Monthly Newsletter: Issue 2

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max


Now, get a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

  • Intercom on Marketing (ebook). A good intro to marketing and, in particular, product marketing that will be interesting to those who are relatively inexperienced.
  • How to Design Marketing Campaigns. Basics of marketing segmentation, messaging hierarchy, and campaign management – this article will be useful to those who’re new to marketing or looking for a refresher.
  • HubSpot’s Pricing Page Redesign → MQL Conversions 165%↑ & Free Sign-Ups 89%↑. How: research first – usability testing, internal feedback, and customer intelligence; then design based on insights and A/B test.
  • What’s next in growth?” (video) talk by Andrew Chen who leads the rider growth at Uber. Andrew recommends you ignore “growth hacks” and focus on fundamentals that worked for decades. E.g. user referrals, shareable content, and using discounts to jumpstart demand for new products.

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Monthly Newsletter: Issue 1

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max

Technology and Startups

  • Ten-year Futures – a presentation by A16z. New technologies enable new use cases. Seeing them, as well as non-obvious “second order” effects, is key. E.g. mobile enabled Instagram, Instacart, and ride-sharing.
  • Decrypting Crypto – another presentation by A16z. Bitcoin is a combination of three old technologies: hashcash, public key cryptography, and distributed ledger. Value of cryptocurrencies goes beyond the traditional store of value and medium of exchange. E.g. tokens can help bootstrap new protocol-level innovation and incentivize developers, customers, and investors to contribute.
  • AlphaGo Zero masters the game of Go from scratch. The ML algorithm learned the game without any pre-existing understanding of rules or strategies. Building a general or at least a-little-bit-less-narrow AI appears to be a big priority for DeepMind. Perhaps this can count as a small step in this direction?
  • Delivering blood with drones in Rwanda – a TED talk by the founder of Zipline. What an amazing application of new technology and a case study in social entrepreneurship.
  • Tacotron 2 is a new text-to-speech technology by Google that is (almost?) indistinguishable from a human voice. If Google manages to make it less computationally demanding and ship it as part of the Android OS, all kinds of interesting use cases will be made possible. I personally will listen to more of my Pocket articles in audio.
  • Magic Leap is launching its SDK, shipping in 2018. AR/VR is already quite a saturated market. It’s not entirely clear yet how hyped Magic Leap technology will compare to Microsoft HoloLens, as well as to VR headsets: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 2: CLV/LTV, and CAC

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

Last time we focused on user growth. We looked into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three. Today, we’ll assess the dollar impact one user has on our business. To do it, we’ll learn to calculate and use another metric: customer lifetime value.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) = dollar value a company can earn from serving one customer.
  • Retention ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Price ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Discount rate ↑ => CLV↓

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 1: Churn/Retention, and Virality

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

First, we’ll focus on user growth. Here we’ll look into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three.

Second, we’ll focus on the monetary value associated with users. Here we’ll look into customer lifetime value and customer acquisition cost.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • There are multiple variables that will define business growth dynamics
  • Main ones are acquisition rate, retention rate, and virality coefficient
  • At any given time you might choose to prioritize some of these metrics over others
  • This decision will depend on the business strategy, available resources, customer feedback, stage of the product lifecycle, and hundreds of other factors
  • Models like the one shown here can assist you in making better decisions by letting you see where your business will be at in the future under different scenarios

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New KPCB Report and My Takeaways

In case you’ve missed the new (well, 1.5 months old) 2017 KPCB Internet Trends report, here it is. As always, it’s a fascinating 355-slide deck of charts and graphs that cover everything from advertising to macroeconomics.

Here are some less than obvious insights I noted. What did you find interesting?

  • Ads
    • Ads vary significantly in how much they annoy customers: mobile pop-ups are the worst
  • Social Media
    • Unexpected popularity of weird YouTube channels, e.g. people who record themselves unboxing stuff
  • Delivery / On-Demand Economy
    • Trending up across the board: from Amazon to Doordash
    • Amazon eating the world with Amazon Basics brand
  • Gaming and VR
    • Gamer’s average age: 35
    • More weird entertainment: the # of people watching other people play games keeps growing
    • Games have higher engagement in minutes/day than Facebook (per active user)
    • VR and gamification of the real world: Stanford Football, Peloton and all kinds of mobile apps
    • Virtual world simulations: Improbable
    • eSports growth
  • Media
    • Continued growth of the subscription model and personalization: Spotify and Netflix dominate
  • Enterprise Software
    • Interfaces become more humane as reflected in growing designer/developer ratios
  • China
    • On-demand bike sharing
    • AliPay + WeChat
  • Macro Trends
    • US Deficit
    • 60% of most valued companies started by 1st or 2nd generation immigrants
    • 50% of most valued companies started by 1st generation immigrants

Some screenshots:

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HBR on Corporate Culture Design

I had a chance to work for companies with very different corporate cultures. In my experience culture does not just happen. Instead, it should be deliberately designed and reinforced. So I found this Harvard Business Review article relevant and insightful:

Think carefully about each of these four elements:

  • Incentives are a basic element of doing good work. People should be paid fairly and competitively for their roles, and increases in compensation should be a predictable process. In addition to pay, the culture should work to reward results generated versus hours worked. Employees shouldn’t feel anxious about how visible they are in the office or on projects, and strict timekeeping can create a sense of mistrust between teams and management. Lastly, and this is something we care about a lot, good failure should not result in career suicide.
  • Context and rules will determine what rituals and processes allow people to do great work. If initiative is punished instead of rewarded, people will feel less compelled to push new ideas internally. The ability to make quick judgment calls and move decisions forward will outpace any lengthy or cumbersome internal approvals process. The same goes for autonomy and flexibility—do you trust your teams to lead while you get out of the way? Are teams allowed to participate in flexible work options that encourage their productivity? Your teams need the right tools and resources to do their job—are they spending more time fighting for what they need? If access to those resources is limited, individuals will be less inclined to take part in initiatives with so many blockers in front of them.
  • People are the core of a great organization and the processes and systems you use to hire, promote, and reward them can be both enablers and blockers. Bob Sutton’s famous “no asshole rule” is an important factor when hiring people for your company, especially if they’re “star performers”. Sutton believes that star performers who are demeaning can wreak havoc on organizations. You just can’t compromise your business on people like that.
  • Leadership has to play a role in the culture if the whole organization is to transform. And leading by example is a pivotal component of management enablers (and blockers: leadership can lead by poor example as well, of course). If leadership exhibits the behaviors expected of teams and individuals, then people in the organization will follow suit.

Guide to the Real Silicon Valley

Steve Blank, our UC Berkeley professor, wrote an awesome “Guide to the Real Silicon Valley”. I recommend it to everyone who is planning to visit and even to those already living in The Bay. I’m quoting an excerpt here:

For the ultimate startup experience: talk yourself into carrying someone’s bags as they give a pitch to a VC. Be a fly on the wall and soak it in.

If you’re trying to get a real feel of the culture: apply and interview for jobs in three Silicon Valley companies even if you don’t want any of them. The interview will teach your more about Silicon Valley company culture and the valley than any tour.

Meet some locals in tech: attend at least three tech-oriented Meetups or Plancast events in the Valley or San Francisco (Meetup is a deep list. Search for “startup” meetup’s in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Clara.)

Go to the best events: Check out the meetups from iOS Developers and Hackers and Founders and 106Miles and Ideakick and Startup Grind. Catch a monthly hackathon. Subscribe to StartupDigest Silicon Valley edition before you visit.

Cowork with a startup: Find a real 3–10 person startup, working from a small crammed co-working space and sit with them for an afternoon. Offer to code for free. San Francisco has many co-working spaces (shared offices for startups). They’re great to get a feel of what it’s like to start when there’s just a few founders and you don’t have your own garage. Visit Founders Den, Sandbox Suites, Citizenspace, pariSoma Innovation, the Hub,NextSpace, RocketSpace, Startup House, The Hatchery, PeopleBrowsrDolores Labs and DogPatch Labs. Check out here for more SF sites

See where hackers hang out: Driving down the valley see Studio G in Redwood City, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, the Plug & Play Tech Centerin Sunnyvale, Semantic Seed in San Jose. Check out this site for the latest updates on co-working spaces.

Rub shoulders with the makers: Head to an event at Blackbox.vc or Galvanize. See if there’s a Startup Weekend or SVForum event going on in the Bay Area. I’m serious — talk yourself into a job.

How Can a Startup with 5M Users Fail

This an article to forward to all those who share a simplistic philosophies of “Build It and They Will Come” or “Money does not matter, only great product and getting a lot of users matter”.

This Startup Had Over 5 Million Users And A Great Product. Then It Folded.” on Fast Company:

Consider Springpad, a startup founded in 2008 and once considered an Evernote rival. That wasn’t enough. The company failed to develop a monetization strategy–and despite their best efforts (and rumored acquisitions by Amazon and Google), things just didn’t turn around in time.

“We built a heck of a product. But we didn’t build the business.”

“We ran out of money, that’s basically the end of the story. It was a timing problem.”

Information diet, news and content filters

I have been struggling to figure out the optimal way to inform myself about the news for quite a while. There is a million of issues here: negativity, irrelevance, lack of proper filters, biased views of certain journalists/newspapers and noise, noise, noise. So, it is not easy at all to maintain a conscious sensible information diet without completely stopping reading any news. But in this case it is not easy to remain a well-rounded and well-informed individual with own vision and interpretation of world’s events and trends.

Long story short. I recently found couple of startups that try to tackle this issue and make it at least a little bit easier to get through all the noise.

In addition to strictly curated collection of blogs I read with Feedly (~60%, the main source of content and probably, the best alternative to discontinued Google Reader) and to imperfect social filters, such as Facebook (~20%) here is what I have been experimenting with recently (~20%):

1. Quartz.com daily briefs to stay in the loop (email, no RSS, unfortunately)
It is a curated selection of headlines sent each morning with links to longer articles. I like that headlines are formulated to be informative, not to seduce you to click and read full article. It is mostly focused on business and key events around the globe.

2. Vox.com “understand the news” section to research a given topic
I use it occasionally (rarely?) to get a quick first, but superficial understanding of a given issue that I know nothing of, but do not want to spend a ton of time researching. I like that Vox strives to be impartial.

3. Tweeted times for a couple of headlines popular among my Twitter friends
Daily newspapers are populated with content based on links posted by your Twitter friends and friends of friends. The more people post a certain link the higher it will rank. Assuming that you follow people with similar interests and/or whose judgment you trust, it should be relevant.

4. 10 things to know by BI for tech news (in Feedly)

I usually just skim the above from time to time, certainly not daily. Even this is too much and I would love most of these services to have “top 10 weekly” editions or some custom way to limit the number of items. I also wish most of them went for shorter articles with more data (think The Economist Facebook charts and infographics). New Yorker style long-reads are obsolete in most cases these days, at least as a main type.

Would love to hear your thoughts! How do you stay informed of the most important and relevant stories in the shortest time possible?

PS Related to this. An interesting Quora thread about the reasons why most personalized news startups failed.