Mike Chen created a landing page on a Saturday, told 10 friends about his text messaging app, and had 18,000 inbound messages by Monday. He had a 20,000 person waiting list by Tuesday night.
That’s the definition of viral, and I wanted a piece.
If you’re an entrepreneurial type, you know what it feels like to have an ‘idea itch.’ A lot of us start to look for solutions to problems, and run through our minds the possible steps required to bring an idea to fruition.
What I’ve found is that the only difference between a wantrepreneur and entrepreneur is that the latter will actually pursue an idea if the opportunity seems too good to pass up.
Go for it, and figure out the rest as you go along.
As someone working on four different projects at the time, I actively tried to stay away from taking on any additional work, but on Feb 24th, 2015, at 2am, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came across this article.
Mike Chen finally decided to execute on an idea he had for awhile; a service where you text a phone number, ask for whatever you want, and get it. He called it, MAGIC!
I thought the idea was pretty cool, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of something so simple before. Then I read the article.
Mike Chen setup a landing page, sent it to 10 friends on a Saturday.
Someone posted it to Product Hunt, another person posted it on Hacker News, and Magic topped 18,000 incoming text messages by Monday evening.
Again, pretty cool.
Then I decided to send a text myself to the service, having discovered it just two days later. I was placed on a waiting list.
There were 20,000 people in front of me.
I decided right then and there that I was going to take advantage of that waiting list. I went from laying in my bed to sitting upright at my laptop, scoping out domains on Godaddy. I settled on textgenienow.com. I was to name my service ‘Genie,’ and I was going to do the exact same thing as Magic. There were far too many people requesting this service for Mike and his team to handle the overflow, and a competitor needed to exist.
*I want to make an important point here. There are some people that don’t want to start a company because “it’s been done before,” or because “there’s good competition.” Don’t let that phase you. In this case, Magic had a waitlist of 20,000 people and counting FAST, all looking to conveniently request things via text message. There is no reason you can't replicate something that simple, and with the obvious unfulfilled demand, there is almost always opportunity if you're fast enough.
After the name was decided on, I installed WordPress on the site and went to sleep. No, this was not going to be an all-night binge. Save that for tomorrow.
I woke up early (I work at home, for myself—8am is early) and got to work on getting the site going. I talked to two people about going collabo on this. The second guy was down.
So this is where things start to take shape. My friend and fellow entrepreneur David thought through the logistics of this. Thankfully, this idea was simple. We needed:
- A logo
- A phone number not connected to our mobile phone plans that we could text from, using any device
- A finished landing page that was mobile friendly
- A form to capture credit card information, again, mobile friendly
- A little bit of a marketing strategy
So I got to work putting together a simple logo. I used a browser-based tool called Pixlr, which is a lightweight Photoshop-type app that I’ve been able to toss together quick graphics with, time and time again. (I now use photoshop, even for simple stuff.) I picked a cool font, wrote ‘Genie’ and enclosed it with an empty rectangle with 8 pixel borders (I did a variant of the same thing for my personal logo. And on Vicky Virtual Receptionists, a company I sold last year. I love this type of logo!)
REINVENTING THE WHEEL IS A GREAT WAY TO GIVE YOURSELF THE WORST CHANCE TO SUCCEED.
Then we did research on what phone service we were going to use. I recently read about a guy on reddit that manages outsourced sales teams. He was using Line2 and had good things to say about it (after using it for this project, I give it a 7/10.)
We gave it a shot, invested $10 for the first month and officially had a phone number. (Don’t send us any texts, we no longer own this number, and Genie is shut down.)
I put together the start of the landing page. I wanted to keep it as simple as the Magic concept, because you simply don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Reinventing the wheel is a great way to give yourself the worst chance to succeed. After throwing up a quick headline, putting the phone number in there and placing the logo, I had something to work with:
Meanwhile, David got to work on finding the best, cheapest solution for accepting credit cards with Stripe. I refuse to use PayPal with any of my businesses, and I intended on keeping it that way with this project. We settled on Checkout which is directly integrated with stripe, quick to setup, and looks and works well on mobile. Done.
At this point, I was starting to get really antsy, and went into overdrive to get Genie up and running as quickly as possible. People were still sharing that article on Magic, it was a hot, viral thing, and the clock was ticking. I setup a stripe account for Genie, and decided on a $1 charge to get people going.
This was not an authorization, but a charge. I decided on this for two reasons.
- Stopped potential trolls from spamming us with fake signups
- Let us know that people who signed up were serious and ready to buy
So we would take the $1 charge and apply it towards the total on the first order. The premise of our offering was similar to Magic. If someone ordered something through us, we would build a small convenience charge into the order, and go from there. For food, it was around 20%. If someone were crazy enough to order a big ticket item, a car for instance, we would charge something like 2% on top for the hassle. This was going to be a volume play, but (at the time) David and I were cool with that.
The site was done. So how were we going to tell people about this?
Fortunately, Magic setup a clever way to spread the word about their service via Twitter.
They offered waitlist users an incentive to spread the word, by moving them up the waitlist a bit. Many services have done this recently, and this was a smart move by Magic. Of course, David and I appreciated this, because now we had direct access to people that were signed up for this service.
So we did the spammy thing. We replied to these tweets with simple statements like “we can help with that” and “looks like your wait is over, check us out” and some people ended up signing up. In fact, our response was pretty great, considering.
We replied to 67 people and got 29 people to sign up, all in the first 2-3 hours.
There’s usually a hiccup when it comes to things like this. David and I threw this thing together as quickly as we could, and we forgot to change our Stripe account from test to live payment mode!
So our first paying customer wanted an order of 12 buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing. Simple enough. He attempts to sign up. He puts in his CC info.
We were still in test mode. He then posts this picture on twitter:
Of course I start freaking out, as this guy has over 1k followers and is literally tweeting every part of his first interaction with us, while tagging Sarah Buhr, a writer for TechCrunch. Beautiful.
We fumbled around and got it figured out, and after giving this guy a $10 discount, we had $20 in revenue, and he was happy overall!
It was around 2pm, and we had gotten our first sale. 12 hours after I found out this concept even existed in a service I was officially competing with. Incredible.
Over the next 48 hours, David and I took turns manning the different Genie requests that came in, while we each attended to our more pressing, important businesses. We quickly realized that this concept, as implemented, was incredibly labor-intensive without a lot of margin to show for it. Most of the time, we spent 10-20 minutes working out a food order for a $5 profit or so, and answering questions for people that were freaking out about this whole deal, just like we were.
By the 3rd day, David and I woke up, hit up each other on Skype, and mutually agreed that neither of us had any interest in pursuing this further. We had fielded DOZENS of requests, ignored just as many, and grew more and more agitated as each request came in.
We threw in the towel.
If there is one thing that can be learned from our experience, it’s that we live in a unique and amazing period of time.
Humanity, innovation and technology are colliding in a way that allow a level of fast-paced, high-iteration entrepreneurship that never before existed, or may ever exist again.
There simply isn’t an excuse to ignore an idea. You can launch a business and convert a sale in as little as 12 hours. I did it, and you can too.
PS: If you want to learn more about that business I sold, feel free to PM me. I created a course on it.
Thanks for reading!
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives
“I gotta say it was a good day.”
I’m so fricking pumped today. Really, truly. Yeah, Valence announced > $5 million in funding led by GGV and Upfront. That IS a big deal, but I’ll get to that. But Kamala Harris was picked to be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. That means she’ll be the first female Vice President of the United States, the first female Black Vice President and the first Indian-American Vice President. I don’t take this for granted, be ready for a fight. But let’s be clear. WE WILL WIN. We might have to fight for it after the votes go our way but let’s get ready for the fight.
So let’s get it.
Valence. It is a company with a mission to create better access and more funding for Black entrepreneurs and executives. Valence is led by a talented CEO, Guy Primus and was the brainchild of my partner, Kobie Fuller. If you want to follow two great Black executives who work at the intersection of technology and venture capital make sure to click on those links and follow them on Twitter.
So what exactly is Valence and why does it matter?
18 months ago, my partner Kobie Fuller was inspired to build a solution for a problem he faced regularly: as one of the few Black partners at a VC firm (an estimated 3% of GPs in venture are Black vs 14% of the US population), he was consistently asked for warm intros to Black professionals, to Black VCs, and to talented Black operators and entrepreneurs.
Venture firms wanted to meet talented Black founders but didn’t know where to start to find them. And Black entrepreneurs wanted access to decision makers but didn’t always have the easy connections. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms I personally get when I suggest that founders should “get introductions to VCs” is that this might reinforce existing racial imbalances by providing easier access to White professionals than people of color.
An imbalance clearly exists in access and networks that has resulted in a tech industry where an estimated only 1% of venture dollars go to Black founders and only 3% of the workforce is Black and a country where Black individuals hold a disproportionately low amount of the wealth — only 3%. As Kobie says, he didn’t have a “magical database” of great Black talent, so he set out to build a solution not just for himself, but also for the community.
Personally I believe that to fund more people of color you need to put check-writing authority in their hands the same way that if you want to see more women funded you need more women GPs. My greatest criticism of our industry is that women and people of color feel the need to leave larger VCs to create their own firms. We have a responsibility to help propel them to the top ranks of our biggest firms to make our check writers more representative of our society overall.
There is a very clear economic rational and strategic advantage for doing so. There are amazing Black entrepreneurs, Indian entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, gay entrepreneurs and so forth. OBVIOUSLY! If 90% of the check writers are White, straight men then it’s clear if you are different than that you’re going to have an advantage. As I always say, being great as an investor is about having “edge” and edge means knowing somebody or something that very few others know. It’s about swimming in lanes where others aren’t present. Being diverse in the VC industry is a VERY LOW bar and a clear differentiator.
At Upfront we believe in improving access for founders and entrepreneurs to networking, professional development, and economic opportunities, and that’s what Kobie set out to do with Valence, which he incubated in our offices. Huge hats off to Kobie for the idea, energy, direction, evening hours and the foresight and salesmanship required to bring on Guy to take the helm.
Building a mission into a business
By the time Valence launched in late 2019, the team had built the necessary systems and technology to seamlessly engage and onboard the community — not just the users, but also some pilot corporate partners who also believed in the mission and opportunity and who wanted to leverage and support this amazing database of talent. It was also important to Valence to not only connect users, but also to celebrate the successes and spotlight great Black leaders through high-quality content and design.
As soon as Valence launched in November 2019, the business quickly had proven demand from the community, not only from senior business leaders but also from so many young, talented professionals who could benefit from the inter-generational networking that Valence supported so seamlessly. Since launch, the Valence platform has supported more than 5,000 micro-mentoring sessions (AKA Boosts)— allowing the kind of invaluable network support that’s so critical to success and advancement for even the most talented founders and operators.
You can hear more about the importance of mentoring from Kobie Fuller, Valence advisor James Lowry, and John Legend — yes, THE John Legend — in this video from the 2020 Upfront Summit.
So things were going well for Valence in 2020, amazingly even in a pandemic. And then in May the world was galvanized by the tragic murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Rayshard Brooks. And the many Black women and men before them whose lives were taken at the hands of the police.)
When the mission meets a movement
In these months, not only did we see widespread civic protests but so many industries, including ours, faced a reckoning that despite even the best intentions, lip service wasn’t enough. We all needed to take action to address the imbalance of access, and to literally put our money where our mouths are. Suddenly a spotlight was put on everything that the Valence team had been building, and there was even more energy around the business.
I always say that you can judge a startup’s future based on how fast they’re able to execute when it counts. Well, I can tell you that within weeks of the civil unrest, Valence had:
- Introduced the Valence Funding Network, where GPs from more than 30 of the top venture funds representing more than $60B in assets under management joined Valence with the goal of linking Black entrepreneurs on the platform directly to venture decision makers.
- Increased membership by more than 20%
- Hired a CEO, Guy Primus, who was previously the CEO of The Virtual Reality Company as well as the COO of Overbrook Entertainment. He’s been a leader at the intersection of media and tech for many years and we’re grateful to partner with him.
- Announced their Series A funding round, which Upfront participated in and which was led by Hans Tung from GGV. Hans has been a great peer and collaborator on other portfolio boards and we’re excited for him to join Valence at this pivotal time. We have worked closely with GGV for years and they were a natural fit for helping to build a network like this given their investment in Chief (for women) and The Mighty (which helps families with people facing health challenges).
Since day one we have anticipated great things for Valence and with this groundswell of support at the civic level as well as the industry level, we hope to see meaningful improvements in access and dollars for Black professionals. Please join me in congratulating Guy, Kobie and the team for what they’ve built so far, and what’s to come.
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The world can’t afford entrepreneurial extinction
We’ve seen more than our share of changes in the last six months, but one of the most disturbing has been the rapid disappearance of small businesses. While large corporations consolidate their power (and the stock market rises in response), entrepreneurs are becoming an endangered species. This has widespread implications for our economic future and the health of our world, and we need all hands on deck to reverse the trend.
Most people have no idea how much value entrepreneurs bring to the US economy. Before the pandemic hit, 44 percent of economic activity in the US came from smaller businesses. Since the pandemic, 42 percent of small business owners have reported shuttered operations.
That’s a recipe for stagnation. Innovation suffocates when the dominant force is an oppressive, controlling government or a handful of monopolistic companies. It thrives when entrepreneurs have the freedom to explore ideas, create innovation and jobs, and change the world. Entrepreneurs—especially minority entrepreneurs—are the key to getting us out of this tailspin. To use a more timely metaphor, entrepreneurs are the economic vaccine that’s going to prevent future illnesses and get us back to health.
Here are three strategies to protect you from endangerment and keep your innovative ideas, jobs and businesses alive and thriving:
1. Put your mask on first—figuratively speaking.
You’ve probably heard it a million times: When you’re leading in any crisis, you need to take care of your primary needs before you can take care of others’ needs.
In terms of navigating the entrepreneurial world during the pandemic, your top priorities should be keeping yourself healthy, positive and motivated. Only then will you have the strength and energy to be empathetic and compassionate to those around you.
Staying healthy includes checking in mentally, too. Ask yourself if you’re truly committed to navigating this crisis as an entrepreneur. Don’t simply ask yourself, “Do I have what it takes?” Make yourself answer the bigger question: “Do I want to do what it takes?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to get moving.
2. Don’t overlook the importance of virtual meeting strategies.
When the world went virtual in early 2020, companies with existing strong meeting strategies transitioned operations online with relative ease. Those without them floundered.
This aspect of entrepreneurship might seem like a trivial detail, but it’s not. Meetings dominate our professional lives. Unfocused and out-of-control meetings chew up everyone’s valuable time and energy, and they can send your business spiraling.
To avoid this, focus on the structure, organization and frequency of all your meetings. Share your expectations and ground rules with attendees before every event. For instance, you may ask Zoom participants to turn off their cellphones and limit distractions. You may also want to make better use of chats, polls and breakout discussion rooms to promote involvement and avoid monopolizing every session.
3. Tap unrealized potential by getting serious about combating racial and social injustice.
COVID-19 isn’t the only disease we’re fighting right now. It’s nice to say that you’re all about inclusivity, but you have to back up your words with actions. Doing so isn’t just “PC” or politically wise. If you want to remain competitive and nimble, it’s the right thing to do and a vital business strategy.
For example, a Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have innovation revenue that is 19 percentage points higher. As an entrepreneur, you need to tap the full spectrum of talent and potential for your business. When you do that, you also fight injustice. A win-win!
One step toward more inclusivity is to rethink your traditional methods of recruitment and hiring, as well as your onboarding processes and policies. Invest in unconscious bias training for yourself and everyone on your team, and use what you learn to make interviews and job descriptions as nondiscriminatory as possible. Then generate an action plan that sets up diversity as a core belief in your organization.
Don’t just talk about equity; live it. You might be surprised to see how many customers (and talented employees) come your way when you align your corporate values with their personal ones.
The silver lining
We’ve never seen this kind of fear, uncertainty or health and economic stress felt around the world simultaneously. But here’s the silver lining: Many entrepreneurs are realizing that the ways they’ve been forced to collaborate and communicate during COVID-19 are actually an improvement. I’ve heard several say, “We should have been operating this way all along.”
Whether you’re already an entrepreneur or are taking the first steps into business ownership, stay the course. The road may be rocky at the moment, but survival isn’t just for the lucky few. It’s for leaders like you with the foresight to acknowledge the changing landscape and pivot with confidence.
At this point, you might be a little tired of hearing, “we’re all in this together,” but it remains true. It’s been a rough year, but we’re all figuring it out together. Now more than ever, we must keep supporting one another and moving forward. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world depends on it.
Pam Kosanke is the global marketing leader for EOS Worldwide and a Professional EOS Implementer®. She has experience at both the corporate and small business levels and is eager to help entrepreneurial leadership teams and companies learn to champion brand skills, gain more control, and experience real traction in their business.
6 Ways To Incorporate SEO While Building A Business in 2020
There’s no quick fix, or “one and done” solution when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). You have to be prepared to play the long game to see the full advantages of SEO when developing a site — and it’s worth it to see your site rank highly on search engine result pages.
That said, there are some methods that will give you a quick boost. Shift more attention to the most significant ranking factors and tactics that will give your site the ability to rise to the top of the search results this year.
Choose a Responsive Design
User experience is a big deal these days. Google loves to serve its users the best results possible. If your website isn’t easy to use on a mobile device, you’re going to suffer a setback in ranking. Think about it, have you ever landed on a site where you had to zoom in to read the text and scroll side-to-side to read all of the content? This was most likely the desktop version of a website. It was made for larger screens and doesn’t reformat to fit on different screen sizes.
Responsive sites will resize images and reorganize the blocks of content according to the size of the screen. If you want to test whether a website is responsive, open up a web page on a desktop or laptop. From the full screen, shrink the window by clicking and dragging, and you’ll see the sidebars move, the navigation and header will take on new positions and the content and images will line up differently.
Mobile search volume accounts for more than half of the total searches made online (see chart below). A responsive, mobile friendly site is no longer an option, but a necessity, when it comes to providing an enjoyable user experience.
Create Keyword Clusters
Making a list of keywords that your ideal audience would use to find the content you’re offering will also boost your SEO ranking. Plug each keyword into a keyword tool to generate additional ideas. Assess the best options for keywords to include in your content strategy by grouping them into pools based on search intent. You’ll notice that many of those keyword options will be subtopics large enough to write an entire blog post about, in which you can provide more detailed content optimized for a related keyword.
For example, if you own a home improvement business, a central page on your site would be kitchen renovation. And because there are so many choices to make when renovating a kitchen, you could then go into depth and create a new page for every option, from counter tops and backsplash tile to faucets and refrigerators. When you’re planning your content, structure the website to feature central pages that are optimized for the most central, competitive keywords and most important aspects of your business.
Publish articles on the related subtopics in full detail in order to provide as much information on those major keyword topics, to show your expertise in your field, and to demonstrate authority within the content of your site. Google looks for this as partial evidence of your status as an expert in your niche.
Google also loves when there is a distinct organizational structure. By linking the subtopic posts to your major product pages, you signal what pages are most important to your site by creating a keyword cluster.
Optimize Your Content
On-page optimization enhances the likelihood of your page being ranked for your target keywords. Avoid keyword stuffing and place your keywords strategically. For instance, use your target keywords in the front end of your titles, and keep your titles under 60 characters or they will get cut off in the search display.
Place your keyword in your URL. The most effective URLs are those that are under 5 words and summarize the title or content on the page. Keywords should also be included in the meta description. Using your keyword in the beginning of the meta description will improve the click-through rate for users. As will placing your keyword within the first 100 words in the first paragraph of your content, and using keywords and keyword synonyms in the subtitles.
Use structured data markup whenever possible. If you can provide a rich snippet, you may get a boost in the position your site is displayed.
Make Your Pages Quick and Nimble
With a heavy emphasis on user experience, page speed can make a huge difference in how your site performs. If you’re an ecommerce site, it becomes extremely important because every second your page takes to load will cost your business money from lower conversions.
mPulse Mobile Case Study on Page Speed Vs Conversion Rates, Image source: https://digitalducats.com/page-speed/
Test your mobile page speed here. You can improve your site speed by reducing image file sizes, using plugins, and using a content delivery network to give your website additional page speed.
- To reduce the size of your images use Kraken or Smush.
- W3 Cache is one of the most popular WordPress plugins that increase page speed, but you can decide for yourself by choosing one from this list.
- Choose a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to reduce your pages load time from a list of options here.
Get Other Sites to Link to You
Establishing credibility and authority is a necessity to be competitive in search results. Backlinks are a powerful way to prove that your content is credible and authoritative because essentially it is being endorsed by the websites that link to you. But stay away from paid links, or any link scheme used to manipulate ranking in an underhanded way. Unnatural linking will lead to penalties and should be avoided altogether.
One approved method of link building is to become a guest author. There are guest posting sites in every niche and having knowledge about your business is all you need to create an article that can be submitted to a site for publication. It may take a few weeks to get a response, and you may need a few submissions before receiving acceptance. Get into a routine for guest posting to build backlinks as fast as possible.
Ask People to Share Your Content
A social network is a priceless asset for expanding your audience and getting more traffic to your website. Build your network by being active on the social media site that has the most impact on your business.
Install social sharing icons on your site and include a call to action to get the most shares. A retweet study revealed that content with share icons received 4 times as many retweets with the phrase “Please RT”.
Although there is a lot to put together to achieve a first page result, it’s a long-term game plan. Start building your website with SEO in mind to give your site the best chance at the top positions in search results.
You’re Budgeting WRONG If You Do Any Of These 5 Things
Blaming the voters
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives
Bernice King, Ava DuVernay reflect on the legacy of John Lewis
Heavy rain threatens flood-weary Japan, Korean Peninsula
Everything New On Netflix This Weekend: July 25, 2020
Business2 months ago
Bernice King, Ava DuVernay reflect on the legacy of John Lewis
World News2 months ago
Heavy rain threatens flood-weary Japan, Korean Peninsula
Technology2 months ago
Everything New On Netflix This Weekend: July 25, 2020
Finance4 months ago
Will Equal Weighted Index Funds Outperform Their Benchmark Indexes?
Marketing Strategies9 months ago
Top 20 Workers’ Compensation Law Blogs & Websites To Follow in 2020
World News8 months ago
The West Blames the Wuhan Coronavirus on China’s Love of Eating Wild Animals. The Truth Is More Complex
Economy11 months ago
Newsletter: Jobs, Consumers and Wages
Finance9 months ago
$95 Grocery Budget + Weekly Menu Plan for 8