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Perilous Pivots: When A Dream Meets Reality

Written by Cy Khormaee

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Editors Note – Cy is a friend of HostGator, currently pursuing entrepreneurial dreams in Silicon Valley. We have asked him to share his adventures.  If you missed it see Part 1 The Spark: A Startup Is Born.

Startups are inherently messy.  The media makes it appear as if home run successes happen on the first try.  In reality all progress is the result of founders careening for months between false fits and starts until they land on the idea that works.   Contastic’s story is no different.

 

The False Start

With a promising idea in hand I was accepted into the Lightspeed Venture Fellows program and provided a generous grant to build Contastic.   During the summer, I met my co-founder Kevin and together we engaged with the top investors/entrepreneur community around Silicon Valley.  This got us excited about the hot space that is mobile CRM – taking the basic processes of managing a sales team from the desktop to the phone.

CY and Kevin

Over the next two months we built our mobile CRM.  Investors loved it.  However customers weren’t adopting the beta versions as readily as we’d hoped.  We attributed the apathy to an incomplete product.  It was instead a sign of a flawed focus – most people didn’t want to write notes on their mobile phone.

So, when we finally launched, it was bittersweet.  By that time we knew that the product wouldn’t pick up.  So, we changed the name to PeopleNotes to preserve our company name and launched it.   The app never got more than a few hundred downloads – an App Store Flop:

app store flop
 

Rediscovering Relentless Focus on the Customer

So where did we go wrong?  We built for the people around us – technologist and investors – not our customers.   We mistakenly let the most convenient information, from those around us, take the place of the most relevant information, from those customers we would need to seek out.

Committing to focus on our customer to the exclusion of everything else was the turning point for Contastic. It’s no mistake that this is what Mark Zuckerburg keeps on his desk:

Zuckerburg desk

Credit: Masahble http://mashable.com/2012/02/01/mark-zuckerberg-ipo-pic/
 

The Pivot

By pouring over the usage analytics from PeopleNotes we discovered that, while people did not like taking notes, they loved our automated emails to keep them in touch.  So, we doubled down on that – pivoting from a mobile notes product to a web-based staying in touch product.  And over the next month we built what became Contastic.

contastic laptop

There was no big launch or press announcement.  Just a quick post to Facebook.  Over the next two months we iterated with a small group of users and obsessively measured our funnel. Analytics told us what was wrong.  Then we’d talk to customers to figure out WHY.

whiteboard
 

Picking Up Steam

After twelve weeks of iteration we’ve developed a clear idea – as defined by our customers – of what Contastic is and who it’s built for. Contastic is an email personalization engine for salespeople.

 

 

By combining Linkedin and Gmail data Contastic automatically generates sales emails complete with content personalized to a prospect’s interests.  By reducing the time it takes to send relevant emails from minutes to seconds Contastic enables salespeople to work more prospects, generate more leads and close more sales.

We also discovered new industries for Contastic beyond sales.  Some of our top users are generating referrals for realtors, discovering jobs for freelancers, and building client relationships as consultants. Our user base is now doubling monthly as well as picking up paid users.  It’s time for us to finally step back into the ring and raise our round.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment– Raising the Bar – Fundraising and the Future

About Cy

I’m an engineer who loves to sell.   My career started out in big data engineering for Microsoft evolved into a sales role that landed me as the founder of Contastic (getContastic.com).  I bring the hard data-driven approach of an engineer to the softer science of sales.  It’s always a pleasure for me to meet new people and help them evolve their sales practices. I blog at blog.cykho.com and tweet @cykho.

Infographic: This Will Make You Feel Old

Written by Sean Valant

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Every now and again a gentle reminder comes along to let us know that we’re just not as young as we used to be. That game system we played so much as child, or that toy that came out that we remember so vividly… oh, that was over 20 years ago, wow! Well, this infographic is one big reminder that yesterday was likely longer ago that we’d prefer it be.

this-will-make-you-feel-old-infographic

 
 

Heartbleed Bug

Written by Sean Valant

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

You may have now heard of the “Heartbleed Bug.” Before we continue, we want to reassure you that if you are hosting on a HostGator shared or reseller server, that your server has already been patched. For everyone else, HostGator customer or not, we have created the following tool to assist you with determining whether or not your site is presently vulnerable and what further action to take, if necessary: https://heartbleed.hostgator.com/

heartbleed bug

Now, what exactly is the Heartbleed Bug? Technically speaking, it is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. In layman’s terms, it allows the ever-present nefarious individuals the ability to intercept and decode encrypted data. The following quote comes from heartbleed.com:

“The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.”

The bug is so-named due to a normal function between two computers across a network (such as the Internet) sharing an encrypted connection. The “heartbeat” is simply a pulse, or packet of information, sent from one machine to the other to ensure the connection still exists. This functionality is what allows the exploit to occur, in that the heartbeat is simulated by a third party in such a way as to allow them access to the memory of the receiving server.

What this translates to is virtually unlimited, and untraceable, access to a myriad of private information which potentially can include usernames, passwords, and even credit card information. The full extent of the situation is not presently known. What is known is that we should all consider all of our passwords to be compromised. As a result, you absolutely want to update any passwords for anything and everything you log into online. However, if you change your password for an account on a server that has not been patched, then you can consider the new password compromised as well.

For full information regarding this situation, we recommend reading the associated Wikipedia article.

Put Facebook to Work For Your Business

Written by Kyler Patterson

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Facebook-business
For small businesses, advertising and marketing is an expense that most don’t want to have to budget for. It’s costly and ineffective unless you know what you’re doing. Not all of us went to college for a Marketing Degree. Luckily, there are ways to bring the cost down and do it all from the comfort of home or office. For any small business online, you need to understand what SEO is and how to do it. Although SEO is a must and it is worth it, these results take time to deliver. In the world of making money, we want results and we want them now.

How do we get fast results? Before we can answer that, we need to ask, where is our target audience? With over 1 Billion active users, I believe the answer to that question is Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your business, you need to create it immediately after reading this post. One of our previous posts discussed 5 Facebook Updates You Need to Know About and you should read it after you’ve created your Facebook page.
 

Advertising

This article isn’t going to explain how to create a Facebook Page and how to create ads. If you need to a refresher or need to get caught up to speed, check out the Facebook Ad Getting Started Page.

If you did Facebook advertising in the past and you haven’t done any recently, then there are probably a few changes that you should be aware of. These are covered in the next sections.
 

Campaigns / Ad Sets / Ads

Previously, Facebook had Campaigns and Ads. You set your budget in the campaign, then created ads within it. It worked, but it wasn’t amazingly effective. With the new set up, you can create Ad Sets. Virtually, these are what the previous campaigns were. You can set your start / end dates, budget, and pause all ads within the set. Used correctly, this can really help with your testing (discussed below). Usually after starting a campaign, we look at what sets are performing and which aren’t, then pause/stop the ads that we don’t want to spend further money on.

 

Call to Action Buttons

If you’ve been following our blog for some time, you’ve probably seen our post about Content Marketing and Creating a Call to Action. If you don’t know what a CTA is, that post is definitely worth the read.

Recently, Facebook introduced the Call To Action buttons that are  available for Newsfeed and Mobile ad types. These buttons help by saving the few characters you use to write “Learn More Here” and helps create the specific Call to Action that you’re wanting from your viewers.

Types of call-to-action buttons include:

  • Shop Now – Sending users to your store to make purchases
  • Learn More – Sending users to an informative page, blog post, or landing page
  • Sign Up – Creates leads for newsletters and subscription services
  • Book Now – Reservations for cruises, hotels, concerts, and more
  • Download – Grab a copy of your latest ebook or application

 

Audience

This section isn’t really “new” but if used properly, you can target your customers more accurately instead of wasting money on impressions for people that aren’t in the market for your product.

FaceBook_Ads01

As you’ll see from the picture, you can real customize everything to target specific people. If you want to choose people from a specific set of cities, states, or countries, it’s easier than ever. Do you want to sell to just men or just women, or maybe a specific age range? Perhaps you want to choose people by interests such as a movie or book related to your product. All of these can be set within the ad creator. To find what works for you, you should test test and test some more.
 

Custom Audiences

custom_audiences
If you have an email list of your customers or subscribers, then you can make use of the custom audiences. One word for this, awesome. With Custom Audiences you can target people who have expressed an interest in your brand or are already part of your brand. This allows you to promote new products to existing customers, as well as products to people who have subscribed to your newsletter but haven’t purchased anything. What it does is take your list of email addresses and matches them to active Facebook accounts. Chances are, a large majority of your list will have used that same email on their Facebook account. From there, you’re able to market to them. Don’t have a list? Create a blog and allow readers to subscribe to updates.
 

Testing

This is probably the most important section of our article. At the beginning, you will be doing a lot of testing. And to be honest, testing will never stop. What you might find working in one instance doesn’t work in another. Or if you try targeting other countries, you’ll find that different colors mean different things and perhaps a red border works for users in America, but it sends a sign of warning to those in India.

So what’s the best way to test? Ad sets. They are built for testing. Here are some bullets types of testing

  • Newsfeed, Right Side, or Mobile – Create an ad set for each of these, then run the same ads within each to see which brings you more traffic and conversions. If you’re not optimized for mobile, make sure you don’t choose the mobile option.
  • Country – Can your product be sold globally? Try out different markets to see who is your best audience to target. As you’ll find, some countries are cheaper per click than others. This is because of less advertising competition in these countries. This is also a trick that some companies may use to build their Facebook Page’s audience for cheap at the beginning.
  • Cities – If you’re confined to a local area, you can still test the different surrounding cities to see what works best for you in terms of conversions.
  • Pictures – With ads, you want to have something that has a picture since it will pop out more. But which picture should you use? Different symbols and colors stand out to people. On right side ads, you can put bright borders to attract the eye to the right side. You can run the same ad with 4 different pictures to see which does better. Then after a couple of hours, pause the low performers and then your money will be spent on the pictures that convert or drive leads.
  • Ad Copy – Find out what trigger words get your buyers in the door. Create a few different versions of your advertising text to see what works better for you.
  • Call to Action – Are there multiple CTAs listed above that you can use? Try them all out!

 

Tracking

Now that you have all of your ads set up and you have traffic coming in the door, you need to be able to see if they’re coming from your ads or elsewhere. That’s why you need some sort of tracking in place. There are so many ways to go with this, but we’ll list a few below:

  • Coupon Code – Offer a specific coupon code for your ads to see what converted sales
  • Conversion Pixel – Facebook allows you to install a pixel on your sales page that shows after a sale is made. This sends an alert to Facebook to say that a sale was made.
  • Google URL Builder – This creates custom campaigns for Google Analytics and it works
  • Affiliate Links – If you have an affiliate program, you can create an affiliate account for Facebook and create campaigns with your links to track customers

 

Good luck with your Facebook advertising and be sure to come back soon for information about Twitter advertising!

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