February 4, 2014

Looking over other people’s Sass code, you might have noticed the !default flag when defining variables. This is actually an incredibly powerful tool that lets developers build modular components for your CSS. Stefan Baumgartner gives a great overview of how this can work. If you’re not a Bower user (I’m not), you can skip ahead.

February 3, 2014

Justin Jackson:

Barber: “Almost all my bookings happen on the phone, or via text message. There’s nothing I’ve found that’s more efficient than looking at a paper calendar on the wall, and finding them a time. If I have to walk over to the computer, I’ve already wasted too much time. I have 5 seconds to look, and determine when is have a spare block. All the software I’ve tried just gets in the way.”

All the plans in my head, for incredible barbering software, were crushed, in a single conversation.

This is the power of getting out and actually listening to people.

Justin hits some great points home here: namely that a “great idea” is only validated by observing users. Sometimes better software isn’t even the ideal solution. We need to throw out our preconceived notions and listen to our users, and Justin has some great tips to do that.

January 31, 2014
January 30, 2014
January 29, 2014

Brennan Dunn has an epic guide to how to create an email course to better market and help your customers. This is a fantastic way to counter the credibility issue you’re bound to run into when selling your product:

It’s very, very, very hard to sell anything to someone who doesn’t know and trust you. Let’s say you write an ebook and you buy some cheap PPC ads that drive traffic to your sales page. Unless you have some sort of unicorn product, your conversion rate will be low — and you’re probably going to lose money.

January 22, 2014

From the MailChimp blog:

Once you get to the scale of computing we’re at, the language you use is much less important than the platform you build on it. A simple language change isn’t going to make these problems less complicated, or less awesome.

Building an Ad Network

Brent Simmons and Lex Friedman threw out an idea for someone to make a new Podcast ad network:

My advice is that someone should do The Syndicate for podcasts. Roll up small shows, and charge on a CPM model. (Small-reach tech shows should think $20 for pre-rolls that are shorter, and $30 for mid-rolls that are longer.) Insist that all shows measure downloads in the same way (SoundCloud?), roll-up the rates accordingly, and take a 20% cut. Pay shows on a percentage basis according to their downloads.

Marco also shared why direct ad sales rarely work. Namely, it’s a lot of work:

I tried selling the sponsorships myself in the early days of ATP, but was quickly demoralized and jaded by the reality of that job. It takes a lot of email, some long phone calls, a lot of paperwork, and a lot of nagging to get past-due invoices paid. It’s common for sponsors to ignore your payment-due dates and pay months after you actually do the sponsorships. Most big sponsors have their own way they “need” to work, blaming “the accounting department” or “policy”, and these arbitrary accounting rules and policies often mean that your ad salesperson has a lot of work to do and you’re not getting paid for a long time.

Running an ad network is something I know a thing or two about, and Marco is right: selling ads is no small job. I started The Syndicate expecting it to be some passive income I could run on the side: a sort of “build it and they shall come”. I mean, Jim Coudal has shared that The Deck has an 80%+ renewal rate for advertisers.

But that’s not sales, especially online ad sales when you have no existing relationships. I found myself having to schedule calls at the strangest hours, and I was hustling 20-30 hours per week outside my 40+ hour per week job. Sales also came in waves. One day I’d be scraping to get the next week’s sponsor booked, and the next I’d be booked out two months unable to serve everyone emailing me. There was even a day that I was away from my computer for my day job and my entire URL redirection platform went down for over 6 hours, meaning no sponsor links worked.

Advertising is a hard business.

So to the aspiring entrepreneur who wants to get into this business: there’s probably nothing more ripe for the picking right now than a mid-sized Podcast ad network. But know that the income is very far from passive. Don’t get into this if you have a 9-5 job to pay the bills. Advertising is about scale, and the big names in advertising won’t be interested in your $200/week network. It’s not even a blip on their ad budget. You need to be able to grow it to something sizable that delivers a lot of traffic, and then get them renewing on a regular basis. There’s a reason why you always hear Squarespace or Igloo sponsoring every podcast.

I personally decided to move on from The Syndicate when my wife got pregnant with our first child at the end of 2012. My family was too important. BuySellAds has done a fantastic job of running the network and have some big plans for this year. But most of all, they have the experience, the scale, and the advertising relationships to grow the business in a way I would have never been able to as a side project.

Marco Arment:

This is why a hundred other sites are trying to be Daring Fireball, why everybody’s starting a podcast, and why nobody’s buying your app in the App Store.

The democratization of media production and distribution over the last few decades has worked incredibly well. Overall, it’s a net win for society. But the downside is that everything’s now extremely crowded.

There’s a lot of money and attention out there to go around, but there’s also a lot more competition for everything.

Here’s the thing – building yet another calendar/photo/messaging app is a great way to get ignored. You’re just putting a less than unique spin on a problem that’s probably already been solved. Heck, Marco himself is guilty of it by building yet another podcast app.

If you want someone to buy the thing you build, it’s important to step away from code and observe people. See what pains people have in their lives that don’t have solutions today. There are underserved niches everywhere that can lead to profitable businesses.

But building yet another X app is the best way to not be noticed.

James Surowiecki:

Cry me a river, you might say. But what happened on Wall Street is just an extreme version of what’s happened to so-called knowledge workers in general. Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.

The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality.

I always struggled to understand the drive to overwork. It destroys relationships and families, and doesn’t provide any added benefit – it can actually make you less productive.

Clay Christensen has a great explanation though: the fact that work provides instant validation and gratification. I get a sale, ship a product, or a promotion, and feel validated, while something like building a relationship with your children and spouse can take decades or your entire life to be validated (if it even is).