LEVNG Photography

CC3: Panama

Early one morning in June of 2013, a Panama hat weaver named Simon Espinal sat down to work at a wooden table in his house in Pile, an obscure village hidden in the hills near Montecristi, in Ecuador’s steamy coastal lowlands.

Selecting eight thread-like strands of toquilla straw that he had spent three weeks preparing, he separated them into four matched pairs with which he formed the cruzado—the crossed threads—that is the start of every Panama hat.

And then he began to weave.

Tonight, I would like to talk to you about the Panama hat. This is my one, have a look and pass it around. I’ll be talking about:

  1. its history;
  2. its construction; and
  3. how to go about buying one.

History

When the Spanish arrived in Ecuador in 1526, inhabitants of the coastal areas were already wearing a brimless hat of woven straw. Over the next three centuries, hat weaving and hat wearing grew steadily in the country.

In 1835, Manuel Alfaro emigrated from Spain to Ecuador. He settled in Montecristi and launched himself into the hat business. He developed a large network of weavers and artisans with a singular goal: to export the straw hat from Ecuador around the world.

So, why do we now know this hat as the Panama hat?

Alfaro’s hats were soon leaving the ports of Ecuador, bound for nearby cities, with Panama among them. Before air travel, anyone wanting to cross the North American coast had three choices:

  1. travelling overland;
  2. taking a ship around the southern-most tip of South America; or
  3. taking a ship to Panama, cutting across the isthmus, and getting a ship on the other side.

The Californian gold rush in the 1850s dramatically increased traffic in Panama as well as demand for the hats. “Hey, nice hat! Where’s it from?” The answer would almost invariably be, “Panama!” Ecuador’s most famous export is the “Panama” hat. And the people of Ecuador aren’t very happy with that.

Construction

The construction of the hat begins with a hike into an Ecuadorian rainforest. The weaver is looking for cogollos, the unopened, central leaf spikes of the Carludovica Palmate, or the Panama hat plant. Each plant is a cluster of three metre tall stalks with palm leaves sprouting from the top. It takes at least 48 cogollos to weave a hat.

Back in the village, the weaver uses his thumbnail to pry open the thick leaf casing to reveal a pale and tender core. The individual strands, now called tallos, are boiled in a pot of water over a wood fire before being left outside to dry. Once dry, the tallos are bleached inside a wooden box using smoke from crumbled sulphur mixed with burning embers.

The weaver selects the best straw, cutting it to the desired length and uses his thumbnail to slice it to the fineness he wants. He takes two straws and places them carefully across the fingertips of one hand. He adds a second, then third, and then finally a fourth pair of straw, arranging them carefully and holding everything in place. This is the cruzado. A few hours of weaving will expand the hat to the size of a twenty cent piece.

Weeks later, when the weaver finishes the hat, they will have 4–6 inches of loose straw around the brim. The hat then passes through a series of specialised craftsman before reaching the blocker who shapes the crown using steam and sews on the sweatband. The hat is complete.

Buying a Hat

So let’s say you want to buy the same classic hat worn by everyone from Winston Churchill to Sean Connery, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Arnold Schwarzenegger. How do you go about it?

There is no standardised grading system for Panama hats. Different sellers often use the same numbers or terms to describe very different hats. A Grade 10 from one seller won’t be the same quality as a Grade 10 from another. One superfino, different from another superfino.

Put another way: there are only 18 master weavers who can weave a true superfino, and it would take months to do so. It is much easier to stick on a superfino label than to actually weave one.

The best way to measure the fineness of a woven hat is to count the rows of weave per inch, first horizontally then vertically. Multiply these numbers together. Three hundred weaves per square inch would not make an especially noteworthy hat. At nine hundred, however, the hat would be a rare treasure.

In addition to fineness of weave, the quality of the weave and the colour of the straw must also be taken into consideration since they affect the overall desirability of the hat.

We now re-join Simon Espinal who started weaving the Panama hat in June of 2013.

Summer segued into autumn; Christmas came and went, as the creamy white fabric continued its spread slowly down the sides of the hat. At the end of every day, the work-in-progress was carefully wrapped in clean muslin cloth to protect it from dust or spills.

Saturdays were spent sorting through the straw that will be used during the coming week, examining each strand in a good light, matching them as closely as possible for color, tone and slenderness.

Finally, near the end of February, he stopped. The hat was finished. It had taken 9 months.

What he will state is that the hat he finished last year, and which required nearly a thousand hours of weaving, is the finest he has ever woven—indeed the finest he has ever seen or even heard of: a creamy-white, silky-fine masterpiece averaging an astounding four thousand weaves per square inch.

Cue Cards

  1. Absorb. Look. Speak. Absorb each trigger word, look up and then speak, maximising eye contact with the audience.

  2. Write on one side only.

  3. Write clearly and in capital letters if necessary.

  4. Double space the content with ample whitespace around trigger words.

  5. On each card:

    • Top left-hand corner: approximate timing.
    • Top right-hand corner: number each card.
    • Top: an opening statement (black).
    • Center: 3–5 supporting trigger words (black) used to jog your memory, as well as numbers (red), quotations and key facts (green) and names (blue).
    • Bottom: a trigger word about the next slide.

CC2: The Front Page of the Internet

Here’s a question: “Would you rather one million dollars right now—or a 10% shot at one hundred million dollars?”

A similar question faced the founders of the website Reddit.

Tonight, I would like to tell you the story of Reddit, currently the 31st most trafficked website on the Internet.

It all began in 2001 at the University of Virginia where Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman met for the very first time. Alexis was scared that no-one would play video games at university—that it was something he’d have to leave behind in the transition to adulthood. The first day he moved in, he happened to find Steve playing Gran Turismo 2 across the hall from his new dorm room. They ended up becoming best friends and lived together all four years of university and almost five years afterwards.

Towards the end of university, they worked together on an idea that Steve had dreamt up called MyMobileMenu, which let people order from restaurants using a mobile phone. They opened a bank account, incorporated the business and began talking to restaurant owners in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Meanwhile, Steve had been reading articles by a successful startup founder called Paul Graham who had sold his company, Viaweb, to Yahoo! Paul was about to found a startup incubator called Y Combinator that would advise and nurture early-stage companies, giving them $12,000 in exchange for 7% of the company. It would later be well known for jump-starting companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. But none of these things had happened yet. Paul Graham was just a startup founder who was scheduled to speak in Boston over spring break.

Steve convinced Alexis to take the 10-hour train journey to Boston to hear Paul speak. After the talk they went up to him and said, “Hey Dr. Graham”, telling him that it would totally be worth the cost of buying him a drink if he’d listen to the startup idea. His reply: “You came all the way up from Virginia? Sure.”

The talk went well and Steve and Alexis were asked to interview for Y Combinator, which was in its first year and which no one had heard of at that time. The interview went really well and they went out for celebratory drinks. That night, Paul called Alexis and said, “I’m sorry, we’re not accepting you.” That was a major blow and the celebratory drinks abruptly turned into misery drinks. That night they got pretty drunk.

The next morning they were on the train back to Virginia with a throbbing hangover. Somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, Paul calls again. “I’m sorry, we made a mistake. We don’t like your idea, but we like you guys.” They get off the train, and Alexis manages to sweet-talk the Amtrak inspector into not charging them for the turn around. After the train ride, they met up with Paul and hashed out some ideas. One thing that Paul said stuck: “You guys need to build the front page of the Internet.”

Reddit was built in three weeks. It was Steve and Alexis sitting in a apartment, in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts, only going outside for Pizza during the day and going to the World of Warcraft for distraction during the the night. The website was simple. It was a ranked list of web links that users could add to, with two clickable buttons underneath each link saying “Interesting” and “Uninteresting”. That was it. The first link ever posted to Reddit was a story about a Downing Street memo that was shared by Alexis, and voted “Uninteresting” by Steve. Paul and Steve both suggested names, but Alexis came up with “Reddit”, as in: “I read it on Reddit.”

In the weeks that followed, Steve and Alexis scraped news sites and posted links to Reddit using fake accounts so it wouldn’t look empty. They also asked friends to post things whenever possible. One day in August, Steve went a whole day without working on Reddit, which was rare. Before going to bed, he decided to check the site and noticed that there was content on there that wasn’t posted by anyone they knew. According to Steve, that was the biggest turning point.

With a steadily increasing stream of traffic, traffic was never the problem again. But everything else was. They frequently had to wake up in the middle of the night to reset the servers, which had crashed while they were sleeping. The next year was a blur.

In the Summer of 2006, less than 16 months after starting Reddit, its founders were faced with a tough question: whether to sell the company for $20 million to Conde Nast.

If you were in that position, what would you do?

Steve and Alexis decided to take the acquisition offer and went to a Halloween party that night to celebrate. Before the party, Alexis called up the Washington Redskins ticket office and upgraded his Dad’s season tickets while also making a sizable donation to his Mum’s favourite charity.

Fast-forward to now. 2015. Reddit has lived up to the vision of being the front page of the Internet. There are 169 million visitors every month, reading links posted to 9,600 categories or subreddits. Stories originating on Reddit are frequently syndicated to newspapers around the world and their Ask Me Anything subreddit has featured Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Edward Snowden.

Reddit is also valued at $500M.

A few years ago, when asked whether he regretted selling Reddit, Alexis replied: “No, I don’t regret selling Reddit. I’m just grateful for having the opportunity to make a decision like whether or not to sell Reddit.”

CC1: Icebreaker

My first memory is of myself as a five year old. We arrived back at Heathrow after a 13 hour flight from Singapore. The weather in London was freezing. As we pulled up to the driveway of our house in Uxbridge, I was eager to escape the cold and to get inside. I rushed to the bathroom to turn on the tap to warm myself. [September, 1991.]

Now one thing you should know about taps in the UK is that there isn’t a single mixer tap but two separate taps over a sink. One spouts boiling water and the other freezing water. The trick, awkwardly, is to turn on both taps and to move your hands quickly between the two taps mixing the water manually.

I left the hot tap running too long and so my first memory was formed: scalding my hands with boiling water in freezing weather.

It was also around this time that I started to receive elocution lessons. A few years earlier I had been diagnosed with glue ear and had grommets inserted. With glue ear, the Eustachian tube, connecting the middle ear with the nasal cavity is blocked. This means that any liquid in the middle ear is stuck there, resulting in low frequency hearing loss. Because I couldn’t hear very well in my formative years, I had elocution lessons to help with my speech development.

At age 7, I moved to Australia and started at Camberwell Grammar. I had a lot of fun in school, performing well academically but also getting my fair share of detentions—the key to any memorable school life. One less pleasant memory I took away was a sports report I delivered in Year 9 in front of the entire school—all 1,000 students. Although I thought it went fine, I was reminded for the next few years that I couldn’t pronounce the letter “S”. [2000.]

I finished Year 12 here but went back to the UK for university where I read Computer Science at University College London. In 2010, I decided to attend the British Film Festival and bought tickets to a film that sounded promising but which wasn’t yet in wide release. The screening, as it turned out, was the film’s London premiere and I walked past Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush conducting interviews on the red carpet. The film was “The King’s Speech”. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Colin Firth plays King George who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist based on Harley Street. Although the film primarily dealt with stuttering, the story resonated with me. I decided to see a Harley Street speech therapist to improve the way I spoke. [21 October, 2010.]

I found Valerie Savage, a speech therapist that not only worked with children but with adults. She had worked with various television presenters and even the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne. I learnt about glottal stops and fricatives and rehearsed nursery rhymes:

What a to-do to die today at a minute or two to two.

I learnt about how to use a bone prop and performed voice exercises.

BB bbb BAH

And for the first time in my life, I was able to pronounce an “S” properly. [June, 2011.]

Throughout my life, I’ve never shied away from speaking in public. But at the same time, it hasn’t been something I’m completely comfortable with either. Although I know how to pronounce an “S” now, it still doesn’t feel natural. I have to be concentrating and I have to speak deliberately. If I don’t, it goes back to how it was before.

The reason why I’ve joined Toastmasters is to be comfortable with speaking—casually and in public.

Thank you.

Health

Bar Essentials

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

  2. You have to keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

  4. Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Until finally [blank].

  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

  12. Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth—get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

  14. Why must you tell this story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on—it’ll come back around to be useful later.

  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you do like?

  21. You have to identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write “cool”. What would make you act that way?

  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Wardrobe Essentials

Communities

This article is a summary of:

Latin Phrases

A Study of Virality

Rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge:

Within 24 hours of being challenged, participants must record a video of themselves (i) announcing their acceptance of the challenge, (ii) pouring ice into a bucket of water, (iii) getting the bucket lifted and poured over their head, and (iv) nominating three other people to participate in the challenge.

Observations:

This article is a summary of: Cheung, Darius. Bucket of Ice sets the Internet on Fire—A Study of Virality. 99.co, 31 August 2014.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + ... = ?

Trade Fairs

VSCO Workflow

  1. Adjust exposure and white balance.
  2. Select Kodak Tri-X 400 film preset for black/white photos or Kodak Portra 400 film preset for colour photos.
  3. Apply the “JPEG Contrast Fixer” toolkit preset.
  4. Apply the “Grain Bigger” toolkit preset if downsizing for the web.

World's Hardest Logic Puzzle

Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are da and ja, in some order. You do not know which word means which.

Design Rules (2003)

Performance Evaluation at Deloitte

The first two are answered on a five-point scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”; the second two have “yes” or “no” options:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.

  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team.

  3. This person is at risk for low performance.

  4. This person is ready for promotion today.

Marcel Proust's Questionnaire

Lessons from Y Combinator

CS183B: Pitches

The 30-second pitch should answer three things:

  1. What does your company do? Go for something with zero assumptions and which requires no further questioning. E.g. “Hey we’re Airbnb and we allow you to rent out the extra room in your house,” rather than, “We’re Airbnb and we’re a marketplace for space.”

  2. How big is the market? An investor needs to understand, “Oh wait. If this company gets really big, it could be worth billions of dollars.” E.g. Airbnb might say, “How big is the hotel market? How big is the vacation rental market? How big is the online hotel booking market?” These are simple numbers to look up on Google.

  3. How much traction do you have? Ideally this sentence is saying something on the order of, “We launched in January and we’re growing 30 percent month over month. We have this number of sales. This amount of revenue. This number of users.”

Buying Ethos

Buy products that emphasise:

CS183B: User Interviews

CS183B: Press

CS183B: Doing Things That Don't Scale

The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them. The usual way to do that is to get some initial set of users by doing a comparatively untargeted launch, and then to observe which kind seem most enthusiastic, and seek out more like them.

You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy. For as long as they could (which turned out to be surprisingly long), Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note. Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made.

Tim Cook doesn’t send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can’t. But you can. That’s one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of service no big company can.

The feedback you get from engaging directly with your earliest users will be the best you ever get. When you’re so big you have to resort to focus groups, you’ll wish you could go over to your users' homes and offices and watch them use your stuff like you did when there were only a handful of them.

One sort of initial tactic that usually doesn’t work: the Big Launch. I occasionally meet founders who seem to believe startups are projectiles rather than powered aircraft, and that they’ll make it big if and only if they’re launched with sufficient initial velocity. They want to launch simultaneously in 8 different publications, with embargoes. And on a tuesday, of course, since they read somewhere that’s the optimum day to launch something.

CS183B: Building Products Users Love

CS183B: Growth

CS183B: Before the Startup

CS183B: Team and Execution

CS183B: How to Start a Startup

Traction

Traction is quantitative evidence of customer demand. Traction is powerful. Technical, market and team risks are easier to address with traction. So are fundraising, hiring, press, partnerships and acquisitions. In other words, traction trumps everything.

The bullseye framework—you’re aiming for the bullseye, the one traction channel that will unlock your next growth stage—is a five-step process:

  1. Brainstorm: come up with reasonable ways you might use each traction channel. Find out what marketing strategies have worked in your industry, how similar companies acquired customers over time and how unsuccessful companies wasted their marketing dollars. For each channel, come up with multiple ideas, and for each idea, deduce: (i) the expected cost to acquire a customer through this idea, (ii) the number of customers you can expect to acquire at that cost before saturation, and (iii) the timeframe needed to run tests.

  2. Rank: place each of the traction channels into one of three columns, with each column representing a concentric circle in the Bullseye:

    • Column A (Inner Circle): which traction channels seem most promising right now?
    • Column B (Potential): which traction channels seem like they could possible work?
    • Column C (Long-shot): which traction channels seem like long-shots?
  3. Prioritise: reduce the channels in Column A to three channels.

  4. Test: run tests on the three channels in Column A. You are not trying to get a lot traction with a channel just yet, but determining whether a channel could work. Ensure that the tests answer:

    • Roughly how much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
    • How many customers do you think are available through this channel?
    • Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the ones that you want right now?
  5. Focus on the ones that work: if all goes well, one of the traction channels you tested in your inner circle produced promising results. In that case, start directing your traction efforts and resources towards that most promising channel. At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition.

A company’s traction strategy should always be focused on moving the needle for your company, i.e. focusing on marketing activities that result in a measurable, significant impact on your company. After the growth curve flattens, what moved the needle before usually won’t work at the next level. Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty click-through rates. In other words, all market channels become saturated.

According to Peter Thiel, poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If, however, you try several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have are enough customers.

Constantly running small traction tests will allow you to stay ahead of competitors pursuing the same channels. Making A/B testing a habit (even if you just run 1 test a week) will improve your efficiency in a traction channel by 2–3x. There are some quantitative metrics that are universal across traction channels. E.g. cost to acquire a customer and lifetime value of a customer.

Always have a traction goal you’re working towards. This could be 1,000 paying customers, 100 new daily users or 10% of your market.

The path to reaching your traction goal with the fewest number of steps is your Critical Path. These milestones need not be traction related, but should be absolutely necessary to reach your goals. E.g. for DuckDuckGo, their traction goal was to get to 100M searches per month. They believed milestones they needed to hit included a faster site, a more compelling mobile offering and more broadcast TV coverage. Good mentors help you stay on your critical path. The simple act of preparing to meet with your mentor on a regular basis is a forcing function that compels you to think more critically.

There are nineteen traction channels. Two observations: (i) far too many startups focus on the same channels and ignore other promising ways to get traction, and (ii) until you start running tests, it’s difficult to tell which channel is the best one for you right now. Many founders ignore promising traction channels due to natural biases (out of their field of vision, negative views, seems annoying and time-consuming), which may prevent them from getting traction. Spend your time building product and testing traction channels in parallel; traction and product development are of equal importance and should each get half of your attention.

  1. Viral Marketing: the process of getting your existing users to refer others to your product. Going viral means that every user you acquire brings in at least one other user: that new user then invites another user, and so on. This creates true exponential growth.

    • A viral loop in its most basic form is a three-step process: (i) a user is exposed to your product, (ii) that user tells a set of potential users about your product, and (iii) these potential users are exposed to your product and become users themselves.
    • K = i × conversion percentage, where K is the viral coefficient, i is the number of invites sent per user and conversion percentage is the percentage of users who sign up after receiving an invitation. Any viral coefficient above 1 means that each new user brings in more than one additional user, creating true exponential growth.
    • Viral cycle time is a measure of how long it takes a user to go through your viral loop. Shortening your viral cycle time drastically increases the rate at which you go viral, and is one of the first things you should focus on improving if using this channel.
    • You need to measure your viral coefficient and viral cycle time from the start. Map out every aspect of your viral loop. How many steps are in the loop? What are all the ways people can enter into the loop, e.g. landing pages, ads, invites, etc. Draw a map of the entire process and try cutting out unnecessary steps and increase area or mechanisms where users can send out invitations.
    • A non-user’s first exposure to a product often occurs when a current user sends an invitation. The non-user will then have to decide what to with the invitation or whether it’s worth her time to even open it.
    • Test: buttons vs. text links, location of your call to actions, size, colour and contract of your action buttons, page speed, adding images, headlines, site copy, testimonials, signs of social proof (such as pictures of happy users, case studies, press mentions and statistics about product usage) and number of form fields and length of signup process.
  2. Public Relations: The news has fundamentally changed. Think of New York Times. When they decide to publish an article about you, they are doing you a huge favour. There are so many other people they could write about but there are a finite number of spots in the paper. Blogs, on the other hand, can publish an infinite number of articles and every article they publish is a chance for more traffic, so when Business Insider writes about you, you are doing them a favour.

    It’s better to start smaller when targeting big media outlets. Instead of approaching TechCrunch directly, find the blogs that TechCrunch reads and get their attention. TechCrunch also picks up stories from smaller forums like Hacker News and Reddit. While New York Times may pick up stories from TechCrunch. Also, follow influencers in your industry and reach out to the blogs they often link to.

    When pitching to any media outlet, it’s your job to create an angle that makes your story compelling. If you can craft a narrative (e.g. how we just doubled out userbase through x, y and z) and present it well, you greatly increase your chances of getting a story. A good angle makes people react emotionally. Other things that get a reporter’s attention are: milestones, raising money, launching a new product, breaking a usage barrier, a PR stunt, big partnership or a special industry report.

    Amplify a solid story by drawing as much attention to it as you can:

    • Submit a small story to community sites like Digg, Reddit, Hacker News, etc, with larger audiences.
    • Share it on social networks to drive awareness, which you can further amplify with social ads.
    • Email it to influencers in your industry for comments. Some of them will share it with their audience.
  3. Unconventional PR: A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to generate a large amount of media coverage. They are often hard to do consistently well, but just one well-executed stunt can move the needle for your company. Publicity stunts need to be creative and extraordinary to succeed. However, some types that have been successful repeatedly are competitive stunts and viral videos.

    Customer appreciation is simply a way of saying “be awesome to your customers.” Excelling in this area is a more sustainable way to do unconventional PR over the long-term. Common ways to do customer appreciation well are through gifts, contents and customer support.

    Success in this channel is unpredictable. You should have a defined process for brainstorming and selecting ideas, but also understand that not every idea will work and prepare for that reality.

  4. Search Engine Marketing: Click-through Rate (CTR) is the percentage of ad impressions that result in clicks to your site. Cost per Click (CPC) is the amount it costs to buy a click on an advertisement. Cost per Acquisition (CPA) is how much it costs you to acquire a customer.

    You can use search engine ads to test product positioning and messaging (even before you fully build it!) Do not expect your early SEM ad tests to be profitable. If you can run an ad campaign that gets close to breakeven after a few weeks, then SEM could be the traction channel to focus on. A test ad campaign can be as little as four ads used to experiment.

    Areas you should be testing with your SEM ad campaigns include keywords, ad copy, demographic targeting, landing pages and CPC bids. If you measure conversions effectively, you can test these variables against profitability.

    Longer keywords (known as long-tail keywords) are often less competitive because they have lower search volumes. As such, they are cheaper and so can be more profitable—you just may have to aggregate a lot of them to get the volume you need to move the needle.

    Pay close attention to your ad quality scores. High quality scores gets you better placement on the page and better pricing on your ads. The biggest factor in quality scores is CTR.

  5. Social and Display Ads: The difference between search and social ads is that one harvests demand while the other generates demand. Search engine ads harvest demand that exists now (as evidenced by search terms). Social ads help build awareness of products and create demand.

    • Display ads are the banner ads you see across the Internet. They allow you to easily reach a very broad audience since those types of ads appear on most sites on the Internet. Ad networks are the easiest way to buy display ads. An underutilised strategy in display ads, especially in Step 1, is to contact small sites directly and ask them to run your ads for a small fee.
    • Social ads should aim at building an audience, engaging with that audience over time and eventually moving them to convert to customers. This indirect response strategy usually leads to more conversions than a direct response strategy that tries to get people to convert immediately.

    Creating compelling content (that people want to share) and/or social experiences is the best way to build a presence and engage your audience on social sites.

    Study your competitors' ads to get good ideas for A/B tests to run on your ads.

  6. Offline Ads: There are many types of offline ads—including TV, infomercial, radio, magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, billboards and direct mail—and most can work in any product phase. Target audience demographics can vary widely per advertising medium, so search for audiences that match your target customers.

    Seek out remnant (i.e. left-over) ad inventory for the highest discounts. You can run cheap tests by first targeting local markets and then scale up to regional or national if warranted. Use unique codes or web addresses to track the effectiveness of different offline ad campaigns.

  7. Search Engine Optimisation: Two high-level strategies to approach SEO are to focus on the fat-head (shorter, more general search terms) or the long-tail (longer, more specific search terms). These strategies are not mutually exclusive.

    To evaluate SEO you want to first determine if there are search terms that have enough search volume to move the needle for your company (assuming you can rank on the first page for such terms). If you identify some terms that could work, you can further qualify them by running search ads against them to test if they actually convert customers.

    Your product may naturally produce good long-tail content that you can expose to search engines, or there may be an obvious way to generate long-tail landing pages by using cheap freelancers.

    Whether you pursue a fat-head or long-tail strategy, SEO comes down to two things: content and links. While link building is often the more challenging of the two, one way to get quality links is to produce amazing content. Avoid “black-hat” SEO tactics that violate search engine guidelines, especially buying links.

  8. Content Marketing: You know more about the industry you’re working in than your potential customers. This means that you should be able to provide insight on subjects they care about.

    A company blog can take a significant amount of time to start taking off. We think you should dedicate at least six months when focusing on this channel once you finish your small-scale tests. It is OK to do things that don’t scale early on (e.g. reaching out to individuals to share posts) because you’re building toward a point where your content will spread on its own.

    You need to create quality content to succeed in this traction channel. There is no silver bullet, but a decent approach is to write about problems your target customers have. Another (not mutually exclusive) approach is to run experiments tor use data from your company to produce in-depth posts you can’t find anywhere else.

    Reaching out to influential industry leaders (on Twitter, etc), doing guest posts, writing about recent news events and creating shareable infographics are all great ways to increase the rate of growth of your audience. It helps to make a content calendar to make sure you’re posting frequently and consistently. Keeping a running list of topic ideas can help you avoid writer’s block.

  9. Email Marketing: Email marketing is a personal traction channel. Messages come into your inbox along with email from your friends and family. As such, the more personalised your email marketing message, the better they perform.

    You can utilise email marketing at any step of your relationship with a customer, including customer acquisition, activation, retention and revenue generation.

    We recommend building an email list of potential customers whether you end up focusing on this traction channel or not. We also recommend using online tools to ensure reliable delivery and to help you test and optimise email campaigns.

    A particularly effective email marketing technique is to set up a series of automated emails (often called lifecycle or drip sequences) to send to customers or prospective customers. This technique works best when this series of emails adapts to how people have interacted with your product and asks them to take specific actions at some point.

  10. Engineering as Marketing: The goal of engineering as marketing should be creating a low-friction way to engage potential customers that naturally leads to your main offering.

    A cheap test for this traction channel is to develop and push out a small tool or site. Perhaps you have already started creating one for yourself that could also be used by potential customers? Another approach is to turn a popular blog post into a micro-site.

    A great way to keep tools low-friction is to make them as simple as possible. Single-purpose tools that solve obvious pain points are best. Put them on their own website and make them easy to find, particularly through search engines.

    The case for spending engineering resources on marketing becomes much stronger when you think about these marketing tools as long-term assets that bring in new leads indefinitely after only a small amount of upfront investment.

  11. Targeting Blogs: Targeting blogs is one of the most effective ways to get your first wave of customers.

    • There are a variety of tools you can use to uncover relevant blogs including YouTube, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Twitter, search engines, Google Alerts and Social Mention.
    • You can run tests on a variety of smaller blogs to see what type of blog and blog audience resonates best with your product and messaging.
    • Small blog sponsorships (especially to personal blogs) can be an effective tactic. Another is providing influential bloggers early access or offering early access in exchange for spreading the word.
    • When launching, link-sharing communities can be an effective tool to generate traffic, feedback and buzz.
  12. Business Development: like sales with one key distinction: it is primarily focused on exchanging value through partnerships, whereas sales primarily focuses on exchanging dollars for a product.

    Even Google, a company whose early success is often attributed to only a superior product, got most of their initial traction from two key partnerships: Netscape, to be their default search engine for Netscape Navigator, and Yahoo!, to power their online searches.

    Types of partnerships:

    • Standard partnership: two companies work together to make one or both of their products better by leveraging the unique capabilities of the other. E.g. Apple/Nike partnership that resulted in the Nike+ shoe.
    • Joint venture: two companies work together to create an entirely new product offering. These types of deals are complex and often require large investments and long periods of time. E.g. Pepsi/Starbucks partnership that resulted in bottled Starbucks Frappuccinos.
    • Licensing: used when one company has a strong brand that a startup wants to use in a new product/service. E.g. Starbucks lent their brand to an ice-cream manufacturer that wanted to create Starbucks-flavoured ice-cream.
    • Distribution deals: one party provides a product or service to the other in return for access to potential customers. E.g. Groupon worked with restaurants to offer a discount to Groupon’s mailing list.
    • Supply partners: help to secure key inputs which are essential for certain products. Half.com formed several supply partnerships to ensure they had enough books to sell when they launched their online bookstore.

    Business development process:

    • Make an exhaustive list of partners, keeping in mind that good business development deals align with your company and product strategy and are focused on critical product and distribution milestones.
    • Shortlist the partners with the most potential, recognising that you need to understand why a potential partner should want to work with you and what are their incentives.
    • Create a business development pipeline as not every partnership will end up working. Send the list of potential partners to investors, friends and advisors for warm introductions. Put them into buckets based on attributes like revenue numbers, distribution reach and inventory capabilities.
    • With each introduction, you should provide the mutual contact with an overview of your proposal that can easily be forwarded. Then, be sure to follow up and set timelines for next steps.
    • After the proposal stage comes a negotiation of a terms sheet. The key terms will usually be the lifetime of the deal, exclusivity, how payments work, the level of commitment between partners, any guarantees in the deal, and revenue sharing agreements.

    Low-touch business development do not utilise personal interactions, but use tools like APIs, feeds, crawling technology and embed codes to reach new distribution channels and grow your influence.

  13. Sales: the process of generating leads, qualifying them, and converting them into paying customers.

    Use Neil Rackham’s four-part question framework when talking to prospects:

    • Situation questions: these help you learn about a prospect’s buying situation. E.g. “How many employees do you have?” and “How is your organisation structured?”
    • Problem questions: these clarify the buyer’s pain points. E.g. “Are you happy with your current solution?” and “What problems do you face with it?”
    • Implication questions: these are meant to make a prospect aware of the implications that stem from the problem they’re facing. E.g. “Does this problem hurt your productivity?” and “How many people does this issue impact, and in what ways?”
    • Need-payoff questions: these focus attention on your solution and get buyers to think about the benefits of addressing the problem. E.g. “How do you feel this solution would help you?” and “What type of impact would this have on you if we were to implement this within the next few months?”

    The goal of sales is building a repeatable sales model. An effective sales funnel has prospects enter at the top, qualifies these leads, and closes them effectively. To close sales effectively, get the buyer to commit to timelines based on specific actions being taken and met. At each point get an affirmative that you are on track to close.

  14. Affiliate Programmes: an arrangement where you pay people or companies for performing certain actions (like making a sale or getting a qualified lead).

    Retail affiliate programs facilitate the purchase of tangible products and account for more than $2bn annually. Affiliates that join these programs generally fall into these categories: coupon/deal sites, loyalty programs, aggregators, email lists and vertical sites.

    Information products include digital products like books, software, music, and (increasingly) education. Since it doesn’t cost anything to make another digital copy, selling info products through affiliate programs is quite popular. Creators will give large percentages to affiliates that promote their products.

    Lead generation is used by insurance companies, law firms and mortgage brokers who all pay hefty commissions to get customer leads. Depending on the industry, a lead may include a working email address, home address, or a phone number. It may also include more qualifying information like a credit score.

  15. Existing Platforms: these are websites, apps or networks with huge numbers of users that you can potentially leverage to get traction. Major platforms include the Apple and Android App Stores, Chrome and Mozilla browser extensions, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as well as newer platforms that are growing rapidly.

  16. Trade Shows: these are a chance for companies to show off their products in person. These events are often exclusive to industry insiders, and are designed to foster interactions between vendors and their prospects.

    Early on, you can use this traction channel to build interest in (and demand for) what you’re building. As you get more established, you can use trade shows as an opportunity to make a major announcement, sell big clients, seal a partnership or as an integral part of your sales funnel.

    To decide whether to attend an event:

    • Visit as a guest and do a walkthrough the year before.
    • Set your goals for attending, e.g. are you trying to get press, lure investors, land major customers, work out significant partnerships or something else?
    • Write down all events in your industry.
    • Evaluate each event in the context of your goals. In particular, think about the type of interactions you want and whether these interaction take place at each event.
    • Figure out how much you can spend per year and allocate this budget by quarter. This allows you to align events on your schedule with your budget while also giving you flexibility to reallocate in later quarters if company goals change.
    • Work backwards to see if attending a particular event makes sense given your quarterly budget.

    Your preparation for a trade show will determine how successful you will be. To prepare, make a list of key attendees you want to meet at the trade show. Then, schedule meetings with them before you attend the event. If PR is one of your goals, reach out to media that will be in attendance.

  17. Offline Events: sponsoring or running offline events—from small meetups to large conferences—can be a primary way to get traction. Offline events give you the opportunity to engage directly with potential customers about their problems. Such events are especially important when your target customers do not respond well to online advertising or do not have a natural place to congregate online. Attracting these customers to one location or going to a place where they meet in person can be the most effective way to reach them.

  18. Speaking Engagements: to get started, simply start by giving free talks to small groups of potential customers or partners. You have to get the attention of event organizers to land speaking engagements. When you start a talk, the audience is usually thinking about two questions—why are you important enough to be the one giving a talk? What value can you offer me? These questions will be burning in their minds until you address them, so answer them immediately. The more practiced and comfortable you are, the better your talks will be and the more you can improve them.

  19. Community Building: this involves investing in the connections among your users, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people into your startup’s circle.

    • You need to have a mission if you want to build an awesome community.
    • Community members love to hear from other members. But, they would also love to hear from you. You will want to connect with your evangelists and let them know you value them.
    • Being open with your community is the best way to get them to buy into your mission.
    • Focus on quality early on and set standards that can be maintained as the community grows.

UK Household Spending 2013

  1. Housing, fuel and power, 14%
  2. Transport, 14%
  3. Other expenditure, 14%
  4. Recreation and culture, 12%
  5. Food and non-alcoholic drinks, 11%
  6. Restaurants and hotels, 8%
  7. Miscellaneous goods and services, 8%
  8. Household goods and services, 6%
  9. Clothing and footwear, 4%
  10. Communication, 3%
  11. Alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics, 2%
  12. Education, 2%
  13. Health, 1%

Source: Office for National Statistics

Lean Startup

4-Hour Work Week

Net Promoter Score

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Self-Actualisation: creativity, lack of prejudice, morality, problem solving and spontaneity.

  2. Esteem: achievement, confidence, respect by others, respect of others and self-esteem.

  3. Love/Belonging: family, friendship and sexual intimacy.

  4. Safety: employment, family, health, morality, property and security of body.

  5. Physiological: breathing, execretion, food, homeostasis, sex, sleep and water.

Technology Adoption Lifecycle

American Time Use Survey 2013

  1. Working, 8.7 hours
  2. Sleeping, 7.7 hours
  3. Leisure and sports, 2.5 hours
  4. Other activites, 1.7 hours
  5. Caring for others, 1.3 hours
  6. Household activities, 1.1 hours
  7. Eating and drinking, 1.0 hours

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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