April 2010 Archives

Traction Verticals

traction2.gifThe second major thing I've learned from interviewing people on getting traction is that initial traction can happen in a lot of different ways, often unpredictably. (The first thing was that entrepreneurs usually have movement ideas even though they often think they have powder keg or empire ideas.)

Given that the first inflection point is unpredictable, it makes sense to consider all traction "verticals" in the pursuit of product/market fit. Here's a list I hope to make exhaustive over time (by updating this post).

Note: this list is no particular order.

Here are other verticals I know about though don't have great examples for yet:

  • Off-line Ads. I've heard infomercials can work wonders for the right products. And of course there is TV, radio, billboards, magazines, newspapers, etc.

  • Buying Smaller Sites. I've heard axod bought a site to jump-start Mibbit. Can I interview you about it?

I'm sure there are more, and I'd appreciate you sharing your examples and stories. I hope to do at least one interview on each vertical for the book I'm doing on getting traction.

As you can see from the above, basically everyone I've interviewed has gotten traction from a different vertical. Yes, partially that was by my design (in the picking of interviewees). However, it is clear that usually they didn't start out thinking they would get traction from that particular vertical. So I think it makes sense to systematically examine each of them and brainstorm how they might work for your startup.

Ways to get 100 potential customers for $5 a day

In my interview with Eric Ries we talked about the five dollars a day tactic where you get 100 potential customers coming to your site every day (for $5) and run experiments on them. Someone commented asking:

Could you please write a blog post how you'd use reddit, stumbleupon or other web tools to generate the 100 customers a day. I'm really struggling to understand how to get 100 people each day consistently with a low budget. Thanks.

So here goes. 100 customers for $5 is 5c clicks. That's tough, but you can still get it.

  • Adwords. As Eric points out, "The absolute essential key is to bid only on low-volume low-value keywords. We're only looking for 100 clicks a day, remember, so by bidding on a couple hundred keyword phrases (long ones are great, since they are uncommon) we can get the desired volume by finding keywords that only have a click every other day."

    patio11 pointed out in his interview that you can get sub-5c clicks via the Adwords content network if you bid on the right keywords there as well. I'd also point out that your CPC can be dependent on your perceived landing page quality. When you first start out Google may charge you more, but it will come down very quickly if your "Quality Score" is high. So basically it might require a little more up front, but then you can get into a good pattern.

  • Microsoft Ad Center. It's pretty much the same story as Adwords, but people forget about it. I've been able to get 0.05 clicks through it as well.

  • Yahoo Search Marketing. Same story here.

  • StumbleUpon. SU offers .05 clicks. As I said in my post on reddit ads, I found these clicks pretty hard to engage. However, SU has pretty intense targeting ability, so if you target really tightly and your page is very related to this demographic, then it may work well for you.

  • Long-tail SEO. As I said in my SEO tips, you should always have a long-tail strategy. Put up some pages, and put a call to action on the top of them. If you get enough traffic coming through 100 people will click on your call to action (to your home page or whatever), and it will be as if you had paid for that 100 coming through the front door.
If you have a slightly bigger budget, I'd also consider...

  • Facebook. I've been able to get 10-15c CPC on targeted ads. I've heard people have done even better, though I haven't seen it personally.

  • Reddit. See my detailed write-up here. Basically, you can get sub 5c clicks, but you have to commit to more than $5/day, actually $20/day (which of course is much higher). They are very open to feedback though, so I'm guessing they might be open to other scenarios where you commit to $5/day for a long period of time.
There are a bunch of other networks that advertise less CPC, but I either don't trust them or don't have enough experience with them to recommend them. I'm sure other people are much more experienced in some of these areas than I am and have other great suggestions. So please chime in!

Update: some good comments on HN.

My personal URL shortener, ye.gg

To my surprise and delight, I noticed yesterday that the domain ye.gg was available, and I quickly gobbled it up. .gg is the country code for Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. It wasn't cheap (GBP 88.00, ~$135 USD), but it's worth it to me!

Side note: in this process I found Domainr, which helps you find short domains.

Unlike godaddy et al., it took ~24hr for the .gg domain to be setup in DNS. So while I was waiting yesterday, I searched for a provider to run my URL shortener. The two providers I found that seemed like they may work were bit.ly Pro and awe.sm, which TechCrunch apparently uses.

I was quickly accepted into the free beta of bit.ly Pro (thanks!), but it has two limitations that prevent me from using it. First, they won't redirect ye.gg/ (with no shortcode) to my Web site. Second, they share the hashspace with everyone else, meaning I can't make ye.gg/1 ye.gg/2 etc. because they're already taken by regular bit.ly users.

Awe.sm looks cool, but they're in closed beta or are charging $99/mo. I'm only going to be making a few short URLs a month (for blog posts), so that price seemed way too steep. I emailed asking if I could get it in on the beta, but haven't heard back.  I can't blame them for not turning around in minutes, but I'm itching to get this thing up!

So I decided to roll my own thing for now--the most basic thing I could come up with in a few minutes. Here's what I did.

  • Pointed the DNS to my server that runs this Web site (via DNS Made Easy).

  • Cooked up this small Perl package.
package yegg;

use nginx;

sub is_rewrite {
    my $r = shift;

    my $uri = $r->uri || '';
    return 0 if !$uri || $uri =~ /[^0-9a-d]/o;

    my $rewrite = 0;
    my $file = qq(/usr/local/ye.gg/$uri);
    if (-f $file) {
        $rewrite = <IN>;

    return $rewrite;


This is intended to run within nginx (my Web server), using the embedded Perl module. All it does is look for the existence of a file matching the URL in the /usr/local/ye.gg/ directory. If found, it opens the file and returns the URL within it. So if I want to make http://ye.gg/angel work I just create the file '/usr/local/ye.gg/angel' and put 'http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/angel.html' in it.

  • Added this code to nginx conf.
    perl_require "/usr/local/etc/nginx/yegg.pm";
    perl_set  $rewrite  '
sub {
  my $r = shift;
  return yegg::is_rewrite($r);
  return "";

This just uses the the above package and puts it into the $rewrite variable. So when a request comes in, it sets that variable by running the function I defined in the package (is_rewrite).

  • Added more code to my nginx conf.
    server {
        server_name  ye.gg *.ye.gg;

        if ($rewrite) {
          rewrite ^. $rewrite permanent;

        location / {
          rewrite ^(.*) http://www.gabrielweinberg.com permanent;

This says if $rewrite exists (there is a URL to go to), redirect to it. Otherwise, always redirect to my home page.

And that's it--it works! One issue with this setup that I couldn't immediately solve is it checks for the file existence on every request, regardless of whether they are ye.gg request or for other domains. That is, perl_require and perl_set don't seem to operate within server blocks. Not sure why. Anyway, I'll leave that for another day unless anyone has any insight.

Eric Ries on The Lean Startup methodology


Eric Ries is the founder of The Lean Startup, a methodology that startups can use to get traction. Eric explains the methodology in detail and answers some very specific questions about it. The first Lean Startup conference is actually this Friday (in San Francisco), and will be broadcast live.

Note: If you are super familiar with Lean Startup thinking, you might want to skip to 14:30.

For more, check out the Traction Book site.

Do people subscribe to blogs less now? My blog's #s.

Maybe I have rose-colored glasses on, but I remember it being easier to get blog subscribers (a few years ago). Right now I'm getting ~0.05% conversion, extrapolating from these FeedBurner and Google Analytics numbers.

That is, 10K visits for a blog post yields about 50 new FeedBurner subscribers. The sharp increase at the beginning of the year correlates to my increased post frequency.

My sense is that the increased posts not only draw more visitors per unit time, but also keep the blog more present in peoples' minds, making them more likely to subscribe. From Apr 2008 to Jan 2010 I had 48,097 new visitors and then 82,733 new visitors since Jan 1 of this year. But my FeedBurner #s have more than doubled over that period.

Here's the data from the past 30 days.


What I find interesting is that the major posts did not spike FeedBurner in a similar way. It's still a steady increase. My guess is to get a major spike you need someone major recommending your blog in a post like this

Yet to get on a list like that seems sort of random. I think you have to be out there putting out good content regularly so that when someone does make a list like that, they think of you.

Over the whole period, these posts have been the biggest.

The first column is unique page views. If you sum the %s (taking out the home page), these top 9 posts (out of 107) make up 52%.

Here's where all this traffic comes from.


Thank you Hacker News and reddit! Without you, my blog #s would be pretty pathetic.

The Google stuff is pretty much all to one post I wrote on Skype high-quality video, which seems to capture a lot of people searching about that. I find that a bit odd in that I used to remember getting a lot more random organic traffic.

With all this in mind, do people subscribe to blogs less now? My hunch is yes and it is due mainly to a few factors.

  1. The rise of social link sharing has really taken the compelling reason out of subscribing to blogs, i.e. that you will miss something awesome. The argument is that if it is so awesome someone will share it with you. I don't think this is quite true, however. As someone who subscribes to a lot of blogs, at least half of the good content I see I don't see on those services. 

  2. Remember when RSS readers were hot? Well now they're not. The business models never really seemed to pan out, and I think that deflated a lot of the interest (and in turn innovation) in the ecosystem. Related to that is they never seemed to really break mainstream as a lot of people thought they would.

  3. The twitter fan relationship. A lot of people seem to opt to follow on Twitter instead of subscribing to RSS to the extent that some people completely ignore RSS in favor of twitter. On Twitter, you get more than straight links, so maybe that is part of the appeal. Again, I disagree, though. I find often I just want the posts and don't want to miss anything. It's real easy to get behind on Twitter and all the UIs really make it too easy to just give up on old Tweets.

How I fixed my iPad wifi issues

Short version: I ditched my network security.

I'm one of those iPad customers experiencing wi-fi issues. Apple has acknowledged the issues and offered this solution and other solutions have been compiled here. Unfortunately none of these worked for me.

Moving my router to the middle of my house did help signal strength, but it still kept asking for a network password intermittently and especially upon wake up. Often when you then typed in a network password, it would then reject it as incorrect, which was just plain weird.

After iterating a lot with my network security and other settings, I finally decided to try no network security, which pretty much immediately fixed everything. Now maybe it is still cutting in and out and just not asking me for the password, but if so, it's doing it in a way I'm not noticing.

Of course having no network security is not a good thing. Thankfully I live in an area where it's really a non-issue. Nevertheless, as it seems this may be a software issue I'm hopeful it will correct itself upon some future Apple update.

Non-fanboy iPad review

ddg on the ipad.jpgMy family has been using our iPad for over a week now. In short, I'm definitely glad we got it.

As I expected, it works great for my planned use case, i.e. baby following (now toddler following). It's form factor allows me to easily check something on the Web (as opposed to my phone) and also allows me to easily put it down quickly (as opposed to my laptop).

But there are a lot of things I didn't expect.

Other things I like
  • Web browsing is more fun. I genuinely like browsing the Web on the iPad more than other devices I've used. I feel I have a greater attention span when using it. I can't really put my finger on why, but maybe it's because it both feels like a magazine and there is no mouse.

  • The kids love it. Eli (my son) is 13mo, and hasn't quite figured it out, but certainly likes to play with it. He takes my hand and wants me to do it for him. He also tries to turn it over like it is a book. My 2yo and 4yo nephew and niece do get it and were really having fun with it, and in educational ways.

  • Video looks awesome. I have an HDTV but I guess the pixel density is really high or something on the iPad--I don't know and haven't bothered to look it up bc it is somewhat irrelevant. Bottom line is it is a pleasure to watch. And Eli likes watching it too.

  • Battery life is great. 

  • Duck Duck Go looks good on it. However, I did have to make some CSS tweaks last Saturday :).

  • Great to wake up with. I keep my phone by my bed side so I can (rarely) get SMS updates of server outages. After I upgraded to a smartphone (Android, G2), I started using it when I woke up to check my mail, feed reader etc. As you might expect, the iPad works much better for this purpose. I can more easily reply to emails on it. The only down-side here is the auto-brightness feature makes it way too bright.

Things I don't like
  • Wi-fi issues. Wi-fi cuts in and out and keeps asking me for my network password. It's really annoying. I moved my router to the middle of the house, which alleviated the problem a lot, though not completely. It's my only device that has this problem.

  • Typing is slow. I'm not that slow at typing on the iPad, but compared to my full keyboard, I am way slower. I hope to get faster at it over time, but needless to say, I'm composing this on my laptop. I don't like the auto-correct either--I think I'm going to turn it off. It gets a lot wrong, and so I have to keep looking up and seeing if it is getting things wrong.

  • Gmail integration sucks. The native mail app doesn't work great with Gmail. Lack of thread support is a show-stopper for me. Good news is Gmail came out with an iPad-ready Web app. The trouble is it's buggy and lacks important features (at least for me). For example, I can't figure out how to get a signature on there, which I need to add context to my replies to feedback emails. It lacks chat support (though I bought IM+ for that). Search is super-slow and often fails, etc. I hope and believe it will get better over time though.

  • Safari windowing is terrible. Even though I really love the reading part of Web browsing, I really miss tabs. I wish I didn't have to keep clicking the window button to see what is open. I just don't get why they did that. If they can have a bookmark bar they should be able to have tabs.

  • iTunes password re-entry. Really? I have to enter my password every three seconds, even to download free apps or update existing ones? It feels ridiculous. I wish there was a setting to ask me less.

  • Non-ipad ready apps suck.

Notes on apps
  • IM+ -- using to get Gchat support. It works but I can't figure out how to stop sending me email push notifications along with the chat ones.
  • iSSH -- similar story. It works but I can't figure out how to press the up arrow multiple times quickly.
  • Netflix -- awesome. Streams movies as expected and they look great.
  • Tweetdeck -- works as expected except keeps crashes on me a decent amount.
  • Evernote -- trying to figure out how to get it in my workflow.
  • FW Animals, Sound Shaker, 123 Color -- kids love these.
  • NyTimes -- they play up how it is laid out like the newspaper, but I find this hard to read.
  • WSJ -- I ditched it because it takes forever to download the newspaper, and they don't let you start reading until it is all done.

Patrick McKenzie on SEO & AdWords for Bingo Card Creator


Patrick McKenzie is the solo founder of Bingo Card Creator. BCC makes bingo cards for elementary schoolteachers. After achieving traction trough scalable use of SEO and AdWords, Patrick was able to quit his job and start selling software full time. He explains the exact strategies he uses and how they are repeatable in a variety of niches.

For more, check out the Traction Book site.

Update: Patrick has also outlined the interview on his blog. He's also answering questions on HN.

How-to sell to enterprise customers w/ Todd Vollmer


Todd Vollmer has been involved in enterprise software sales for twenty years, the last twelve helping startups define, implement and execute effective sales processes. Todd lays out a comprehensive framework for how to approach sales from the perspective of a B2B startup.

Todd explains how it is a numbers game to get potential customers engaged. He then walks through how to execute the sales cycle thereafter, by getting the customer to continually validate a mutually agreed to plan around five key areas.

For more interviews, visit the Traction Book site.