Learning Russian

Here is a good post from Munjal Shah , the CEO and co-founder of like.com, where he talks about trying to get their heads around the metrics of their new site after launch:

“Launching a new site is like becoming the owner of a brand Russian nuclear power plant. You have a ton of dials with labels you can’t read. The only dial you can read is the amount of electricity (in our case revenue) and the temperature of the nuclear core (in our case number of clicks you are sending to merchants). ”

My new nuclear power plant

That’s a nice analogy!

In their case, they used a form of A/B testing to better understand the impact of the changes they were making.

What are you doing?

Whatever it is, make sure you base your decisions on facts not opinions.

Get a Mac

The Mac and PC characters have become famous on the back of the Apple ads. Recently they’ve appeared in some cheeky online ads which have been running on a few tech sites.

The actor who plays PC even appears as a guest star in one episode of the Flight of the Conchords HBO series.

Here in NZ we get the US ads, but in some other countries they have their own local variation, and it’s interesting to see how they transplant the humour.

For example, in the UK they use comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb from the Peep Show. Some of the ads are straight copies of the US scripts, but some are new …


And in Japan they have these two guys (is it just me or are the physical differences between Mac and PC a bit more subtle in this incarnation?) …


And, my favourite, South Park …



(Ironically Firefox crashed with a spinning beachball of death when I tried to preview this post … is somebody watching??)

Be remarkable

What makes a “hockey stick”?

That sort of viral growth is a result of you not having to chase each sale one at a time. It only happens when your product spreads via word-of-mouth.

In order for this to work you need a product that is remarkable.

That is, containing at least one feature that people feel compelled to tell their friends about.

For Trade Me this is the ability to sell something that you thought was worthless to somebody you’ve never met. When that happens it’s all you can talk about for a week. Hence the exponential growth curves and low cost of sales.

There was another good example of this over the weekend with the latest version of OS X:

You can argue about whether this icon is funny or smarmy (for what it’s worth I personally tend to agree with Anil – it makes Apple look a bit insecure to me). Either way, while it’s not an especially interesting or impactful feature, it’s the one that everybody is talking about.

So …

What’s remarkable about your product?

What’s going to make people blab about how good it is unprompted?

If you can’t think of anything then probably best you flatten out your projected growth curves.

PS. The photo above is from Flickr. It’s the Crazy Chief of the Podface Tree. There are hundreds of thousands of photos on that site, but this is one that I thought was remarkable, and now I’ve told you about it and the site it’s hosted on too. :-)

UPDATED: unfortunately the photo I used in this post is no longer available to be embedded.  It’s still on Flickr, and now also on Getty Images.  A shame, as far fewer people are likely to remark about it now, I would have thought?

Blackhole marketing

These days most people working on the web understand the importance of word-of-mouth.

It’s cheap.

It’s effective, because people still believe things their friends and family tell them!

It’s also easy, provided you follow a few simple rules.

It’s not quick though, so you do need to be patient. To quote Rachel Hunter: “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”. So, don’t burn all your cash in the first 6 months.

But, is “viral” growth enough?

Every week there are memes which spread online like a virus, only to disappear just as quickly, normally never to be seen or heard from again.

If you look at the sites which have been most successful with this sort of approach they have another critical ingredient: something which keeps people coming back.

To extend the virus analogy you need to infect people and make sure they stay infected.

Perhaps we need a different (more positive) way of describing the desired effect?

How about “Blackhole Marketing”? The product needs to draw you in and continue to hold your attention.

The feedback system used by sites like eBay and Trade Me is a good example. Once you’ve done a few trades and established that you are a trustworthy member it’s much easier for you to continue to buy and sell via Trade Me than it is to switch to a different site.

Josh from First Round Capital talked about a similar idea recently in relation to social networking sites: “Catch And Release” Business Models

Apart from eBay and Facebook, what are some other examples of sites that have the blackhole effect?

In search of the SME

Jim Donovan is ranting about the term SME (meaning “small medium enterprise”) and objects to people calling a company with 10 staff a SME.

He suggests:

  • < 100 staff = small
  • 100- 1000 staff = medium
  • 1000+ = large (I’m filling in the gaps)

Jim, one man’s “small” is another man’s “medium” I suppose?

Here is what the numbers tell us:

Source: Ministry of Economic Development, SMEs in New Zealand, May 2006

So, using Jim’s definition, 99.46% of all enterprises in NZ are small.

But, if practically everybody is going to be classified as “small” doesn’t it make a bit of a mockery of the classifications?

My Football Club

This is great:


These guys are trying to sign up 50,000 members in order to buy their own UK football club. They already have 45,000+ confirmed.

Top of their wish list of clubs: Leeds United, which was in the Premiership when I arrived in London but has since fallen on hard times. That would be awesome.

By the looks they have picked up sponsorship from EA Games, who possibly see this as an extension of their popular FIFA Manager game.

Will be fun to watch and see what happens.