The Transparent Startup Experiment: A weekly look behind the scenes of “Time Off”


“I love reading stories about startups raising money, launching, or being acquired, but I want to learn how to take my startup to the next level with marketing. Is there any good examples I could check out? Where do I even start?”

I received this email from a TSF reader a few weeks ago, and I’ve been trying to figure out the best resource to send him. I sent him Noah Kagan’s Marketing plan for Mint (which is required reading), but I didn’t feel like it was enough. I wanted to be able to dissect a startup from top to bottom and show actual numbers as well as the thinking behind each decision. Beyond that, I wanted something that would teach other startups how to have the same success.

A finished product, with no marketing

A few months went by, but I still hadn’t found a resource like I described above. I was about to give up on the idea until I met Ryan Smith. Ryan is a very smart guy who loves building products. In fact, he built Time Off, an application that let’s small businesses employees easily manage vacation days, as a side project. It integrates with Google Apps and is a solid product. The problem is, Ryan wasn’t sure how to market it. I asked Ryan if I could come on board with him to do the marketing, and use Time Off as a real world case study for TSF.

We’re going to build a transparent startup that will walk TSF readers through a basic marketing plan, and share our results. This project will be a fantastic real world example to discover and learn what tactics actually work for startups. I’m very excited to bring this to TSF readers via a weekly column. It will be a fantastic resource to learn from, and I’ll do my best to explain the thinking behind our decisions. Be sure you follow TSF on Twitter @startupfoundry and on Facebook to stay current with “Transparent Startup Experiment”.

To get the ball rolling, this is the game plan that we’re going to be executing starting next week:

Our Game Plan For Time Off:

Objectives
a) $2,000 a month (in revenue) in 6 months.
b) Write up in 2 major publications

Target Users
1) Small Business
2) Google Apps for your domain users

Metrics
a) Page views
b) Number of users who sign up for trial that we convert – Who’s paying for our product (identify industries to target).
d) Measure the impact of weekly articles about Time Off on The Startup Foundry.

Registration Process
a) It’s already fast (which is really good), but it needs to be polished
b) Look at implementing Chargify instead of Google Checkout.
c) Use 37signals model of pricing.

Branding
a) Logo
b) Home page redesign
c) Improve copy on home page
d) The sales page needs to be redesigned.
e) Email through @timeoffhq.com instead of @gmail.
f) Social Proof needs a higher visual hierarchy on home and sales page

Increasing paid conversions
a) 1 month trial instead of free
b) The visual hierarchy of the site pushes customers to the free version. Let’s change this.
c) Collect emails, and have regular content go out to paid users

Blank State
a) Improve “first run” experience after signup.

What do you think? As you look at the site, do you see anything we missed?

Pitching your startup: Learn how to use a “Hook” to get press.


News articles are all about stories. A great article creates a personification of raw data into digestible, story-sized bites. For example, a headline that read “Precipitation levels dropped 10%” wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as “Fearing drought, farmers resort to watering crops by hand”.

Data by itself isn’t interesting. It’s the story that the data tells that’s important.

These same principles apply when you’re pitching your startup for coverage. You should always have a “Hook” ready. Wikipedia defines a “Hook” as:

“a musical idea, often a short riff, passage, or phrase, that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to ‘catch the ear of the listener’.”

When I’m trying to figure out what startups I want to write about on TSF, I look for a solid hook I can work from. For example, when I interviewed Tim O’Reilly, I knew that he had a fantastic story on bootstrapping his company. This gave me a specific angle to leverage and helped me to know what sort of questions I should ask.

One of the easiest ways you can get noticed by writers (via email) is to have your hook be in the subject line. Let’s say you’re startup works with financial management. Instead of having a nondescript subject line like: “New web app launching soon”, you should write “How my startup allowed 10 users to retire 2 years early”. The second subject line provides a fantastic hook, and helps the writer know what sort of questions to ask you. Having a solid hook is crucial in making your startup stand out.

Stories with a good hook are incredibly easy to write about, are entertaining, and memorable. If you have a great product, data, and a solid hook, writers will be salivating to write about you.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

How a band got into Y Combinator. The Earbits story (YC W11).


Earbits is a Y Combinator backed company that’s looking to replace Pandora for your music streaming needs. Unlike Pandora, users are completely free to skip songs, change channels, listen for hours on end, and even share tracks with their friends. Earbits has none of the same restrictions that Pandora has, and then on top of that there are no commercials. Earbits hasn’t signed the major labels yet, but they’re gaining traction. Earbits makes its money by letting labels, bands and concert promoter buy airtime, and display their own relevant ads during the broadcast.   If you’re listening to a band on Earbits, you’ll only be shown relevant ads by someone with a vested interest in that artist getting more exposure. For example, you might be shown an ad for an upcoming show that the band is playing. Essentially, Earbits is to music, as Google Adwords is to advertising.

I had the privilege of interviewing a co-founder of Earbits, Joey Flores. In this interview we talked about how Earbits identified a problem, their big turning point, and how his band made it into Y Combinator. You don’t want to miss their story.

Tell TSF how you got started.

My co-founder Yotam and I met in 2005 when he moved to L.A. from Boston and posted an ad for drum lessons.  At the time, I was Director of Marketing for Experian after they had acquired an affiliate network I worked at.  A few months after I started taking drum lessons from Yotam I told him that I had been performing slam poetry a lot and wanted to start a band where I would rap over jazz and funk.

We ended up putting a band together and deciding to record an album. Yotam said that he would produce the album, which he had done before, but that I had to market it. I was managing about $60M a year in performance marketing at Experian, so marketing an album sounded pretty easy.

When did you realize there was a problem?

Our album got great reviews and we could fill up smaller clubs here in L.A. We got invited to open for Grammy winners Arrested Development and it seemed like we had a product people liked. However, after about $20,000 in various marketing and touring expenses, we realized that for all the buzz about how easy it is to be a musician in the age of the internet, all of the services out there either help you sell products to fans you don’t really have, or claim to help you get fans but they really just rely on you to spam Twitter or otherwise try to achieve some viral effect.

Where did the idea come from?

One day, Yotam and I were in the car on the way to San Diego and I was complaining about how miserable I was marketing products I don’t care about – mortgage leads, etc. And Yotam says, “How do we do what you do, but for music?”

We kicked around some terrible ideas until finally he says, “The problem with marketing music online is that nobody can tell what you sound like from an ad. Give them 10 seconds of listening to you and they’ll know if they like you or not.”

Within about 10 minutes, we were rabid talking about turning radio into a performance “ad network”, with affiliate stations on hundreds of music sites, and good artists could just buy airtime like you would with Google Adwords.

It becomes painfully obvious that there is a problem when you explain to people that, in the age of the internet, bands still hand out fliers.  Fliers cost about $0.15 a piece.  Meanwhile, all you’re hoping for as a band is that someone actually takes that flier home and goes online to listen to you.

What was the big turning point for Earbits?

If you consider that Pandora tries to make $0.05 per hour in ads and commercials, and there are 15 songs played every hour, then we can introduce a band to a new listener for $0.01 and make 3 times what Pandora does, while providing massive value to artists.

Once we started telling that story, we got advisors on board from Google, EMI Music, and Yahoo! Music. We raised a bit of money from friends and family, started getting traction with bands and labels, and closed a partnership to power a country music channel for Nashville.com.

What was the Y Combinator interview like?

With these partnerships under our belt, I talked to a lot of the Y Combinator alumni to see whether YC was a good fit for us. They all assured us it was. I believe the quote was, “If you think you might need Y Combinator, you need it. If you’re not sure, you need it. If you’re positive you don’t need it, you probably still need it, but maybe not.”

We decided to apply and we got an interview. We walked in to the interview room, and I think it was Jessica immediately asked how long I had been growing my hair.  There were 7 of them on the other side of the table, and Ben, Yotam and myself on the other.  We all shook hands and started the interview.

A good YC interview is just a brainstorming session with about 6 questions thrown at you every minute in an excited flurry, where you’re trying really hard to answer them well but being cut off about 5 words into every sentence. If that’s happening and the tone is friendly, it means everyone is excited to be talking about your idea.

That being said, you have to wrangle in the conversation, especially if you want to demo your product. So someone would ask me a question and I would say, “Let me show you.” and they would keep going, and finally I just turned the computer toward them and said, “Let me show you.”

When we showed them Nashville.com’s country station, that pretty much sealed the deal.  They understood how we would solve the marketplace problem, and it made the whole thing very clear to anyone how excited country musicians would be to have their music on something like that.

We left and went to hang out at Yotam’s brother’s place in Redwood City. Ironically, I wasn’t at all nervous headed into the interview, but the next few hours were unnerving. Finally, Harj called us, said they wanted to fund us, we feebly tried to negotiate with them, and then took the deal.

What’s the biggest challenge you have going forward?

We’re solving a marketplace problem. We need content so that we can get listeners, and listeners so that artists want to work with us. I’m very happy with our progress in that regard. We have some big distribution deals coming up, and more and more labels are actually reaching out to us. So, I think we have plenty of struggles looking forward. Acquiring more mainstream music is just one of them.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Hacker News and drive by traffic: How to make the most of your startups launch


“How are you going to market this?” I asked Entrepreneur X after being being thoroughly impressed by a demo of his startup. “I’m going to hit the front page of Hacker News.” he eagerly replied.

It was an unusually cold April day, and I slowly sipped my coffee while waiting for him to finish explaining his marketing plan.

A curious silence fell over our conversation so I gently prodded “And then what are you going to do?”

More silence.

At that moment it occurred to me that some entrepreneurs believe you only have one big day of traffic to make it big. Here’s the ugly truth:

Hacker News doesn’t create sustained traffic.

Look at the graph to the left. This is what a typical Hacker News traffic spike looks like. Notice how quickly the traffic drops off after a day or two.

Hacker News is fantastic for gaining general exposure quickly, but because it isn’t specifically focused on your niche, most of your traffic will be “drive by traffic”. It’s a nice, temporary traffic bump but it should just be the beginning of your marketing efforts. Find where your (specific) customers are and focus your time there. Traffic won’t be nearly as high, but your conversion rates will be astronomically higher.

This doesn’t mean you should completely ignore Hacker News, it’s just important that you understand it’s place.

The dates have been changed by my source’s request.

Capitalize on hitting the front page.

Ask yourself this question. “If I were a first time visitor, would I have any reason to tell my friends about this site?”

Since most visitors coming from Hacker News won’t be in your target market, you need to develop a “stadium pitch”. Chet Holmes describes a stadium pitch as a way to “Offer prospects something of value outside your product or service . Something important to THEM.”

By doing this you are getting your claws in visitors that might not initially be interested in your product and you’re giving them something interesting to share. A great example of this is Mint. Mint did a fantastic job of providing value to potential customers even if they weren’t interested in signing up yet. They had a fantastic blog that was pumping out interesting financial information consistently. If you cared about money at all, you wanted to read their blog (even if you didn’t use Mint yet). You can read more about this in Mint’s Marketing Plan.

I’m a big fan of Hacker News, it’s just not the end all for marketing your startup.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Why Carbonmade decided to bootstrap and go freemium

When I was studying design a few years ago, I discovered many of my peers were struggling to get a portfolio online. Many of them didn’t have the required technical knowledge to properly showcase their work. Some of them hired friends in the Computer Science division but their portfolios would grow stale because they didn’t know how to update them.

Carbonmade is attempting to solve that problem by taking care of the technical details while letting artists focus on their work. I had the chance to catch up with a co-founder of Carbonmade, Spencer Fry, to talk about the early days. In this interview we cover how Carbonmade identified a problem, how they determined pricing, and why the “freemium” model is working for them.

Were you bootstrapped or funded?

We bootstrapped Carbonmade because it’s all we know. I’d started a company previously called TypeFrag. Bootstrapped that as well. For me, it just makes sense to collect revenue from the start of your business and if you can’t collect enough of it then you shouldn’t be in business. It’s just a natural progression. Can’t sell enough of what you’re trying to sell? Then you’ve got to shutdown and try something else.

There are companies that can’t be built this way such as Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter where you need a large engaged group of users before you can make any money. To bootstrap you typically need a single user to be able to benefit from the service without having to connect with anyone else. That’s Carbonmade. A user can sign up and create their own online portfolio without needing other people in the system to benefit from it.

We get plenty of offers from investors to talk, but we’re doing well and not having a $5 million check has never held us back from doing what we want. If money is ever the thing holding us back then we might re-consider taking outside investment.

What problem are you solving?

Carbonmade solves a really basic problem. There are millions of creative people in the world, but many of them either don’t have the skills required to design their own online portfolio or the time. Using Carbonmade means they spend less time fussing around with their portfolio and more time focused on developing their artwork.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome while building Carbonmade?

The biggest challenge for us and for all companies for the most part is hiring. We’re very selective in who we hire. We’re looking for specific individuals that are self-starters, independent workers that don’t need constant handholding, and have built or designed web applications before.

We hired our first people in August 2010. Up until then the three of us worked on Carbonmade for nearly four years. We’re now eight and excited to continue to build out the nucleus of our team.

How did you identify that there was a market for an online portfolio?

We stumbled upon the online portfolio market. Dave and Jason created the first version of Carbonmade back in December 2005 as a tool for Dave to update his own portfolio. He was tired of having to manually update his portfolio every time he created something new. Together they built it ‒ without a sign up page at first ‒ and Dave’s friends bugged him to open it up for them.

I came on about a year later, but we still weren’t working on it full-time. We were consulting and working on other apps, but Carbonmade kept slowly gaining traction. Starting around early 2010 we were able to stop taking on new client jobs and focus our time and energy on developing and supporting Carbonmade. That’s when Carbonmade really started to blow up.

How did you determine pricing?

We experimented with having two pricing points early on: $9 and $15. We found that nearly everyone was choosing the $9 plan and the $15 plan was being neglected. There weren’t enough features to warrant having two paid plans, so we settled on $12, because we thought that $9 was too low.

The question you want to ask yourself is: “What would I pay for this?” $12 felt right to us at the time. The product has improved significantly since then, which makes us happy that the value of our product has risen, but the price has remained the same.

Have you had success with your freemium model?

People generally ask me about our freemium business model. I believe that giving away a taste for free is a great marketing strategy. With Carbonmade, the free model works for many users in the beginning but as their career develops and they start getting more work, they need to upgrade to take advantage of our paid plan features. We’ve had dozens of people upgrade after 1,000 days which is a significant figure. Forcing them to pay on day one may have kept them from signing up in the first place.

What’s difficult about having a freemium business model is determining where to set the restrictions. The free plan needs to be good enough that it doesn’t feel crippled, but not so good they see no reason to upgrade to the paid plan.

If you need to showcase your work, be sure to checkout Carbonmade.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Why two engineers left Apple to build a Flash alternative: The Hype (YC W11) story


Hype is an HTML5 Animation Builder for Mac OS X. It allows you to build interactive sites in HTML5 that rivals Flash. Hype launched last Friday and they are already the top grossing app on the mac app store.

Earlier today I had a chance to catchup with one of the cofounders, Jonathan Deutsch, to talk about his experience leaving a safe job at Apple to launch a startup, where his inspiration came from for Hype, and his experience with Y Combinator.

Where did the idea for Hype come from?

At one point after a trip to Europe, I wanted to make a photo website that would be as nice as a beautifully bound photo album, and use lots of effects.  Coding this with HTML5 would have been a nightmare.  There had to be a better way, and that’s how the idea for Hype was born.  It stuck with me, and eventually I realized this was going to be a great opportunity for a business.

Where did you work prior to launching your own startup?

I worked at Apple. I was the engineering manager for the Mail.app back end (Mac OS X), but also worked on software updates, automation technology, SJ keynote demos, and other engineering projects.

I met Ryan at Apple as well, celebrating after a successful WWDC kickoff. He was working as an engineering project manager for Mac OS X. It was a really central role; he (and the team he was on) were responsible for coordinating the entire release of Mac OS X. Sometimes at bars we’d run into people who were Apple or ex-Apple, and Ryan would introduce himself, and they’d reply, “Oh, I’ve gotten emails from you!”

What made you decide to leave a “safe job” at Apple and build a risky startup?

I had always wanted to have my own company; I suppose its “in the blood.”  It was getting to be pretty clear that there was a new wave coming to the web, much like “Web 2.0” but instead of it being called “Web 3.0” it was called HTML5.  It’s a marketing term really, generally referring to new HTML5 tags, CSS3 styles/animations, and better JavaScript performance.  It also refers to being able to have the full web on your phone.  It was always in the back of my mind that for any technology shift you’d need tools to help out.  I’m really a tools guy, though we tend to call them “apps” nowadays.

I was faced with the decision of continuing to work with the great people on my team on a clearly high impact project, living with the “what if” syndrome, or trying to forge my own path.  “Regret Minimization” is what should win out in life, so it did.  I had done a lot of different projects at Apple, and felt I made my mark both internally on the company and externally on Mac OS X.

I had established a fair number of relationships at Apple, and felt if my startup failed I could always go back.  At Apple the question is often “how many times have you worked here?”  When you’re hired, you get new hardware… so I like to joke that the worst case is I’d end up with a new Mac Pro out of the deal.

Walking away is bittersweet, and there’s definitely a social and professional net that you leave behind.  That’s one of the main reasons we decided to pursue Y Combinator.  We didn’t want to be on an island by ourselves.

Apple is publicly against Flash. Did this have any influence on your decision to build Hype?

Not specifically.  While Flash enables some really great content on the web, there’s lots of people who aren’t favorable on it due to its lack of accessibility, CPU usage, or crashes.  It isn’t appropriate for mobile.  To Adobe’s credit, they’ve been more active lately in trying to address these issues.

What perhaps had more of an influence is Apple’s driving the web forward.  WebKit is really a great project.  I think a lot of people forget that innovation in the browser was basically dead until Safari.  The canvas tag, while controversial at first,  showed that new standards could be made and adopted by other browsers.  The JavaScript performance wars have moved the world forward.  Now WebKit is on almost every smartphone.  It’s great to see HTML5 as a new platform, and Apple deserves a lot of credit.

How did you get into to Y Combinator?

We got in through Y Combinator through the normal interview process. Ryan and I both found the questions from the initial application were great for helping to clarify our business plan, realizing our target markets, and helped ensure the two of us were on the same page. I’ve recommended to everyone I know that even if you’re not going to apply to YC, fill out the application.

What has been your experience with Y Combinator?

YC is definitely worthwhile. The network effects are staggering… it gives any YC company an advantage in making the right contacts, finding investment, and being in a support net with others in the same boat. And if you’re starting a company, why wouldn’t you want every advantage available to you? Paul Graham, Paul Buchheit, and Harj Taggar all give great advice with brilliant ideas sprinkled in. The dinners are fun, and there’s a lot that we learned from the speakers. Most founders would come early before each dinner just to hang out and discuss their startups or demo their products. The atmosphere is electric and contagious.

Y Combinator is also heavily focused around finding additional investment. Startups always need more cash! Finding funding was not a major concern to our us, as our “old school” business plan was to sell Hype from the get-go, and we had confidence it would be able to generate revenue. In that regard, we didn’t take as much advantage of YC as other companies are able to. We did make several strategic connections through investors to other companies and individuals in our space that have already been of benefit.

As an aside, during the YC timeframe we were so focused on developing our product that Paul Graham actually emailed us and was concerned that we hadn’t gone to enough office hours!

Don’t forget to checkout Hype!

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Weekly reader question: How has your startup “failed faster”?


Yesterday I spent the day in Grand Rapids, Michigan, checking out The Michigan Lean Startup Conference. Eric Ries gave a fantastic talk about building lean startups and how to discover if people actually want what you’re building.

The key principel behind building a lean startup is “failing faster”. Before you spend months building a “perfect system” you should spend a few days on crappy code to prove your concept. The goal is to to learn fast and iterate quickly.

My question for TSF readers, is “How have you applied these principles to “fail faster”? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments or via email (tipbox@thestartupfoundry.com).

There isn’t a speed limit: Line up customers before you ship


After seeing a fantastic pitch from a startup I asked a simple question. “How many users do you have”? They replied with “We haven’t launched yet”. I reworded my question slightly and asked “How many customers have you talked to?” and they replied with the same line: “We haven’t launched yet.”

This startup was following a broken formula. It’s horribly inefficient and causes companies to fight a needless uphill battle building relationships with customers. The formula is done sequentially and it looks something like this:

1. Build a product.
2. Ship.
3. First contact with customers.
4. Convince customers to sign up.

Why the model is broken

The broken model I just described takes you a step away from your customer. By building your company in this way you’re essentially saying that you know the customer better than they know themself. If you’re not talking with your customers, how are you going to know the best way to position your product?

This is a better model

1. Build relationships with customers.
2. Build a product and convince customers to sign up
3. Ship.

Before you write a line of code, you should have a clear understanding of who your client is. It’s much better to build relationships asynchronously as you’re building your product. These early relationships are instrumental to your success. By talking to your customers early in development, you’re creating a fantastic feedback loop that you can easily leverage and bounce ideas off of.

There isn’t a speed limit, you can (and should) work asynchronously.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

How Jared Tame bootstrapped his startup by writing “Startups Open Sourced”

As Jared Tame was finishing up school, he decided to build a startup. He didn’t want to raise money (at least in the early stages) so he did what any “Grade-A” hustler would have done. Jared wrote a fantastic book on popular startups, Startups Open Sourced, and invested the profits into his idea.

In this interview Jared talks about where inspiration came from, measuring advertising efforts, and why Twitter isn’t an effective medium for advertising. This interview is worth investing 15 minutes into.

Final Thoughts:

Jared’s story reminds me of a previous post, You’re not entitled to anything. Hustle for everything you’re worth. Jared perfectly embodies this attitude.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

How a solo, non-technical founder hustled her way to launching a startup

Lindsey Harper is a solo founder who doesn’t code. In all essence she is the antithesis of Valley culture. Yet this hasn’t stopped her from building a startup, Swayable, that’s gaining teen users hand over fist. I had the chance to catch up with Lindsey via email to talk about the challenges that she’s faced and how she overcame them.

What is Swayable?

Swayable helps you get opinions online quickly. For example:


As a solo founder, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

In a nutshell, you don’t know what you don’t know. You have to be more of a generalist as a sole founder vs. being able to really deep dive into any one expertise. So there is always a bit of unknown with regard to making sure you’ve covered everything. The best way to work around this is to meet with experts and mentors in areas you don’t know a lot about and ask them to grill you with questions about what your doing in that area of expertise. For me that meant meeting with several engineers, asking about development, database structure, hosting, security, coding etc. and finding out how to ask the right questions when finding an outsource firm. Whenever I get stuck now, I continue to reach out to my mentors and experts to ask for quick feedback or to ask the simple question, “What am I missing here?”

Tell us about your experience outsourcing development.

In the past I’ve had great luck outsourcing to sites like: Elance, Odesk, RentaCoder (now vWorker.com) etc., for coding projects. All of those projects, however, were very simple, non-complex type of development projects and outsourcing to these resources worked great. When it came to Swayable, I’d built a massive spec document, did a viability survey on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and got to my minimum viable product spec so I was ready to go. I initially used Odesk and interviewed 5 firms as I wanted a company vs. an individual so I had a larger support team for the project as it grows. I found a firm that seemed to be able to complete the project but after a month past the first deadline, milestone 1 wasn’t met. I paid them for the work they did complete and ended the relationship. I then decided I needed a U.S. Based firm with U.S. Based accountability and then development could be done oversees. I hired Beyondsoft Consulting and they have been phenomenal! They’ve built both my iPhone and Web app as well as provided not only support, but they do a great job of questioning the direction at times and offering up better ways to execute if there are more efficient ways than what I’ve suggested. I couldn’t be happier with an outsource firm and will continue working with them for the foreseeable future. Lesson learned from this is really just jump in, try things out and don’t be afraid to move on to a better fit, after all it’s your product and money.

If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently?

I was a bit nervous up front to alienate any audience as Swayable can be used in such a variety of ways. So I built the site with more gender neutral in mind, had I done some more surveys about customer segments, I would have learned that women and teens are more of my audience and could have built the website a bit more targeted to them. Without knowing the direction your site will take up front, and who will adopt your product the most (not all products have this problem if it’s a clear niche) it’s tough to figure out the right design and UX components. So looking back, I would have likely done some different branding elements and more gender targeting with design. It’s something I can fix in the future, but am wanting to continue to see how Swayable is adopted before making any drastic changes.

How do you plan to monetize?

With Swayable’s website only 3 months old and the iPhone app a couple of weeks old, some of the monetization options depend on which direction the site goes with the user base. I do have 4 monetization options regardless of direction that I’m working on implementing at certain traffic milestones:
1 – Paid API: Currently when 3rd party sites embed a Swayable I am seeing on average 10%+ click through/engagement with the Swayables. So an API is a natural solution for websites and online businesses & retailers that want to increase user engagement through there site and products and allowing users to create & share Swayable’s directly from there product/service pages without going to Swayable.com
2 – Selling Swayable advertisement spots – Soon, advertisers can purchase Swayables to get a more integrated/interactive advertising campaigns where users actually interact with the brand by “Swaying” on a Swayable.
3 – Viglink.com – Affiliate program, already installed on the site.
4 – Banner Advertising – Traditional banner advertising on the site.

How have you gained traction

If you really target an audience and learn how to connect with them, you should see traction (this does not mean you have to spend money to do this). In my opinion, If you don’t start seeing the traction you want, then you should be questioning either your product or pivot your product to see where you get traction. With Swayable, I have 3 primary audiences I am targeting initially and one of those audiences is teens (13 to early Twenties is how I categorize this). I’ve targeted them via content that they consume regularly online i.e. Celebrities fan sites via Facebook fan pages, blogs and twitter content that target these celebrities. I create content the teens want to consume and use Swayable as the medium in which they consume the celebrity content. As the teens visit Swayable to vote on celebrity content, they get engaged by first creating yet another celebrity style Swayable. Once the start seeing others vote on their Swayable and the addictiveness of seeing feedback real time, they start to create content in other categories and topics, which is exactly what I was hoping for. So far in 3 months I am doubling in visitors each month, tripling in page views, and increasing time on site each month. Best of all, users that don’t care about celebrity content can just filter by topic to not have to see any celebrity Swayables. My users are engaged, creating content, and over 50% of my visitors are returning back to the site to create and consume more. I am also seeing quite a bit of traction with website owners who are embedding Swayable’s right on their site, they are seeing on average 10% click through on the Swayable’s, getting more user engagement and interactivity without sending visitors away. Once a website owner has embedded a Swayable and seen the engagement, they are coming back to create and embed more Swayable’s on there site.

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