awesome.

The Leap

I recently made a bold decision that will either turn out to be the greatest thing I have ever done or my stupidest failure. The good news is that it’s completely up to me to determine which outcome it is.

For quite some time now (years, really) I’ve wanted to go independent and work more or less for myself. Several factors over the years have convinced me that a full time job hold many of the same risks as working for one’s self – more, if you consider that working for yourself means you have control over your destiny. When my mother passed away in November, I was hit with two big notions: 1) Though I’m not independently wealthy, I now have enough money stashed away to provide a healthy cushion during the early, tricky days of my new venture and 2) I’d rather try and fail than die and have not tried. Mom died at 57, just as she was finally settling into her own independence. She accomplished a hell of a lot during her time here, but it still pains me that she didn’t get to finish it. As her son, I’d like to do it vicariously for her.

So, as of a week or two ago, I’ve switched to a part time schedule at Robert Anthony, where I spent more than two very productive and satisfying years learning a lot about marketing, the needs of small businesses and the requirements for running my own small business. Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working full time for my own venture. Right now I’m working under my own name, but I’ll soon have my fictitious business name and begin operating under it.

I provide technology consulting, web development and  system maintenance services for small to mid sized businesses as well as on-site technical support around the Bay Area. Right now it’s a one man show, but the goal is to stop being a freelancer and start building a complete, self-sustaining business that can operate with or without me.

I’m extremely fortunate to already have a pretty good stable of clients who have stuck with me through my full-time job flakiness and keep referring me to others. But I’m still available for any other projects that may be out there. If you know of someone in need of a web presence, online application or some help in figuring their online strategy out, give them my number: 510-390-4452.

So, that’s the big news in my life at the moment. How does this affect this site? Well, as you know, this site reflects my ideas and opinions more than anything else. It’s my soap box and test bed. As the focus in my offline life transitions to a more business-oriented mode, I suspect a similar transition will be made here. I already pepper my posts with business and technology related observations, but you may find I do it more often. More importantly, I will begin discussing some of the influences that drove me to finally make this leap, which I hope you will find interesting and informational.

Of course, I’ll still post about random weirdness that happens as well as share my opinion on a variety of topics. I’m going to try not to censor myself any more than I already do, but knowing that potential clients may visit this site (this will remain my personal site, but folks have a habit of Googling me) may keep me a bit more on my toes.

If you’ve made a similar leap and have any advice to impart, I would love to hear it. I may even relay some of it back on this blog to help others. I thank you in advance for your support and patience. And, if the biz blogging starts driving you nuts, let me know. I’ll post some random weird thing just for you.

Why Do I Have To Register To Be Marketed To?

This has now happened to me twice today. This morning, I was checking out some movie reviews over at IMDB. Someone had writtedn an interesting title in one of their forums posts way down below, so I clicked on it to read the post, which sent me to a registration screen. Now, let me be clear here – I wasn’t trying to respond to a post, I was only trying to read it. Registration at IMDB is free so, though I was slightly annoyed, I started the signup process. The server timed out. Then I had to wait for a confirmation email from the system to complete the registration, which took more than five minutes to arrive at my inbox. By then, I already gave up and moved on. They lost me, all because they wanted me to register to read a single forum posting.

Laster on, I decided to get some information about Katamari Damacy by Namco. I went to the official Namco site, which has a few screenshots and such but, more importantly, advertises a couple of videos showing off the gameplay, which is really what I cared about. Upon clicking on the video link, it prompts me to sign up for an account just to view a couple of videos that help advertise the game they make and sell. So, in order for me to actively research an item they’re advertising, I have to go through the effort of signing up to their system, probably with the same brain-dead “confirm via email” system every other reg site seems to require.

It’s not that I don’t want to give away my person information – I typically provide the least amount of required info for these things anyway. I have come to expect a certain amount of instant gratification from the web. It is, in fact, the biggest selling point of the web – ask and ye shall receive instantly. It’s in both IMDB’s and Namco’s best interests for me to view the thing they’re guarding – I’m a set of eyeballs, after all. If I like what I see, I’ll probably post it here, which means many of you will visit those sites as well. If you like what you see, you’ll probably share it as well, on and on and on. So what’s more valuable – a little bit of marketing data or several interested individuals viewing your marketing message?

If I were getting something of value – a free eBook, some cool tchochke, anything, really, that I can actually use – going through the effort of filling out a reg form would be no problem. I’m not a fan of filling out reg forms for online newspapers, but I also believe that, usually, it’s worth it because I’ll probably wind up reading their stories going forward and, hey, filling out a quick form saved me from digging out a quarter or two and going down to the 7-11 to buy a copy. But the only reason I wanted to see the KD video was to help me decide whether purchasing the game is worth it. The only reason I wanted to read the IMDB forum post – which, by the way, had apparently been deleted by the admin despite the fact that they were still advertising it as available – was to help me decide whether seeing a particular movie was worth it. In both cases, the site stood to make money based on my decision – Namco if I bought the game, IMDB if their forum post enticed me to see the movie and, thus, validate their importance in the eyes of movie advertisers. Because of their lame-ass reg systems, though, they lost me on both counts. Now they have to hope that something else will convince me to make the buy. That’s just bad business.

MIT’s Expertise on Tin Foil Hats

I’m not here to discuss the efficacy of MIT’s research on tin foil hats, nor am I going to confirm, deny or even address its veracity. I’m, instead, going to share with you my feelings upon even hearing about this study and my immediate reaction to it, ’cause that’s genuinely more interesting to me and has a more practical application..

Upon hearing about this study, I was both bemused and intrigued. If I had read that, say, the Stanford or Cal engineering departments had done this study, I would have immediately laughed it off. Because MIT did it, it lent a certain amount of prestige and awe to it. Why? Because it’s MIT – those guys are geniuses! At least, that’s my world view when it comes to MIT. My sense of their genius, reinforced by the media over the years, is far stringer than my sense of any other university’s genius, bar none. For this reason I’m far less likely to question their results.

In reading the article, the following lines pop out at me:

“Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We theorize that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.”

These two lines contradict each other when questioning the veracity of this story (I’m still not discussing that aspect). The first sentence regarding the enhancement of certain frequencies is the sort of thing that they can measure and reliably test. I buy it. The second sentence sounds cheeky, as if to signal to the reader that this is not exactly real research.

So which is true? In my initial reaction, it doesn’t matter to me – MIT was the source, so the research must be valid. End of story.

Their reputation is such that I simply don’t question them. That gives them an unusually strong amount of influence over me. If MIT released a reports saying that coffee enhanced sexual prowess and mental agility, I’d up my daily dose. If they released a study saying coffee withered one’s health and made one stupid, I’d drop the habit and suffer the withdrawals. If any other university or research institution released such studies, my habits wouldn’t changed until they were confirmed by another party. I know a lot of people who are the same way. MIT’s reputation has an amazing amout of power.

This is the point I’m driving at – if you really want to affect change, if you really want to have influence you need to deliver a consistent message, use other sources to constantly reinforce it and do everything you can to strenghten your power. I would eventually like Wine Spotter to become the MIT for wine consumers. Right now, the Wine Spectator is it. Many view them at high-end and hoity-toity, which is an image they gladly reinforce. Still, their word on wine is law. If Joe’s wine blog rates a wine as a 93, who cares. If Joe and Jane’s blog both rate it in the 90s, it’s probably a good wine. But, unless you really know Joe or Jane and they have built your trust, you still need a second source. Ah, but if the folks at the Wine Spectator rate a wine a 93, it must be great, right?

In journalism, there’s an old saying: “If you mother says she loves you, get another source.” You’re never supposed to print a fact without confirming it with at least one other independant source. With all the choise out there these days, savvy consumers work the same way. Often, though, they’ll eventually find folks who are consistent and trusted and no longer feel they need a second source. Your goal is to become that trusted source through a consistent message and a tradition of trust. Authenticity and your story matter more than ever now. That is your new marketing.

Interactive Corporate Blog Culture

I’m not really a sports fan. I’m absolutely dedicated to just one team – my beloved Cal Bears Football Team – and am a slightly more than casual fan of the California Angels (They were the California Angels when I was growing up and, as far as I’m concerned, still are). But other than that, I barely follow sports aside from the Giants (my inlaws are gigantic fans) and whatever trickles of data I hear from around me.

Reading Mark Cuban’s latest blog entry, however, may actually have me tuning in to the first Dallas Mavericks game on TNT, if only for a few minutes to see what they’re wearing. See, he’s been discussing this whole debate about the NBA’s new dress code policy and it’s been a somewhat interesting read. Considering his comments of late, I’m interested in seeing how his team complies.

This, of course, brings up my point: once of the big values in blogs – particularly corporate blogs – is seeing the thought process an idea goes through before being implemented. If, for example, Bill Gates had blogged about the new features for Windows Vista – the difficulties in coding the WinFS and the decision to kill it for this release, the discussions that determine what features would be added, etc. – interested users would get a better idea of what the final product was like before it ever came out. They’d feel like part of the process, perhaps exclaiming an excitement similar to Albert Brooks’ character on Broadcast News when feeding lines to his anchor via telephone: “I say it here, it comes out there!”

The audience for such a blog is, admittedly, small. For a Gates blog like the one I’m describing, you could expect hundreds of geeks tuning in, whether to share the excitement, satisfy their curiosity or even make fun of it. Not every project could expect such a turnout, but you could expect a healthy audience if you promote the blog to your customers and potential customers. Not everyone would be interested, but those who are will more than likely be the ones who become your best customers. Many of them will freely comment on your posts, providing valuable feedback that you can apply to the product during the production cycle. Just imagine how cool it would be if you made a suggestion to Bill Gates about a Windows annoyance that should be fixed in the upcoming version and he listened! Now imagine that, not only did he listen, but he responded with a, “Great idea!” and actually implemented it. How likely would you be to buy that next version? Think of the bragging rights! Now imagine doing this for your customers.

It takes a whole team of people to run a company – the marketing folks, the finance folks, the production team, the biz dev team, etc. Your customers, however, are also a vital part of that team – perhaps the most important. Give them the opportunity to play with the team and you won’t just have customers, you’ll have partners – partners willing to give you money doing what you do best. Setting up a corporate blog, providing a certain amount of transparency into your product’s creation and requesting feedback can all go a long way to enhancing that all-important relationship between you and your customers. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Dallas Mavs are wearing at their first game under the new dress code rules, but only because I’ve heard so much about it from the source. Who knows, I may even become a fan!