A Beginner’s Guide to Internet Marketing

beginner internet marketing

“The Valley skill set that should be in highest demand and greatest scarcity is neither engineering nor design, but rather internet marketing.” – Dave McClure ranting about what startups are missing.

Makes a lot of sense, right? Internet marketing has only been around for a little over 15 years while design and engineering have been around for far longer. Given the relative infancy of Internet marketing, there still isn’t a solid training/education available. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of information out there — you just need to be able to find the right resources by filtering through a lot of noise on the net.

Where To Start

The hardest part about doing things is starting. Internet marketing is no exception. The trouble in this space is that there are a lot of people writing content for the sake of gaining search engine rankings or for quick affiliate marketing wins.

The big takeaway with learning Internet marketing today is being able to discern signal from noise – getting the right information from the right people and taking action on it. I’m going to cover the areas that I think are most important in Internet marketing below as well as link to one blog that you should be reading if you want to learn more about it. I’m only linking to one blog for each category so you can focus on that blog and not get overwhelmed.

Blogs To Read


Organic search (SEO) is still the top growth channel in most cases today. It takes the most time and effort, but if you can execute well it brings the most long-term value.

One blog for SEO: Moz Blog – on top of having “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” the Moz blog has a lot of advanced SEO tips plus a helpful video series every Friday called Whiteboard Friday.


Pay-per-click (PPC) has evolved quite a bit from just text link ads in search results. Now there’s access to social ads, retargeting, video ads and much more. It might seem overwhelming, but if you have the basics down for AdWords, you should be able to transition into other forms of pay per click.

One blog for PPC: PPC Hero – PPC Hero has great how-to posts that provide lots of utility to the reader — their popular posts are a good place to start. They also have a series of guides and whitepapers. Bonus: I also recommend Brad Gedde’s Advanced Guide to Google AdWords. You can either pick up his book or the video training.


If you’re not looking at the numbers, you’re not going to get anywhere. Average order value? Bounce rate? Engagement? Traffic? Conversion Rates? All inside your analytics.

If you’re at a tech startup, you’ll probably be paying attention to lifetime value, churn and more.

One blog for analytics: Occam’s Razor – Avinash Kaushik is the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and really knows analytics. Most of his blog is Google Analytics related, but it’s great for anyone that is just starting out.


Email is still one of the best acquisition channels today. Just think about it — it’s essentially the world’s biggest social network.

One blog for email:  E-mail Institute – Includes a plethora of email marketing best practice tips.


Writing great headlines is one of the easiest ways to generate more click-throughs and eventually more conversions.

One blog for copywriting: Copyblogger – Great for improving your copywriting skills. Take a look at the headlines for their posts and try to mold them into your own. They say that the headline is worth $.80 of the $1 you spend on your content because if people don’t click on it, your content is almost worthless.

Social Media

At the end of the day, social media is all about connecting with people that care about what you do. There’s new platforms coming out every year and it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.

One blog for Social Media: Social Media Examiner – Provides valuable, actionable social media posts to emulate.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a new buzzword but the practice has been around for ages. The short explanation is that content that brings utility to your readers helps build brand awareness, likability, trust and more. Like SEO, content marketing takes a lot of time, money and effort to see results but it compounds over time.

One blog for content marketing: Content Marketing Institute – Up-to-date tips and tricks on doing content marketing effectively.

Startup Marketing

Startup marketing is a different beast from typical marketing. It’s very metrics driven and requires a lot of testing through different channels. It’s also a different mindset because there’s a finite amount of time to hit numbers. Most startups need full-stack marketers (re: growth hackers) to help with growth but there unfortunately aren’t many around today. You’ll also learn about customer development, product market fit and driving growth with little to no budget.

One blog for startup marketing: Startup Marketing – Sean Ellis’ blog covers a lot of these different topics well. You’ll also want to note that he’s now blogging on the Qualaroo blog (his startup).

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketers are sometimes seen as shady, untrustworthy marketers, but I have found that untrue. They’re actually some of the most creative marketers because they tend to just make things happen by doing anything it takes to get the job done. Learning how to do affiliate marketing is just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re trying to grow a startup and you start an affiliate program, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of managing an affiliate program.

One blog for affiliate marketing: Affiliate Marketing Navigator – Geno Prussakov’s blog on affiliate marketing. He’s a leader in the affiliate marketing space and has written a highly rated affiliate program management book.


Let’s look at some YouTube stats since it is the world’s second-largest search engine:

  • 600 million views come from mobile devices every day
  • 500 years of YouTube video are viewed on Facebook every day. 700 YouTube videos are shared each minute on Twitter.
  • Over 800 million unique visits to YouTube each month

Video will continue to grow as people shift more of their attention online. It’s a good idea to get in now while it’s still the Wild West.

One blog for video: ReelSEO – For video advertising and YouTube tricks.

Start Out With One Channel

Clearly, there are a lot of channels and a ton of information to dive into, so here’s my recommendation on how to actually get started: Choose the topic that you find most interesting and dedicate your time to it. Don’t spread yourself thin.

For example, I started off with SEO and created a few websites to test out different strategies/tactics. Once I started getting a hang of it, I tried running some affiliate marketing campaigns. One thing led to another and I was eventually helping large publishing sites and Fortune 500 companies with SEO.

But that wasn’t enough. I decided that I needed to branch out into other online marketing areas so I could become a well rounded marketer. So I picked up PPC. I learned more about Analytics. Then I learned how to do social media effectively. Then I layered on copywriting and so on.

Keep Learning

A good full-stack marketer understands that they need to keep learning because things move so quickly in the Internet world. Become complacent and you’ll quickly become average. Keep testing, keep reading, keep asking questions.

Although I wanted to keep the number of blogs recommended to one per channel above, I felt that it would be helpful if I shared some of my other favorite sites:

  • David Skok’s Entrepreneurship blog – Posts on growing a SaaS companies, includes great metrics.
  • Quicksprout – The blog of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg co-founder Neil Patel. He covers topics from entrepreneurship to Internet marketing. He also has created some exceptional free ‘advanced online marketing guides’.
  • KISSmetrics blog – Widely viewed as a the best all-around online marketing blog.
  • Inbound.org – The Hacker News of Internet marketing. A good place to find the latest information.
  • And if there’s one post you need to read on acquiring customers, it’s Paul Graham’s essay on doing unscalable things to grow your business.

There’s a lot of information about Internet marketing online and it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to learn everything at once. Start small and then branch out into other areas. Don’t be afraid to take risks every once in a while and you’ll be well on your way into becoming a full-stack marketer.

To me, a full-stack marketer is a growth hacker. But that’s up for debate since there are multiple interpretations about what a growth hacker actually is and isn’t. What do you think?

A version of the post originally appeared on the author’s blog. 

Eric Siu is the CEO of San Francisco-based digital marketing agency Single Grain. He also interviews entrepreneurs on his podcast, Growth Everywhere.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses

8 Qualities to Look for in Your Newest Team Member


Question: As an employer, what ONE quality do you look for in every team member you hire and why?

Work Ethic

“You can be the smartest and most technically gifted candidate that I’ve ever met, but if I can’t detect that you’ll do whatever it takes to succeed in your job and help drive the organization’s growth, I probably won’t take a chance on you. Self-starters with indisputably strong work ethics are almost always a safe investment.”

Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work


“Intrinsic motivation is key. You can see this materialize on a resume in the form of side projects and challenging hobbies. Things like this indicate that the applicant prefers to spend her time deeply engaged in challenging activities.”

Robert J Moore, RJMetrics

A Chip on Their Shoulder

“Finding that daily motivation to keep driving forward can be a challenge. That’s why I always like to find what is driving a potential team member — the “chip on their shoulder” is the way I describe it. I look for employees who are internally driven and have something they are pushing toward. I want to know what motivates them — and help them channel that drive.”

Eric Koester, DCI

A Willingness to Get Personal

“I like to get to know the person we’ll be spending hours of time with, including what motivates her, how she spends her time outside of work and what her priorities in life are. I ask questions about hobbies, family and favorites in interviews to get to know them. “

Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia


“We hire based on an individual’s ability to both give and receive love. It sounds hippie-dippy, but in reality, individuals who can approach loving and being loved by our family are also individuals who are self-actualized, ambitious, addicted to growing and willing and able to learn. They also love to matter, which translates to doing an exceptional job. “

Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

A Desire to Learn

“A team member’s desire to learn fuels collaboration and motivates each member to become better in his craft. At some point, everyone gets to be the teacher and the student. This chemistry sparks great conversations, and constant sharing of knowledge builds stronger, closer teams that trust each other.”

Bobby Emamian, Prolific Interactive


“We require everyone on our team (marketing, engineering, design) to do customer support, which requires everyone to have empathy. Being able to relate to our customers on a personal level makes it easy to make the right choices when doing product development or marketing.”

Wade Foster, Zapier


“Passion is what I look for in every single person I hire. It’s very important that my team members are passionate about what they do and can transfer that energy into their work. Hiring a person who is passionate means the candidate will go above and beyond expectations and truly want to help Come Recommended be the best agency it can possibly be. Skills can be taught but passion cannot!”

Heather Huhman, Come Recommended

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Strategically Alter Your Product or App

Designer drawing a light bulb, concept for brainstorming and ins

Apps, products, and companies evolve over time. As technologists, we seek to improve our product by constantly optimizing one thing and tweaking the next. Although radical innovation will certainly help your product, sometimes little changes, such as introducing new or improved features, can have a great impact.

Mobile app developers often use new features to recapture users’ attention or stay up-to-date with current trends and technology. Many developers viewed the new iOS7 as an opportunity to refresh their products and roll out dramatic new design changes.

Introducing something new can cause headaches for companies and users alike. But whether you’re releasing an app feature or debuting a new product line, a data-driven approach can help you evolve without losing your existing customers.

Why You Should Treat Changes and New Features With Care

While a periodic refresh can help keep your company relevant, instituting dramatic changes without listening to your customers can prove disastrous. Fashion retailer J.Crew, known for its preppy-with-a-twist look, alienated customers when its new collections strayed too far from the classics. This is a good example of a company that confused customers by deviating too far from its fundamentals.

Haphazardly releasing new features can also appear as though your company is losing focus on its core competencies. Imagine if tomorrow Facebook rolled out a Dropbox-like file-sharing system, a professional network, and a video channel. You would probably feel frustrated — especially if the new features weren’t up to Facebook’s standards.

Here is a simple guide to how you can use data to drive the introduction of new features and keep both your company and your customers focused on what you do best.

  1. Gather as much data as you can. You should use real customer data to inform most decisions, particularly when rolling out new features. Every time you add or change a feature, you should gather information about its effects on customer behavior.
  2. Determine goals and conversion metrics. For app development, this usually works by determining a set series of “paths” you’d like your user to go through while using your app. For example, a Facebook-like application could read something like this: “Open the app, go through friends’ photos, ‘like’ a photo.” Your conversion metric to see if a feature worked as intended would then be the number of photos users “liked.” Ideally, you would also have a set of data to use as a comparison, such as the number of photos users “liked” before the feature was introduced.
  3. Tweak until you hit the success criteria. If the current conversion metric is lower, you know it’s time to go back to the drawing board to pinpoint the problem. Often, it’s a simple matter of tweaking the color of a button to draw attention to it. Other times, you may have to scrap the feature altogether. It’s helpful to determine significant drop-offs in the user’s path and remove any obstacles or explore A/B testing to isolate one variable at a time.
  4. Talk to humans and gather feedback. Although looking at numbers is helpful, sometimes it’s best to actually talk to the real humans using your product. Understanding their pain points will add context to the data you’re seeing. Of course, the caveat here is that sometimes the user isn’t always right. In Twitter’s early days, the most requested feature was private tweeting, but this wasn’t aligned with the vision and goal for the product. Take user feedback with caution, and keep your product vision and data in mind.

While you should always launch with care, a new feature doesn’t have to be perfect when you release it. Rolling out something in beta first allows you to gather useful data on what works and what needs improvement before you introduce it on a mass scale, and your power users enjoy being the first to try it.

At the end of the day, you should consider what’s best for your customers. Allow their feedback to drive improvements, and really listen to their pain points. If you keep customer data at the core of new features, you won’t lose them along the way.

Rameet Chawla is the founder of Fueled, a mobile design and development company based in New York and London, and the founder of the Fueled Collective, a co-working space comprised of over 35 startups in downtown Manhattan. Combining a decade of experience architecting web and mobile applications, Rameet has created apps for a wide-range of industry clients from high-end fashion brands to successful tech startups. He is passionate about building and being involved in disruptive technology ventures and can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

When Giants Transform: 3 Lessons Mobile Startups Should Learn From Nokia


This is the story of a giant.

Despite a long history of growth, adaptation, and resilience, something changed: Nokia fell into the hands of Microsoft. With a $7.5 billion acquisition, Microsoft officially purchased Nokia Devices and Services in April.

This signaled the end of a mobile dynasty. But this dynasty is one that all mobile startups can learn from.

The Rise and Fall of a Mobile Giant

Nokia’s history dates back to 1865, when Fredrik Idestam set up a wood pulp mill in Finland. By the 1900s, the company grew into a major conglomerate with its hands in rubber, forestry, cable, power generation, and electronics.

Nokia began experimenting with mobile technology in the ’60s, and by 1982, the company had introduced its first car phone.

Fast forward to 2003’s introduction of the Nokia 1100 handset. It became the bestselling mobile phone and consumer electronic of all time, contributing to Nokia’s rise and leadership in the realm of mobile technology.

But Nokia’s fall from telecommunications dominance was as fast as its rise. In 2011, Nokia reported heavy revenue losses, and by 2012, the company was rapidly laying off staff. Its acquisition by Microsoft this year indicated Nokia’s official end as a mobile leader.

The real question is: What can mobile startups learn from this giant’s dynasty?

Lessons for Mobile Startups

For mobile startups, seeing this major shift in the mobile industry might be scary. But here are some lessons they can learn from Nokia’s transformation:

1. Transform to remain relevant.

In the world of constantly changing technology and innovative solutions, mobile tech companies are practically thrown into “Survivor.” They have to continually think ahead and adapt to changes within the mobile industry.

Initially, Nokia was a great example of adapting to changing industries as it transitioned from leading the rubber industry to the cable industry, from the cable industry to electronics, and from electronics to telecommunications. When mobile tech peaked with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Nokia slowed down and fell behind.

2. Persistence and resilience are key.

This is not Nokia’s first time undergoing a major transformation. It was on the brink of bankruptcy in the 1910s as a rubber and cable manufacturer. To avoid failure,

Nokia merged with Finnish Cable Works to stay afloat. In 1967, the merger of Nokia, Finnish Rubber Works, and Finnish Cable Works formed an industrial conglomerate named Nokia Corporation. This merger eventually led to Nokia’s involvement in telecommunications. With each industry shift, Nokia managed to remain resilient until the mobile boom in 2007.

3. If you snooze, you lose.

Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from Nokia’s mobile saga is the importance of moving quickly and staying a step ahead of industry changes.

The iPhone changed the mobile movement, and after four years of trying to catch up, Nokia’s smartphone market share continued to plummet. In 2011, Nokia finally announced a strategic alliance with Microsoft. This partnership came a little too late, though. If Nokia had acted more quickly, it may have been able to continue as a major player in mobile tech.

Lessons to Learn From Nokia’s Biggest Competitors

Although Nokia’s lost the lead in the mobile tech game, several of its competitors have seen increasing success. Here’s what mobile startups can learn from them:

1. Apple: Nokia’s largest competitor was the one that got it right — and fast. Transitioning from personal computers to music players to smartphones, Apple paved the way for the mobile tech explosion. Rather than let the market lead it, Apple created the market. When you define the market, others have to play by your rules. This gives Apple a competitive advantage.

2. Google: Google was certainly intimidated by Apple’s rise, just like Nokia. A mobile world where consumers don’t always have access to a PC threatened Google’s desktop search dominance. To keep up, Google released Android in 2008. Android’s release was later than Apple’s iOS; by most accounts, it was still clunky and couldn’t compete. However, multiple updates later, Google proved it could keep up. Android is now the most popular operating system, and Google is leading the market in many areas of mobile UX.

3. Samsung: Samsung is an interesting case study — a company that didn’t just survive the feature phone-to-smartphone revolution, but thrived. In what has been coined by Businessweek as “The Samsung Way,” the company executes projects with “ferocious drive and speed.” Samsung is running with the digital appliances and television markets, in addition to its ever-changing smartphone endeavors. Samsung is driven by the concept of staying “at the forefront of core technologies” and mastering manufacturing. Although many tech companies have failed at this strategy, Samsung has demonstrated that fast, adaptable innovation is a winning strategy, with the right execution.

The biggest piece of advice mobile startups can take away from Nokia is this: You have to keep innovating. The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. Mobile startups must make sure their products, strategies, and company structures are just as agile and quick. In an industry that never sleeps, mobile startups must be a market maker wherever possible — not a market follower.

Ioannis Verdelis is the co-founder and COO of Fleksy, a revolutionary keyboard that makes typing on a touchscreen so easy you can type without even looking. Ioannis is a member of many entrepreneurial organizations, including the Young Entrepreneur Council, Empact Sphere, Startup America, and more. Connect with him on Twitter.

3 Important Lessons for This Generation of Entrepreneurs

usa lego flag

usa lego flag

Growing up, most of us still believe in the American Dream – that by getting a college education and building up our resumes with internships and relevant professional skills, we’ll be able to graduate and walk into a high-paying (or at least stable) career. But with nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates working jobs that don’t require a degree, a college diploma is no longer a golden ticket.

This harsh reality, paired with the “celebretization” of entrepreneurship, turns everyone into an aspiring entrepreneur. But the road to successful entrepreneurship is by no means easier that the traditional American Dream. In most cases, it’s harder — and it takes a lot of time, effort, energy and more often than not, money.

So whether you’re brainstorming how to make it on your own or are a seasoned entrepreneurial vet, here are three tips for today’s generation of entrepreneurs.

The system isn’t built for entrepreneurship; you have to work it.

The system is still not designed for you to be an entrepreneur. It’s designed for you to work for someone else. Once you understand that, you can begin to look at your situation through a different lens and realize that this will be the one of the hardest things you will ever do, and one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences in your life.

Being an entrepreneur is about doing things you never thought you could do and having great perseverance while doing it. You need to have great confidence in your idea(s) and what you have set out to accomplish. Be prepared to work the system to make it work for you. It may not happen overnight, but stick with it.

Learn to leverage new technologies for your business.

It’s safe to say that I’ve had the entrepreneurial bug in me since I was a kid. I started a video game newsletter when I was 11 years old. Back then, I used a Logitech handheld scanner to help me scan images and used Prodigy and AOL to help promote my newsletter on gaming message boards. By using the latest technology, I was able to gain retail distribution in the Northeast and in-book advertising from a handful of national brands. I can only imagine what I could have done if I were 11 years old today.

Moral of the story: Learn how to leverage technology to fast-track your personal knowledge of your industry and your business’ resources. It will allow you to grow fast while keeping overhead low. Here are some great resources for new and experienced founders and CEOs:

  • Graphic Design: Check out 99Designs.com, a crowdsourced graphic design marketplace that helps you run a design contest open to a community of graphic designers all over the world. The best part: You only pay once you select your preferred design(s).
  • Turnkey E-Commerce: Shopify.com is a customizable and affordable hosted e-commerce platform.
  • Legal Resources: LegalZoom.com is my favorite online resource for basic legal document services and legal plans for small businesses. It’s especially good for startups. They have great templates that you can customize for your needs.
  • Email Hosting + Management: I recommend Google Apps for Business. It’s no longer free, but I think it provides the best bang for your buck. It’s easy to set up (no IT experience necessary) and provides instant comfort level thanks to user login via Gmail.com.
  • Web Publishing: WordPress is the de facto choice for millions of web publishers, but I recommend that you look atSquarespace as well. The best analogy between is that WordPress is like an Android phone while Squarespace is like an iPhone. The templates are basic, but you can customize WordPress to look and act as needed; Squarespace comes shiny out of the box with little room for customization.

Know where your customer is going next.

Don Coleman, founder, chairman and CEO of GlobalHue, the largest multicultural marketing agency in the United States, recently told me how, as an entrepreneur, his focus is on knowing and being where the consumer is going.

“Whatever we are doing as marketers and consumers, we need to focus on where the consumer is going,” said Coleman.

For Coleman, that meant leveraging GlobalHue’s multicultural legacy and deep cultural insights to offer their clients a total market solution in order to reach the changing consumer demographics in America.

This is a principle that today’s entrepreneurs must apply to succeed — whether your business is service-oriented (like Coleman’s ad agency model) or product-oriented. Identify how your business model can offer a client solution based on where your consumer is today, and even more importantly, where they will be three to five years from now.

Alex Frias is co-founder and president of Track Marketing Group, an award winning brand experience company specializing in live event and social activations. Alex has spent the last decade blending Fortune 500 brands with entertainment and lifestyle programming. Alex also curates young & social, a marketing blog dissecting the convergence of brands, music, fashion, and lifestyle marketing.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Turning Your Big Idea Into Reality

Houses buildings Mystic seaport

When I hired a painter to revamp the exterior of my house, I anxiously anticipated the results. He and his crew got started on a Monday morning, but by Thursday, I had yet to see the beautiful new look I was hoping for. So I asked him about it.

“I’m not a painter,” he said. “I’m a prepper.” Oh. Well, that makes more sense. Apparently, when you’re painting a house, you have to lay the right foundation if you want the work to last.

Starting a company is the same way. Entrepreneurs are innately optimistic quick starters; rushing to launch is a constant risk.

But brands are about trust, not who gets there first. Look at Myspace and Facebook, Commodore and Apple, Nintendo and Xbox. Those who prepare correctly — who slow down to make sure their big idea will actually attract customers — will succeed.

Prepare Like the Pros

There’s no magic formula to help you prepare, but the successful startups I’ve observed over the years follow these steps:

  • They base their big idea on research. To determine whether your big idea is viable, you should answer four questions: Who are you? Who do your potential clients think you are? What do your potential clients want you to be? What are your competitors not?
  • They build a brand on the research results. The personality of your brand should come from your answers to those four questions.
  • They design customer pathways. Create a roadmap of how you’re going to attract clients in the beginning and how you’re going to retain them. If you know where you’re going and how you want to get there, you’re less likely to make a wrong turn.
  • They make sure they have the right team to pull it off. Your team can be comprised of partners, employees, and/or vendors. You don’t have to have the team to fulfill your five-year plan on day one, but you do need a team to get you to day two.
  • They identify must-haves. For example, eBay needed a website before it could get in front of potential clients. What do you absolutely need in order to attract clients?
  • They then identify the next lowest-cost, highest-ROI pathways. It was essential that Facebook had a website. Duh. But it also needed an email campaign to let the first batch of users know the platform was available. It could then spend money on digital ads and SEO.

Use Preparation to Avoid Backtracking

I once watched a friend remodel a house into a setting for retail stores. He wasn’t a professional builder — just an enthusiastic entrepreneur. Sure enough, he began pouring concrete for the foundation before he installed the plumbing. Everything had to be undone.

You can never be sure you’re taking the right step. It’s more about taking your best shot at the right direction and time. Guarantees are for kids. Those who navigate successfully through the early days:

  • Stay calm.
  • Move steadily forward.
  • Modulate passion with rational thought and planning as they lay the foundation (the brand, resources, team, and network).

Plan Ahead for Long-Term Success

I’ve had to learn about the importance of preparation the hard way. I got involved in a venture a few years ago that was at the starting line. We were impatient. We had the team, the research, and the brand. We just didn’t have the map to show us what to do first.

We would try this and that, but only succeeded in frustrating ourselves when those things didn’t work. So we took a step back, relaxed, and started laying out the best pathways for our target clients.

We selected the pathways we could afford to take and started implementing them. As our cash flow improved, we selected the next pathway on the list and moved forward. Because we were “planning the work and working the plan,” the company doubled the size of its average client revenue for four years and continues to enjoy success today.

You, too, can achieve that kind of success. You just have to be willing to put in the work in the beginning. If you plan ahead and prepare for what’s to come, you can develop a solid customer base, avoid backtracking, and experience growth year after year.

Joshua Conran is a senior partner at Deksia, a branding agency that has been successfully developing companies for the past decade. Joshua’s focus is on winning for the client while expanding Deksia into multiple markets by utilizing systems and processes.


9 Strategies For Becoming the Best CEO You Can Be

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Learning to be a better CEO is key for entrepreneurs who don’t set off to be managers and have fallen into the role by virtue of their own creation.

Below are the top nine lessons from my CEO experience at PeoplePerHour.

  1. Learn to ask what’s important. Learn to have three major priorities at any one time. Sure, you will always have a backlog of little things. But don’t become a victim of your to-do list. Develop daily amnesia — ask yourself what is most important every day.
  2. Focus on stakeholder value. It’s easy to get too absorbed in your deep passion for what you do and lose sight of what you are there to do as CEO: drive stakeholder value. Create value for your customers, value for your team and value for your shareholders.
  3. Tell stories. The best way to get your message across is through storytelling. Don’t use buzzwords, geek talk and heavy corporate language. Keep it human, light and humorous. You need to charm you team, your customers, your shareholders. People relate to stories, not buzzwords.
  4. Have a deep sense of purpose. Ask yourself: if your business disappeared tomorrow, would it really matter? To whom? And why? Make a difference to the world. At PeoplePerHour we have a solid sense of purpose we serve: Allowing people to live their dream of becoming their own boss and building their business from the ground up.
  5. Be the gatekeeper. Don’t confuse delegation with gatekeeping. You need to be the ultimate gatekeeper in your company — you are the one defining and setting the standard. People will push you to compromise your standards for the sake of moving faster or for more freedom. Don’t be tricked and stay true to yourself.
  6. Set high goals. Don’t start small. Your team members will often tell you to to “start small.” If you start small you stay small! Start big and set big bold goals. If you set the goalpost low, you will be good at best. Stretch staff beyond their limits. They may complain that you expect too much, but in the end they will thank you for it. There is no greater reward then helping your employees achieve what they thought was unachievable.
  7. Self-reflect and step up. Don’t confuse confidence with self-reflection. Great CEOs are very self-reflective and demanding of themselves. Don’t doubt yourself in front of your team. Doubt yourself when you go home and look in the mirror. Figure out what your team needs from you. If you’re not stepping up every day, you will remain stagnant.
  8. Serve others. Your job as a CEO is to serve others more than they serve you. Stop thinking about what you need from people and ask them what they need from you. Figure out what your customers need, what your team needs, and what your shareholders need. Then help them make it happen.
  9. Develop a thick skin. Being CEO of a business – especially if you are the founder – is an emotional roller coaster. You will have some very low moments. Don’t let the emotional pressure break you. People will read you better than you think, and if they smell vulnerability and weakness, you wield less power.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou is a passionate PPHer, avid blogger, lover of art, design, and all things quirky and minimal but words in particular; he’s also a fan of the uncommon and unconventional and a vintage fanatic who specialises in poking the fire and stirring things up, and suffers from an overly curious mind. Xenios is the accidental founder of, and now fully and truly wed to, PeoplePerHour.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Price Your Prototype for Early Adopters

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Vasu Kulkarni, CEO of Krossover, explains one surprising strategy for pricing your prototype — charging early adopters for your product, so that they see the value in it long term. Other ideas include:

  • Offer discounts in return for endorsements
  • Give out your product for specific trial periods

For more tips, watch the entire video above.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

The Art of the FollowUp: How to Be More Persuasive

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Entrepreneur and retired shirt wearer Jason SurfrApp, who is about to release a new book this month, knows a thing or two about how to turn a “no” into a “yes.”

He recommends thinking about how to get someone’s attention in a way that you wouldn’t ordinarily and stresses the importance of a great follow-up. While you don’t want to push the envelope or make that person annoyed, you might be surprised at how much they are willing to negotiate.

Watch the full video to get more helpful tips.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

5 Tips For Nurturing Company Culture At Your Growing Startup

Zach FerresAs an entrepreneur, your startup probably began as a one-man show.

You made all the decisions — from the product to the budget to the logo. And when the time came to determine the kind of culture you wanted to build the company upon, it was merely a matter of self-reflection.

But as your business gained momentum, you needed more manpower to sustain it, so you began bringing on team members to accommodate rapid growth. With more employees, more processes, and more customers, your system became more complex, and all the components — including your company culture — became harder to control.

You might fear that the culture you envisioned is impossible to maintain, but company culture is a dynamic component of your organization, and it’s supposed to grow and change with your company. In fact, if your culture doesn’t grow and change, your company won’t survive.

Here are five practical tips for growing your culture with your organization:

1. Support Your Tribe

Your procedures, policies, structure, leadership, decisions, and products catalyze the culture you want to develop, but it’s simply impossible to create real culture. It can’t be imposed on your team, and it certainly can’t be paid for. Real culture happens naturally.

As you grow, you can’t forget about the employees you already have. They helped build the culture you have today. While some initial employees might be ready to move on to other career opportunities, it’s important to receive feedback from and show support to those employees who have been with you for an extended period.

In the book Tribal Leadership, great leaders are recognized by their ability to build and scale their “tribe.” The tribe is the muscle of the company, and its strength depends on that of the culture. Harness your tribe’s core ideals and skills, and measure the success of outcomes based on its goals and intentions.

2. Find the Right Fit

If you want to confidently build on the culture your original team constructed, you must hire people who align with it. This proves increasingly difficult as you speed-scale during your growth phase. You’re tasked with quickly evaluating candidates’ job qualifications while simultaneously deciding whether they would be good culture fits.

Ask culture-specific questions during the interview process that will indicate whether candidates would be a good fit, such as “What work environment do you thrive in best?” or “Do you prefer clearly defined tasks or clearly defined problems?” Depending on the stage your business is in, these two different answers could mean very different things culturally.

3. Welcome Feedback

Opening feedback loops in your company is instrumental to culture growth. It’s the best way to find out what’s working in your company and what isn’t. Odds are employees will identify anomalies that you’re completely unaware of.

Crunched for time? Construct the process so your team can give quick, simple feedback. The metrics of the feedback process will directly correlate with your company’s values and purposes.

Gather the data monthly or quarterly, and segment the feedback into categories by locations or team. You can also evaluate the company from a big-picture perspective. There’s no right or wrong way. You can even use tools such as TINYpulse or iDoneThis to gather team feedback.

4. Open Your Mind

When you were on your own, your culture was simply an extension of your own values. You could mold it into whatever you wanted because it was you. But as the company grows, you have to treat it as its own person and allow it to take on its own identity. Confining the culture to your original, narrow scope will only stunt its growth.

Review the feedback you collected with an open mind. Not all suggestions are feasible, but by considering them, you let your employees know that their opinions matter. Share some of the results, set targeted goals, and even implement logical recommendations.

5. Maintain Core Values

Your brand promise and purpose should remain constant. Core values should be fairly constant as well, but can evolve over time — carefully. While cultures do naturally change, it’s your job to make sure that your company culture is still aligned with these integral factors. Being flexible is one thing, but compromising your values is an entirely different ball game.

Your company culture will develop many new facets as it grows, but expanding away from your root values should be limited or handled with extreme care. Too many deviations from your ethics will make your team doubt the company’s integrity. Openly discuss any necessary adjustments with team members to assure them that you haven’t lost sight of the company’s true purpose.

Company growth is exciting for any startup. You’re finally growing your team, creating revenue, launching products, and gaining new customers. Although balancing new business, hiring, and day-to-day operations while trying to nurture your company culture may seem impossible, it’s not as hard as you think. Leaders shouldn’t try to define and impose culture. Instead, they should plant the seed and water it, knowing it will grow on its own.

Zach Ferres is the CEO of Ciplex, a full-service interactive agency that helps clients succeed online by creating award-winning digital solutions for online marketing, E-commerce and content management systems, and social network platforms. Follow them on Twitter.

Do You Have What It Takes to Start Up?


Starting a business is like joining the priesthood: It’s not something you do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and leave behind when Friday evening rolls around. Being an entrepreneur is a full-time occupation.

Make that preoccupation. You eat, sleep and breathe your obsession.

And if you’re one of the lucky few whose business actually takes off and you’re at it for more than just a year or two, preparing yourself for the long game can make all the difference in the world. Your well-being, success, relationships, productivity and employees’ enjoyment and enthusiasm all depend on your ability to stay focused, refreshed and energized. This is even more important during the crucial early days of a startup.

While most business literature and courses focus on preparing entrepreneurs for all the “external” challenges they’ll face — go-to market strategy, product rollouts, team recruiting, fund raising, etc. — there’s very little attention paid to all of the internal struggles one faces when launching a business. But, much like a sport, what separates champions from the rest is the ability to focus on and master this “inner” game.

Starting a business just because you want to make loads of money will most likely lead to you quitting before you really get started. Chances are in the beginning you’ll make a lot less than what you did at the job you left behind. Nothing can be more challenging to your self-esteem than working harder than anyone you know while living as if you’re back in your college dorm. Unless you’re passionate about what you do, don’t even bother getting to the starting line. Passion is what will fuel you through the inevitable lean and tough times.

  1. Take in bios. No matter what you think, you’re not the first one to embark on this journey. Many, many others have done it before you. Reading up on other successful entrepreneurs will not only give you ideas and inspiration, but will also help you understand that most of the challenges you’re facing are not unique. It’s nice to know you have company.
  2. Nurture a hobby. Developing an outside interest that helps shift your mind away from work is not only a great way to refresh your creative juices, it can also help introduce you to future business partners. For me, those outlets have been daily exercise and following soccer. I cannot tell you how many business meetings I have where much of the time is spent talking with a prospective customer about soccer — it’s a great icebreaker. Having interests outside of what you do makes you much more social, well-rounded and interesting. People want to do business with people they like and enjoy. Cue growth.
  3. Seek advice, not advisers. Everyone needs some outsider’s perspective when things get tough. Don’t obsess over having a prestigious board of advisers to add to your business plan. More often than not, all you’ll only their names. Instead, build an informal network of trusted insiders who care about you and whom you can confide your inner doubts and fears. And don’t fret over “credentials” — some of the best advice comes from parents, siblings, spouses and friends who know little about your business but somehow know how to cut right to the heart of the matter.
  4. Enjoy the game. In the process of launching and building a business, you’ll inevitably have to learn and do things that are outside your comfort zone — putting together financial models, pitching to investors, attending networking events, courting new recruits, etc. Treat what you do as a game, because it is. Learn the rules; step back and observe the movements; analyze and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Unless you learn to enjoy every aspect of the process — even those things that keep you up at night — you’ll run out of steam all too soon.

Remember: Good things come to those who persist.

Panos Panay is a passionate entrepreneur and active startup mentor in the creative media space. As the founder of Sonicbids, he created the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online. He writes weekly about startups and entrepreneurship for blogs and publications such as Huffington Post, WSJ Accelerators and Fast Company; and guest lectures at universities including MIT Engineering, Boston University and Brown University.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

If You Want to Disrupt Your Market, Look to the People on the Sidelines


People Walking In La Rambla Street, Spain, Europe.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This quote, attributed (perhaps erroneously) to Henry Ford, illuminates an important idea for entrepreneurs to keep in mind: Sometimes the best market for your product doesn’t exist yet.

I first began researching the market size for my data sharing company, ShareFile, in the summer of 2011 — just a few months before we sold to Citrix. We’d already made Inc.’s list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies for two years in a row, six years after I launched the company.

We launched ShareFile in late 2005. Rather than looking at the market for FTP (file transfer protocol, then the dominant form of file transfer) and considering what portion of that market we could capture, I thought about all the people who didn’t use FTP because it was difficult and cumbersome. That was the much bigger market in my opinion, and there were very few accurate measurements of that non-consumer group.

Are you factoring non-consumers into your startup plan?

A huge opportunity for entrepreneurs lies in taking advantage of that very slice of the market: The people who are sitting on the sideline, waiting for you to show them why they should even buy a particular type of product or service at all. This is disruptive innovation at its best, and it’s an increasingly viable way to achieve business success.

Perhaps it means your product is so new that it carves out a whole new market, building demand as it gains popularity. But that’s a very rare exception. Even breakthrough products like the iPhone and Tivo did not create entirely new categories. Much more often, capitalizing on non-consumption means you are taking an existing product or service and making it either a little bit easier to use or dramatically less expensive than incumbents.

Consider Uber. I’ve used this black-car service a lot recently, even though I’ve never been a heavy taxi user. I had a very distinct perception of taxis: they take 20 or 30 minutes to arrive, the car is often dirty, and the driver often gives you a death stare when you try to pay with a credit card. I was a non-consumer of taxis except when absolutely necessary. If Uber’s founders were just looking at the market of frequent taxi users, they would never have counted on me as a customer.

But when I learned about Uber and used it a few times, I became addicted. It’s a great and easy-to-use service: You open their mobile app, check the cars available in your vicinity, and click a button to request a car. You instantly see when your car will arrive. Your credit card information is stored in the system, so you don’t have to haggle with the driver or even take out your wallet. The drivers I’ve had have all been very nice, the cars have been clean, and the whole process is usually as stress-free as it could be (granted, I haven’t had the surprise fee experience that others reportedly have had).

Uber is not the only company to succeed in this way: Starbucks, AirBnB, and even Home Depot all created new markets or dramatically increased the size of a market by focusing on non-consumers and giving them a reason to enter the market.

Uber is building a great business by capitalizing on non-consumption. I likely never would have become a regular taxi user. But Uber improved the experience and simplified the process enough to win me over. What non-consumers can you win over with your next business idea?

This post originally appeared in Jesse Lipson’s Forbes.com column.

Jesse Lipson is a VP & GM for Citrix, which acquired his company ShareFile in 2011. ShareFile is a file-transfer service built for business users who need secure, reliable and easy tools for sharing data. He launched ShareFile in 2005 and bootstrapped the company from zero to four million users in six years. Jesse has also launched and/or led several other cloud and e-commerce businesses, including Rapidata.net, a pharmaceutical market research company, and the website development firm novelProjects. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

A Trend Is Always A Trap: A Famous Ad Man on Mediocrity



“No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” as the saying goes.

IBM here is a metaphor for the safe choice. For jumping on the corporate bandwagon. For following the trends of business.

Trend following might be safe for corporate types, but for startup founders, “safe” is a four-letter word.

Just ask legendary ad man George Lois:

Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities.That’s precisely what “trends” are—a search for something “safe”—and why a reliance on them leads to oblivion.

Despite the risks of trend following, startups are notoriously bad about doing so (see my post Why Does Your Startup Sound Like a Startup? for more). Startup trends appear in homepage layouts, messaging, user acquisition plans, and even approaches to company culture.

But your runway’s shrinking and everything’s on fire and how are you going to make payroll?

This is no time for the safety of other people’s mediocrities.

Lois, again:

In any creative industry, the fact that others are moving in a certain direction is always proof positive, at least to me, that new direction is the only direction.

Sounds a lot like the startup worldview. So it’s weird that, when, it comes to branding and messaging, so many startups fall into the trend trap of mediocrity and then oblivion.

Disruptive technology, you say? Too bad you look and sound like every other player in your space.

What if your messaging and marketing were as disruptive as your technology? What if your team put in the effort to tell a truly compelling and meaningful brand story that did justice to your product?

Leave the trends to the bloggers and journalists; they need something to write about come January.

By the way, when asked for insight into the coming year’s trends, Lois says:

My answer is always identical to what I said the previous year: “Beats the shit out of me. I’ll know it when I do it.”

Patrick Woods is a hybrid ad man/startup guy. As director of a>m ventures, he connects startups with awesome branding, PR, and marketing strategy.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

5 Reasons Startups Should Never Work in Coffeeshops




For many entrepreneurs that are tired of working from home, the corner coffee shop has become a haven for getting plugged-in to get productive with laptops out and headphones on. I can see why many entrepreneurs make coffee joints their place of biz; they’re from open morning til night, offer a warm atmosphere and have plenty of startup fuel  flowing. However, I personally have never been a fan of this work environment and have not fallen under the spell of the cafe mystique. Leaving reeking of the smell of coffee grounds is not all it is cracked up to be. I say its time to realize what the coffee shop is good for: grabbing a cup of coffee, and conversing with friends, or reading a book in leisure. Its not the place to get your startup started and I have five reasons why.

1. It’s Distracting – All entrepreneurs can agree that focus is key to success. How can anyone concentrate for a full work day in an environment of chatting, bean grinding, and brew wooshing? Not to mention the overly-loud music filling the room; most prominent at Starbucks where music labels are forcing music down your ear canals in hopes of a purchase with your latte. If you do plan to work in these distractions, invest in some noise-cancelling headphones and blinders to keep your eyes on your laptop. Just pray no one bumps the back of your chair, asks to sit at your table or spills something on you.

2. It’s Unprofessional – I have never been a fan of taking meetings at coffee shops, mostly because of reason #1 above, but in all seriousness, its just unprofessional. Sure,  it depends on whom you’re meeting with and your relationship with them. I would hope entrepreneurs would never schedule an investor pitch meeting at a Caribou. Coffee shops can be a logistical nightmare for meetings, even if they’re quick. There’s nothing worse than scheduling a meeting, showing up and not having a place to sit to conduct your meeting. Fail.

3. It’s Un-Collaborative – There may be other startup junkies in your vicinity at Intelligentsia, but since they are also desperately trying to stay focused they’re not exactly open to having collaborative discussions. Contrast to the environment at a real co-working space that promotes and breeds collaborative behavior like 1871 or the Inspire Business Club. There, it’s acceptable to join forces with other startup geeks and not have to worry about someone stealing your seat if you need to use the rest room.

4. It’s Expensive – The average latte in Chicago costs $4 and if you buy one a day that adds up to be $120/moth and $1460/year. That’s an expensive habit for bootstrapping entrepreneurs. With that money you’re spending on coffee you could afford most open-seating co-working spaces and those typically include a warm caffeinated beverage. Good luck trying to get away without making a purchase, they’ll toss you out for loitering.

5. It’s Lacking Resources – I have yet to see a barista hand over an entrepreneur mail deliveries with his caramel mocchiato. Not gonna happen. You can’t have mail sent to Starbucks; you wouldn’t use their address for your business; and they probably don’t have a fax machine you could borrow. Sure they have free Wi-Fi, but its not and will never be an office. Try reserving group of tables ahead of time to have a group brainstorming session. Nope!

These reasons may be my opinions, but you gotta admit, they have some merit. I’m not saying to not frequent coffee shops, they are local businesses that need our support. I’m just saying to think twice before working there. A coffee shop may be a fine escape every once in a while, but I recommend to find a place that you can be most productive with your startup. Kudos to you for at least getting out of the house.

Tim Hines is a serial entrepreneur, consultant and keynote speaker specializing in social media, mobile technology and entrepreneurship. Based in Chicago, Tim has been working in marketing, social media and the corporate travel industries for over ten years with companies such as the Tribune Company, TicketMaster and the CIA.