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Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

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all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.

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Meatball Sundae

Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

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Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.

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Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

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Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

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The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

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The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

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The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

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The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

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Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

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V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

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we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

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whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.

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« February 2007 | Main | April 2007 »

When Purple Cows go Mad

Stuntbaby I've been a fan of Archie McPhee for years. They have a long history of creating remarkable products. Goofy stuff that's actually worth talking about.

Well, I get a lot of stuff in the mail, and most of it doesn't end up getting posted here. Especially the horrible stuff. But this time, in the pursuit of making a buck, McPhee has gone too far.

The Cap'n Danger Stunt Monkey baby chute seems like a fun idea. If you're only going to throw an infant five or six feet, it's probably perfectly safe. But how is the company going to avoid the idiotic user that wants to throw his kid from 15 or even 30 feet up?

It's easier than ever to tell a powerful story, a story that people want to hear. And when you believe in your product, that power is important. But this is just stupid. If they had a product for parrots (or even better, goldfish) then perhaps they could argue that it's just harmless fun. But this is serious stuff.

Let's hope they wise up and cancel the product before someone gets hurt. Happy April.

Weekend reading

Geek2 Ever since I didn't like a novel recommended by a friend, I've been hesitant to recommend fiction--it's my fault if you don't like it, I figure. But hey, I feel pretty safe with both of these. They're thriller/con game/caper novels. Unputdownable. And they'll even teach you a little bit about how people market to themselves.

Geek Mafia

Con Ed

Highly recommended.

How to be a great audience

(and what's in it for you...)

I participated in an interesting experiment today. I was lucky enough to attend career day with 75 eighth graders. Divided into five groups, I got to see a group at a time for about fifteen minutes each.

Within three seconds of beginning my talk, I could tell.

I could tell who had learned the skill of being in the audience and who hadn't. And I'm worried that it might be permanent.

The good audiences were all the same. They leaned forward. They made eye contact. They mirrored my energy right back to me. When the talk (five minutes) was over they were filled with questions.

The audience members that hadn't learned the skill were all different. Some made no eye contact. Some found distractions to keep them busy. Some were focused on filling out the form that proved that they had been paying attention.

What I discovered: that the good audience members got most of my attention. The great audience members got even more... attention plus extra effort. And, despite my best efforts, the non-great audience members just sort of fell off the radar.

This isn't a post about me and my talk. It's about the audience members and the choices each make. It's a choice your employees and your customers make too.

It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that information is just delivered to you. That rock stars and violinists and speakers and preachers and teachers and tour guides get paid to perform and the product is the product. But it's not true. Great audiences get more.

Great audiences not only get more energy and more insight and more focused answers to their questions, they also get better jobs and find better relationships. Because the skills and the attitude are exactly the same.

I am too much of an optimist to believe that the lousy audience members in today's program are stuck that way for life. But I know that the longer they wait, the harder it is going to be to change.

The next time someone says, "any questions," ask one. Just ask.

The next time you see a play that is truly outstanding, lead the standing ovation at the end.

The next time you have an itch to send an email to a political blogger or post a comment or do a trackback, do it. Make it a habit.

Thinking about Stripe Generator

Most people can't imagine why you'd want Stripe Generator. After all, it's just a free tool that... makes stripes.

But a few people will bookmark it and use it regularly. A few people will have their lives changed by it (in a good way).

Not a lot of room to make stuff that everyone thinks is great. I think you're a lot better off delighting and amazing the niches.

The Joy/cash curve

Pricevsjoy_copy I think there's a major opportunity here. It seems that for many products, the more you pay, the less fun the buying is. (Not the shopping, the buying). It used to be true at the bottom end of the scale too--the less you pay, the less fun.

The excuse at the bottom was, "hey, you're not paying a lot, what do you expect?" But Starbucks and others have shown that it doesn't have to be that way. But what about the top? Why is a house closing such a horrible affair? Why is paying for your car such torture? (It turns out that many dealerships put you through hoops at the end of your buying process just because that's when they have the most leverage... they don't try to sell you rustproofing at the beginning!)

Given the amount of money at stake, I won't be surprised if organizations start offering a way to make this more pleasant. Example: what if a real estate broker hired a really personable ex-cheerleader/glee club member for $20 an hour to do nothing but sweat the details and be charming the entire time the closing was going on? Someone to run and get donuts and do xeroxing and get papers organized in advance... in the scheme of a million dollar purchase, not such a big deal, right?

The two reasons people say no to your idea

"It's been done before"
"It's never been done before"

Even though neither one is truthful, accurate or useful, you need to be prepared for both.

Blogs are a tactic, not a strategy

Steve Rubel points out that blogs and trackbacks aren't the only thing happening these days (TrackBacks Are Dying.) Digg/reddit and lenses and instant messages and tags are all part of the same universe. Each serves a different purpose, but all of them are related and keep moving ideas around.

If you haven't invested in a blog as a platform, perhaps you want to be the best in the world at something right next to a blog instead...

You should write an ebook

I'm serious. Smart people with good ideas worth sharing can get a lot out of this exercise.

To help you out, I wrote a lens about the simple details of how to do it.

It's technically easy and when it works, your idea will spread far and wide. Even better, the act of writing your idea in a cogent, organized way will make the idea better. You can write an ebook about your travel destination, your consulting philosophy or an amazing job you'd like to fill.

Seven years ago, I wrote a book called Unleashing the Ideavirus. It's about how ideas spread. In the book, I go on and on about how free ideas spread faster than expensive ones. That's why radio is so important in making music sell.

Anyway, I brought it to my publisher and said, "I'd like you to publish this, but I want to give it away on the net." They passed. They used to think I was crazy, but now they were sure of it. So I decided to just give it away. The first few days, the book was downloaded 3,000 times (note: forgive the layout. It's not what I would do if I was doing it today). The next day, the number went up. And then up. Soon it was 100,000 and then a million. The best part of all is that I intentionally made the file small enough to email. Even without counting the folks who emailed it hundreds of times to co-workers, it's easily on more than 2,000,000 computers. I didn't ask anything in return. No centralized email tool. Here it is. Share it.

A Google search finds more than 200,000 matches for the word 'ideavirus', which I made up. Some will ask, "how much money did you make?" And I think a better question is, "how much did it cost you?" How much did it cost you to write the most popular ebook ever and to reach those millions of people and to do a promotion that drove an expensive hardcover to #5 on Amazon and #4 in Japan and led to translation deals in dozens of countries and plenty of speaking gigs?

It cost nothing.

Changethis, which I dreamed up in a moment of weakness a few years ago, is still going strong under better management now. It's the epicenter of ebook distribution, but there are plenty of places just dying to host your content. And your blog is the best place to launch your idea. The biggest challenge is that there are no barriers. If you want to do it, go do it. Ideas worth spreading, spread.

Art that's not for sale

Jordan Tierney and her colleagues have been working for months on the Periodic Tableaux, a one-of-a-kind art book that's not for sale.

Why invest the hours and the sweat and the talent in a piece of art you can't (and won't) sell?

Two reasons. The best reason is that when you practice your craft for yourself, not for the market, it drives you in new and important ways. And the other reason is that people are going to talk about it.

Ideas that spread, win.

Misogyny and anonymity

Three years ago, I posted about anonymity. I still agree with every word I wrote. Anonymity hasn't made the web a better place. Instead, it has allowed some of the worst ideas ever to get published. (This link is unsettling). All we can do is root for Kathy and hope that the bully behind this is caught. It makes me angry.

Where do attitudes like this start? Alas, anonymous bullying is not that far from the hateful things Times critic Harry Hurt says in a review he did of Suze Orman last week. "Among the substances that need hazmat warning labels are the liquid that bronzes Suze Orman's hair, the paste that whitens her teeth..." He goes on for paragraphs in a personal attack that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book or its value. (I wrote a letter to the editor--no luck.) Why is this okay for a blog, never mind the paper of record? I don't think it is. And the hate won't go away, any of it, until enough people speak up.

Isn't it sad that misogyny is so common that there's even a word for it?

Noimpactman makes an impact

Handicapped_2 Ever since he was written up in the Times last week, No Impact Man has been causing shockwaves. Here's a guy who, with his family, is going without... reducing his intake to local foods and his output to a tiny fraction of the typical American's.

I was at the Union Square Market last week, buying some local eggs. A well-dressed woman marched up and handed two empty cardboard egg trays to the farmer, for reusing (a step better than recycling).

Suddenly, $40 an ounce for raspberries flown in from Chile isn't so sexy any more.

Now, people look at someone driving a Chevy Suburban the same way they look at a fit person parking in a handicapped space. "Why," they wonder, "do you need to do that?" It's sort of a mix of suspicion and pity.

The richest and best-educated people in our economy are shifting, and pretty quickly. They're just as willing to spend money as they always were, but now it's not focused on fancy organic stuff at the Whole Foods Market or giant bulletproof cars from Germany or private jet travel. Instead, the market is trying as hard as it can to spend time and money without leaving much of a trace.

I think this story has legs and is going to be around for a long time. Zero is the new black.

Shortcuts that aren't so short

The cab drivers in my little village are an angry and bored lot.

It doesn't matter where you are going, they'll find a shortcut. Back roads, vacant lots... they'll drive two miles out of the way to miss a light.

I thought about this when I read a blog post describing the best way to get the most out of a Squidoo lens. The author said you should make sure that the keywords and title are perfect and limit outbound links so that you can be sure that people will only do what you want them to. Others spend time studying the algorithms of Google and Yahoo to figure out the very best way to jump ahead in the rankings for their blog or corporate site. Is it reciprocal links or careful metatags? What if I create some sort of ring so that the  spider won't realize the scam?

Hey. It's not so hard. If you make great stuff, people will find you. If you are transparent and accurate and doing what's good for the surfer, people will find you. If you regularly demonstrate knowledge of content that's worth seeking out, people (being selfish) will come, and people (being generous) will tell other people. It turns out that it's easier and faster to do that than to spend all your time on the shortcuts.

There are some airlines that spend all their time dreaming up ways to lobby the government and others that spend all their time making flying a better experience. There are restaurants that dream up ways of charging more for bottled water, and others that work hard to create an experience worth bringing a group to enjoy.

All I know is that the cab drivers in my town are still angry about that light.

Neat Amazon feature

You can see which books cite a book you like.

Try doing that at the local library...

A penny, a nickel, a dollar...

(or a dime). Right?

That was the chant I expected to hear from the street fundraiser yesterday in New York. Over and over again, she chanted, "A penny, a nickel, a dollar..." and then just when the meter demanded "a dime," she said, "a quarter."

It was wrong. All wrong.

And it worked. Precisely because the rhythm didn't work, the pitch did.

Purple Cow Redux

Godinatfridge Roger Anderson wrote in with some questions about the original Purple Cow promotional strategy. Since it's been so long, I thought I'd quickly recount it here, because there are some useful lessons for all products.

I self-published the book in paperback. I did this because few publishers were interested in a short book on the topic, and were dubious about the future of the web as a promotional tool.

I printed 10,000 copies of the book. I also contacted International Paper to have them print me 10,000 milk cartons. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined. They print almost all the milk cartons in the United States and weren't particularly motivated by a $2,300 order. I paid in advance, though, and submitted all my materials on time.

The night before the print job went to press, the phone rang. It was my sales rep, informing me that they, "weren't going to be able to print my job." Uh oh. The problem? Someone high up had read some of the copy on the carton and didn't like it.

"I didn't realize that International Paper was in the censorship business," I said. He replied that they weren't censoring the carton, merely refusing to print it.

The offending paragraph: "If this were actually milk, it would be pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurized involves heating it up to kill any new organisms inside, while homogenization involves mixing it to make it all the same. If this sounds like your organization, perhaps you need this book." They also didn't like the line, "Please don't drink from the carton!"

Instead of calling the ACLU, I just deleted the paragraph and knew I'd have a story for the ages.

Then, Fast Company was kind enough to run an excerpt from the book in the magazine. This is an important part of the story, because this is where the permission marketing part kicks in. Fast Company's 100,000 loyal readers had already given me permission to talk to them. They were listening. If I were doing this today, I'd use my blog, just like you could use yours...

At the end of the article, it said something like, "If you want a copy of Seth's new book for free, send $5 to cover shipping and handling and if there's any left, he'll send you one."

Meanwhile, I had found an epsom salt packaging facility in New Jersey to turn the printed cartons into folded cartons and to stuff the books inside. (Don't try this at home! The factory was a godsend and very hard to find.)

If you sent in your money, we made a mailing label, slapped it on the carton, put on a stamp and mailed it to you. No other packaging. [BONUS! If it's August 23, 2010 and you're reading this, you are eligible to win a free milk carton, I'll mail it to you if you win. Here's the form].

So the carton arrived, and already the mailman is talking about it. The folks in the next cube notice it. Many people opened the carton from the bottom and left the carton on their desk. It led to conversations. Which was the point.

THEN, the last step: On the side of the carton, it gave a web address where you could buy more. But since we sold the first 5,000 in just a week or two, the website only offered one option: if you wanted more, you had to buy a dozen for $60. Why a dozen? So you'd give them away. More conversation.

At the end of the process, I had moved 10,000 books to just the right people, created 10,000 conversations (or more) and broken even. I didn't need anyone's permission (except maybe International Paper) and got exactly one great break (Fast Company, now replaced by blogs).

[My publisher wants me to mention that they were then insightful enough to buy the hardcover rights and that so far they've sold (if I count Taiwan) [way] more than a quarter of a million copies.]

I think this process scales (not the milk carton part, the remarkable part) and works for things other than books. There are two steps that are difficult but not impossible. First, build an audience that wants to hear from you. Second, create something they want to talk about and make it easy for them to do so.

Wish I had it...

For more than ten years, when I was managing dozens of brainiacs, bizdev people and salespeople all at the same time, I was using a cobbled together suite of Mac programs. Stuff like SnapMail and FileMaker Pro. It was a pain and it never did quite what I wanted it to.

I wish I had been able to use Highrise.

Spammers, and proud of it

People in new media often wonder when the giants are going to roll in and just take over everything. After all, with their talent and leverage and money (and more money) they ought to be able to see what's going on online and just run with it.

No need to worry. Consider the case of Reed Elsevier (no link on purpose). They're a division of the company that publishes Variety and LexisNexis and Publishers Weekly and various trade shows around the world. And they're totally clueless. And apparently proud of it.

Over the last few weeks, I've received several meails, all the same, all from real people at Reed. They baldly (and boldly) ask me to swap links with them as part of a scheme to move up the Google rankings. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I don't do that, nor does any reputable blog I know of.

Surprised by their corporate background, I've responded to them, twice. And both times, the response has amazed me. Not, "sorry, we didn't know," but "If our content can't be found then it does not matter and there is no point to providing this information to our users (or being in business on the web w/a B2B content site). It is both a benefit and a service to our B2B users to have relevant information be returned in their google, yahoo, etc searches. We would be providing a poor user experience if we ignored search engines since many users start their search in this fashion."

Worth noting that their site is a disaster of bad organization, big ads and little content. Worth noting that their site has no traffic as far as I can tell.

They wrote to me again today. I'm on their list, so are you and they're going to keep hammering away because, 'hey, it's just my job.'

Translation: it fits our business model to be ranked highly, so we'll go ahead and cheat to get there.

Welcome to Twitterworld

I found out yesterday that my friend Elizabeth Edwards might be sick again. In the short time I've been able to spend with her, she touched me with her kindness and insight. So, naturally, I was checking the web today to see what was up. Along with millions of other people, I care about her.

For an hour, hundreds of news stories stated (with authority) that John was going to leave the campaign because of Elizabeth's relapse. And then the campaign announced the real news. So in the next hour, one by one, all the media which minutes ago had been so certain of the facts turned around and printed new facts. And the thing is, it looks like someone in the Edwards camp changed their mind, when actually, there was exactly one announcement.

In the old asynchronous days, of course, we would have only heard the last story, the real one.

Same thing happens with rats at the KFC or with your brand. When the news cycle is reduced to seconds, rumours become facts even when they're not true.

Inventory and Risk

Google made some waves by expanding their PPA program. Here's the way I think about online ads:

  • PPV (pay per view). This is the traditional way ads are sold in other media. Mostly because it's the only choice. You charge for every thousand people who 'see' an ad, where see is a pretty vague term that means circulation or estimated eyeballs.
  • PPC (pay per click). This is one of the core elements of Google's success. The publisher charges not for views but for someone actually responding to the ad by clicking on it. (We helped create this notion in 1998 at Yoyodyne).
  • PPA (pay per action). This is the new new thing which is actually not so new. In this case, the marketer only pays when someone actually does something valuable, like apply for a mortgage or buy a book from Amazon.

PPA isn't new of course. Ever since Amazon has had an affiliate program there's been widespread PPA. Put an Amazon link on your site (there are plenty to the left if you want an example) and if the book gets sold, the site makes money.

There are two forces at work here: risk and inventory.

If you've got a ton of unsold inventory, you're willing to take more risk with your ads. Hey, if no one buys an ad, you've wasted that moment, wasted that impression. So you might as well take what you can get.

Google's network has a ton of inventory. Vast number of page views, perhaps in the bazillions every day. With that much supply, PPV (banner ads) won't work. I remember when banner ads cost $60 per thousand. Now they're often down to a penny per thousand. All because they don't work so well and because the supply is so high.

PPC was a brilliant compromise, because both sides take a risk. The publisher is risking saleable ad space on the hope that the ad will actually lead to a click (and then they get paid). The marketer is risking the fact that many clicks don't actually turn into something valuable, in which case they pay for clicks that don't pan out.

PPC rewards publishers that create content that attracts action-oriented readers. PPC rewards marketers that create ads that actually match the content on their landing pages, and rewards marketers that convert surfers with attractive offers of permission.

Of course, this sometimes leads to click fraud, where people click on ads with no intention of taking action. I think click fraud is overrated as a problem, certainly compared with circulation inflation at magazines or bored surfers or couch potatoes.

In a market filled with supply, though, it's easy for marketers to demand a better deal. So some buy PPA ads. Amazon, for example, has nearly a million affiliates. From a marketer's point of view, no need to be picky. If someone wants to sign up, let them. There will be no click fraud, of course, because you only pay if someone buys something.

Which leads to the biggest reason that this doesn't scale. There's a huge incentive for marketers to cheat. Marketers have an incentive to run PPA ads that don't work so well... unless they work great. For example, a car dealer should do a PPA ad that pays when a car is sold, not when someone calls the dealership. Why not?

There are very few sites built on Amazon affiliate revenue alone, mostly because the affiliate deals don't convert often enough to make them worth what's paid.

Over time, the interests of the publisher and the marketer diverge. And the user, the surfer, the person that all this is directed to, is the ultimate arbiter. If the ads are boring or dishonest or ineffective, we just ignore them. And then everyone loses.

I'm not 'against' PPA. Squidoo is filled with affiliate links, after all. I think, though, it's premature to expect that many ads are going to switch to this model. And I guarantee that the last publishers to switch will be the ones you most want...selected, focused, high-demand media that actually works.

One last thought: Gil is waiting for Google to go Buddhist and offer PPN: Pay per no-action. Breathe in, breathe out.

Definition: Mashup

The mainstream media doesn't understand what a Mashup is. You should. It's not a 'lift' or a 'copy' or even a parody. A mashup is a distinct way of spreading ideas.

When a DJ takes two records and melds and mixes them into something new, that's a mashup. When an Obama supporter takes a twenty year old commercial and splices it with some campaign footage, that's a mashup too. Online services can be mashups as well, like the Google search box on the bottom of this page.

Expect to see tens of thousands more, on every conceivable topic.

Humanification

A clever way of talking about being small: gapingvoid.

It's a great goal. I wonder how many of us can reach it.

The surprising thing is the rarity

Kim points us to this account of over the top recruiting:  An offer you can't refuse. It's not particularly difficult or even expensive, yet it's rare.

The reasons are simple: most recruiters don't really care about hiring the very best people, and/or recruiters haven't yet realized that they are marketers too.

What do I get?

Most marketing (and most business) is usually like this:

Do this and get that.

Figure out what you want, figure out what you need to do to get it, and go do it.

I was thinking about the way my Dad does business the other day. He's been a successful executive (and then entrepreneur) for more than 50 years. I realized that I can't remember one time when he did this to get that.

When he volunteered to run the United Way or the local theatre, or when he helped a local church raise money for a new building, he didn't have an ulterior motive. When he negotiated with the UAW to create a different sort of workforce structure for his plant, it wasn't so he could get more. It was so they could get more. Same thing when he helped dozens of people emigrate from the Soviet Union a few decades ago.

It's been a consistent approach, and it sure seems to work. Consistent as in all the time, not just when it's convenient. It works for a factory in Buffalo but it also seems to work for others... for successful marketers all over the world. Now, more than ever, it's easier to give even when it seems like you're not going to get. The happy irony is that this turns out to be a very effective marketing approach, even though that's not the point.

A few easy google hacks

Need pictures? Try Google Image Ripper v.0.2.0.

Need a phone number? (My cell phone company charges more than a buck a call!). Try 877-520-3463. Free.

Here's an RSS reader.

Save time and hassle with autofill.

Bonus: drag the bookmarklet on this page into your toolbar.

[Notes! The phone number is not incorrect, but we appear to have broken it. The image ripper defaults to not SFW, so you're on your own. The RSS reader still works, though.]

The realistic entrepreneur's guide to venture capital

Optimism is a key to success, but it doesn't necessarily work so well when it comes to VC. Because this is a cottage industry with thousands of players, all with different objectives, it's very easy to keep knocking on doors, just waiting to find the right match. It's also easy to spend a year or more adjusting your business to what each VC asks for ("bring me the broomstick of the wicked witch!" while you could have been out there building a real organization.)

Here are a bunch of conditions that you ought to take seriously before you invest the time and the energy to track down outside money for your great idea:

  1. Investors like to invest in categories they've already invested in. If your business is so new that it's never been tested before, or is in a category VCs hate, think twice.
  2. Investors want you to sell out. As soon as possible. For as much as possible. They have no desire to own part of your company forever.
  3. Investors want to invest in a project that's tested. If you can't make it work in the 'small', why do you think it'll work when it's big?
  4. Being a little better than the market leader is worthless.
  5. Investors don't want you to use their money to cover your losses. They want you to build an asset (a patent, an audience, channel relationships) that's actually worth something.
  6. Investors want someone to run your company who has successfully run a company before.
  7. Investors want to be able to come to one of your board meetings and still make it home in time for dinner.
  8. VCs like curves more than they like cliffs.
  9. There are actually very very few business problems that can be solved with money.
  10. You will probably have to replace many of your employees if you raise money from someone.
  11. VCs understand that being the best in the world (#1) is the place with the biggest rewards, so it's unlikely they will settle for any performance (even a profitable one) that puts you in second or third place.
  12. VCs are very smart and very connected, but they're smart enough to know that their connections and their insights can't fix a broken business.
  13. Investors are very focused on the company, not you. They're not interested in having you take out your original investment or paying you a large salary as profits go up.
  14. Business plans are bogus. The act of writing one is critical, but no one is going to read more than three pages of what you write before they make a decision.
  15. The companies that VCs most want to invest in are the companies that don't need their investment to survive.

[For those keeping track (and I wasn't one of them) this is the #2,000th post since I started this blog a long time ago. Which goes to show you--you can build a really big wall if you start early enough and have enough little bricks].

Digging it out of the ground

Six years ago, in Unleashing the Ideavirus, I wrote, ""Twenty years ago, the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 either dug something out of the ground or turned a natural resource (iron ore or oil) into something you could hold." This statement was a little hyperbolic, but not by much.      

Teena did some research and sent me numbers on the current state of the list. I sorted it by "Hold" stuff (like a can of Coke) and thought-value added businesses (like computers, pharma or stores). Here's the breakdown:

Aerospace and Defense    7   
Beverages    1   
Chemicals    2   
Food Consumer Products    1   
Food Production    2   
Forest & Paper Products    2   
Household and Personal Products    2   
Industrial & Farm Equipment    2   
Metals    1   
Motor Vehicles & Parts    4   
Petroleum Refining    7   
Pipelines    1   

That's 32% of the list. The rest, the majority, are companies that traffic in ideas, not stuff.

Commercial Banks    5   
Computer Software    1   
Computers, Office Equipment    3   
Diversified Financials    2   
Entertainment    3   
Food & Drug Stores    5   
General Merchandisers    4   
Health Care    6   
Insurance: Life, Health (mutual)    12   
Mail, Package, Freight Delivery    2   
Network and Other Communications Equipment    2   
Pharmaceuticals    4   
Savings Institutions    1   
Securities    4   
Semiconductors and Other Electronic Components    1   
Specialty Retailers    4   
Telecommunications    4   
Wholesalers    5

FAQ power

Fred wanted to post an ad for a job on Craigslist and to add some photos of his workplace. Unfortunately, he didn't know how to do it. So he wrote to them. He points us to this response he got from Craigslist, usually renowned for its tech support:

Unfortunately, we don't offer image hosting for the following categories:

* jobs
* gigs
* services
* resumes

If you'd like to add an image to a post in one of those categories, you'll
need to upload the image to a server somewhere else, then add HTML code to
your post that references that image. (more bad news -- we don't provide
tech support for this task.)

Thanks,
craigslist customer support

Anytime you send someone a note like this, where you basically say, "we're not going to help you, go away," you're doing something unnecessary. Don't tell them to go away, tell them where to go. Worse, if you do it when the person is about to buy something (in this case a help wanted ad) you're leaving money on the table as well.

Posting a picture for an ad on Craigslist is so common that they've got boilerplate for the letters they get asking for help. So why not have a FAQ page for it? (All you need to do is google Craigslist Picture Hosting to learn how... you could write the FAQ in five minutes.) Then, at the bottom of the FAQ, it's easy to say, "We don't support this, but if you have trouble, here are three or four forums where people might be able to help you..."

We now live in a do-it-yourself world. You can ask customers to buy their own tickets, fill out their own forms, support their own software. But pointing them to resources will buy you a lot of loyalty. (And save you a lot of grief).

SquidOffers

Evolution of advertising:
We buy ads. You must watch them.
We buy ads. You have a remote control. You skip them.
We buy ads. You are watching a cable channel.
We send junk mail to your house and spam to your inbox. You delete it.
uh oh.
[Internet]
We buy banner ads, you ignore them.
We buy AdWords ads. We pay by the click. Wow! It works.

Offers And that's where we were until today. The most effective online ad buy is AdSense ,where you bid for traffic and pay by the click. This is permission-based, because your ad shows up next to a Google search or on a relevant page. So the people who are seeing it are the right people. And the click demonstrates that they want to see your page.

The paradox (not necessarily a bad thing) is that the better your ad, the better your offer, the more you pay.

So we invented SquidOffers, which I hope will work for us, and which I fully expect will show up in other places soon. The idea is to combine the voting mechanism of Reddit or Digg or Plexo with the text ad mindset of a Google ad. But instead of an ad, it's an offer.

Make an offer. Pick a category. Pay a small fee ($100 a month). Then, our users vote on the offers. Get a lot of votes and you rank more highly, which means more clicks. And you don't pay for the clicks.

Now there's an incentive to write better and better offers (but they need to be genuine or we boot you). Offer a free sample or a free issue or a consult or an ebook. Be generous. Get permission to follow up.

Over time, we intend to raise the rates as volume increases. For now, a few days into it, it appears to be working. Here's the info.

Choice

Is George Clooney actually a great actor?
Or is he just great at making choices?

In 1789, you had just a few choices. Work for the potter in town, apprentice with your dad, of, if you were really smart, become a clergyman or possibly a teacher. That was it.

Today, not only do you have more choices, the variations in those choices matter more. Obvious choices, like, "should I quit my job today?", necessary choices like, "should I apply for a job at Google or an insurance company?" and more subtle choices--whether or not to start a blog, for example.

The movie business provides us with a clear window on what happens when people make good choices (and bad ones). Very few people--with the exception of Sean Connery or Daniel Craig--have the option of sticking with one movie forever. Everyone else in the industry makes critical choices on a regular basis. Smart choice makers do far better than those that don't work at it. I'm willing to guess the value of smart choices is responsible for a 10 to 100 times difference in lifetime earnings in Hollywood.

I think the same is true for a career in programming, marketing or just about anything else. If you're in the position to start a company, why didn't you do it a year ago? Why not now? If you're a programmer, why didn't you apply to work at YouTube when the getting was good? If you're a marketer, how are you going to spend your time and your money? Not choosing is still making a choice.

Thrill seekers

I now firmly believe that there are two polar opposites at work:
Thrill seekers and
Fear avoiders

Notice that I don't use the word 'risk' to describe either category. More on that soon.

How do we explain the fact that Forbes finds more than 700 billionaires and virtually none are both young and retired? Why keep working?

How do explain why so many organizations get big and then just stop? Stop innovating, stop pushing, stop inventing...

Why are seminars sometimes exciting, bubbling pots of innovation and energy while others are just sort of dronefests?

I think people come to work with one of two attitudes (though there are plenty of people with a blend that's somewhere in between):

Thrill seekers love growth. They most enjoy a day where they try something that was difficult, or--even better--said to be impossible, and then pull it off. Thrill seekers are great salespeople because they view every encounter as a chance to break some sort of record or have an interaction that is memorable.

Fear avoiders hate change. They want the world to stay just the way it is. They're happy being mediocre, because being mediocre means less threat/fear/change. They resent being pushed into the unknown, because the unknown is a scary place.

An interesting side discussion: one of the biggest factors in the success of the US isn't our natural resources or location. It's that so many people in this country came here seeking a thrill. 

So why not call them risk seekers and risk avoiders? Well, it used to be true. Seeking thrills was risky. But no longer. Now, of course, safe is risky. The horrible irony is that the fear avoiders are setting themselves up for big changes because they're confused. The safest thing they can do now, it turns out, is become a thrill seeker.

Who do you work with?

Happy Squidoo Day

Today, Squidoo hit 100,000 lenses. In a few hours, we'll hit 50,000 unique lensmasters as well. That's as good an excuse as any to talk about what we've learned.

In no particular order:

  • It takes longer than you think it will. Daily traffic is 10 times higher than it was a year ago. That's a huge number. Seduced by the legendary stories of overnight web successes, we thought it would happen in a month. Patience is a virtue.
  • People learn by example. As the lenses getting built get better, it inspires others to do better stuff too. Highlighting great work is a critical step for any community.
  • Bad actors are everywhere. And most of them will go away if we focus on eliminating anonymity.
  • Google matters. Yahoo and Ask too. Not manipulative SEO, but honest pages that benefit users if they get found.
  • The community is smart. Really smart. They run large parts of the site, and they do it beautifully.
  • You don't need VC money if you plan around it. The emphasis is on the second part of that sentence. Other than attending a small trade show, we didn't spend a penny on outbound marketing, nor did we flog it far and wide.
  • You don't need many people, but is sure helps if you hire people who are brilliant, honest and passionate.
  • Temptation is everywhere. Temptation to artificially boost traffic or revenue or some other metric. It might work in the short run, but when you're done, you don't have much to show for it.
  • Bizdev is dramatically overrated, either that or we're bad at it. The growth of Squidoo has come from individuals (99%) not corporate partners.
  • What you start with is wrong. At least what we started with was. Fortunately, we planned on being wrong, and have revamped most aspects of what we built. Tomorrow I'll be posting on our new ad approach.

If you want to see what's working, here are three things to try:

Squidoo1yeartraffic001_2

More failed efforts at control

Lloyd points us to Makers of Splenda buy Hundreds of Negative Domain Names. The idea, I guess, is to keep someone from writing something nasty about Splenda.

Is there enough money in the world to buy enough domain names to keep a determined person from saying something nasty about Splenda?

Monopolies vs. everyone else

Monopolies work to protect something that wouldn't belong to them if we had a chance to start over. Everyone else works to provide services or goods that people actually want.

Gil just sent this one over:

Freeconf





[Blake just sent me this note: "The reason it is free is because they put their switches in independent telephone companies (rural America) when a larger phone company terminates a call (when you call the “free” conference calling) then the rural company is able to charge Qwest or whomever else terminates the call a fee. In areas like IA they want to buy the LD for .05 cents a minute and then charge Qwest as high as .15 cents a minute for terminating the call. They want to buy it for less then it costs. This is a common practice in this sector of the industry but they have found a way to milk the system and do more then it was intended to do and are in this case killing the larger Telco companies if that makes sense." It's entirely possible he's right. If so, I apologize to Cingular, etc.--the challenge those companies face is pretty obvious--we don't get phone service so we can call most phones, we get it so we can call all phones.]

Lessons from Neil Young

I've been listening to Live at Massey Hall: Neil Young and thinking and even crying a bit. It's an awfully powerful piece of work.

Two lessons for marketers, one small, the other bigger. First, it's interesting to note how much more excited and open the crowd is to songs they've heard before. Even some of the songs that ended up becoming classics got a tepid reaction because they were unknown at the time.

Second, on songs that aren't working so well, you will hear Neil try harder, play louder, raise his voice and strain to make an impact. It doesn't work. At all. It's what you say, most of the time, not how you say it.

Good is not almost as good as great

SalesgoodgreatI went to trade in my car Jay Porter Prius for an updated Prius today. Well, I meant to do that, but I walked out instead.

I arrive at Westchester Toyota and pass two or three salespeople loitering outside. Inside, there were two or three more, sitting in a line of chairs, waiting for the signal from the headmistress at the counter.

My guess is that even for a thriving brand like Toyota, most of these guys weren't paid so much. They were 'good' salespeople, lifers who showed up, did what they were told and closed a sale here and there.

It soon became clear that the salesperson who was assigned to me wasn't 'great'. The dealership had messed up: He had no record of my appointment, no file, no history of why I came. But he just punted. He made no effort to engage with me or look me in the eye or empathize with my frustration at the complete waste of time my call yesterday had been. He gave up after about ten seconds, bummed out that he had lost his place in line. So I left.

Driving home, I started to think about the discontinuity in the graph of salespeople. Discontinuities are interesting, because that's where you can see how a system works. In this case, it's obvious that a great salesperson is going to sell far, far more than a good one. Nine women working together can't have a baby in one  month, and ten good salespeople still aren't going to close the account that a great one could. That's because it's not a linear scale. The great ones reach out. They work the phones when they're not first in line. They understand what a customer wants. They're not just better than good. They're playing a totally different game.

My best advice: Fire half your salesforce. Then, give the remainder, the top people, a big raise, and use the money left over to steal the best salespeole you can find from other industries or even from your competition. You'll end up with fewer salespeople. But all of them will be great.

And the good guys? Have them go work for the competition.

Advice for Nathan (and anyone that wants to be a marketer)

I just got a note from Nathan, who asks,

" [I recently realized] that I want to be a marketer. So now with a resume that includes "Research Analyst" for an economics professor, "Finance Director" for a Nevada governor candidate, and a degree in physics from Harvard, I find myself applying for jobs in marketing. Ultimately, I would like to be VP of Product Development or perhaps CEO at a new company (I love bringing remarkable ideas to frutition), and I have suddenly realized marketing, not finance, is the way to go for me. And, as I search for jobs and try to find an entry point for my new found path, I have a few questions:

1. Where do I start? Most of what I read online seems to say I should have had a marketing internship in college. Can get an Assistant Brand Manager position with no experience?

2. Do you have company suggestions? Which companies get that some of the millions they are spending on TV ads could be better spent improving their products/services?

3. Which books should form the backbone of my marketing education?"

My answer is easy to write, harder to implement. In my experience the single best way to become a marketer is to market. And since marketing isn't expensive any longer (it takes more guts than money), there's no need to work for Procter & Gamble. None. In the old days, you could argue that you needed to apprentice with an expert and that you needed access to millions (or billions) to spend. No longer.

So, start your own gig. Even if you're 12 years old, start a store on eBay. You'll learn just about everything you need to learn about digital marketing by building an electronic storefront, doing permission-based email campaigns, writing a blog, etc. Who knows more about marketing--Scoble or some mid-level marketing guy in Redmond?

You don't need a lot of time or a lot of money. You can start with six hours every weekend. Over time, if (and when) you get good at it, take on clients. Paying clients. Folks that need brilliant marketers will beat down the door to get at you. After a while, you may decide you like that life. Or, more likely, you'll decide you'd rather be your own client.

People who want to become great fishermen don't go to work on a salmon trawler. And people who want to become marketers ought to just start marketing. (Bonus: here is a book list).

Y2k07

Erik points us to: The Internet went down yesterday, and nobody noticed. It's a good story of hiding as a customer service stragegy, but it's also interesting to note how our connected world fell apart. My fancy alarm clock (that automatically checks the time) is wrong, my wife's laptop (that automatically checks the time) is wrong, too.

What happens when we try to do something really complicated?

Security Theatre (part 2)

Graham points to an article by my neighbor: Inside Job: My Life as an Airport Screener. The surprising thing about the theatre isn't that it exists. The surprising thing is that we're so bad at it.

It's easy to get hung up on whether it's appropriate to put on a show when it comes to airport security or eating at your restaurant or attending your church. But I think it's more interesting to get past that discussion and instead wonder, "If we're going to put on a show, how could we do it better?" Starbucks and Disney have both made billions doing just that.

If you and I sat down for an hour, I have no doubt we could dramatically increase the quality of the security show at the airport, or the bureaucracy show at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the litigation show at the local courthouse.

The sock puppet

Many moons ago, a video I wrote and produced was nominated for an American Film Institute Award. I flew out to LA, wore a tux, the whole thing. I knew I was in trouble when I discovered that Cathy Rigby and Gary Coleman were the hosts for the evening. My video lost, defeated by Shari Lewis and Lambchop (hey, even Kukla, Fran and Ollie would have been better). Ever since then, I've been awfully wary of the whole prize thing.

Go figure: last night the SXSW conference awarded Corey and Gil the award for best community site (Squidoo). And yesterday, Small is the New Big made the shortlist for the Blooker Prize. Even a quick look at the nominees makes it clear that I have no chance of winning, but it is pretty cool to be listed. And no, I'm not renting a tux, and you can leave your sock puppets at home.

Weekend (useful) reminders

  • Please turn your clock ahead (if local laws permit).
  • Replace the batteries in all your smoke detectors.
  • If you don't have smoke detectors, buy a few. They're really cheap now.
  • If you can find some neighbors who might need smoke detectors, buy some for them.
  • Take out your #1 and #2 credit cards. Call the number on the back and say, "I think I'm going to need to cancel my account because your interest rate is too high." Then wait silently. Watch what happens. Boom, I just saved you a few hundred dollars.
  • Feel free to use that money to pay down your credit card debt. Or,
  • make sure you have tenant's insurance if you rent. And,
  • back up your hard drive.

Boom. Spring cleaning is done.

Tomorrow's anecdote

I still remember an interaction I had with Jim at Activision in 1985.

And when I run into Ted once or twice a year, he reminds me of something I gave him eight years ago.

As Derren reminds us, your actions today could be tomorrow's anecdote. One that grows in the telling. In fact, every single interaction you have... every blog post, every customer service interaction, every shareholder conference call... could turn into an anecdote that lives on for years.

I guess you're in the anecdote creation business now.

Dialogue

Tony pointed out a neat idea to me. Some organizations are good at listening. Some are good at talking. A few are even good at both.

But having a dialogue is different. It's about engaging in (sometimes) uncomfortable conversations that enable both sides to grow and change.

Security Theatre

Stewardess Almost everything that happens before you fly on a plane is not as it seems. In order to deal with anxiety, the airlines put on a show. They've been doing it for a long, long time, and it's starting to show signs of wear and tear. The show is getting old and the lies are starting to show. Here's some snips from an Economist article (hat tip to the Freaknomics blog):

“GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

...

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn’t sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it..."

The list is endless (plastic forks, etc.) but the lesson is subtle: every business does this. From the standardized layout of a doctor's waiting room to the forms you fill out at the bank, we subject our clients and prospects to a little show that is not directly related to what we're doing for them. We're all doing theatre. We want our waiter to be better dressed than us, and the stockbroker's office to be as far away from an off track betting facility (or a laundromat) as possible.

Of course, the show is related to what we're selling. It's related for the same reason that the price of a cup of coffee varies by a factor of 120 depending on who made it and where you consume it. You don't have to like the fact that a show is going on, but you're part of it. The most successful organizations understand this and work hard to put on a show that works. One that doesn't get in the way of what we set out to purchase in the first place.

More than 12 minutes

I liked this book a lot: Clear Blogging.

Unlike most books that cross my desk, it'll take you more than a few minutes to get all the ideas out of it. But in this case, it's worth it. Recommended.

Denver, April 19th

In May, I'll be doing a bunch of speaking engagements for the public in cities around the US. I'll post those here in the next few weeks. For those in Denver, though, there's a long-scheduled event at Daniels at DU. April 19th at 8 am. I'm not in charge of organizing it, so feel free to share your queries with the folks at Daniels.

Quote of the day

"It's a creative approach, but like any new company, there's a certain risk. More new companies go under than old companies."

That's Michael Kozol, public policy specialist for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, quoted in the Times.

This so perfectly captures the fear and irrationality of the large organization that it's hard to keep from typing in all capital letters. Here's what he forgot to say, "Actually, every large company goes under... except for the large companies that take risks and reinvent themselves. The rest of us just fade away, sooner rather than later."

He also forgot to say, "Actually, the top spots and large investment stakes in big companies are pretty much all taken, so if you weren't lucky enough to end up on top, (or if you don't want to spend your career waiting for your boss to die) the only way in the world you're going to succeed is by doing your own thing, building your own division or starting your own gig... and by teaching the big guys a thing or two."

Where do you park?

The manager of the Chase bank in Pleasantville parks right out front. Her branch is on a quiet street with parking meters available for customers to use. Figure there's perhaps a dozen spaces convenient enough to make it worth going to the bank... if they're full, keep on driving, because there's always another bank coming up soon.

And yet, the manager parks right out front (in fact, I saw her move her car from two spaces away to an even closer spot today). She has four or five people working in the branch, so if they follow her lead, that's half the spaces.

Of course, it's a far bigger issue than parking spaces. It's about eating lunch with your employees, handing out free samples to customers instead of your friends or answering the phone yourself when customer service gets backed up.

I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that there are really only two attitudes that people bring to work with them. Either they park right out front, or they park down the street in order to send a signal to their staff, their customers and themselves.

Money, popularity, quality

It's a lesson we all learned in high school, but one that is playing itself out in the art market as well. Thanks to Steve for the link.

Collage What makes a great work of art? Almost entirely, it's how much it sells for. An expensive avant garde painting that breaks through a price barrier will define an entirely new school for years to come. We do the same thing with music... if a song takes off, sells lots of copies and makes the musician rich and famous, we assume that there's some sort of inherent 'quality' in what they did, as opposed to deciding that our definition of quality in that field is: what sells.

The critic in me cringes to write this. After all, what makes a great work of art should have nothing at all to do with how much it sells for and everything to do with how it makes you feel. I think the game here is in the definition of 'great.' And what society has chosen--for a coffee shop, a song, a poem, a new kind of workman's comp insurance--is that 'great' means successful. Not the other way around.

So the challenges, I guess, are to get good at predicting 'great' before the market takes action, and to be clear with yourself and your colleagues about what exactly you're trying to build.



Rule of Thumb...

The very first book I ever created was a joint venture with Chip Conley. Now it's a wiki moderated by Ben Casnocha. Business Rules of Thumb - A wiki to add business rules of thumb....

When Chip and wrote the book (twenty years ago this week, I'm guessing), we had two goals: First, to point out that many rules of thumb are dated anachronisms, crutches used by slow-moving people in a fast moving world. Second, to teach newbies what the rules were, because you can't change things without knowing the status quo.

The base of rules we collected is now woefully out of date at the same time it remains heavily used. Ben is hoping you might want to add some of your own.

[Trivia: Andrew Tobias declined to write the foreword for the book. His reason? Because in my note to him asking him to contribute one, I spelled it "forward." Lesson learned. Trivia #2: the book got almost no promotion because the week it came out, Vanna White's autobiography from the same editor was published. Guess who got Jim's attention? Biggest lesson of all for authors: you're in charge of your own destiny.]

Rule of thumb: a well-written blog post will get a 5% clickthrough rate. The landing page the post points to will get a 3% sign up rate.

Everyone will be famous forever

The splintering of social networks continues. There's really very little point in trying to have more friends than anyone else at MySpace, but there's plenty of reasons to create a new circle of 'real life' friends at this site.

I remain dubious about the commercialization opportunities at most of these sites, but I've been wrong about this before.

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