What Is Growth Hacking?

If you come up with an app that you think people will naturally gravitate toward, then use all the time, you might just get lucky.  But more often than not you just have go growth hack things to get there.  Here is how I define growth hacking:

1. Building or building onto an app or product’s user base to enhance both the number of users and the frequency or quality of use.​

2. Evolving an app’s design, user experience, performance, etc. to achieve #1.
3. Community engagement, both user and non-user, to achieve #1.
In essence, growth hacking is defined by how ambitious your vision, energy and resources are.  If you want to be the next AirBnB or Facebook or Twitter then it will take a lot more than if you want to launch a website for your mom and pop business.

Some things are harder than others.  For example: if you want to grow your user base in a particular zip code or city that could potentially take a lot more time, energy and resource than just getting a user base worldwide.  In recent years, startups like Uber have mastered the art of growth hacking in local markets which has helped them to dominate the competition.  One study pointed out that 42% of startups failed due to a lack of market need for their product.  There are some pre-build phase options to help avoid this, but there are also many things you can do along the way no matter what your product or service offering is.  Sometimes change is a good thing though, so part of growth hacking is making sure that there is sufficient product market fit.

If you want to chat about growth hacking or may need some help, drop me a line via contact@socialmatchbox.com today.  I started my career out as a political field organizer and fundraiser for political campaigns and then changed things up and started building and promoting websites and startups.  I concentrated heavily from 2007-2015 on community engagement related to software industry recruiting because it was a major problem for companies to attract and hire people.  Since 2011 I have taken two SaaS products to market and helped several mobile startups launch products.  I have also worked with a maker space exploratory effort, a non-profit seeking to provide entrepreneurial education, an enterprise incubated consumer facing startup and a law firm.  My rates are reasonable and I work hard to see that my growth hacking customer teams succeed.

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Bad Privacy Practices

I just read through the privacy settings for Care.com.  If you have not used Care.com it is probably because you don’t have kids.  The site is like Craigslist meets LinkedIn when it comes to child care.  The reason I am bringing the site up is because of Care.com’s bad privacy practices.

By default, my new profile was opted into not only spam and the public domain but also direct mail from 3rd parties.  And who knows what else.  Take this example: “Share information about me with third party communication facilitators so they may send me direct mail solicitations on behalf of other companies.”

I like the service and all, but seriously?  Is your company that inconsiderate and money grubbing that you are going to sell my data to 3rd parties without even bothering to ask me up front if I care?

Perhaps the 16-24 and 45-55 nanny users don’t bother to read your privacy policy and terms of service, but they should.  Shame on Care.com for not caring about the people they serve.

Transparency will build trust and give your company the opportunity to share their amazing experiences with their friends.  This is a win-win.

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Platform Services vs. Platforms

There is a lot to be said about how successful Facebook has become by building an expansive platform.  But social networks are like winner take all opportunities in today’s economy so starting the next Facebook isn’t the best play for most founders.  There is good news.  Mark Zuckerberg started with smaller, simpler, easier to build apps and you can too.  As an early stage founder you really need to think about platform services vs. platforms.  What this amounts to is that you should be thinking of a feature that you could build for a service like Facebook that is useful to another service.

Let’s dig into this a bit.  Facebook and Apple both really launched the app economy with the Facebook Developer Platform (and the F8 Conference) and the iPhone.  But that was 2007, and this is 2015.  The mobile app marketplace is very noisy and very crowded.  To get traction with an app you need money or someone with a lot of eyeballs or the means to get a lot of eyeballs who is willing to promote you.  So step back and start to think of all the major sites on the web with tens or hundreds of millions of eyeballs.  Any one of these could be the next Facebook Developer platform, but they probably won’t realize it much less say so.

This means you should be thinking about something you could build and sell or license to them.  And probably not just one of them.  If you can imagine something that would be incredibly useful to one site it will probably be interesting to others.  Focusing on a few customers is a lot easier than acquiring and keeping tens or hundreds of millions of users engaged.

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Protecting Early Stage App Ideas

A reader recently posted a public comment relating to protecting early stage app ideas.  There were some great questions so I am re-posting it here and adding some feedback since I know nearly every founder has concerns about revealing too much information for a variety of reasons.

Here is what the reader said:

Hi Bob,

I believe I have a great software idea (ideas are $2 and execution is $1,000,000). At issue is that I give a total stranger too much info and they run away with the business plan. Can you give me short advice on how to protect my interest and maybe, attract sweat/equity programmers, without giving the recipe out? Below- is a cursory- of our mission statement, about me,,exxx

Our goal is to develop an investment/stock research engine, akin to GOOGLE (unlike theirs, which is cluttered and requires one to dig too much for locating gems). Instead, our endeavor would be based on the actionable information side of things. I’ve been working in the yard sort of speak, uncovering ideas for launch mode for at least a decade. I lack one thing to succeed in this endeavor, which is a programming individual.

I’m a securities research analyst with a pretty good track record –
2007-2012, the average stock recommendation gained 30.5%

I was slated to interview with this company before they went off the grid (lack of VC funding). I believe that my work was a step ahead their efforts in many resourceful ways.

Now, funding for sector is ripe- look at DataMinr- raised $130 mil. However, no need to chase them, we can create our own leadership space in Investment Re-Search.

This is strictly a start-up equity ownership opportunity. Payout- would come from product subscriptions/launch

Here are some initial thoughts:

  • What you and most founders need to build begins two parts: an application; some things that make the application unique. To build an application is something you should be able to generally discuss with a designer or a developer, preferably both. The things that make it unique will shape the application, but that may not change the foundation of the application radically. So in other words, you can talk about what it takes to get something up and running with someone and not have to worry about giving away your ideas.  If you can’t then keep reading.
  • If you need help to find a programmer, follow this link to another great article on the subject.
  • Find a technical advisor.  This is someone you can work with directly to the get the blue print and early stage big picture details worked out.  This may not be the same person who builds your app so don’t think of this person as your architect.  They are most likely going to be more of a strategist.  The lead programmer(s) or vendor(s) you hire later will be determining the architecture.  You do not want someone who is a big company thinker.  In other words, they will come up with something that would work for a huge company but not have any idea what would work for an early stage company. Teams of people and tens of millions of dollars don’t apply at the early stage.  That same person can help you decide who you are going to need help from (e.g. will you need something extraordinary in terms of tech architecture to accomplish the app with the things that make it unique). One finer point I want to emphasize here is that this should definitely be someone who knows programming well enough to round out your technical knowledge gaps, not someone who designs websites or manages social media for a living. To evaluate this person you can give the top level detail without giving away your ideas. Once you establish that it is the right person, you can put them under a restrictive situation where your ideas are protected.  Someone who has startup experience is ideal here because they will be conscious of challenges and opportunities.  Someone without startup experience might work too, but then you need to round out your early assumptions with some startup veterans.
  • Nearly every major idea is going to die or never see the light of day if you can’t build something and get people using it. There are lots of ways approach this initial hurdle. If you haven’t already read it, read Steve Blank’s book ‘The Four Steps to The Epiphany’.  He covers how to conduct early customer research and for what you have in mind this will likely be invaluable.  Steve’s book is great for B2B and Enterprise apps, but potentially less helpful for consumer facing apps.
  • Before the first line of code is ever written there are a few things you should know.  Check out my article titled: ‘How Much Will It Cost To Build My Startup App MVP‘ for some really useful suggestions and related reading on the subject.
  • The NDA/Non-Compete/Restrictive Covenant is something that you require at the point where you are hiring someone to perform work for you.  To ask or require someone to do it before this point may be suggested but in my experience it is like asking someone you really want to go out with out for a first date and telling them you will require that they do a credit and criminal background check.  It creates an up front awkwardness that can easily be avoided.
  • Consider the fact that non-compete agreements are illegal in California.  Companies there, Google included, are more concerned with hiring the best and brightest people than they are with restricting competition.  The best team wins.  So think about how you can build and retain the best people instead of how to protect yourself and you might actually end up better off.  Jeff Haden’s article in Inc. titled ‘The Case Against Non-Compete Agreements’ is a good read on the subject.
  • Whatever you do, do not even think about taking short cuts like using 100% sweat equity to compensate people (See ‘Hire Programmers for Sweat Equity’) or using an NDA/non-compete or some other restrictive covenant that you found online or that someone shared with you.  Every state has differently laws and legal precedent related to restrictive contracts like these.  You may think you are getting some really good language, but what you may actually be getting is something that will not be enforceable or worse in your location(s).  Laws and court interpretations of those laws are constantly changing too.  You should hire an attorney who can help with this.


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Recruiting vs. Brand Shopping

Today I had the opportunity to be reminded that many startup founders seek to recruit people who are top talent as if they were shopping for top brands.  Many young founders are guilty not recognizing the they recruit like they are shopping at the Mall (e.g. recruiting vs. brand shopping) and they pay the price for it later.

It usually works out that young founders look for people with good stats or good logos (companies) on their resume.  If you find yourself doing this, you are not alone.  If you have read Brad Stone’s book about Jeff Bezos you know you are not alone.  Jeff set out to hire smarter people in each successive hiring event.  Things worked out for Amazon, but that isn’t to say that they would not have worked out well had Bezos pursued a more creative approach than asking people for their SAT scores.  Amazon has been paying the price for creating a statistically impressive recruiting culture in the press lately (data about results aside).

So what happens when you hire based on company logos or SAT Scores? Sometimes you win.  Smart people achieve.  However, succeeding in business isn’t always about being the best like an SAT test pool.  Most startups that are successful did not happen because they attended a startup prep program or Accelerator.  They thought about what they were doing from a unique perspective, got the right input and tested their assumptions while making changes and pivots along the way.

There is something to be said about a company like Uber coming along and trouncing the competition in the market.  It isn’t that there are not smart people working for cab companies and similar product startups.  Uber hired and will continue to hire a ton of statistically impressive people, but the company also prioritizes hiring people who are bold thinkers.  You would not get to Ice Cream delivery and Mariachi parties complete with Tequila if you just hired people who are good at memorizing business cases and score high.  Creativity is kind of a big deal.

But that isn’t all.  You have to consider that people who are statistically impressive are also people who have been on the same track for very long time.  You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t erase their entire life.  So the next time you imagine that by hiring the smartest person you can hire think about whether or not they are going to be the person who is willing to risk their perfect academic and career path on an imperfect startup scenario complete with risk.  Oh yeah, the gamble of a big payoff may make up for the difference in their mind for a brief period…but they are going to be second guessing their decision all the way.  This isn’t to say that it is mission impossible, but you have got to consider a lot more than stats (e.g. individual motivation).


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Best SQL GUI Tool for MySQL

Today I had a chance encounter with several SQL GUI tools with mixed results in a Windows 7 environment.  After some trial end errors I decided to share my results.  Keep reading for my best SQL GUI Tool for MySQL list.  This list is a work in progress so check back for updates.

For what it is worth, I was working with a local backup of a large MySQL database file.  This turned out to be a challenge for some of the seemingly obvious choices.

I normally use SQL Pro on my MacBook.  SQL Pro is a great tool that I would normally use, but I wasn’t on my MacBook today.  It is light, powerful and easy to use.  Bottom line: it gets the job done.

I started off with Toad, a product that is under Dell’s technology products organization now.  I have used Toad before on projects, but it always seems a bit clunky.  It gets the job done, but sometimes you just need something to navigate a database.  However, today I couldn’t use Toad at all because the database I was working with was too large.  I kept getting error messages related to memory on the Windows 7 workstation that I was using.  The workstation had 8GB of RAM and a ton of free disk space.  Aside from my headaches today, it is available for PC, Mac and Linux.

I tried HeidiSQL.  It seemed promising.  It had the same memory problems as Toad.  It did not work.  I would give it another chance.

In the end, I downloaded SQLWave which turned out to be easy to use and it worked without any issues.  The UI is very easy to follow and it gets the job done.  So going forward, I am going to start using SQLWave.  It isn’t apparent whether or not there is a Linux or Mac version, but the Windows version is A ok.

I did not get around to testing out Navicat today, but I have used it in the past and it is a really powerful and relatively easy to use tool.  I can recommend it as well.  PC, Mac and Linux versions are available.

PHPMyAdmin is also an option, but it feels a bit dated and is more useful for a cloud based database instance (not a local copy).  PC, Mac and Linux versions are available.

I did not check out MySQL Work Bench (Oracle) (actually, I did but it is cumbersome to use), EMS MySQL ManagerMyDB Studio or dbForge Studio, but I found it and might check them out in the future so here it is on the list.

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When Is An NDA Right?

Yesterday I spoke with an entrepreneur during open office hours who asked me to sign an NDA. I said no.  I always say no when someone asks me to sign and NDA to have a discussion.  We had a long chat about this and a very good discussion.  I thought it would help others to hear my answer to the question: When Is An NDA Right?

Let’s start with his situation.  He reached out because he was looking for help hiring a programmer to build his app idea that friends said was a good idea.  In human terms,  asking someone you have never met and who you may never work with to sign an NDA is like asking them to take a criminal background check on the spot.  It isn’t a good way to start things off.  In fact, it makes you look amateur hour because it is simply akward.

In his case, he is someone who might have gone to a meetup asking for people to work for him without any prior knowledge of what he wants to do.  This is a bad way to start off for him because he wasn’t selling himself, his idea, or really anything.  In a world where everyone wanted to code for entry level wages or sweat equity this might work, but that isn’t the world we live in.

There are far more people with app ideas looking for help from coders who will build their apps than there are people out there who are coders looking to work for little reward for their hard work, or no reward which is the outcome if the app fails like the vast majority do.

So I suggested that he not let his NDA request get in the way and focus on selling the notion of why people should work with him on this idea.  This should make things easier.

You are probably wondering what an NDA is for if it isn’t to protect your brilliant idea that will mint money.  Let’s get down to that now.  First, a disclaimer, I am not an attorney and I do not provide legal advice. I’m an entrepreneur who has hired a lot of people and built several profitable companies.  I have advised dozens of companies that have been through successful exits and worked for a few of them along the way.  You should talk to an attorney about how NDA’s work and how to use them.  I’m only going to discuss the use case here.

Imagine that you are Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  You have an idea for a search engine.  If you ask people who you want to hire to work on your search engine app idea to sign an NDA up front they are going to think you are crazy or difficult or just plain amateur hour like I mentioned above.

Why is that? It isn’t that hard to build a search engine.  You need to be capable of installing Elastic Search, Solr, Lucene or one of numerous other search products that are available for free.  A few extra things are required such as a server, a domain name and a relatively simple user interface that just about anyone could build.

If you tell someone you want to build a search engine, and provide some details about why you want to do it and how you are really passionate about the idea then you will come across as authentic.  This is especially true if you have done some research and have ideally created a search engine already.  For example: a search engine could be stood up to search a folder on a computer, it doesn’t have to be competitive with Google.com.

The person you are asking to work for you or with you or to be a co-founder (ideally someone you know and have already worked on some project with) can now have a conversation with you and get to know you better.  They can decide if they like you and like what you are talking about doing and work with you.

At this point you really should do some sort of small project together to see if you can work together and to make sure that this person you have met can do what they say they can do.  Non-technical founders should either get their hands dirty and learn to do some coding themselves (see the Learn to Code section here on SocialMatchbox.com) or already have a technical advisor who can help with assessing this person’s capabilities and making sure that the app idea is soundly planned, architected and executed on from the get go.  No need to disclose the secret sauce at this point, just the general idea.

At the point when you decide that you want to hire or work with this person, you should get some basic help from an attorney familiar with early stage ventures.  This should be someone from where you are because even if you want to be a Delaware company you are going to be operating in another state (unless you live or will be doing the work in Delaware).  This is important because it will make it much easier for you and your employee or sweat equity collaborator or co-founder to properly work out who owns what and what happens if there is a disagreement, etc.

Part of what you will get help from your attorney with is setting up the NDA aspects of the work and the intellectual property conditions for once work begins.  No secret sauce has been revealed at this point and none should be.  Your potential hire or collaborator or co-founder knows what they are signing up for.  Your attorney can also tell you about the differences between things like trade secrets or copyright or patents (including provisional patents).  An IP attorney may also be necessary if you decide that you want to pursue patents.

Once you get yourself set up properly, and remember that every case is different so if you hire a lawyer or don’t or do things one way or the other that doesn’t mean game over.  It just means that you may have extra costs, liabilities or problems later.  For example: I had a friend who split equity 3 ways with two co-founders who both later quit.  When they quit it was like he was painted into a corner and could not do anything but surrender.  A startup lawyer or even an experienced founder could have suggested vesting and saved his startup.

So now you have things set up.  Your prospective hire accepts your job or becomes a co-founder.  You know what to do to protect your idea from having gotten some appropriate legal advice (i.e. you did not download a doc from doc stock or download a stock legal doc for startups from some Accelerator’s website that isn’t specific to where you are operating (or that was written by an attorney who isn’t right for your state or situation)).  NOW you start filling in this person on the secret sauce.

Let’s revisit the example of Larry and Sergey.  Their search engine’s secret sauce involved a few hacks.  For starters, they used a cork board server built with off the shelf computer parts that doubled the number of servers in a server rack while providing a crazy big increase in the server’s power.  Next, they put multiple servers in a co-location facility space that they leased that hosted Google.com.  The additional servers used more electricity and bandwidth, but at that time there was no additional charge for the additional usage in either case.  Does this still sound like a search engine? It is sure does, but Larry and Sergey had some tricks up their sleeve that they needed to protect.  They also had some special algorithms.  The server, the way they implemented it, and the algorithms are the stuff that NDA’s and trade secrets are intended for.

But that isn’t the end of the story.  Did you know that most really successful startups begin with one idea, but kick out of it and pivot or move on to a completely different idea?  For example: Twitter is the by-product of a video blogging platform called Odeo.  Invite Media, a company in the display advertising space sold to Google for $70 million, was the fourth idea that the founding team worked on together.  Netscape’s founders originally thought they were going to work on a gaming company.

It really is about the team.  Your idea may be a good one or a dud, but if you have the right team and you are all motivated the odds are much greater.

Today, and possibly back then, everyone signs a generic NDA when they visit the Google campus.  Who knows if that is even enforceable.  But the important thing is that you get going and if you put NDA’s in front of selling you and your basic idea then you are going to make it harder to succeed from the very beginning.  And most importantly, you might miss out on an amazing team member.

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