State of Startups 2016

This is First Round’s effort to provide an in-depth snapshot of what founders across the entire tech ecosystem are thinking and doing, what they’re excited about and worried about, and how they’re seeing the market. We surveyed venture-backed founders from within and beyond the First Round community — and received over 700 responses, volunteering their experience and opinions.
December 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
35 Female Entrepreneurs Spill On What They Wish They’d Known Before Starting Their Business



The number of women-owned small businesses is at an all-time high. To honor the female entrepreneurs who are changing the face of small business with innovative and valuable companies, we picked their brains for advice for other women setting forth with their own small businesses.

We want to know, “What do you wish you had known before you started your business?”

Here’s what 35 female entrepreneurs had to say.

1. Build a Support System Around You

“I have started a number of businesses, and although external factors change, there are many consistencies in the challenges women face. One thing that I wish I had known was just how important it is to have a support system comprised of smart people who will challenge me (non-family and friends), support from a spouse, and a peer-to-peer advisory group. This comprehensive support system would have made a tremendous difference in how quickly I grew my business.”

—Kathy McShane, CEO of Ladies Launch Club



2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

“The one thing I wish I had acted upon earlier was the power of asking for help from people with more expertise than I had. The most accomplished and brilliant people are often eager to help if you share your passion with them. You simply have to be open to the momentary feeling of vulnerability in asking for the insights and help you need. You’ll be surprised by how this improves your business.”

—Stephanie Sprangers, CEO and Founder of Glamhive



3. Share Your Successes and Mistakes

“In growing a business, there are many tough decisions to be made, and everyone stumbles sometimes. I’d advise other women entrepreneurs to not be afraid to share your thought process and mistakes. It’s hard at first, but by doing so, you empower your colleagues to better understand your company vision and develop their own skills.”

—Rashmi Melgiri, Co-founder of CoverWallet



4. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”

“What I wish I knew before I started my business was to start with the end in mind and don’t be afraid to say no to projects that don’t help you reach that end goal. This might mean that you pass up some easy money or opportunities that fall in your lap. It will feel counter intuitive to do so, but the cost of devoting time to clients, projects or partnerships that detract from your bold vision can be devastating.”

Jen Devore Richter, Co-author of Amplify Your Business



5. Partner With Other Female Entrepreneurs

“Here’s my piece of advice: Partner up with as many other female entrepreneurs as possible. No one prepares you for the emotional side of jumping into the unknown. I joined a handful of local and virtual networking groups, which gave me the needed resources, suggestions, and moral support. My favorite part of the whole journey came from the epiphany that I have so many amazing women at my fingertips who are willing to share their experience and expertise.”

—Elyse Kaye, CEO and Founder of Bloom Bras and AHA Product Solutions



6. Know the Numbers

“Even though I started my business 9 years ago, I still wish I had a degree in accounting! I cannot stress the importance of knowing and understanding the numbers enough. From understanding profit margins and cash flow to your overhead costs, your business is nothing without a solid understanding of the numbers. Business is truly a numbers game!”

—Christy Cook, Founder and CEO of Teach My



7. Don’t Go About it Alone

“Instead of largely going it alone this first year, in retrospect I should have reached out for more help and networked in the community more. I was so busy making the business happen that I felt like I didn’t have time to reach out to others. In hindsight, that would have made me more productive, broadened my relationships in the community and with potential new advertisers, and lightened my workload a bit! I think women often, mistakenly, have a difficult time asking for help.”

—Nancy Dewar, Publisher of 406 Bark



8. It Won’t Happen Overnight

“I wish I’d known that building a business doesn’t make for an overnight success. Five years into the entrepreneurial hustle, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted, and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. But if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. I could be the poster child for the saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.’ No matter what … this has been the most rewarding journey of my life. And in the end, I’m going to have a magical story to tell. My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be brave and follow your instincts. You can’t cheat the grind, but if you give it your all, you can trust that the payoff will be worth it.”

—Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd



9. Be Yourself and No One Else

“I wish someone told me that I could just be me and not have to act like ‘one of the boys.’ Being authentic has helped me grow my business and audience.”

—Syama Meagher, CEO of Scaling Retail



10. Treat Your Business Like a Business

“I wish I knew that the sooner I thought of my business as a business—instead of thinking of my business as an extension of myself—the more quickly I could have scaled.”

—Adrienne Garland, Owner of She Leads Media



11. Know Your Business’s Worth

“I wish I knew that I didn’t need to discount my services just to gain market share. I wish I had just trusted that I was as good as the established companies right off the bat—rather than having to build confidence as I went along.”

—Justine Akley, Founder of JumpStart



12. Build Your Brand at No Cost

“What I wish I had known? I wish I had really understood the importance of search engine optimization and the changing Google algorithms. Startups and small businesses can benefit so much at low-to-no-cost by understanding the fine points of SEO. That is invaluable in finding a cost-effective way to build out a brand.”

—Elizabeth Avery, Founder of Solo Trekker 4 U



13. Learning How to Say “No” Will Teach You How to Say “Yes”

“Get ready and comfortable to say ‘no.’ Say no to low-paying projects. Say no to poor prospects. Say no to getting your brain picked for free. Say no to clients who do not respect how you work or do not value your time or your expertise. Say no to opportunities that aren’t a fit for you. When you say no to those who do not value your work, product, and service, you will get to say yes to those who do.

It took me years to learn how to say ‘no’ without fear. When I left my job to be a consultant, I said yes to a lot of things that compromised how I do business and how much I value my time and skills. I did this out of fear that I would not survive on my own. Well, I did. I did because as soon as I started saying no, I sought out opportunities and clients that I’d like to say yes to.”

—Angélique Pivoine, Owner of Good Thinking Agency



14. Take the Plunge—Now

“When I was young, there weren’t many role models of successful women business owners. I didn’t really see it as an option. The skills I learned working in the corporate world the first half of my career are valuable, but if I had it to over again, I would have started a business for myself much sooner. Owning a business allows you to go as far and as fast as your capabilities allow.”

—Pat Harden, Owner of Harden Partners



15. Partner Up for Success

“When I started my business all I had was an idea—no money. I did everything myself, the graphics, the marketing, the content creation … everything! It wasn’t until I joined a group with other female entrepreneurs that I realized that I didn’t have to do it all alone. There are services you may have to pay for. But if you can move past the fear of asking for help, you may find that you can barter services or find a way to get things done in a better, more cost-effective manner. Do not do business alone—partner with others.”

—Elle Clarke, CEO of Elle Clarke Media Group



16. Know Exactly What You’re Getting Into

“I wish I knew how difficult it was going to be to manage my financials and revenue. I dramatically underestimated my profit margin for the first year in business and went into debt because of it. Having a solid business plan with a conservative estimates would have prevented that. My lack of experience operating a business really hurt the way I ran it from the beginning. My best advice for those who want to start a business is to really learn about the industry you’re entering. Know it inside and out before you get your toes wet.”

—Lisa Chu, Owner of Black N Bianco Kids Apparel



17. Be Your Own Cheerleader

“I wish I knew that many people will think that you are just working on a hobby and may not take your business efforts seriously. You will have to continually be your own cheerleader. No one will be as excited about your business as you are.”

—Tenelle Bailey, Owner of Marketing by Branded



18. It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect

“After almost 3 years into my business, I really wish I had been more strategic about spending money. As a small business owner in the digital space, lots of testing is needed before you can expand your brand. When I think about all the money that has been wasted on testing and trying things just to see if they work, it brings me near to tears. When you do know what you need and are ready to scale, you’ll need significant sums of money to take your business to the next level. There is so much talk out there about whether you should wait until you have the perfect product versus putting whatever you have out there.

I have learned through experience that whatever you put out into the world will need to be refined and changed in some way once it reaches the market. So no, it does not need to be perfect. It will be changed many times before you get it right. Save your money for those big changes.”

—Ursula Lauriston, Editor of Capitol Standard Magazine



19. Seek Out Win-Win Situations

“I have been an entrepreneur the last 14 years, and I wish I knew the importance and power of relationships when I was just starting up. You can absolutely build a business on your own, but when you collaborate or partner with others, you will fast track what you’re doing. I set aside time every day to make sure I am reaching out and connecting to other business owners. I have a ‘Dream 50’ of 50 different people or businesses I would love to work with and get in front of their audience. I am not just looking at ways that their business can benefit mine, but looking to see how we can both have a mutually beneficial relationship. Finding a win-win for both parties involved is key.”

Stacy Tuschl, Entrepreneurial Coach



20. It’s All About the Numbers

“Know your numbers! It isn’t just a mantra thrown around by investors on TV. If I had known how important it was to truly understand my financial statements it would have changed everything about my business. Unless you have good data on cost of goods sold it is impossible to price your product properly. For years I was making decisions and pricing product based on what seemed reasonable. Once I started making choices based on hard numbers, I became profitable!

Learning your numbers isn’t easy without a mentor. I found a fabulous mentor affiliated with the Small Business Development Center. His office is located at a local college is supported by the Small Business Administration. The services of his office are free! They offer lots of classes and one-on-one guidance. Avail yourselves of this resource!”

—Julie Shipley, Owner of The Soup Shop



21. Strangers Build Your Business

“Some business owners are blessed to have family and friends who support and purchase every product. But for the most part, they won’t. I wish I had known this upfront, as it would have saved me some emotional turmoil. Family and friends love you, but they can only see you as the daughter they grew to know until the world begins to recognize you as the awesome business woman you are. Strangers will build your business!”

—Ashley Lounds Brooks, Creator of Live By Faith Brand



22. Get Serious About Your Business

“I wish I had known to treat my business like a business from the get-go. The purpose of a business is to exchange your goods or services for a customer’s money. If you aren’t making money, you’re running a glorified hobby. But I struggled for quite some time to balance doing what I do best, actually making money, and taking care of the drudgery of being a business owner—quarterly taxes and tracking receipts, for example. So I would swing between giving away my services for free or desperately taking whatever I could get. I wasn’t consistent in my practices and didn’t have systems or support in place to run my business effectively.

So how did I do that? First, I got clear on where I wanted my business to be in 1, 3, and 5 years. Then I worked backward to set revenue, profit, and customer goals to work toward. I also gave myself permission to not be perfect and to be open to possibilities and opportunities I wouldn’t expect. I’m still solidifying my business, but the simple task of treating my business like a business has made the most difference.”

Jacqueline Shaulis, CEO of Awesome Enterprises and Creator of Mistress of Her Domain



23. It’s All About What You Want

“I wish I had heard this advice before starting my business: You define your success and you define your failure. If you decide to close your business or adjust how you do things to fit your life, don’t let anyone make you feel like a failure. Entrepreneurship is about molding your business to be what you want it to be, not someone else.”

—Victory Ram, Owner of Be Victorious Prep and First Impressions Solutions



24. Just Dive In

“I think the biggest advice I can give to female entrepreneurs is just to go and sell. Most people think that you have to have everything set in place first before you start your own business, like a business model, investment, employees, products, and so on. Essentially, all you need first is an idea and then after that test your idea by selling it. The rest you can do as you go.”

—Dea Rezkitha, Co-Founder of No-Location



25. Stay Hyper-Focused

“Now that we have been in business for five years, I can say with certainty that there are some things I wish I knew going into the business.

Know your strength and weakness. Simply put, we cannot do it all by ourselves. The sooner we realize the things we are not good at, the sooner we can find someone who can help our company grow. Stay focused. When I started my business, I wanted to do it all—sell to 3rd party channels, be on every newspaper, get to know everyone, etc. Ultimately this didn’t work. By staying focused on the few things that mattered, our business grew a lot faster.”

—Vienne Cheung, Founder of VienneMilano



26. Define Your Message and Set Forth

“Get crystal clear on your unique, meaningful message. If you don’t discover what you want to add to the world and specifically provide a solution, your message won’t land or magnetize your ideal customers. Next, come out of hiding. Once you’ve got your message, you’ve got to be willing to shout out from the mountain tops. You’ve got to be willing to be ‘out there.’ Nothing is more attractive to customers than sharing your personal story. It’s essential to do the inner work that allows us to be transparent and authentic with our audience.”

—Nicole Casanova, Owner and Founder of Polished Professional Development



27. Share the Highs and Lows

“I started my business 3 years ago and wish that I had not done it alone. I am lucky to have a supportive partner, but working on your own day in and day out can be hard. You need someone to share the highs and lows.”

—Flora Pringles, Owner of Cracked Candy



28. Follow Your Instincts

“’Go with your gut’ is probably the best piece of advice I could have given myself and that I would give others. Especially as women, we have gut instincts, and we tend to let others talk us out of listening to it. But for the most part, those gut reactions were correct.”

—Angie Scott, COO and Co-Founder of Search Influence



29. You’re the Owner, Not the Employee

“What I wish I had known before starting my business are the habitual techniques that shift people away from an employee mindset and towards the entrepreneurial mindset. I spent too many years being my own employee rather than building my empire.”

—Shirley George Frazier, Owner of Gift Basket Business



30. It’ll Be Hard at First

“I started my business with the goal of having more work-life balance so I could spend more time with my family. After I started my company I didn’t realize how hard it would be to still juggle work and family the first couple of years. In fact, I was working as many hours as I was when I was working in a corporate job for someone else, and there were still pulls and tugs between my family and my business.

My advice to other entrepreneurs: Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel! The first couple of years are hard, but if you can get your business up and running, hire a few quality employees and trust them enough to delegate, you’ll be able to achieve a more sustainable, long-term lifestyle.”

—Erika Taylor Montgomery, CEO and Chief Publicist of Three Girls Media



31. Be Passionate About Your Business

“Carry your passion with you. As a woman in any industry, you have to have thick skin and a strong sense of self. I’ve found that women sometimes—more so than men—are afraid to take chances, and being secure and confident with yourself is sometimes the extra boost you need.  For me, as a female in the tech industry, where you do not see many females at the forefront, the key to success for women entrepreneurs lies in being passionate about your dreams and believing in yourself.”

—Ayrin Islam, CEO and Co-Founder of RingID



32. Hire the Right People—Right Away

“My mantra as I do my job each day is, ‘It’s not all about you.’ So, my advice looking back is this: Build your team as soon as possible. As long as you are your business, you’ll stall your growth. The most valuable piece of advice that helped me grow my business into what it is today is how to hire quality people.”

—Kathleen Tomes, President of Brilliant PR and Marketing



33. Remember Why You Started in The First Place

“When you start your own business or work for a new company, you have to remind yourself why you started. We all came from bigger companies where we didn’t have to start from scratch with every deal. But we aren’t here because we thought it was going to be easier. We knew it was going to be hard, but it’s something that we believe in. So when things get difficult, it’s important to remember why you took that leap of faith to begin with. The values and the reasons why you chose this path have to be what drive you every day through the ups and downs.”

–Shannon Marrs, Founder and Paige Greene and Lizzie Shepherd, Leaders of Chirp Research



There you have it—valuable pieces of small business wisdom straight from female entrepreneurs just like yourself.

We hope that this advice is exactly what you need to take a leap of faith for your business, or guide you through the unknowns of starting your own company.

Have any advice for small business owners just starting up? Leave it in the comments!



December 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , ,
10 female founders who have turned science into a business



From pharma giants to medtech start-ups, science and business go hand in hand. But who are the women performing alchemy and turning their groundbreaking research into gold?


As we continue our Science 50, we take a look at the entrepreneurial women who have turned their scientific backgrounds and innovations into successful businesses.


Nina Tandon

CEO and co-founder of EpiBone, Nina Tandon is a tissue engineering researcher who may have the future of medicine figured out.

Currently serving as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Cooper Union in New York, Tandon studies electrical signalling in the context of tissue engineering, with a goal of creating spare parts for human implantation or disease models.


Tandon studied electrical stimulation for cardiac tissue engineering at MIT and Columbia, and continues to focus on electrical stimulation for broader tissue engineering applications. As a Fulbright Scholar in Rome, she developed an electronic nose to sniff out lung cancer.


Rana el Kaliouby

Egyptian-born Rana el Kaliouby is on a mission to bring emotion to digital technology by enabling cameras in smartphones and computers to read human expressions.

The co-founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Affectiva, el Kaliouby is commercialising emotion-recognition technology based on her research.


Rana el Kaliouby

Rana el Kaliouby. Image: Web Summit 2015/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

At MIT, el Kaliouby spearheaded the applications of emotion-sensing and facial coding. She holds a PhD from Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

El Kaliouby was recognised by Entrepreneur as one of the ‘7 Most Powerful Women to Watch in 2014’, inducted into the Women in Engineering Hall of Fame, and named one of Technology Review’s ‘Top 35 Innovators Under 35’.


Sally Cudmore

Dr Sally Cudmore is general manager of the APC Microbiome Institute, which launched in University College Cork (UCC) last year.


Sally Cudmore, UCC

Professor Fergus Shanahan and Dr Sally Cudmore of the APC Microbiome Institute at UCC. Image: UCC

Formerly known as the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, APC is a partnership between UCC, Teagasc and Cork Institute of Technology, and explores the importance of microbes in health and nutrition, specifically gastrointestinal bacteria.

Since its foundation 13 years ago, APC has made several seminal contributions to the field and was ranked second, globally, in the area of science by Thomson Reuters.

Cudmore has a biochemistry degree from UCC and a PhD from the cell biology programme at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.


Claire Gormley

Dr Claire Gormley is one of two women (alongside Emily Duffy) behind the award-winning start-up Game Changer. Dr Gormley is an assistant professor in statistics at University College Dublin (UCD) and a researcher with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Her start-up won UCD’s commercialisation award earlier this year.


Claire Gormley and Emily Duff

From left: Dr Claire Gormley and Emily Duffy at NovaUCD. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The company is developing a platform to provide post-match sports performance analytics for individuals, teams and organisations. Interestingly, Game Changer also provides a bespoke statistical tool to identify key players for team selection or potential recruitment.

Game Changer won the 2016 UCD Insight Innovation Sprint Programme, a one-day initiative designed and held at NovaUCD.


Jane Farrar

Prof Jane Farrar successfully co-founded Genable Technologies, a gene therapy business that hit the headlines earlier this year after its €5.4m sale to Spark Therapeutics.


Jane Farrar, Trinity College DublinProf Jane Farrar, Trinity College Dublin. Image: Aidan Crawley

The company started in Trinity College Dublin when Farrar was a PhD researcher. Along with her colleagues, Farrar was looking at the genetics of an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). After devising a gene-therapy approach to suppress the problematic, mutant gene involved in RP, Genable Technologies was formed and immediately impressed.

Farrar’s work has been supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research BoardWellcome Trust, EU Framework programmes, Fighting Blindness Ireland and Foundation Fighting Blindness US.


Ciara Clancy

Chartered physiotherapist and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Ciara Clancy launched start-up Beats Medical in 2012, when she was just 22.

Beats Medical is a smartphone app designed to support those who suffer from Parkinson’s. Utilising individualised metronome therapy, the app improves mobility and reduces instances of gait freezing. It also provides users with daily assessments and regular progress reports.



Last year, Clancy was named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, and Beats Medical beat off the competition in Google’s Adopt a Start-up programme.

Just last month, Beats Medical became the first Irish company to present at Google’s demo day.


Sinéad Kenny

Despite being unsure which scientific avenue to go down during her early years of school, Sinéad Kenny quickly realised that the rapidly advancing world of materials science was for her.

A few decades later, Kenny was co-founder of DiaNia Technologies, one of Ireland’s fastest-growing indigenous medical devices companies. From the Inspirefest 2016 stage, Kenny announced that the company had received €2m in seed money in a recent funding round.



Kenny has spoken of a major void existing in the market, which DiaNia’s strong materials, science and project management capabilities can maximise upon during the early development phase of devices.


Emmeline Hill

Dr Emmeline Hill, an equine genomics researcher at UCD, co-founded Equinome (alongside horse trainer Jim Bolger) in 2009.

While analysing genes in thoroughbred racehorses, Hill identified a genetic marker that linked to a horse’s athletic performance. This discovery led to the development of a speed gene test to help match horses with courses, and to inform breeding and training decisions.


Emmaline Hill, Equinome

Equinome co-founder Dr Emmeline Hill with her 2014 NovaUCD Innovation Award. Image: Nick Bradshaw

This test was instrumental in this year’s decision not to run 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold at the Epsom Derby.

In 2015, Equinome was acquired by Plusvital. Hill is Plusvital’s chief science officer, continuing to drive research into genetic tests and performance potential.


Áine Behan

Áine Behan is the founder and CEO of Irish start-up Cortechs, the company behind wearable tech that uses brainwave-sensing technology and gameplay to improve attention in children diagnosed with ADHD.

Behan has a background in neuroscience and neuropathology. Her research expertise focuses on the effects of stresses like drugs on mental health and neurodegenerative disease. The Cortechs technology aims to bypass the need for drugs in the treatment of certain conditions.



Behan was the only Irish finalist at 2014’s Lady Pitch night in Paris.

A former Start-up of the Week, Cortechs is already enjoying success, having been named as winner of the 2015 FutureHealth pre-accelerator at NDRC.


Sinead O’Sullivan

Northern Ireland native and aerospace engineer Sinead O’Sullivan has had an interest in space since she was a child but, after a trip to NASA, she soon realised that it was where she wanted to make a career.

Going on to work at NASA, where she developed parts of the technology that would take spacecraft – and future humans – to Mars, she has now entered the entrepreneurial game as CEO of Fusion Space Technologies.


Sinead O'Sullivan, Fusion Space TechnologiesSinead O’Sullivan, CEO of Fusion Space Technologies. Image: Fusion Space Technologies

Now describing herself as part of the ‘space mafia’, she and her start-up are creating the first ever platform for crowdsourced drone data. [SiliconRepublic]

December 3, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Visual Intelligence: Make Better High-Stakes Decisions


Amy Herman created and conducts all sessions of ‘The Art of Perception’, an education program that was initially used to help medical students improve their observation skills. Often in diagnostics, you’re not looking for what you can see, but what you can’t – this is called the ‘pertinent negative’. The same goes for investigations, and so the program was adapted for the New York City Police Department, and other intelligence agencies. Really, Herman says, it’s about fine-tuning something we take as a given: our visual intelligence. This refers to the concept that we see more than we can possibly process. What we register is just a fraction of the world around us, so how can we see more? Like any other skill or muscle, to get the most and best use out of it, it needs training.

According to Herman, we need to think more consciously about what we see and deliberately take information in so that we can do our jobs more effectively and live our lives more purposefully. To that end, she runs us through a building block of ‘The Art of Perception’ course: The Four A’s.

Tune into the video above for four practical steps to make more perceptive and informed decisions. Amy Herman is the author of Visual Intelligence:Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. [BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Hotels VS. Airbnb: Positive Rivalry Drives Innovation


What could a global hotel executive have to say about Airbnb? The rule is typically: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Since peer-to-peer accommodation start-up Airbnb launched in 2008, the mood has been tense between traditional lodging providers and the DIY movement that Airbnb represents.

However Kimo Kippen is the Former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton Worldwide and view on Airbnb is defined by one word: exciting. Airbnb many not own hotel rooms, valuable property, or even a long-standing reputation, but what it does have is an ingenious platform that grants so much more autonomy and choice to its users. Kippen sees this competition as inspiration and is pushing Hilton to make greater efforts to innovate and keep up, for example through an integrated app that allows digital check in, greater room control, and digital room keys.

There are countless studies which demonstrate that competition increases motivation – as far back as 1891, psychologist Norman Triplett found that the presence of another cyclist made his study participants pedal faster.

The rivalry between companies like Apple and Microsoft has led to ever-advancing technology for the public, the result of two competitors spring-boarding off one another and pushing each other to innovate.

The hotel business is booming, with the industry showing all-time high performance and growth projections in 2015, according to competitive benchmarking firm STR. Supply is climbing, and the pace of hotel closings is slowing. This is even as a study from Boston University in June 2016 found that Airbnb has contributed to a reduction in “aggressive hotel room pricing, an impact that benefits all consumers, not just participants in the sharing economy.” That likely hurts the bottom-line of hotels and yet they have, on the whole, been resourceful enough to have the best year ever. In turn, changes are being enforced on Airbnb, most recently through a new law in New York that only permits room rentals if the host is also living in the apartment, and prohibits rentals in multi-unit buildings for less than 30 days – violations are punishable by a $7,500 fine. This is controversial for many reasons, and no doubt hinders Airbnb’s ability to function. Will they find ways to remain competitive?

Hotels and peer-to-peer accommodation will find themselves in a beneficial rivalry only if the focus is on self-improvement, as opposed to the destruction of the other. When the latter happens, it punishes the client and hinders the spirit of innovation. [BigThink]

December 2, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Five reasons why cutting NASA’s climate research would be a colossal mistake

1479979834 Image: Shutterstock.

James Dyke, University of Southampton

Will President Trump really slash funding of NASA’s “politicised” climate change science?

It certainly has been politicised, but not by the scientists conducting it. Blame instead the fossil fuel industry-funded lobby groups and politicians that have for more than a generation tried using doubt, obfuscation or straightforward untruths to argue that humans are not in fact causing significant changes to the climate.

That is what must irk Trump’s team of sceptics. NASA’s organisations such as the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have made seminal contributions to our understanding of how humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All funded by the US taxpayer.

De-funding NASA’s climate change science is effectively sticking your fingers in your ears and whistling Dixie. The Earth’s climate is indifferent to politics and will continue to respond to human emissions of greenhouse gases. All that would happen is US leadership in this area would end, with the risk that not just America but humanity would be the loser.

Specifically, here are five reasons why de-funding (aka wilfully destroying) NASA’s climate change research would be colossally stupid.


1. NASA’s satellites are our eyes on our world

NASA currently operates more than a dozen satellites that orbit the Earth and remotely sense ocean, land and atmospheric conditions. Its research encompasses solar activity, sea level rise, the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, the ozone layer, air pollution, and changes in sea and land ice.

All of this is directly relevant to climate change, but also represents vital research on these different components of the Earth system itself. Billions of dollars have been sunk into these programs which produce data that is used by an international community of scientists studying many different aspects of the Earth.


NASA Earth observation satellites.

2. Climate science is a key part of NASA’s mission

Okay, we can’t turn all these satellites off, but we can stop the Administration using its data to progress climate change science. NASA was created with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 with a remit to develop technology for “space observations” but not Earth science. That was the job of other federal agencies.

But the model of cross-agency research failed during the 1970s due to a lack of funding. Budgets were cut and NASA ended up conducting some of the science that was made possible by the data it was collecting. Moreover, it was told to put more emphasis on research towards “national needs” such as energy efficiency, pollution, ozone depletion and yes, climate change. As such, Earth and climate change science is one of the central remits of the agency which has become a global leader in it.


3. NASA attracts the best of the best

NASA is world famous, largely because of programs such as Apollo which put humans on the Moon. But its fame extends well beyond those interested in space flight. NASA attracts some of the world’s best and brightest Earth and climate change scientists because its operations offer unparalleled breadth and scale of research. And saying “I work for NASA” is still pretty cool.

De-funding climate change science would mean putting many scientists – some of whom are just starting their careers – out of work. Some would be happily gobbled up by other agencies in other countries, in fact I’m sure overtures to some staff are already in the post. This would be America’s loss.


4. NASA has transformed climate change communication

A visit to will immediately show how effective NASA’s communication of Earth science has become. Climate science is complex. NASA along with other US agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produce unparalleled visualisations of climate change. These are used by other agencies and communicators around the world and further increases the profile and reputation of NASA and the US as leaders in Earth science.



5. Climate science can be NASA’s next great legacy

It’s easy to get misty-eyed about some of NASA’s operations. Apollo was a staggering achievement. But while US astronauts visited the Moon “for all mankind” we should remember that the space race was driven by the cold war and rivalry with the USSR. The fact humans have never returned to the Moon should tell us that there isn’t much to be gained from such fleeting visits.

In terms of legacy, I think Eugene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 and so the last human to walk on the moon, summed it up best: “We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth”. It was one of the crew of Apollo 17 that took photograph AS17-148-22727 as they left Earth orbit on their way to the Moon on the December 7, 1972. This photograph is now known as the Blue Marble and has become one of the most reproduced images in all of human history.


The Blue Marble photograph.

There have been profound changes to the Earth since that photograph was taken. There are nearly twice as many humans living on it. The number of wild animals has halved. Concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for many thousands of years. And yes, the Earth’s surface and oceans are warmer, glaciers are melting and sea levels rising.

The Blue Marble, like all of NASA’s images, was released to the public domain. Free to be used by anyone. The science that NASA conducts on climate change is similarly shared across the world. Its Earth and climate science represents the best of not just the US, but humanity. We need it now, more than ever.

The Conversation

James Dyke, Lecturer in Sustainability Science, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
What will the world actually look like at 1.5°C of warming?

1479392539 Image: Shutterstock.



Richard Betts, University of Exeter

The high ambition of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”, was driven by concern over long-term sea level rise. A warmer climate inevitably means melting ice – you don’t need a computer model to predict this, it is simple common sense.

As temperatures rise, sooner or later much of the world’s glaciers will become water, which will end up in the ocean. With enough warming, ice sheets could also begin to melt irreversibly. Also, water expands as it warms. Although the full impact will take a long time – centuries or more – the implications of even only 2°C warming for low-lying coastal areas and island states are profound. This is why, in Paris, the world agreed to “pursue efforts” to go further, and limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Pre-industrial” is not always well-defined, but is often taken as 1850-1900 since that is when accurate measurements became widespread enough to estimate global temperature change. By the 1980s, when scientists first warned about the risks of climate change, the world had already warmed by around 0.4°C. Things have accelerated since, and while year-to-year changes show downs as well as ups, the general ongoing trend is upwards. Latest data from the Met Office shows 2016 is expected to be 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels – the hottest year ever recorded.

So given this, what will a world above 1.5°C look like?


Not much different … at first

Depending on climate sensitivity and natural variability, we could conceivably see the first year above 1.5°C as early as the late 2020s – but it is more likely to be later. In any case, the first year above 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures will not represent what a world that warm looks like in the longer term.

During that year we’d expect some extreme weather events somewhere in the world, as happens every year. Some of these heatwaves, heavy downpours or droughts may well have become more likely as part of the changing climate. Others, however, may not have changed in likelihood. Teasing out the signal of climate change from the noise of natural variability is hard work.


It’s hard to say how much climate change is responsible for any individual storm.
Zacarias Pereira da Mata / shutterstock 

But there will be some places which do not yet see major impacts in that first year, that nevertheless will have become more likely to be affected. The “loaded dice” analogy is rather clichéd, but nevertheless useful – even a pair of loaded dice will not roll a double six every time, just more often than normal dice. So while the chances of an extreme heatwave, for instance, may have increased by the time we exceed 1.5°C, it may not necessarily occur in that year.

Furthermore, some impacts such as sea level rise or species extinctions will lag behind the change in climate, simply because the processes involved can be slow. It takes decades or more to melt glaciers, so the input of extra water to the oceans will take time.

None of this should lull us into a false sense of security, however. While rising seas or biodiversity losses may not be obvious in the first year above 1.5°C, some of these changes will probably be already locked in and unavoidable.


Beyond global warming

The impacts of increased carbon dioxide do not just come from its effects as a greenhouse gas. It also affects plant growth directly by enhancing photosynthesis (“CO₂ fertilisation”), and makes the sea less alkaline and more acidic. “Ocean acidification” is unhealthy for organisms which make calcium in their bodies, like corals and some forms of plankton. All other things being equal, CO₂ fertilisation could be viewed to some extent as “good news” as it could help improve crop yields, but even so, the implications for biodiversity may not all be positive – research has already shown that higher CO₂ benefits faster-growing species such as lianas, which compete with trees, so the makeup of ecosystems can change.


Increased carbon dioxide favours lianas (woody vines) more than trees.
Stephane Bidouze / shutterstock 

The extent to which a 1.5°C world will see these other impacts depends on the still-uncertain level of “climate sensitivity” – how much warming occurs for a given increase in carbon dioxide. Higher sensitivity would mean even a small rise in CO₂ would lead to 1.5°C, so fertilisation and acidification would be relatively less important, and vice versa.


Impacts of staying at 1.5°C

There is a huge debate about whether limiting warming to 1.5°C is even possible or not. But even if it is, limiting global warming will itself have consequences. I’m not talking here about potential economic impacts (whether positive or negative). I’m talking about impacts on the kind of thing we are trying to protect by minimising climate change itself, things like biodiversity and food production.

In scenarios that limit warming at 1.5°C, net CO₂ emissions would have to become negative well before the end of the century. This would mean not only stopping the emission of CO₂ into the atmosphere, but also taking huge quantities of it out. Large areas of new forest and/or large plantations of bioenergy crops would have to be grown, coupled with carbon capture and storage. This will require land. But we also need land for food, and also value biodiverse wilderness. There is only so much land to go round, so difficult choices may be ahead.

So while the Paris Agreement ramped up the ambition and committed the world to trying to limit warming to 1.5°C, we should remember that there is much more than a single number that is important here.

It would be naive to look at the climate in the first 1.5°C year and say “Okay, that’s not so bad, maybe we can relax and let the warming continue”. It’s vital to remember that at any given level of global warming, we have not yet seen the full impacts of it. But nor have we seen the impacts of holding back warming at low levels. One way or another, ultimately the world is going to be a very different place.

The Conversation

Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
3 Digital Start-Ups That Made it Big (and what you can learn from them)

3 Digital Start-Ups That That Made it Big


Success and financial freedom are often mentioned.

Some feel like they have achieved it but want more and are afraid of losing it tomorrow. They are the successful but paranoid.  So they keep going hard.

Others sense they are never going to arrive, have dreams and ideas but never take the first step. Some are sitting at the executive desk or they could be washing floors or wiping tables.

So quiet desperation is often a constant state of mind. With a common question. Am I doing enough?…could I do more?

But despite the paranoia there is one truth that can’t be argued with:

Unless you start nothing happens


What drives that motivation?

I would love to be able to reveal the secret formula to starting for those that can’t find that motivation. But it is something that sits inside each one of us.


It can show show up when you have failed big. The pain is so strong that the resistance can no longer hold you back.

You are in a space of having nothing to lose.

It can reveal itself when you there is a dissonance, a voice…a noise that keeps gnawing. The grating is so annoying that you have to make a move.

So you start.

But what is the difference between crash and burn or soar and succeed?


The biggest reasons startups succeed (or fail)

It’s a question I often ask myself and looking back on my own path there are some common threads that stood between success and failure.

Bill Goss decided to look at the data of hundreds of startups and discovered the key factors for success. This is what he discovered.

The number one thing was timing. Timing accounted for 42 percent of the difference between success and failure. Team and execution came in second, and the idea,  the uniqueness of the idea, that actually came in third”.

The other two factors?

In descending order of correlation to success are business model and funding.


5 reasons for startup success

Graphic source: TED


My first success was a communications company that I grew from zero to over $2 million in 2 years. The primary reason I would put down to its exploding growth was timing. The opportunity came as the industry was deregulated just before we launched.

This blog was launched in 2009 when social media was just starting to scale (only 5 million on Twitter) and blogging was just starting to be cool. Timing I believe was also key.

It is good to be one of the first kids on the block.

One of the companies listed here had the good timing of launching soon after the Apple App store opened then Apple allowed notifications via SMS. Its growth went exponential.


What allows these startups to scale so fast?

In the 1990’s AOL was launched. But only 1% of the world was on the Internet in 1995 . Today we have over 3.4 billion people online (which is over 40%).


Growth of the Internet users in 2016

Graph source:


Here are are some of the major reasons companies can now grow exponentially.

  • Global market – Access to billions of people
  • The rise of the social web – You are able to publish in real time at scale without paying the old media gatekeepers
  • Smartphones – Access to the internet no matter where you has allowed companies that are just websites, apps and have no physical products to transform industries (Eg. Uber and Dropbox)
  • Low cost of developing applications and software – Technology that was only available to large conglomerates is now reaching small business. Digital marketing automation is one example here.

3 digital start-ups that cracked the code

Taking it from zero to hero is not luck but needs great timing.

We will take a look at a simple app that made it big, a new age publisher that is disrupting news and media and an online store that has challenged the billion dollar global conglomerates.

What are some of the insights, secrets and tactics that enabled these startups to succeed with no guarantees of success?


#1. WhatsApp

WhatsApp began as a simple idea: Their mission? “Ensuring that anyone could stay in touch with family and friends anywhere on the planet, without costs or gimmicks standing in the way“.

The name inspiration? A play on the words “What’s Up”.

It was founded in February 2009 by two ex-employees of Yahoo. (Brian Acton and Jan Koum). And the concept emerged after Koum bought an iPhone in 2009 and realized that the 7 month old App store was a game changer. A new industry was emerging. Mobile apps.

A Russian developer was hired and the app was built

In June 2009 Apple announced push notifications and WhatsApp 2.0 gave users the ability to ping everyone in the user’s network when users changed their status. Their user numbers then hit 250,000.

In December 2009 they added the capability to send photos.

Other milestones:

  • To save money and to slow its growth the service was changed to paid. But that was only $1 a year
  • In early 2011 the app was in the top 20 of all the apps in the Apple’s U.S. App Store
  • In April 2011, Sequoia Capital paid $8 million for 15% of the company
  • February 2013 they hit 200 million active users
  • By December 2013 they reached 400 million users which made Facebook, Twitters and Skype comparative growth rates in 4 years seem rather lame. (see chart below)
  • On February, 2014 Facebook paid $19.4 billion (just months after a venture capital raising valued it at $1.5 billion)

Mark Zuckerberg’s reason for paying that premium in 2014?

It is the only wide used app that has more engagement and a higher percentage of daily users than Facebook…and we believe that it will grow to over 1 billion users in just a few years.

Just 2 years later it hit 1 billion users!


Whatsapp growth 5 billion dollar startups

Graphic source:


The marketing and keys to success

One of the keys to their success was they were a well timed disrupter. Along the lines of Uber that has challenged the entrenched, expensive and lazy monopolies of the taxi industry.

It resonated with a younger generation that couldn’t afford to pay for expensive texts and MMS messaging.

Large telecommunications companies were more concerned with maximizing revenue within their countries rather than innovating. WhatsApp saw an opportunity to go global.

  • The founders were astute enough to notice an emerging trend and industry. The rise of “Mobile Apps”
  • They made it simple
  • It worked globally
  • Able to work across every phone, operating system, carrier and country
  • It’s timing in the Apple App store
  • The luck of having Apple allowing push notifications just after they launched which turned the app into one of the first “mobile instant messengers”
  • Persisted when the initial technology didn’t work well.
  • Raised money that allowed them to keep growing and investing in the technology

Maybe the real key to their success could be summed up with this “A simple to use product with superb timing that was noticed in the Apple App store


#2. Buzzfeed

Some startups are a fast burn with a meteoric rise built upon a fast adopted technology or app.  Others are a slow cook that took years to happen and to get noticed.

But both are growth hacked.

It is a combination of art and science where content creativity meets technology. This is where Buzzfeed happened. You could call it a “new age media company designed for a social and mobile web”.

Buzzfeed’s story began in 2001. It started with some inspiration. An email that went viral after Jonah Peretti (one of the founders) shared an email with 12 friends and it reached millions of people.

The inspiration and ideas from that incident didn’t take form until 2006.

So before the real Buzzfeed got started Peretti founded Huffington Post with Ken Lerer and Ariana Huffington in 2005.  While there he started a side project and ideas lab which was at first called “Contagious Media” in May 2006.

It officially kicked off in  October 2006. By 2012, Buzzfeed had hit 30 million visitors a month.

The essence of its success is founded on these foundational tactics. Contagious content, viral distribution, technology focus and its use of data to keep testing and iterating.

Other milestones

  • 2012 saw their first acquisition of Kingfish labs which focused on optimizing Facebook ads.
  • Another acquisition followed of Toronado labs (a data engineering team)
  • In 2014 they raised $50 million from the VC company Andreessen Horowitz
  • In August 2015, NBCUniversal invested another $200 million
  • By July 2016 it was receiving 471 million monthly visitors according to Quantcast. (see below)

Note: What is interesting here is that its own web properties traffic has shrunk. In July 2015 it was receiving 504 million visitors a month. But what has happened is that it has moved its content strategy to other sites. Where it receives billions of visits and views.


Buzzfeed traffic in 2016 by quantcast


The marketing and keys to success

The cornerstone of Buzzfeed’s initial success was the creation and curation of viral content. From the headlines to the visual media. But what the real secret is the use of technology that measures and then uses that data to provide ongoing optimization of content and distribution that maximizes views.

But the ongoing success is the ability of the Buzzfeed team to rapidly evolve and change its tactics as the social web has twisted and turned and continued to morph.

So how can we summarize this?

The first phase:

This was a vertically integrated strategy with the main aim being driving traffic to the website.


Buzzfeeds clasic vertical integration

Graphic source : Buzzfeed


Core marketing tactics for growing views and revenue.

  • Headlines. Large listicles and curiosity gap headlines
  • A big Facebook focus when it drove organic traffic
  • Curation of other sites content that was then re-purposed with new headlines
  • Quizzes – These are still some of their most shared posts
  • Website built for the social web
  • Niche marketing – a passionate small tribe will often take a piece of content viral
  • Stacked images – 10 images will drive more sharing than just one

For more information: “10 Content Marketing Lessons From the World’s Fastest Growing Websites


The second phase:

This has risen due to Facebook changing its algorithms from organic to paid traffic focus. New growth avenues had to be found for views and readers. It is about a “Network Integration Strategy”. Pushing content out to other hubs like Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

The strategy is now one of Creating (People making stuff) publishing to their Websites, uploaded to Apps and distributed on multiple social channels. Then they keep measuring and iterating from the big data.


Buzzfeed content distribution strategy

Graphic source : Buzzfeed 


To measure the success and learn from the data, Buzzfeed  developed proprietary technology to measure and view in more detail how its content propagates on the web.

In 2015 BuzzFeed announced the launch of its NEW product, POUND (Process for Optimizing and Understanding Network Diffusion).

Buzzfeed POUND technology for measuring sharing

Image source: Buzzfeed


In 2016 they have 75% of its content being consumed outside its own platform.

Of the 7 billion total monthly views: 21 percent of those are on Snapchat, 14 percent on YouTube and just 23% on its own properties and apps.

  • Globalisation of the news: Buzzfeed now has offices in the UK and Australia
  • Mobile Apps – As more people consume content via apps it is not enough to just have it on a mobile site.
  • Facebook video – According to Adweek–  BuzzFeed’s 8-month-old Tasty food network now averages 360 million users a month. Tasty’s deliciously short recipe videos autoplay in millions of Facebook feeds giving them a heaping helping of views. ” The company’s “little experiment” began when Facebook started allowing autoplay for in-feed videos.
  • Facebook Live – Its “Watermelon Explosion” had 800,000 concurrent viewers watching 2 Buzzfeed employees trying to make a watermelon explode with rubber bands.
  • Long form content (serious journalism) — This has been launched in the last 12 months and is titled “Buzzfeed Big Stories
  • Focus on distribution and views on other channels. On example of this is that Buzzfeed’s YouTube channels have now gone past 16 billion views and over 30 million subscribers.
  • Growing email subscribers also became a focus as Facebook reduced its organic reach
  • Podcasts – Buzzfeed now has 6 podcast channels

Revenue generation is not about banner ads (they don’t have any on the site) but native ads and sponsored content.

Key takeaways:

Focus on great content, grow your distribution on social and mobile, apply technology for data measuring to optimize the tactics. Use digital marketing automation for scaling the marketing.

Pursue a multi-channel marketing strategy to reduce the risk of being victim to an algorithm tweak.

So….”Think like a new age publisher


#3. Harry’s

Disruption to traditional industries is becoming the norm.

One of these is Harry’s. It is an online startup that saw an opportunity to disrupt the global domination of the incumbents in the razor market. The two founders were Jeff Raider and Andy Mayfield, who had founded another traditional retail disrupter Warby Parker.

Growth has been at a rate which has exceeded the industry and rival “The Dollar Shave Club”


Harrys growth hacking

Graphic source: Slice Intelligence


Other milestones:

  • Founded in March, 2013 after raising $4 million in seed funding
  • In January 2014 they purchased the Feintechnik razor factory in Germany for a reported $100 million
  • In July 2015 they obtained another injection of $76 million in venture funds
  • They announced in July 2016 that they now had 2 million customers

Note: On July 19, 2016 Unilever bought bought “The Dollar Shave Club” for $1 billion. This puts some perspective on the potential of Harry’s


Their launch marketing strategy and tactics

Their launch strategy was implementing a referral method with email and social media marketing in the launch process before they even went live with their online store.

It’s about the most powerful and effective way to introduce a new company online. Personal referrals as we know are the most powerful marketing tactic you can use. If we can leverage that then we are well on our way to a flying start.


Overview: The 4 step process

Step 1: The campaign platform 

This was a simple 2 page design and tech backend build that made it easy to share and grow the email list.

Harrys landing page

Graphic source: TimFerriss blog


Step 2: Offered tangible rewards

They provided an incentive for friends and family to share and subscribe. The fundamental mechanic of the campaign was a game: “Complete the challenge of referring friends and earn prizes


Harrys Sharing page

Graphic source: TimFerriss blog


Step 3: Made sharing fun and easy

They made the entire experience feel like a fun game. To amplify the experience, the campaign page included a tracker, similar to what is pictured above, where users could see how many friends they had referred and what prize they had achieved—or not yet achieved.

They also made it easy to share on social.

Harrys sharing

Step 4: Managed the process

The final critical element to the prelaunch campaign was customer support. Harry’s used a platform called Zendesk to manage tickets from customers.

The result:

In 7 days before launch they had captured over 100,000 emails. Now they have over 2 million customers.


The wrap

The lessons here are many. But there are some things that stand out.

  • The opportunities in a global digital market are big. They will only become larger as the more of the world comes online
  • Technology is the new essential partner in the marketing game.
  • Timing is a big factor in the success of the digital startup
  • Capturing and using data is the best way to learn, iterate and maintain momentum or you will get left behind
  • Growing multi-channel content distribution is important for reducing risk and growing reach

The reality is that traditional industries are ripe for disruption. You choice is whether you will disrupt yourself and evolve if you are an existing business.

Or maybe launch a startup that innovates and makes it big.

Read whole article at

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , , , ,
15 Growth Hacks I Used To Drive 20 Million Views

Woman eye with contact lens applying, macro. Blue dilated pupil, eyeball, iris


Growing your business can be tough.

In the past you cold called, built business networks and advertised in print. If you were into guerilla marketing then creating a PR stunt could work well. But I don’t like dressing up as a rabbit to sell Easter eggs.

For most, the opportunity of massive media reach like television was also out of the question.

Too expensive.

So……the choices were few but the opportunity was also smaller. It was local. Most media did not go beyond national borders. When I stumbled into social for the first time there was sudden clarity.

The world could be reached with one tweet.

But there is a challenge

For many of us the new digital world is strange and forbidding. We read about technology with its terms and acronyms that are overwhelming and unfamiliar.

This stops many from even starting.

But ignoring the strange and sticking with the known is not an option if you want to press forward into the future. Staying with comfortable is a mindset that needs to be fought tooth and nail.

Learn to live at the edge of constant discomfort.

You need the right mindset

What is that?

It is often  tossed around like confetti. But a new century mindset is a prerequisite to making progress in the world of digital transformation.

Here are some to ponder.

Open to continuous learning, dedicated to mastery and flexibility are in the mix. But the big one is an open mind. If you are closed to new ideas and fixed in your ways then it won’t be evolution but extinction.

Reinventing yourself and your business is becoming mandatory to success as a digital entrepreneur.

The world beckons

Many people are location stuck. It even comes up in their questions. Like…..when should I tweet? The correct answer is 24 hours a day.

These hacks are not just about traffic growth , conversion optimization but revenue growth.

Even though this blog started as a passion project it is now a serious business. Today the blog has reached over 20 million visitors since we started with a simple 106 word post in 2009 and here are the top growth hacks that helped me get there.


Growth hacks for traffic, conversion and sales


Traffic is the place where is starts. It is the lifeblood for digital entrepreneurs. A website is no longer just an online billboard. It should be your marketing machine. Driven by the art of engaging content and the technology of marketing automation platforms, pop ups and landing pages and data collection.

This should lead to ongoing optimization of tactics and business tweaks that use the data insights to drive change. Here are some of the tactics that have made a difference.

1. Publish long form content

Banging out short fluffy post maybe worked a few years ago. Then Google decided that it would give more authority to long form posts that added real value to readers.

So try writing posts that are 1000 to 2000 plus words. Make them a resource type post that people will want to link to when they are writing their posts.

This organic link building will push your posts up the rankings. Hence more free traffic from search engines.

Here is some data from SERPIQ that shows the average length of the top 10 results of search queries. They are all longer than 2,000 words!




2. Publish your best content on Medium

With over 12.5 million unique visitors a month (according to, Medium is a blogging style platform that gets your content in front of another audience. Building an audience there is also an important part of growing awareness and traffic.

Since creating my profile on Medium and publishing there have been able to build a following of over 55,000 readers.




So take some of your best content and re-post it on Medium.

Sometimes the traffic will surprise you. In September the 10 top social media marketing trends post received over 5,000 views.



Make sure you link back to your blog or website to get more attention and traffic with a simple call to action or even link from your bio at the bottom of the post.




3. Publish on Flipboard

Flipboard with over 90 million hist per month is a site that allows you to grow followers. Create your own magazine(s). This can drive more visitors than Facebook on some posts.

Marketing your brand is about being everywhere in a wide range of media formats to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to your web properties.  So create your own Flipboard magazine for your blog. Load up your articles and you have your blog in a magazine format. Flipboard just happens to make it look sensational!

As Flipboard is not just an app now but also on the web. This adds another distribution point to amplify your content in another format. Here is the traffic being driven to the blog by Flipboard a couple of days ago.


5 Ways Brands can market with Flipboard

Example: Here is the Jeff Blog Magazine


5 Ways Brands can market with Flipboard


4. Automate Twitter sharing

Twitter is great for sharing thought bubbles and even breaking news. But if you use it for marketing or sharing your content and do it manually it is very time consuming

There are a range of tools available including SocialOomph that allow you to automate a range of different types of tweet. Loading up a bank of tweets with evergreen content that can be set up as recurring is what SocialOOmph is great for.



This tactic has generated nearly 15% of my traffic on automatic pilot.


5. Share Influencers content on autopilot

Social media is sometimes seen as a narcissists heaven as it provides global online attention. If you want to succeed then enlisting others to help starts with helping them first. I share over 20 other bloggers content on Twitter every day. Sometimes it is manual and other times I automate it.

The original app I used for that was Twitterfeed but is now closed. One of the best ways to do this now is to use a combination of Feedly, Buffer and IFTTT to trigger tweets that when bloggers post content you love and trust it is shared on Twitter.

This is how it works!

You will need to link Feedly to IFTTT and then to Buffer to setup automated Tweets that are scheduled to go out at times you set, 24/7/365 just like this;


IFTT and Feedly Twitter apps example

This will enable you to share top content on autopilot. This will grow your Twitter following and so more traffic! If you want to see how Larry McGuire explains how to do this check out this post, “7 Powerful Twitter Apps You Need to Work On Autopilot


6. Tweet often

Many people are not sure how often they should tweet.

Most people bring their email goggles to Twitter tweeting. They think it is an inbox. It’s not. It’s a stream of online consciousness. It needs to be fed with constant updates.

Posting frequency on Twitter and Facebook is sometimes treated by companies in the same way. It shouldn’t. Twitter will tolerate much more frequent posting than Facebook. In fact studies show that a tweet every 15 minutes receives higher engagement than every 30 minutes.

The study results from Simply Measured shows that tweeting every fifteen minutes instead of thirty led to the following:

  • Increased traffic by 31%
  • Engagement was up by 89%

That just confirmed what I have been doing for years.

What is also interesting is to see brands tweeting more frequently.


Twitter frequency

Even though nearly 50% are only tweeting 1-5 times a day, the number that are posting 25+ times has increased.

Load tweets once and then tweet many times. So tweet often and use apps to do this for you without having to do it manually all the time.


7. Write evergreen articles

Evergreen content are posts that don’t date easily like the latest news.

But why is evergreen content important?

One big reason is because of search engines.  It’s called SEO. According to Appnovation, new content with 2-3% keyword density will get the highest rating in Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

But what about authoritative posts? If an article isn’t authoritative, if it doesn’t have relevant information, the advice is for sites to take it down during redesign.

The old stuff is called ‘legacy content’. When a third party is linking to an article with “outdated information”, it’s a shoddy legacy for a host site. The host has incentive to take it down and make room for currently relevant content.

That’s why you should write evergreen posts. So your work stays up, so it stays useful to an audience and therefore, a website. Evergreen content maintains authority over time because it continues to be relevant.

This piece, on the other hand, deals with the underlying concept of SEO as we know it:


maximize your content marketing strategy with search engines for evergreen content



8. Publish and re-purpose content on Slideshare

Almost everyone is looking for quick easy big wins but you just need to grind it out. Slideshare is one of the tactics that is incremental but keeps giving.

Slideshare is also often underrated as it isn’t a sexy social network but just a visual media platform that is more for the buttoned up set. But turning the appropriate posts into Powerpoints and uploading them to Slideshare can generate traffic and leads.

Since I started on Slideshare I have reached nearly 2 million views and from that comes some traffic back to the blog from presentations like this one below which has received over 155, 000 views.



One of the best posts on this with some very cool tips and tactics comes from Eugene Cheng. (See her post below).


9. Use GIFs in Tweets

As human attention drops to levels below that of a goldfish the fight for clicks and shares becomes a bun fight. So use GIF’s that scream (in a nice way) at the viewer.

Here is an example of one we have used for AgoraPulse’s very cool social media marketing automation app that is one of our favourite tools.



10. Use hashtag jacking

When the latest series for the Game of Thrones was launched there is a lot of buzz. People Tweet, Snapchat and Instagram. Hashtags are a big part if this online.

So we decided to  write a post titled “3 Powerful Social Media Marketing Lessons From Game of Thrones” and tweeted it with the top trending hashtags.

The result was 2,300 shares.




Calls to action and conversion tips

Traffic is one thing but that is just the start of turning that into engagement and then leads and sales is where the real money is. Once you have traffic then it is important to start focusing on calls to action and then optimizing your conversions.

11. Co-create free ebooks with other businesses

Collaboration is one of the most powerful ways to reach new audience grow brand awareness and traffic and conversions. You can double your reach alone with this tactic.

Here is a free ebook I created with GetResponse on marketing automation which is a topic that is relevant for both our readers




12. Convert Instagram visits to email subscribers

On Instagram you have one link in your profile so use it wisely.

Most send it to a website or a blog. Instead of that tactic create a call to action offering something of value for free. Then capture emails and build your email list.




13. Test your tweets

When Twitter started it was just text. That has changed.

Since they introduced the new function of allowing full images in the stream, I noticed a significant increase in engagement. This means more retweets, favourites, mentions and sharing.

Buffer performed some tests and analytics on the impact of this change and has discovered the following:

  • Tweets with images received 89% more favourites
  • Tweets with images received 18% more clicks than those without
  • Tweets with images received 150% more retweets

Now this doesn’t mean that every tweet should include an  image. But it certainly means that wise use of images should be woven into your content amplification strategy. An increase in engagement on Twitter can be a very effective tactic to increase sales and traffic.

I ran my own tests and found it was even higher using these 3 types of images.


Mini infographics


Twitter images


Images containing quotes

Twitter images

Generic images

Twitter images


These were the results from my data.

  • The percentage increase in impressions of a tweet with image over a tweet without is a substantial 197%.
  • Increase for “engagement” of a tweet with image over a tweet without is a staggering 581%
  • Percentage increase of a tweet with an image over a tweet without is a significant 111%.

So the increase in metrics when you include a great visual with your tweet can be between 100 and 600%. That is significant and leads to a big boost in traffic, so start adding visual tweets to your tactics.

Try 3 different images but with the same 140 text characters and headline in tweets for your next post. Check the metrics with Twitter analytics and then use the top performing image as your recurring tweet.


14. Implement marketing automation

Social and other digital marketing in its infancy was all manual but with automation now affordable the best way to scale and test your marketing is to implement a marketing automation software.

One of our top performing projects in the last 2 years was moving from just traffic and content engagement to focusing on email list building, conversion and optimization.

This light bulb moment happened during a Mastermind weekend event in Chicago in 2015. The insight was captured in this blog post. “Do You Have a Traffic Problem or a Conversion Problem




Since then I have used a variety of tools starting with a marketing automation platform, set up auto-responders to send email sequences after the initial optin. We also implemented Leadpages to capture and test landing pages and tested conversion rates.


15. Soft gate your website

Over the last 10 months I have been using one simple tactic to grow my email list. It’s the “welcome mat” landing page from SumoMe. It is now used by many sites and even though some pundits say they are annoying. They work.

This “soft gating” doesn’t block access with a payment gateway but is just a simple request offering something for free before clicking to access the site.

The stats show that the welcome mat is one of the highest converting list building tactics you can use. Sumome data shows that it can triple your conversion rate with its full-screen call to action.

It encourages your visitors to join your email list and check out your latest and popular blog post!




Since launching the pop up 10 months ago it has collected over 51,000 email addresses. Just putting a call to action in a side banner even at the top right will not perform that well.

But the reality is that these CTA’s should be woven into every corner of your blog and website marketing strategy.




Wrapping it up

None of these tactics are silver bullets.

But together they become a synergy of traffic, engagement and conversion that can turn a passion project into a real online business. It will allow you grow traffic from search and social, build your email list.

This then gives you the distribution and reach to sell both your own and other people’s products with affiliate marketing campaigns and joint ventures.

It is a journey that needs to move on from just getting traffic and building engaging content. That final step to convert attention into leads and sales is the difference between success and failure as a blogger and online business.

Read whole article at

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , ,
5 Growth Hacking Case Studies From Amazing Startups



Startup marketing can be a challenging journey, especially if you are starting from scratch. With so many digital channels to invest in and thousands of experts offering you multiple strategies, it is hard to make an informed decision.

The difference between startups and established businesses is the fact that the former is highly concerned with customer acquisition and retention more than anything else.

An established business might have the budget to burn cash for awareness and branding, whereas a startup’s major concern is more likely paying customers that can be generated without that cash burn.

A popular article in Huffington Post reads:

A lot of entrepreneurs get too excited or maybe they just don’t have clarity of direction yet. On the other hand business owners that do have an overall plan and get all of their strategies pulling the same way, are thriving.

I couldn’t agree more with the above statement.

Sean Ellis, the first marketer at Dropbox coined the term growth hacking, with an entire science behind it focused towards technical startup marketing.

This post talks about how popular startups understood the startup marketing funnel and applied successful hacks at every level to reach where they are today.


Understanding the startup marketing funnel

The marketing funnel for startups is based on the AARRR model. Here is what it stands for:



Image Source: Growth Rocks


Let’s dive into them with some more details:

  1. Acquisition: For startups, this would mean how you can gain the necessary awareness in order to see results from your marketing efforts.
  2. Activation: Once people know about your business, why should they convert? This step talks about how to move people further from the awareness stage.
  3. Retention: Why should someone keep using your product or service when there are multiple options available in the market? Retention explains how to keep your customers for life.
  4. Referral: Nothing is better than word of mouth marketing. This stage talks about how to get more customers out of your existing customers.
  5. Revenue: Finally, after executing all the above steps, understanding how your business will maintain a positive cash flow and growing profits is the key here.

Now that we are clear with the different steps of the startup marketing funnel, I am going to illustrate all these stages with examples from popular startups.


1. Acquisition: How Airbnb generated the right awareness for their product

After raising some initial funds for their business, the founders of Airbnb Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, started to analyze better ways of scaling their business other than paid acquisition.

They narrowed down their market research to one question.

Where does the target audience that looks for something other than a standard hotel experience hang out digitally?

The answer was Craigslist.

In order to get more traction for their listings, Airbnb decided to give an option to their site visitors for sharing their listing on Craigslist as well.

With a smooth marketing message, they encouraged people to share listings on Craigslist as well.

The results?

Using this hack, Airbnb received the attention of thousands of users from Craigslist, and since their listings were much more attractive with better descriptions and photographs than Craigslist, this led to a viral growth cycle.



Image Source: Growth Hackers


2. Activation: How PayPal activated users

Paypal was one of the most successful startups of the late 90’s.

Their phenomenal growth story involves going from 1 million users in March 2000 to 5 million users in summer 2000.

They started activating users by paying them to sign up. With every sign up, Paypal paid you $20 to sign up (and also $20 for a referral). As the value of their network grew, they reduced the bonus to $10, $5 and eventually nothing.

This was a classic example of activating users by giving an incentive.

Paypal tried a lot of advertising but this method achieved them the lowest CAC.


Image Source: Quora


3. Retention: How Groove reduced their churn rate by 71%

A major problem SaaS companies face is high churn rates.

Churn rate is the percentage of people exiting out of your subscription based business.

One such company that was struggling with churn rate was Groove.

Groove is a simple help desk software for businesses which comes at $15 per user.

Despite a healthy flow of new users, Groove’s 4.5% churn rate was making the business model unsustainable.

The folks at Groove analyzed the difference between users who stayed for more than 30 days and the ones who quit before that.

They divided people in the following categories:




After a lot of analysis, Groove decided to send targeted emails to people who spent less time on the platform and were likely to opt out after 30 days.

People with sessions under 2 minutes were sent this message:


Image Source: Kissmetrics


Someone who logged in fewer than 2 times in the first 10 days was sent the following message:



Image Source: Kissmetrics 


The results?

Using this conversion optimization strategy, Groove was able to reduce churn rate by 71%.

Key Takeaways

Understanding where people might be struggling with your product/service and addressing the same could get amazing results.


4. Referral: How Dropbox fueled their growth with referral marketing

Dropbox is probably one of the most popular tech startups. The success behind it’s viral growth is referral marketing.

With paid marketing, Dropbox was spending $250 per customer for a product that was priced at $99.

“Dropbox went from 100,000 to 4,000,000 users in 15 months”

Here are the steps Dropbox used to boost their growth…

Every friend you referred to Dropbox will earn you 500 MB more storage. You can earn up to 16GB of free space using the strategy.



Image Source : Referral Candy


They also made sure that inviting friends was easy to do .



Image Source : Referral Candy


The key takeaway from this story is that word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful strategies.

If you can incorporate referral signups/purchases in your business model with a valuable incentive for customers, it can be a strong driver for growth.


5. Revenue: The growth engine of PicMonkey

PicMonkey is a startup in one of the most competitive spaces – photo editing.

However, building a great product with a freemium model has done really well for them.

Millions of users join every month and billions of photos are edited.

People can access basic filters for free. For advanced filters and tools, people have to pay $4.99 on a monthly basis.

And hundreds of thousands of users pay that subscription price.



Image Source: Fortune


The company makes millions and the CEO mentioned that the growth is 40% year over year.

The major takeaway from this is about building freemium models.

If you offer a part of your service as free, users will learn how good your product is.

This will help them understand the value they could get once they purchased your product or service.

Going freemium with your products or services can do well for business growth.



As a startup, you need to understand which part of the AARRR funnel does your business lie in.

Maybe you are at the initial stages and awareness is most important to you.

Maybe you need to improve customer retention and focus your energy there.

Whatever be the case, evaluation of your current scenario and taking action based on that is something that will drive substantial growth

Guest Author: Shivankit Arora is a growth hacker and the founder of a startup marketing agency, You can connect with him on Twitter  to know more about growth hacking and startup marketing.

Read whole article at

December 1, 2016 / by / in , , ,
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