So my friend Scott who I’m staying with in SF earned a few speeding tickets recently. You might expect a formal warning from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Or you might expect a letter like this one to come from a disappointed parent (if you were still in high school). But this letter originating from a government agency with the tone, the language of “we,” the feigned concern for personal betterment, the use of ALL CAPS… it’s just plain weird.
I got $90 in parking tickets this morning for apparently parking on the wrong curb – if they had left me something like this on my windshield, it would have at least had some entertainment value.
37.77716 -122.45762. Rooftop. FAN-f’ing-TASTIC :-)
If you’re like us you have a slew of different ad campaigns running at any given time- newsletters, pay-per-click, stumbleupon, download directories, sponsored banner ads, auto-responders, etc. Tracking conversions means being able to identify the visitors to your site who ultimately complete the desired action and know which avenue brought them to you (and it’s useless to experiment across ad channels if you don’t track which ones are working). You can roll your own home-grown mechanism to track conversions but if you have a Google Adwords account, you already have access to their cross-channel conversion tracking system which will do this for you. Here’s how you can take advantage of it:
- Signup for an adwords account if you don’t have one already.
- You’ll need to add the conversion tracking code snippet to the thank you page on your site that the visitor sees when he/she completes the intended action on your site. Follow the instructions here to set it up.
- Next you’ll create a new cross channel tracking campaign for one of your ad channels- let’s do it for your newsletter first. What may be confusing is that even though we’re in your adwords account, adwords could be one channel you can use this to track all your ad initiatives). Follow their 3-step wizard for specifying the details of this newsletter-specific campaign and get the landing page code and the tracking URL.
- Put the landing page code snippet in your header or footer so it’s on every page of your site (you only need to do this once and it works across all channels that you track).
- Lastly, look at the newsletter-specific tracking URL and grab just the part that says: “?gad=xxxxxxxxxxxx” and append that to any links coming from your newsletter. Rinse and repeat for each ad campaign you have running so that they all get a unique tracking URL.
You’re now collecting data on how each campaign is doing and you’ll know exactly which ones are performing well and which ones suck. You can see from our data below that we have a spread of 0% – 38% effectiveness depending on the particular channel – that’s critical info to know if you’re spending thousands on ads! Minor improvements in conversion can translate to huge savings in adspend as I explained here. Happy conversion tracking!
Chance Carpenter of Essential Event Technologies just posted the videos from a bunch of the sessions at the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference that was held on Nov 8th. Here’s the video from the panel I moderated on Innovation as a Process. Chance does this for many local events in AZ and it’s a great way extend the reach of the discussion beyond the walls of the actual event. Contact him through his web site if you want him to do this same type of video archival for your event.
It’s easy to become out of sync when you’re used to working in the same room with people and suddenly you’re removed and on the road sipping through a straw of communication that is email. I’m not involved with dev so this is less of an issue than if if I were but it’s still an isolated feeling when all communications are reduced to asynchronous and there’s no physical face-to-face.
We typically have a 10am meeting every morning at JumpBox to keep “court presence” and ensure we all know what each other is working on. The past couple of days they’ve conferenced me into this meeting via the video chat feature of iChat and I have to say this technology is finally at a state where it’s a perfectly acceptable substitute to being there. On a good connection there is very little latency. Being able to visually interact with the people in the room provides just enough presence that is missing from a phone call so that you forget you’re 1000mi away. As city traffic gets more congested and tools that make telecommuting more workable become pervasive, I expect we’ll see a lot more team environments where one or two days a week, the team works remotely and convenes virtually for meetings. With the screen-sharing feature in iChat that introduced with the Leopard release, this is a very compelling way to work.
Having just completed the 54-hr-whirlwind journey of launching a startup company from scratch in a weekend here in San Francisco, I wanted to share some thoughts about what worked and what didn’t. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the founder of startup weekend Andrew Hyde and one of his dramatic cohorts, Michael Gruen. It’s a short/sweet 30min conversation and gets at the heart of what they’re trying to do with these weekends.
Let me just say that in every respect this was an amazing event. It condensed a year long product dev and launch cycle into just 2.5 days and it began on a Friday night with a room full of 132 complete strangers. The fact they were able to keep the wheels on the bus and deliver a working alpha by midnight on Sunday was an impressive feat in itself, but what was even more impressive was to see how leaders emerged and groups solved problems. The company we launched, HelpHookup.com managed last night to make the homepage of Techcrunch (something we still haven’t achieved in our year of lobbying efforts with JumpBox).
What worked well
The selection process was well-run. Ideas that had been proposed prior via the web site were pitched by their originators and every fourth idea the room broke into small groups of four to discuss. Someone called it “speed dating for nerds” and I suppose that was an accurate description of that frenzy. The selection was ultimately whittled down to just three ideas. Oddly enough, none of them won and one of the lesser-voted ideas re-emerged to win the selection process. I proposed a mutation of my Feelrz concept based on a genius twist that Josh Knowles had. Unfortunately the idea didn’t make the cut. The room divided into functional groups (development, creative, marketing, bizdev, legal, usability) and I gravitated to the marketing group initially. Being that I wasn’t super-stoked on the idea that got selected, I made the decision about 30min into it to play the weekend a bit differently than most would. Rather than lock into one group and engage vertically, I would bounce around and assume a horizontal role observing the activities across all functional teams. Granted, the weekend wouldn’t work if everyone were to do this but I had the unique opportunity to assume more of a “press” role and observe how the teams worked and communicated with the larger group.
The majority of comments on the TechCrunch article were positive but there were a handful of haters that derided the weekend pointing to the unlikelihood of anything material benefit for the attendees. This position is understandable if the person attending the event goes in with the expectation that the sole value of the event is in the shares one receives in the startup that emerges. The true value of this weekend as I saw it was:
- A firehose of practical knowledge – wandering around the room absorbing all the dialogue and interaction between usability people, developers, marketers, etc. I couldn’t help but think of that scene in the Matrix in which Trinity is asked if she knows how to fly a helicopter and she responds “not yet.” Moments later a lifetime of flight experience is dumped into her brain and she has what she needs. The value of the collective experience from the folks that were interacting in that room was incredible. For anyone who’s entertaining doing a startup, attending a weekend like this would be invaluable in getting a taste for what’s involved.
- A connection bonanza – given the nature of the event and who decides to stick around until day 3, it’s no surprise that the solid people filter through and you meet incredible individuals that share the same passion for the industry as you. I met some kick-ass people this weekend (Jeff, Mike, Andrew, Chris and Jeremy).
- Lessons in leadership – you get to see first hand how certain people emerge as leaders, how the stew of different personality traits creates pockets of different styles and how natual selection naturally takes care of the wacko’s.
Suggestions for improvement
I do have some suggestions what modifications that could make the weekend better:
- Allow multiple ideas – I know this is counter to the mission of picking one idea and having everyone rally around it but there was 50% attrition each day and I attribute this to lack of interest in the chosen idea on the part of those that left. I was more interested in the event itself but I probably would have not returned the second day if I was purely there on valuation of the chosen idea itself. I would urge the organizers to experiment with one weekend where the group is permitted to organically self-form around any ideas. There will naturally be one or two that are more popular but I would expect to see great things from a small 4-person team if they were passionate about the concept. Plus, some of the functional groups could work across ideas (creative for instance should necessarily be partitioned and constrained to working in 4 different silos in the event 4 ideas are chosen – dev makes sense to split into teams however). This is the biggest qualm I had. I understand the counter argument to this approach in that it might fragment folks and detract from the community aspect which is the primary goal, but I don’t believe that would happen if it were glued together properly and certain teams worked horizonally across multiple projects.
- Phone tree buddy system to reduce attrition – so obviously this is the “stick” as opposed to the “carrot” method above for mitigating the attrition problem but implementing some kind of buddy system in which you got a phone call the next day from someone in your group saying “hey where are you? we need you to do xyz” would keep more people there the same way having a workout partner at the gym is just enough to make you go back to the gym. This is a challenging problem and one we encountered first-hand with Grid7 Labs – when people aren’t on the hook to deliver it’s easy for them to blow it off. I would expect this problem to lessen if suggestion #1 is followed.
- Better ad hoc infrastructure – this is a shameless self-plug for our stuff but a Trac JumpBox would be ideal instead of the hour it took them to get a subversion repository setup. The dev team also would have had access to the ticket system in Trac at that point which would make the accountability and assignment of tasks much more efficient. I showed Andrew the Trac JumpBox and it sounds like they’ll be using it in the future. This is precisely the scenario it was made for. Likewise, the talks I heard about securing a hosting account early in the event could have been avoided by merely serving it from a virtualized instance on someone’s laptop in the room and deferring the hosting issue until it was necessary. If the weekend is mapped time-wise to a year of the life of a startup, deferring the hosting decision translates to month’s of saved hosting fees plus the access to the local machine is much snappier than hitting a remote box over the internet during dev.
- Connectivity – this is just an issue of over crowding on a connection that wasn’t intended to have 130 people accessing it simultaneously but connectivity needs to made more reliable. Perhaps getting multiple EVDO cards and having alternative shared connections via that would help? I’m not sure of a silver bullet for this problem but solutions should definitely be explored.
Anyways, the weekend was fantastic and much props to all the people that labored to put it together. I met some great people and plan to stay in touch.