Growth School

A few months ago, I began to focus heavily on driving organic member growth at OpenSky. Since then we’ve seen significant gains to viral coefficient and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

Step #1 for anyone should be a hyper-detailed cohort report. Looking at organic growth, I maintain a day-by-day funnel report of how new users come through our system, both the inviters and the invitees. Record numbers at every point where a user can make a choice, because some growth tactics will have a positive impact in one area while damaging another.

Here’s a list of articles and that got me started in this area:

a. Andy Johns, previously from Facebook’s Growth team, explains things on Quora:

And another good growth page: What are some top strategies for conversion optimization?

b. Andrew Chen on growth

From an OpenSky perspective, ecommerce emails in inboxes seems like “the last war,” so we’re actively looking at alternative channels. Honestly, any marketing email is probably a “last war” – while still valuable, it’s a declining option so you need to look elsewhere.

c. Turntable explained by Quora:

d. Mint:

e. Badoo. I thought their recent NYC subway ads were beautifully designed as a “platform with a voice”, so I looked them up and it turns out they know a thing or 2 about growth:

f. And random answer re address book imports:

How to startup and how to market it when you do

Sorry, no analysis here; I’m bookmarking this stuff for later reference.

how to succeed with an early-stage startup

Takeaways from the articles above:

  1. Lean startup FTW (caveat: garbage in, garbage out).
  2. Founder passion (founder domain knowledge allows you to bypass customer discovery).
  3. No marketing. Products should be natively social. Games are social, as is expression.
  4. Native monetization.

Fun quotes from Fred Wilson

…and others, culled from the articles above:

The 2-step super distribution model: Get the power users to adopt something and then the people who follow the power users will adopt it too

Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.

Early in a startup you need to acquire your customers for free. Later on, you can spend on customer acquisition.

If you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, do a startup. Otherwise join a startup.

Don’t worry about whether you are building a feature, a product or a company. Build something great, have huge passion for it, engender affection with a large customer base, and let the rest follow.

There are three addictions in life: calories, heroine, and a paycheck.

The $25,000 web page

Here’s how Yaro Starak, internet marketing royalty, sets the stage to collect $25,000 simply by talking to 5 people.

I occasionally enjoy Yaro’s blog and email newsletter for their clear demonstrations of direct marketing tactics. Most recently, Yaro pitched his forthcoming “Elite Entrepreneur Coaching Program” on this page. When it works, he’ll collect $25,000 by simply having conversations with 5 people, on his own terms.

Check it out – it’s a great demonstration of a long sales letter. After reading through it a couple of times myself, I noticed a framework emerge. This is essentially the same pitch that convinces people to part with their hard-earned cash in all kinds of scenarios:

  • It begins by assuming that the reader is interested in a purchase (too many sales efforts waste time trying to lure disinterested buyers).
  • The bulk of the content makes an emotional right-brained appeal while overloading the left brain with numbers and case studies.

The net effect is similar to the psych study that asked people to memorize a sequence of random numbers and then offered them a healthy snack or a slice of rich chocolate cakes. Participants whose brains were overloaded by longer number sequences (a left-brained activity) unconsciously tended to shift the decision to the relatively unburdened right brain and more often chose the delicious-but-unhealthy cake.

Step 1: set the stage for an emotional decision

  1. Background = aspirational intro (“I’m rich and so can you!”).
  2. Aspirational value proposition. Too many sales efforts waste time describing the product or service instead of the value it creates for the buyer. “Sell the dream, not the dirt,” declares Donald Trump as he explains his successful real estate ventures.
  3. Aspirational “qualifier” questions. Begins to set a tone of exclusivity, a seller’s market.
  4. Details: product description and list of problems solved. (Overwhelming the left brain with lists leads to right-brain, emotional decision-making.) Lists are key here.

Step 2: appeal to the emotional brain with a scarce luxury good

  1. Velvet rope of work (“You have to really want it.”) Raises perceived value, sets luxury status.
  2. “Trust me” background info.
  3. Velvet rope of price (“Yes, it’s expensive.”) Reinforces luxury status.
  4. No refunds. What?! Yes. It’s so good he doesn’t have to offer refunds. Reinforces luxury status, creates seller’s market mindset.
  5. Charity. Reinforces aspirational tone. I’m not convinced of the value on this one, but it’s a popular sales angle.
  6. “You’ll ‘know’ if this is right for you.” Or, “don’t figure it out, go with your gut!” Driving the shopper to make an emotional decision.

Step 3: Decision time

  1. Application” reinforces notion of luxury good and seller’s market – you’ll be lucky to get this!
  2. Finally, pricing. At this point it’s an emotional decision. Don’t lead with the price, it allows the user to make a decision without enough cognitive load.

Useful Google searches for webmasters

As I’ve researched SEO for social networks, particularly as it relates to my own social network – Dub and Reggae – I find myself reusing these special Google search queries.

When followed by a URL, shows all pages within a site that Google has indexed. This is a useful tool for quickly figuring out if a site has been spidered. Including subdomains and directories in the query helps you get even more specific.
Here’s a result set of all pages on Dub And Reggae that Google has spidered.

When followed by a URL, shows all websites that link to that page. This is useful for an SEO link building strategy: it shows you who is linking to you, so you can work on getting more links from similar sites and possibly set up reciprocal links. It is also a good way to figure out who is linking to other sites similar to your own, so you can consider getting those sites to link to your own site as well.
Here’s a result set of sites that link to Dub And Reggae.
Putting a tilde (~) before a search keyword tells Google to search for all terms that it considers synonymous with that keyword. In the results page, the synonyms are bold, making this a great tool for figuring out additional keywords to consider when planning an SEO campaign for a specific word or phrase.
As an example, the search results for ~reggae show that Google considers lyrics, calypso, and dub to be synonyms, so I should include some content for one or more of those keywords on

How to get people to advertise your stuff, for free

While everyone else is rolling their own social media sites and wringing their hands about how to monetize them, why not use them to get some free advertising?

Here’s how: give away your professionally-produced photos and videos, and maybe even some slick audio files. Invite people to use them in their social media creations.

Imagine a guy named Bill, who just came back from a wild vacation in Las Vegas. Bill wants to build a hilarious recap of his misadventures, so he can post them on his Facebook or MySpace profile where all of his friends see it can leave a comment. Obviously, Bill’s gonna build a Widget, so first he uploads his vacation photos to Flickr and then browses over to to build a slideshow Widget.

Pretty cool, but not cool enough. Ever played around with iPhoto? You can add background music to your slideshows, via iTunes. Music is fresh. You know what’s cooler? If Bill snaps a few nice “atmosphere” photos of the surf, the landscape from the plane, or the city skyline, he can intersperse them with all those stand-and-smile pics to create a narrative.

But what if Bill forgot to take those atmosphere photos? What if he sucks at photography? Why doesn’t Nevada’s tourism board offer him a bunch of glamorous city shots to use in your slideshow? Then, when people ooh and ahh over his beautiful slideshow, they’ll be thinking “man, I gotta go to Vegas.” Disney World should do this. Professional sports leagues should do this. In fact, every pro sports league should also offer a “Jumbotron” Widget on Slide. Whatever company owns the distribution rights to Swingers should give away a clip of “Vegas baby! Vegas!”

During my interactive agency days, I pitched an airline on this concept, and they just nodded. This was in 2001, before social media was a big deal (though Mac iPhoto projects were not). They still haven’t done anything with this idea (and they didn’t sign the agency), so I’m offering it up to every airline and travel site out there: after I get back from my trip, I should receive an email from you that reads “Didja enjoy your trip to the Grand Canyon? Gonna build a slideshow? Check out these free aerial photos of the Canyon – they’re yours to use. Free. Thanks for flying with us!”

On the low end, the photos could be watermarked. Better yet, repaint the city skyline billboards with ads for your service, or show a plane from your fleet in the photo. Every movie in the world reuses that stock photo of the plane landing at the airport (or better yet, the plane that flies overhead, with the camera following it). Why not offer that clip, with your plane? I’ll use the clip as the opener for my awesome slideshow, and you get free product placement in my story of a great trip. Free advertising, free endorsement, no cost beyond the initial creative. Throw in some music and photos, and you’ve given me a great packet of free assets for my social media creation, all pointed at your brand.

Slide’s sales team should also pitch this idea, if they aren’t yet – sponsored photo packs that users can add to their slideshows. Eyespot is doing this with video today, and as free editing tools and personal Widgets become more popular, it’s a good time to reevaluate editorial content as stock for social media remixes.