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How I built a flight price tracking business, thanks to accidentally running into my wife.

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Hello all,

I've been working on https://TripFate.com and thought it might be a good idea to share the story and motivation behind it.

So I met my wife exactly 4 years ago – all thanks to being on the right flight at the right time. Funny thing is, I wasn't really supposed to be on that flight to Rome. As much as I loved traveling, I was a poor college student and I couldn't really afford the expensive flights.

And then it happened. I was looking for flights to random destinations after wrapping up my project report at 4 AM, and I found a round-trip ticket to Rome (from NYC) for ~$110! It was crazy because the usual prices are at least in the $350-400 range (if you're lucky).

I got super hooked! After I returned from my trip, I registered on a bunch of websites to get alerts if there was a price drop. I did get some good deals, but nothing was as crazy cheap as the one I had found for my trip to Rome.

I continued to manually find flights to 'random' destinations on Google flights and other websites, but it was a painful process. Plus, there was no way I could keep an eye on all these flight trackers 24×7 and create alerts for all the places that I really didn't know existed, but are AMAZING for travelers!

Being a student of Computer Science, I figured there must be some way for me to automate my process of looking through multiple travel sites for amazing deals to random destinations I wanted to travel.

So that's what I did. I created a service for myself that'd look for flights from across the internet that really were 'great' for their price. In the beginning, it simply sent API requests and had a bunch of if-else statements. However, over the years, I've added a bunch of Machine Learning and Deep Learning tricks to the algorithm.

Moreover, I have instances of my 'smart travel finder' running on around 14 different servers around the world (who knew looking for a flight from India is cheaper sometimes!).

I started getting lots of really interesting flights: ~$170 round-trip to Cancun, ~$230 to Paris, ~$340 to India… and so I decided to share it with family and friends and friends of friends. Once the list grew to over 200, I thought maybe people would be interested in paying for the service, and that's how TripFate was born.

TripFate can be tried for free (for as long as you want) and costs $25/year for the premium plan to cover the costs of the servers and allow me and my wife to dedicate more time for further development and support. I am not sure where this brainchild of mine will eventually end up, but it's definitely been a great experience so far! If you'd like to try it, please register on https://TripFate.com.

Thanks for reading!

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How an ex-Googler got 6K+ subscribers in 4 months by teaching neuroscience to entrepreneurs

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Hey, Daniel from Hustld.com bringing you another interview

Today's interview is with Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs.

Service: Mindful productivity school that teaches neuroscience

Founded: April, 2017

Founders: 1

Employees: 1

Users: 6000+

Hi Anne-Laure! Tell us about yourself and Ness Labs.

Thanks for having me! I’m an ex-Googler turned entrepreneur. After working on several digital health products at Google, I left to build products helping people live healthier and happier lives. I’m also studying neuroscience part-time at King’s College. Ness Labs is a mindful productivity school. We teach entrepreneurs how to apply neuroscience principles so they can achieve more while taking care of their mental health. It’s all about beating procrastination without beating yourself up. I use my experience as an entrepreneur as well as what I study at university to craft content and products bridging the gap between neuroscience and entrepreneurship. Some of our products include Teeny Breaks, a Chrome extension reminding people to take mindful breaks, and Maker Mind, a weekly newsletter about mindful productivity with more than 6,000 subscribers. We also have a library of content around mindful productivity, a shop, and we’re about to launch our first course.

How did you come up with this focus on mindful productivity?

Both at Google and when running my company, I have experienced burnout. It’s pretty hard at first to see the signs. It’s a constant oscillation between exhaustion and exhilaration. We tell ourselves to push through, that we’ll be able to rest after the next deadline, that we just need to make one more effort to get it done. In the end, both our mental health and our productivity suffer. We’re unhappy, and we don’t do our best work. Burnout and mental health in general are still pretty taboo among entrepreneurs, and I want to use what I learn at university as well as my own experience to tackle these topics, and help people not go through the same experience. What I like about Ness Labs is that it’s akin to a sandbox where we can experiment with new products and see which ones are the most helpful.

Interesting. How do you go about launching these new products?

I’m a big proponent of working in public, so I tweet about the creation process. I ask for feedback and get my audience involved very early on. Once I have a first version, I launch on Product Hunt. It’s not necessarily what everyone should do, but it happens that my audience hangouts there too. I also post all of my articles on Hacker News, which can be an important source of traffic if a link hits the front page. I don’t believe in launching once. I constantly re-launch new versions, update things as I go, and iterate to improve on the products.

What has worked so far to attract customers?

Writing content on the blog has so far been the most effective way to grow the audience and thus attract customers. All of the consulting opportunities, the newsletter sponsors, partnerships, the workshops… all of these were inbound. I never did any cold emailing. People read the articles, they reach out using the contact form asking how they can work with Ness Labs. It’s great because you can’t imagine having a more qualified prospect than the one who proactively reaches out to your company.

Describe a moment where you had to overcome a challenge.

The challenge with relying so much on social media as a marketing platform is that it’s very unpredictable. Sometimes a piece of content goes viral, sometimes it brings very few visitors to the website. I still haven’t figured out the magic recipe, so the only strategy I rely on is consistency. If you publish content on a regular basis and make sure to share it, you’re bound to grow your audience.

What tools do you use for your business?

The website is WordPress hosted at DreamHost. I recently switched to them and their customer support is amazing. For the newsletter, I use MailChimp, but I’m exploring alternatives such as ConvertKit. We all work together using the Google suite, it makes it easier to collaborate and that’s what I’m used to. I personally hate Slack, so communication happens via Gmail and Hangouts. For payments, Stripe and Gumroad. I also use VS Code for coding and Adobe Creative Cloud for illustrations and design.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Stop hiding behind your products and put yourself out there! Start a blog or a newsletter and share your creation process. This is an incredible way to learn, grow as a person, and make new connections.

Thanks! Where can we go to learn more about your company?

You can visit our website or follow me on Twitter!

——————

If you'd like to read more interviews visit hustld.com

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Why a boring full-time job is… great for entrepreneurs (rant)

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A rant I had to share.

In 2019 it has become “cool” to say: “a nine to five job sucks, I am going to start my own business instead”. “Corporate jobs kill creativity”, “starting a business is easier than ever before” and “you can make millions in passive income”. While some of the above is true, it’s about time someone posted a rebuttal to a now common notion that a full-time office job sucks.

Here is an entrepreneur’s rant for “wannabe-entrepreneurs” and younger generations who are about to finish school/college and who are at the crossroads.

Because starting a full-time job is often the best decision you can make if you want to be a founder. (This is just part of the rant, you can read the full rant here).

Experience

You have probably heard by now that you need to offer some sort of value to your potential customer, for them to buy any product or service from you. Well, what kind of value could you offer if you have no experience doing anything even mediocre? Do you think you have really tried it all in the job market, just because you worked for 6 months at a coffee shop?

Stop and think again.

Of course you can start your own lawn mowing business. Of course you can deliver newspapers and try scale it up. But, guess what? So can virtually anyone else. The easier it is to do something, the more competition there is in the market. The more competition – the more you will have to slice your prices to attract new clients. If you have experience in a field that is more complicated, requires more thought process and is technically challenging, you would have obtained that unique value that you can offer to your customers.

Money

No money – no food. No food – you die. Simple. You hear and read stories about someone starting their own business, struggling for a bit, and then they make it. Guess what, that “bit” is the make or break period. And if you don’t have enough savings, and you can’t rely on your mommy or your daddy to give you lunch money, you will need to have a full-time job to feed yourself during that time. In many interviews, founders of larger or smaller businesses always skip through this part, and yet it is absolutely crucial.

They might say: “we went through some hard times, but then in October of 2017, we had our first big order”. Do you know how many people give up on their dream, before that first order that makes the business survive? No one knows, because we don’t like to talk about our losses, so this data is not recorded anywhere.

Yes, you can take a loan. Yes, you can use that loan to “stimulate” yourself to achieve an x goal. However, if you have a full-time job, this gives you so many more options:

If you don’t care too much about earning money straight away from your startup you can experiment. This (hopefully) means that you won’t sacrifice quality for cash at the pivotal moment, and so you and your company will win from this crucial decision long-term. You won’t become depressed, simply because you haven’t had any traction for two months. Ideas that seemed genius at the start fail every day. Big deal. With a full-time job, it won’t cost you your house or your family’s well-being. And that’s priceless.

If it doesn’t work out, you have a plan B. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that “fear of death” drives us to do the most remarkable things. In adversity, human mind works wonders. J.K. Rowling was a single mother, who was raising her kid in poverty when she wrote “Harry Potter”. Would she have been as inspired if she had a loving boyfriend, no baby to take care of, and rich parents? Who knows. However, not every writer is J.K. Rowling, and more importantly – we all fail. And sometimes a plan B – a.k.a. a full-time job – is what we need to fall back on, in order to get back up. You can save money to start a new business. This is perhaps the biggest selling point of a nine to five job. Saving enough money means that you could enter a harder market – i.e. a market that would require you to spend more than an average founder. But, this could also mean higher returns.

Mentor

One of the top tips for any entrepreneurs is always to find a mentor. If you go into finance, you should find someone who has been making money for the past 30-40 years, to learn their formula for success. If you start a pet toy shop, you need to find someone who ran a small shop previously, and either sold it at high valuation or who is still successfully running it ten years later. We all look for blueprints to follow, consciously and subconsciously. We want to hear success stories.

What better success story than your boss?? That’s right, your boss. The man or woman whom you have viewed as the necessary evil up until now. Ideally, your boss is someone who has their own business and who has been running it for some time now. If they have a business, and they could afford to hire you, surely they must be doing something right?

Here are the things you probably never thought of before, but that you could learn from your boss, no matter how much of an ********* (enter any swear word of your choosing here) they are:

How to maximise profits and minimise expenses.

How to find and learn from clients.

How to start a business and not run it into the ground after two months. (Has it ever occurred to you to ask them how they got started?).

How to hire the right people.

How to stay lean. Believe me, no one more frugal out there than a successful small business owner.

How to optimise your businesses for taxes.

In some cases, how to scale your business.

And last, but not least – you can also learn from their mistakes. Are they being horrible to their employees and so the latter keep quitting? Are they not listening and it’s costing their business? Good, you won’t make the same mistakes when you run your own business/

Your boss could be your best mentor. You don’t have to like them. They don’t have to like you. But their knowledge could be invaluable.

Thank you for your time and go get to work now.

I already mentioned this, but by now you probably forgot about it – the full rant was published originally here.

EDIT: The formatting looked a bit weird towards the end, fixed some of the spaces.

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$700,000/month getting targeted traffic for online sellers

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Hey – Pat from StarterStory.com here with another interview.

Today's interview is with Eyal of StoreYa, a brand that makes targeted traffic for ecommerce

Some stats:

  • Product: Targeted Traffic For Ecommerce
  • Revenue/mo: $700,000
  • Started: September 2012
  • Location: Tel Aviv
  • Founders: 3
  • Employees: 15

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, my name is Eyal Reich and I'm StoreYa's co-founder and COO, along with Yariv Dror, the CEO (and my brother:) and Pasha Zaft, the CTO.

StoreYa offers a suite of marketing and advertising apps that help SMBs increase sales, leads and social following. We support more than 200,000 online sellers that are coming from 186 countries, we also integrate with 30 eCommerce platforms such as Shopify, Magento, Woocommerce, etc.

Our flagship product is called Traffic Booster, with it, we automate Google Ads using our unique AI technology. Take the burden off our clients' shoulders, and get the right customers at the right time for the right cost.

We use the entire arsenal that Google has to offer from dynamic search ads, customized search ads, remarketing, dynamic remarketing, shopping, smart shopping, smart display ads, and Youtube ads.

In addition to Google ads, we manage growth and remarketing campaigns on Facebook and Instagram for a lot of our clients.

We turn our clients' dreams and passions into reality, by driving targeted traffic that generates sales letting our clients focus on their products instead of wasting time on marketing efforts from their end. We're a Premium Google partner one of only 500 Google resellers around the world, we won the 2018 Google Acquisition Performance award, and we're a PayPal exclusive advertising partner.

We launched StoreYa 7 years ago, with the idea of building a valid business, one with a strong business model behind it. As opposed to many startups that pursue their dream and don't think about how to make money in the early stages, we didn't want to be dependent on fundraising, we wanted to reach the profitability stage as soon as possible. We raised a seed round of ~$900K when we first started and for the past 3 years, we've been profitable, generating an average of $700K MRR.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHw-WJQCKvo

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I worked for 4 years as a project manager in design and development agencies, managed projects for big brands like National Geographic, MTV, 888, etc. I learned how an online business should be built.

In 2009 I had a chance to join a brand that targeted the conservative market in the USA, they were looking for a guy that will create their online presence from scratch. That was my first touchpoint with the eCommerce industry. I've built a Shopify store, an Amazon and eBay stores. I managed to reach a 6-figure with the Shopify store and a power seller level on Amazon.

Since I like wearing different hats and I understood the power of content marketing, I built a community of bloggers, I had 20 bloggers that wrote for our blog. We promoted that content to our fans on Facebook, in the good old days, FB ads were not a big thing and the organic reach was high, so you could actually engage with your fans 🙂

I noticed that we're not making a direct ROI from our efforts in FB, again it was before ads on FB was such a popular thing.

So I thought why not integrate our Shopify store into our Facebook page, and improve the product discovery aspect, basically show our fans different products they might like without the need for them to leave Facebook.

Back then I was 28 years old, living in a small one-bedroom apartment with my girlfriend (now wife), a young man with big dreams, this idea looked like something that is worth a more in-depth check so I knew that the first phone call I have to make is to Yariv, my brother & partner, I told him about the idea, he loved it and decided to convince Pasha, our all-mighty CTO to join us and develop the first Facebook shop ever made, I was the guinea pig, we thought it will take us a couple of weeks, but like every good development project, it took us a few months 🙂

But it was worth the wait, we were happy with the results and the engagement! We were the first in the market that offered a Facebook shop that can automatically import your products onto Facebook from different eCommerce platforms.

The Facebook shop app got a lot of traction and clients, about 20,000 clients in the first year, it was really revolutionary, but we noticed that most of the online sellers put all their efforts in their eCommerce store, and don't market their Facebook store even though we created marketing apps dedicated for the Facebook shop.

We understood that the Facebook shop has huge potential, but if the clients put their efforts on different platforms, we can't provide enough value, which means we won't be able to scale, grow and turn StoreYa into a stable company, so we went back to the drawing board and brainstormed about ideas that can add value to online sellers.

We decided that since they put most of their efforts into their online store, we will develop on-site promotion apps, known as Coupon Pop, Exit Pop, and Refer a Friend.

These apps generate a lot of value in terms of leads and sales but we encountered two new challenges:

  • There are companies that offer similar products for free to get into the market

  • SMBs don't have a lot of traffic, so with the on-site promotions we helped them to better convert the traffic they have but their biggest challenge was still to get more targeted traffic.

That led us to tackle the biggest challenge they have and offer them the option to set up and optimize their Google Ad campaigns.

This move made a lot of sense for us because Yariv, my partner, comes with a vast experience in PPC, he managed ad campaigns worth millions of dollars in his previous positions, and Pasha has the ability to fly a spaceship to the moon, the best tech guy I've ever met. So, with the combination of Yariv's vast PPC experience, my eCommerce experience and Pasha's tech skills we knew we can take this vision and make it into a reality.

Together with the rest of the team members, it took us about a year to develop the initial Traffic Booster algorithm, and it's something we keep improving on a daily basis.

image

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Launching a product is a long process, taking an idea and turning it into a successful product takes many months until you start seeing results. We see our clients in front of us, and try to create the best product that would fit their needs.

Every product we launched was a product that came to solve a pain point. We start with brainstorm meetings between the founders and the different team members, we try to identify the points that would be a game-changer for the clients and for us, we start lean, we focus on the main points we agreed upon and create a Gantt chart, milestones for each task, and create weekly meetings to see that everything is on point.

We start with mockups for each screen, approve the flow of the product, and continue to the design phase. In the UI/UX phase, we put ourselves in our clients' shoes, and try to imagine how they will react, where they will get stuck, which steps they will be looking for, will it give them the sense of trustworthiness we're looking for.

Once this phase is approved, we start developing the product.

Once the product is ready we do a soft launch and invite a specific audience from our list to test and provide feedback; once we are happy with the product we start distributing it by integrating it with the different eCommerce platforms, we always start with Shopify and move forward to Woocommerce, Opencart, Magento, etc. We put a lot of effort in online advertising, we spend tens of thousands of dollars per month on Facebook and Google promoting our Traffic Booster. We send weekly newsletters to about 80K merchants and publish two posts a week to drive more SEO traffic. Basically, we are trying to use all marketing methods possible to gain new clients.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1SL3Db9blM&t=1s

Describe the process of launching the business.

We launched StoreYa back in 2012. What started as a social commerce platform with the first in the market Facebook shop app turned into a leading marketing and advertising platform for SMBs. We launched the FB shop with a free plan, after about 6 months from launching the Facebook shop we reached 500 clients that used our free plan; at that point, we switched from free to a freemium business model and started charging our clients for our product. At that point we also got our first capital from an angel, it was $100K which he, later on, added another $100K according to a milestone we had to achieve within 6 months. In total, we got about $900K in a seed round from two angels and one micro VC.

In one of our brainstorm meetings we asked ourselves which number of clients should we aim for in our first year, we did some calculations but basically threw a number to the air, a big number that will make us work hard and dream big! That number was 20,000 clients and by the end of the first year we achieved it.

The channels that helped us reach that goal at the time were:

  • Email marketing : we generated a list of 500K email addresses of relevant merchants using the eCommerce platforms we supported back then and sent them cold emails. Since our offering was fresh, unique, sexy and came with a freemium business model, we had an amazing response rate for our email marketing. In the first 4 years, we didn’t spend money on paid ads.

  • Extensions : at the different app stores

  • Affiliates : we were fortunate enough to find great affiliates that manage groups of tens of thousands of sellers.

At the end of the year, we acquired 20,000 clients that use our product, aiming high and reaching the goal was so important at that early phase because it showed us that even if it looks like a crazy milestone if we work hard and smart we can reach our goals, it's in our hands.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We have a few marketing channels that work well for us:

When we first started and didn’t have a large budget to work with we put more effort in Guerrilla marketing.

I remember two good examples that worked well for us.

When Steve Jobs passed away, we created a Facebook shop all-around Apple products that directed to Amazon, all revenues went to donations. This move created a lot of buzz and provided us with free press.

I also used to comment in many relevant articles, I gave comments with value, not just copy-paste them, this led to guest posts in big publications. The bloggers that wrote the articles saw that I know what I’m talking about and invited me to do guest posts on their publications.

Email marketing : back in the days it was harder to just purchase email lists and anyhow wanted fresh lists that we know their source. Our gifted CTO built crawlers that generated the lists for us and the 500K email addresses he gained for us really made our jump start.

Content marketing : we always put efforts in our blog, we understand the power of content. If I had to guess the first 50 posts were written by Yariv and myself. We wrote about online marketing, and the different challenges eCommerce sellers face. These days we have a content manager that deals with it.

FB/IG ads : we spend tens of thousands of dollars per month on acquiring new clients and retargeting past visitors, coming from North America, western EU countries, and Australia.

Google Ads : similar to FB/IG we promote our brand to people searching for targeted traffic. We use text ads, display ads and Youtube ads.

Extensions : we are integrated with 30 eCommerce platforms. We have free and premium extensions. The free apps, provide great value for the merchants, and provide us with good leads we contact and offer the Traffic Booster. The two main free extensions are Benchmark Hero and Growth hero apps. One creates a free site audit and one creates a free Facebook ad account audit.

image

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The focus of the company is online advertising for eCommerce, we keep improving our AI technology for Google Ads.

We went from a developing phase of the Traffic Booster algorithm to an optimization phase where we keep improving it and keeping it up to date to the latest Google adjustments.

In the past year, we added to our AI the ability to set up and optimize Facebook and Instagram accounts. This is still in the works, there’s a lot of manual work we do, but most of the development work should be done by the 1st Q of 2020.

We have been profitable in the past 3 years with a 2x-3x growth YoY.

We charge our clients both for our fee and for their media budget and this way we have become a junction between our clients to Google and Facebook.

Our lifetime value to CAC ratio is 4:1

We expect to finish 2019 with $10M ARR

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We had a lot of mistakes in our journey, but the important thing for growing is to make more good decisions than bad ones 🙂

Focus is key. It's easy to get distracted along the way, focus on your product run as many tests as possible to validate your product offering, if it's working great, keep pushing forward. If it's not working pivot fast, don't waste your time on a product that doesn't work.

We developed 12 apps until we found our winning app which is the Traffic Booster. I don't consider what we did as a full pivot but more as a company evolution process because we kept the same niche and the same target audience, but if I had to look back and change anything in our decision making we would probably have to ask ourselves better questions such as:

  • Is the product innovative?

  • What's the competition in that niche?

  • Do you have a technical barrier?

  • Do you have a marketing edge?

  • How would you distribute the product?

  • Can you build a valid business model around it?

We released the Facebook shop app in a great timing, we were first in the market so we managed to acquire a lot of clients, but the merchants didn't see enough value out of it.

The on-site promotion apps, provide amazing value but the competition is crazy in that niche, and a lot of competitors give this product for free just to get into the market.

With the Traffic Booster, we manage to answer all of the above questions; it is innovative, there are not a lot of good AI companies in this niche, such that circle all of Google advertising methods, so there's a huge technical barrier, we have a marketing edge, we can distribute it well, and a business model we can scale fast with!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use the following tools:

  • Zendesk is our support system.

  • Trello for project management.

  • Intercom, Mailgun and Madmimi for emails. Each ESP has it's own benefits.

  • Google Analytics, Amplitude, Chartmogul for reporting and analytics.

  • Missinglettr for social media activity

  • Loom for video demos

  • aHrefs for SEO

  • Slack for communication

  • Google Ads for advertising our clients and ourselves.

  • Facebook Ads for advertising our clients and ourselves.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I recommend all the books written by Malcolm Gladwell, Professor Dan Ariely, and Nir Eyal.

From Dan Ariely, we use the 3 columns pricing structure he recommends, displaying one basic plan one expensive plan, and in the middle, the best value plan, to have the clients feel like they made the best choice, while you got them to pay for the middle plan and not the most basic one.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

You need to ask yourself am I passionate enough to do this for the next 7-8 years? Building a company takes a lot of time. You need to have enough passion that you'll wake up every morning and grind all day and all night to get everything done.

You need to have the right partners with you, the ones that will run a marathon with you and not a sprint.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes! We have team members in Tel-Aviv, Berlin and Silicon Valley, and we’re always looking to add great people to our team. The open positions are listed in our jobs section on our site.

Where can we go to learn more?


Liked this text interview? Check out the full interview with photos, tools, books, and other data.

For more interviews, check out r/starter_story – I post new stories there daily.

Interested in sharing your own story? Send me a PM

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