What comes next

Yesterday, the world changed.

In the midst of our continuously chaotic news cycle, word arrived that world wide web inventor and engineer Tim Berners-Lee had officially launched Solid (an open source project) and Inrupt (his new company w/co founder John Bruce).

Part of what makes the announcement significant is how intensely data privacy has been churning the internet and mobile web over the last year.

Google and Apple are reacting to newly enacted GDPR standards, Facebook is radically reshaping their developer ecosystem/platform due to a series of major data breaches, Twitter continues to struggle with bots, trolls, and doxxing, and LinkedIn has quietly been growing and likely hoping no one notices it was built on the same ground as its competitors.

Those changes are happening in a series of interconnected ecosystems collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars…and the how, when, and where of data use underpins all of it.

But to understand why something like Solid is important, you have to first understand a picture that’s much bigger than the walled off gardens of each tech giant.

For over a decade, Berners-Lee has talked about the promise of the early web, and how our current set of technologies failed in executing that vision. Instead of a “one-way pipeline” where people are consumers, the intention is for Solid to foster a “read-write web where users can interact and innovate, collaborate and share.”

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When (and how) to outsource marketing in a startup

One of the most interesting problems early-stage startups run into is when to actually invest in marketing. 

There's no one size fits all answer, but there are tested and true approaches. Most importantly, if you're a founder or early employee, the starting point is to assess where you are...

"We are working on an idea and have some early customers / users of our product"
"We have a company that’s making money (revenue positive) on a consistent basis, and has a clear business model and path to growth"

For early-stage startups, outsourcing marketing is almost always a mistake. This is because you haven't identified your market(s), and built enough of a community or customer base to withstand changes.

Rand Fishkin of MOZ, recently published a deck on all the ways startups suck at marketing, and how to avoid them. In some ways the conversation is similar to hiring a sales team before you're ready to scale: you have to actually do the work yourself first.

But the crucial point Rand makes, and that many people miss when they're busy encouraging you to outsource your marketing, is that marketing in a startup is a mix of strategic and tactical work. 

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Framework for building an email newsletter

People and businesses send crappy emails all the time. We tolerate it because there is some value being exchanged or because we have some type of relationship with them, but ultimately if you don’t respect your audiences’ time and attention they’ll unsubscribe the second they think they can get that value elsewhere or if they just get annoyed enough.

Seth Godin wrote something related to that back in 2011 (links here and here) calling it the “attention economy.” With technology increasing the things that demand our time, it’s an idea that will probably continue to grow in importance. 

The most important thing to keep in mind with email marketing / newsletters is that while they are usually labeled as owned properties, they are also earned via the trust of your audience.

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A story isn’t enough

This past week marked graduation for the 2nd cohort of the Creative Startups Accelerator. It’s a terrific venture and I’m a huge fan of how they support and challenge creative folks to build a business, and, especially, use lean startup principles. 

I dropped in for a couple of days to say hi, and unintentionally ended up offering my perspective as an alum of the program. One of my favorite mentors from last year, Lena Ramfelt, asked what 3 things stayed with me a year later, and it prompted some reflection… 

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On the importance of frameworks

I’ve never seen a business plan that looked like a business. 

I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it probably has something to do with the fact that in the early stage of any company there are a lot of variables, and things that seem to mean one thing can easily turn out to mean something else entirely. Sort of a particle / wave duality principle, but for startups.

(A high number of people who sign up for a product trial, for example, might not be a positive sign if none of them stick around once their two weeks is up — possibly indicating that your inbound growth levers need tweaking). 

For many entrepreneurs and startups, frameworks occupy a critical space — the one that arrives after “I have a bunch of ideas” but before “here’s the full plan to take over the world.”

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