What’s up, everyone? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you’re listening to the Indie Hackers Podcast. On this show I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of it’s like to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today, how did they make decisions at their companies and in their personal lives, and what exactly makes their businesses tick? And the goal here as always, so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses.
Joining me today for the second time on the Indie Hackers Podcast is none other than growth expert Julian Shapiro. Julian is the founder of Bell Curve, an agency that not only helps founders grow their businesses, but also trains teams so that they learn how to grow their businesses on their own. Julian, welcome back to the show and thanks for joining me.
I’m excited to be back. There’s so much to cover.
So much to cover. The last time you came on, you told the story of Bell Curve and how you got started, how you became an expert at what you do. Today’s episode, I think we’re going to do things a little bit differently. Rather than just telling your story, we’re going to experiment with a little bit more educational content than normal.
We’re going to talk about the things that everybody needs to know about growing their business before they get started with their business. We’re going to talk about things that people should know before they even come up with the idea for their business. You, Julian, obviously having worked with dozens of companies to help them grow, are I think the perfect person to come on and talk about this, because you’ve seen story after story, lesson after lesson of what works and what doesn’t.
In fact, the reason I wanted to have you on in the first place is because of a tweet you sent out a few months back. It was a little bit cryptic, but you said, “Given equal founder skill, e-commerce and mobile apps succeed much more frequently than software-as-a-service startups do.” So you’re saying that people are better off opening an online store and selling goods, or starting a mobile app, than they are building a web app from scratch and trying to charge a monthly fee. So let’s start there. What are some things that led you to that conclusion?
If you look at all the clients that my agency has worked with and look at the rate of success when dividing by the type of product they sell, say it’s SaaS, say it’s e-commerce, say it’s a mobile app or even a Chrome extension. E-commerce succeeds the most frequently.
Then it’s probably mobile apps, particularly those that deal with transacting finance in some way. Let’s say it’s a Bitcoin app. Let’s say it’s a friend-to-friend payments app. Let’s say it’s like Robin Hood investing. Mobile apps that help you transact money.
The third was Chrome extensions, which was super interesting to me. Because they’re a wonderful Trojan horse to getting easy one-click installs. Then once you have that install base, you can piggyback off that to monetize as long as you’re offering value. But the point here is the friction to install is so minimal, relative to getting someone to create a fully-built out profile on your SaaS product, or even downloading and installing and signing up for a mobile app. We can get back to that.
The point is, for our purposes here, that the very bottom of success frequency are SaaS apps. This isn’t to say, “Don’t pursue SaaS. You’re going to fail.” Nor is it to say that if you have a great SaaS idea, it’s going to perform worse than a bad e-commerce idea. It’s controlling for quality of the idea, quality of the market, and founder skill. I feel pretty confident with that sort of hierarchy that I just shared.
I want to dial things back a little bit, because I think it’s easy for people to under-estimate how hard it can be to grow something. People tend to focus on their ideas. They tend to focus on what they want to build or create.
But it’s totally possible, even likely, that you can have a great idea and you can put in all the work to turn it into a real web app or a product or mobile app. And then it turns out that you don’t get any users. You can’t find any customers. You realize too late that growing your business is actually the hard part. How often do you work with companies whose businesses are just stagnant and not growing at all?
If they’re coming to us it usually means that they care about growth. And they understand the value of growth marketing, which is the type of marketing you do when you care about tracking results very carefully and optimizing how you spent money on marketing to maximize those results.
As opposed to, say, brand marketing where you’re trying to “get the word out.” You want to get everyone to know about what it is you’re doing, but you’re not really tracking how much was spent that was then made profitable. What was the full experience that that visitor had with your ads across both Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere? Did they pay you more than you spent to acquire them as a customer?
It’s that sort of data-focused means of ensuring you’re spending profitably. And all of the skills that are involved in that process. That is what defines growth marketing. So if a company comes to us and they’re cognizant of growth marketing and its importance, they’re usually not in a dead zone. I have this odd selection, this odd view port into companies that are more often succeeding than not.
But what I do have to work with very often are companies that are just starting out and it’s a complete blank slate. They don’t have any of the systems in place to do those measurements to
ensure they spend profitably. Sometimes they’ll start by asking me, “Should we kick it off with brand marketing? Should we get the word out? Should we be very cautious to be consistent in our visuals?” Meaning, “Should all our ads look the same? Should we hire a designer from day one and really hone our brand voice?”
My response is always, “That is a luxury that you should indulge in once you’re actually demonstrating people want your product and that you can spend money on marketing profitably.” It’s not to say you want ugly ads. It’s not to say that you want inconsistency. Those things are nice. But neither one of those opposites, meaning pretty ads and consistency, are what make or break someone’s ability to do growth marketing well. It’s many other factors that we’ll dive into.
I like that you’re talking about ads. I like that you’re talking about paid acquisition channels. I was just talking to a friend yesterday who said, “Isn’t buying ads kind of like cheating? Isn’t that a cheap way? Shouldn’t you just be able to build something and people show up because what you’ve created is great?”
It gets me thinking about how much of a herd mentality there can be among founders and people who want to start businesses. We look at our favorite stories, look at the people that we admire. We see how they’ve grown their businesses and we think that’s how it should be done. That’s the only way to do it. When in reality, there are a variety of channels and strategies that you can use to grow your business and get it off the ground. Depending on the idea you’re working on, some of these channels might be a good match or they might be a bad match.
You’ve worked with all sorts of different companies. You’ve written about this online. What are your thoughts on how people can choose the right growth strategy for their companies and how people can become more aware of all the different options for how they can grow their companies?
The interesting thing about ads is there has never been a client or a company I’ve seen where I could have said to them, “No. Don’t run ads.” Unless they simply could not have done them profitably. For any client that even approximates profitability, ads should always be run. They’re not self-indulgence. They’re not an excuse to distract yourself with other means of acquiring customers, that some may argue are better, and they probably are right.
But it’s always a complementary thing. It’s never a luxury to get ads to work. The reason for that is it is the quickest, most in your control, most scalable, most reliable form of getting traffic. Getting people to your website. Having that control is so important for a few reasons.
Number one, when you’re trying to figure out what works on your website, you want to move forward through those tests efficiently. If you’re just waiting on word of mouth or organic traffic, meaning traffic coming from Google, that could genuinely take months, half a year or a year to build up to any sort of significance, if ever. If you want to run a whole bunch of tests on your website to figure out, “How can I improve its performance?” meaning “How can I get more people to buy?” that is going to require, just from the sake of statistics, a bunch of traffic so that
you can test your changes on people. The more traffic you have, the more tests you can run in any given period of time. We can get more into that if you’d like.
Also, ads are very often made profitable. People simply don’t do them right, so they cannot sustain the profitability indefinitely. You’ll hear very often, people downplay the importance of ads because they burned on them. They tried them, they got something approximating profitability and then, after three or four months of running those ads, suddenly the performance crashed and they were no longer profitable. They thought to themselves, “Ads are unreliable.” Actually, to be frank, you lacked the skill or the experience to keep those ads running profitably for a long time. That’s something we can get into.
One more layer on that and I’ll wrap up here, is not only do people burn out ad performance very commonly - almost every client that has ever come to us reached that state prior to reaching out to us. That happens all the time. It’s very normal.
I like that you mentioned that a lot of growth strategies can take a ton of time to kick in. I’ve interviewed a lot of founders and seen this exact phenomenon. I talked to a woman named Christy Laurence whose app took ten months to get built and the entire time she was working, spending those ten months on actually growing to ensure that when her app was done being built, it had an audience, she can find customers, make money. If she hadn’t put in that time, she would not have been able to sell.
I’ve talked to also – you mentioned mattresses. I talked to the founders of a mattress company called Tuft and Needle. They actually used paid advertisements in order to validate their idea. They got a mattress. They wanted to try selling it. Rather than doing all sorts of very slow methods of reaching customers, they literally just took out an ad and put it on the top of Google for mattresses, to see if anybody would click through their website and actually buy this mattress. That sort of proved to them instantly, within a day, that their idea was something that at least someone, somewhere, would care about.
Exactly. In proving within a day or so that people are interested in what you have, which was only achievable through just quickly spinning up ads and spending money for an afternoon, you could have just saved yourself going down a rabbit hole for four to six months, waiting for the traffic to accrue. In which time you’ve blown and wasted all these hours going down a wrong direction. So it’s not only efficient cost-wise, it’s also efficient time-wise, to rely on ads in the very early days.
Then as you get other channels working, a channel being a place that you get people from. So word of mouth is a channel. Buying traffic on ads is a channel. SEO, right, search engine optimization, getting traffic from Google to your blog for example, that’s another channel. Referrals, sponsorships. There’s a whole bunch. The idea is that until those take off, ads is great in the short term at minimum. But the argument I want to make is, even in the long term they’re usually also great as well. If you do them properly.
Let’s talk about these channels. This is what I was bringing up earlier, where people aren’t really that familiar with what their options even are, for how
they’re going to grow their app. They just copy what they see one or two other people doing. They leave a lot of other channels and options untouched and really unexplored. Let’s say I’m a would-be founder. I’ve got an idea I want to work on. How should I be thinking about evaluating which channel, which growth strategies are a good fit for the idea that I have?
The first framework you can consider is are you a direct to consumer business? Or are you selling to other businesses? An example of the first category, the B2C, business to consumer, would be something like selling a toothbrush through your website. It is the individual who buys the toothbrush. In contrast, a B2B business would be something like, you are selling email marketing software, like MailChimp if anyone’s heard of that, to a company that is trying to email their users or their customers.
If you start in that framework, that will help you narrow better into which of those channels are most likely to work for you. Once you’ve decided between the two, there’s then a little bit more sub-segmentation we can follow. Let me give you a few examples.
If you are a B2C business, if you’re selling to consumers, you can be an e-commerce business. That’s one sub-segment. You can be a mobile app like we discussed earlier, or a SaaS app. Or you can be just bricks and mortar. You can have a retail, physical presence. Let me give you an example comparing those sub-segments against each other. Which channels are most likely to succeed?
Let’s take B2C e-commerce, selling physical goods. If you succeed at all with ads, these are the channels that you will most likely succeed with, based on my experience having worked with a few dozen startups over the last couple years and talking to a bunch of other companies as well and figuring out what works for them. Most likely for B2C is going to be Instagram ads, content marketing, and a little bit of PR, public relations to kick start some of these organic efforts. So sponsoring influencers or getting affiliates. You can kind of bucket that partially into PR. Getting the word out through non-advertising or content means.
You might also succeed with Pinterest ads, Google adwords and Google shopping. We can dive into those individually, but right now I’m trying to give a high level overview of some channels, so you can have them in the back of your brain.
Let’s go to a couple other sub-segments that are most common. I won’t go through all of them just yet, but let’s say you are a B2C SaaS app. You’re selling software to consumers. An example of this would be Streak, s-t-r-e-a-k dot com. They are a Chrome extension that is also a SaaS app. What they do is they allow consumers, people like you and I, to send emails in a more organized fashion. That’s one way to think about it. They’re also for businesses as well. They will most likely succeed with Facebook ads and content marketing. And they might succeed with Google adwords and affiliate programs.
Let me give you one last example of a sub-segment in the B2B category, business to business, just so we can get the lay of the land of what channels are out there. Let me take a look here. Let’s say you are a broadly appealing B2B product with a high amount of revenue that you make
per user, which we call high average revenue per user. So ARPU. A company like that is one that might make $1000 per month per customer.
So maybe they’re something like SalesForce, perhaps. They’re software that target businesses. They charge a lot per month to big companies. If that is you, you’ll most likely succeed doing sales. That’s one of the key differences here. If you’re selling to businesses, you may have to rely less on ads and more so on traditional sales.
Sales can break down further into cold emailing, sending emails to people who you’ve never spoken to before. Traditional networking, say at conferences, and even sending cold LinkedIn messages as an alternative to cold emails. You can also rely on lead generation. Getting businesses that might be interested in your product, that’s what a lead would be. Someone who might be interested. You don’t yet know. They’re not yet a customer. You could do lead generation through Facebook ads and Google adwords. And you might succeed with Instagram ads as well, and content marketing.
I’m going to pause there. The idea being, there is a sort of framework here to think about what is most likely to work. When I say most likely, what I mean is not just a matter of every dollar in will come back out your way more profitably. It’s not just that. It’s also whether it can be made to work at all.
For example, sales will not work at all for many B2C companies that are selling toothbrushes, because the amount of labor that goes into a sales call or a sales email will be unjustifiably expensive, relative to how much revenue you make from the sale of that toothbrush. That is an example of how one channel might only be appropriate for one type of business.
Conversely, if you’re doing Snapchat ads, that channel might not be appropriate for SalesForce. Because Snapchat’s audience might be predominantly younger people who are in a frame of mind while using Snapchat that is not at all conducive to saying, “Yeah, what enterprise software should I sign my sales team up for?” There’s a contextual component.
There’s, does your audience even exist on that channel, component. Then there’s the financial component of assessing the channel. For example, is it simply too expensive to buy ads there, given how much money I make from my average user? Then putting ads aside entirely, you have things I alluded to like affiliate programs, PR, content marketing and a few other non-paid channels that we can get into if you’d like.
OK. Great. That’s a lot of information to digest. I think it really gets the point across that there’s a lot to think about here. It’s not as simple as, “I’m going to build an app and it’s going to work.” You really should put thought into the different channels you can use and whether or not they’ll be profitable and workable for you in the short term and the long term. There’s a ton of different options.
Let’s say I am an aspiring Indie Hacker. I don’t know what I want to work on. I don’t know what I want to build yet. But I’m listening to this episode and I’m thinking, “Gee, I don’t want to pick the wrong thing that’s going to be a lot of trouble to grow and that’s not going to be successful at
all.” How would you think about being in that position, Julian? I know you say that e-commerce is better than SaaS. Should I start an e-commerce business as an aspiring Indie Hacker?
There’s advice that’s out there which says, “Choose what you’re passionate about and solve problems that you have.” Meaning those are the criteria people often say should lead you to the type of business you start. The reason for the passion one is so that you sustain your motivation to see the business through.
The reason for the solving your own problem is so that you can be your own customer. Because when you’re your own customer, you have a better understanding of how to solve the problem more intimately. When you fail to solve the problem sufficiently, you can be a good judge of that.
It’s good advice, but I would argue it’s the wrong advice. This goes against much of what you would hear from other people. Having grown so many companies and having seen their struggles so early on, and having seen them pivot sometimes on account of the recommendations my agency, Bell Curve, has made to them when seeing their struggles, I believe that in contrast you should start with what is most likely to succeed.
And succeed meaning profitably, whatever your milestone is for being happy financially, that is what I mean by succeed. I’m not saying go choose the idea most likely to make a billion dollars, if you don’t care about that. Whatever would make you happy, realistically. If it’s a lifestyle business that maybe pays what you would have been paid had you worked for someone else and that’s what you’re looking for, awesome. Start with what is most likely to achieve that. The way that you assess that is by figuring out what is most suitable for growth. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
But the second step is, once you’ve identified that, then you ask yourself, “OK, within those possibilities, within all those things that I think are likely to succeed, what am I most passionate about? Which of these do I have the problem they’re solving?” Those should be criteria for narrowing down the top-level criterion of what’s actually going to work.
Because I don’t care how passionate you are about an idea. If it’s failing miserably for half a year, you will feel miserable. You will give up. It will have been a poor use of your time. I really want to stress that. Don’t work on something doomed to fail, because there is an infinite amount of ideas you could be pursuing. To pursue the one you’re most passionate about and disregard the growth potential of it, is doing yourself a disservice and is being naïve. Because I guarantee there is an idea out there that is both. You are both passionate about it and it has growth potential.
To kind of wrap this up, how do you assess whether something has growth potential? Meaning, how can you get it to a point where it’s sustaining the financial lifestyle you want without too much friction? Essentially you want to look at the data of what types of companies succeed most frequently, which is how we started off this call.
So e-commerce does succeed more frequently, controlling for founder skill and the quality of the idea, more so than software. You also want to look for how big is the market? How badly does the market want what you’re offering? And if you can find specific examples, if there are competitors that exist that are doing great, that is a very good thing. That shouldn’t scare you.
You shouldn’t say, “Too much competition.” The world is huge. The population is growing quickly. The amount of people in countries with quickly increasing purchasing power and with access to the internet is rapidly expanding. So it doesn’t matter if competition exists. There’s a reason why there’s a half-dozen mattress companies popping up every year, or every quarter even. They all do get a small piece of the pie.
Remember, if you’re not trying to be a billionaire by this idea, you don’t need to have something that dominates the market. Competition is not a bad thing. The point I’m getting to here is, it is actually a great signal that the thing you’ve identified at the intersection of what you’re passionate about, what you understand, you understand the problem that’s being solved, and has growth potential, that can be assessed by that signal. Are other people kicking butt doing it? Specifically, you can identify this in a couple of ways.
One, you can go to Alexa.com, a-l-e-x-a dot com. Scroll halfway down the page, at least at the time of this recording. Enter the domain name of that competitor. You’ll be able to see the traffic trend that they’re received over time, so over the last year for example. It will show you how many more visitors they’ve had in one month versus the next. Typically, not always, but typically, if you see that steadily increasing it means they’re buying more and more traffic. Usually through ads, or maybe it’s word of mouth.
If that trend holds, then it means they’re probably doing pretty well. Because each month they’re being more motivated to keep pumping more money in, because when they put a dollar in they get more than a dollar back. That’s one sign of finding out, “Are they successful? Or are they just blasting you with ads and they seem successful, but they’re going to be going out of business?” Again, this is not a perfect metric but it is a place to start.
Another one is, like their Facebook page and look at the level of engagement on their Facebook ads. Is it a ghost town, or are people truly engaging? Is the number of engagements, likes, comments, shares just exploding over time?
There’s a few metrics that you can use as a proxy to assess their success. The reason I’m spending so much time on this point is because, much like the growth marketing mindset as a whole, you want to be data-oriented. You don’t want to go off hunches, ever. Hunches can propose some things for you to try, but data should then be what validates them. Hunches should not be what concludes on experiments or concludes on really important decisions.
I like that you bring up this point about hunches. It’s so easy when you’re listening to other people’s stories or doing research to fall prey to survivorship bias, where you say, “I see all sorts of people who say that they followed a hunch, and it worked out for their business.” But you’re not really looking at all the people who followed a hunch and that growth strategy didn’t work out, and their business failed. They never really wrote about it. So
you really should take the denominator into account and consider the possibility that, just because you see something very often doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a high percentage chance of success.
The opposite is also true. You might very rarely see people talk about making these data-driven decisions that you’re talking about, but that doesn’t change the fact that it might be a more successful approach.
Can you give us any stories or examples of times where you’ve used these strategies like looking at Alexa.com or examining another company’s Facebook ads, and come up with a good growth strategy for yourself or for a company that you’ve worked with?
Yeah. Let me give you a counter-example, a different way to think about how to identify the right direction for your product, beyond just looking at competitors.
If you start out with a test. Let’s say you have a product that does a lot of things. It helps you get money back from companies that have wronged you, so maybe a restaurant spilled food on your clothing, right? Maybe you bought a toaster that broke while on warranty and the company will not refund you or exchange it.
The reason I’m giving you this example is because that is exactly a client that we work with, Service. Or Getservice.com. They started as a product that did exactly that. They were basically customer support as a service. They brokered customer support conversations for you. They didn’t really have a monetization strategy that was solid just yet. They were exploring the market, which is an OK thing if you’re very diligent with your growth.
They were looking for the signs in those early tests, of which types of customer complaints had the highest affinity, meaning when that problem or when that complaint occurred, customers were really passionate about seeing it through. About getting it resolved. And they were willing to put up with anything to get to a conclusion. That would be high affinity.
So they’re in the situation that a lot of companies find themselves in, where they’ve got lots of customers doing lots of different things. And they’re trying to analyze all of their data to figure out, “OK, where is the signal here? Where should we double down and focus?”
That’s exactly right. And that can be an OK thing. Just doing growth modestly, meaning not spending too much money, temporarily for the purpose of learning more about your market and the problems you should be solving based on what is going to succeed, growth-wise, that is OK to do. They did that. They found one particular use case that was by far and away the winner.
Then I said to them, “Why don’t you double down on that now? Because if we focus your product where the only thing it does is just that one complaint resolution, it’s going to give us an
opportunity to focus our growth efforts.” Meaning our website, our ads, the in-app experience because it’s a mobile app, all of that can be very narrowly tailored to that use case.
That use case, by the way, is what’s called flight remuneration, which is where if a flight is delayed by an airline or cancelled, depending on a few stipulations, you may be entitled to a cash back, like mileage back. So that was the thing that ticked off consumers the most, because no one likes a delayed flight, right? When that problem occurred, people felt a lot of anger toward the airlines. Their affinity was through the roof. That was the type of person we knew would fall in love with our app if we could solve their problem.
So we redirected all of our growth efforts, doubled down on exactly that, and went from spending almost nothing on ads, because we weren’t making money and there wasn’t enough focus, to spending more per month on Facebook and Instagram advertising combined than any other client I had ever worked with before.
Because it turned out, it hit a lot of those things that I mentioned a few moments ago. It hit a lot of those criteria you should be looking for to assess whether your idea will succeed from a growth perspective. I’ll go into those in a moment. But it was only because we afforded ourselves that learning period that we had the data to be extra confident we would then head in the right direction. We didn’t need a competitor to tell us this. We had our own data. So sometimes you can go with internal data.
Really briefly, why did that idea succeed? The market’s huge. Everybody flies. At least everyone in the geographies that we’re targeting, North America. They get in an airplane and fly perhaps, on average, once or twice a year. And there’s a whole bunch of people, business travelers who travel so frequently they would kill for our app. Because they would be getting so many hundreds of dollars back, no exaggeration. Or thousands back, based on all the times they’ve been wronged by the airlines. The market is simply huge.
And the affinity, like we already spoke about, is high, which means the market demand is high even though it’s latent demand. Meaning people weren’t saying, “Hey, why doesn’t someone build an app for me to go ahead and get money back from the airlines?” Because no one knew that was a thing that could even be done before Service blew up and everyone started learning about it.
Demand doesn’t only have to be what is on the tip of people’s tongues, which would mean they already know about the solution you provide, which was not the case. It might just mean, once they learn about you they’re going to go crazy for you. That is OK demand as well. In fact, that is hidden demand or latent demand that usually makes for the most explosive businesses.
Airbnb, nobody knew people wanted that, for years. But there’s no reason why it could not have existed 40 years ago. There’s no reason. Perhaps the lack of the internet, but from an actual usage perspective, going to someone’s home and so forth, that could have been done through a mail-order catalog. Who knows? It could have existed. There was a latent demand, and it took data tests that the Airbnb team did, just like the Service team did. The same methodology to use their own data to figure out, “OK, you know what? There’s something here that no one else
realized.” Which means not only do I have a market play here, because the growth potential is real, but there isn’t a single competitor that currently exists. So if I play my growth right, I might be the next biggest thing. Service became exactly that.
I like that you said that one of the criteria here is that the market is huge. Everybody flies. Everybody has to deal with delayed or canceled flights. So the potential number of customers that this company could reach is humungous.
People talk a lot about product/market fit. It gets misinterpreted by a lot of people starting companies as “I need to make something that people really like.” That’s great and all. You should make something that people really like. But you also need to make something that a lot of people can potentially use. The market you’re targeting has to be huge. It has to be a market where people actually pay money for things. How do you research to figure out which markets are worth targeting?
I would think a bit less about markets and a bit more about audiences. One might say, “How big is the market for flight remuneration?” You’re like, “Ah, I don’t know.” It’s not really a thing.
But if you said, “How big is the audience of people who might want that?” it’s like, “Well, technically let’s add all the frequent business flyers and the more casual vacation goers.” Then we might have an idea of how can we break that down by affinity? Who would want us the most within that audience?
So if you look at the highest affinity, probably the business travelers because they deal with this problem the most. That’s affinity based on frequency. If that’s the case, or – for a point of contrast, I would contrast affinity based on frequency versus affinity based on magnitude. Meaning when this type of audience or sub-audience experiences the problem, how bad is it? There are different ways to break down an audience.
The point being, if you start with the audience, segment by affinity, then you can ask yourself, “How large is the audience that would want me the most?” That is typically how you want to think about whether the quote-unquote market is good for you. There’s a few other hidden components which are sort of self-evident but I want to tease them out.
Is what you’re doing actually successfully solving their problem? Is what you’re doing the sort of thing that can be conveyed very succinctly and effectively to people? You might have the world’s best problem, but if your approach to it cannot be digested into a really powerful punchy ad that gets people to click, then this might not be a very effective solution. At least from the perspective of growth, which as I’ve been arguing is kind of the most important thing. Growth is another way of saying, “Does your business function? Is it even capable of self-sustaining?” That’s how I would normally think of it.
To answer your question more directly, if I’m trying to identify a business opportunity, “What should my next business be?” which I think is the real question, I would go back to that framework of, “What is likely to succeed?” Service succeeds not just because the market is huge,
or because the affinity can sometimes be very high. It also succeeds because it can pass that test of being conveyed and being pitched very efficiently.
We have one ad that we call a hero ad. Meaning it by far and away out-performs every other ad we’ve ever made for Service. All it say is, “PS, airlines will pay you up to 135 bucks when your flight is delayed or canceled.” Period. That is the entire ad. There is no other text on the image. That is responsible for seven figures in ad spend. Had I tried spending seven figures with a lesser ad, it probably would not have been profitable.
My point here is, assessing the viability of your idea is not just a matter of assessing the market. It’s a matter of assessing how well can you pitch it, and does it really solve the problem? And a few other things. I’ll give you one last item here, which is Service also made it a no-brainer to sign up. Not only was the pitch effective in the sense that, “Here’s what we’re doing,” and you’re like, “Damn, I need that solved.” But once you download the mobile app, you weren’t charged anything.
The value proposition, meaning what they were pitching to you as what they were going to do for you was, “Hey, create an account. Put your credit card on file. That’s it. We’re not going to charge it. We’re going to do everything we can for free to go and try to talk to the airlines and get you money back. If we succeed, then we’ll take a portion of what we get you back. So you have nothing to lose here.” And that was the genius of Service’s business model.
That is, in fact, my last point, which is how compelling is the way you solve the problem? Not just can it be conveyed well, which I gave you the example of the ad. But do you actually solve the problem in a way that people go, “Wow. Yes. Sign me up for that. I don’t perceive any friction here. Go.”
So what about people who are in a situation where they maybe don’t have a great idea already? You’ve seen tons of companies. You’ve seen what’s worked and what hasn’t. What kinds of audiences do you think are being under-served? What types of channels do you think are maybe emerging and people aren’t really focusing on, that show a lot of promise?
These are my two most reliable frameworks for deciding whether you should pursue an idea or perhaps more so, finding an idea you should pursue. First from the B2B side, when you’re looking to sell something to businesses. You should be the buyer. You should see the problem and have it yourself.
You should go and talk to your own business and say, “Would you guys pay to solve this problem?” If so, others may be willing to pay for it. Go survey similar companies and find out. Get a whole bunch of yeses before you venture into building something. That’s a very tried and true framework. Nothing novel on my part there.
The one that’s a bit more novel on my part is identifying e-commerce trends where branding is the differentiator.
OK, what do you mean by that?
Let’s look at Instagram data. As often as I can I’ll try to bring this back to some sort of source of data. Things trend on Instagram. There are hash tags. There are third-party tools that let you assess what’s being discussed the most, month over month on Instagram based on hash tags.
If you see beauty products, makeup, skin care, whatever, trending really strong, meaning there’s a new trend in there. Maybe it’s using a certain type of powder or using a certain type of medical ingredient in skin cream, and it’s really starting to get some traction, that might be an indication that will explode soon. You might want to jump the gun early and be there from day one.
How do you assess that? You then go to Google trends. Literally just go to Google and type “Google trends” and you’ll be brought to a dashboard where you enter the name of that trend. Google will show you a graph over time of how many people search for that keyword or that thing, that trend, month over month. If that’s spiking up, much like the Alexa graph example from earlier, if people are searching this thing more and more and more, then it might be on the precipice of exploding. If you’re there from day one, you might be the one that wins the branding war. You own that category in the minds of all of the people who would be in your market.
Another way to look at that, a different perspective into how to choose an e-commerce product, is you can find something that is boring, old, perhaps even overplayed. Like everyone in the world has a mattress, some form of mattress. At least everyone in North America is going to have a mattress. So you might think to yourself, “You know what? There’s nothing to be done here. I can’t bring something new to mattresses.”
That very often isn’t true because branding alone can sometimes be the differentiator. There are people selling the Quip toothbrush, or I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of others. The idea here is, how differentiated are they really? How differentiated is one modern toothbrush from the next? Is it just prettier? Probably. Is it a little bit cheaper? Probably. Is it a little bit easier to buy the one personalized to you based on their website functionality? Probably.
None of those things are game changers. But you add up those small things together, it feels modern. You then paint a brand story around it. Like, this is the thing where it’s going to make your teeth better than they’ve ever been. You show people ecstatic about it. You show all the social proof. You show other customers’ testimonials. You build this bubble that you trap people in, where they think you are the new hottest thing. Then the next time they have to buy a new toothbrush, they’ll choose you instead of going to the local pharmacy.
That I have seen become the only differentiator. Branding, positioning, for many companies that have succeeded wildly recently. I don’t want to encourage a lot of people to think that way, because I think it’s bad for the marketplace. I think it will burn out. I think unless you know branding really well, you won’t actually see much success. But if you’re a branding expert and you’re not a coder who can make a SaaS app or something, it is an honestly good option available to you.
So there are a lot of channels that we haven’t discussed here, that I’ve seen various Indie Hackers use to their success. Influencer marketing, getting popular or famous people to talk about what you’re building. Ranking high in app stores, so you mentioned Chrome extensions. Most people find Chrome extensions through the Chrome app store or the Chrome web store, or mobile apps it’s the same thing. Public speaking. Some businesses grow tremendously through their founders’ public speaking. Some businesses that doesn’t make any sense at all.
How can I as a founder go about evaluating these sort of slower, more gradual channels to determine what’s going to be best for my business?
The only way to assess those typically is to just do them. It’s less about how can I tell whether they’re going to work quickly, how do I assess them? More so about how do you distribute your resources efficiently? Meaning how can you run small tests in each of those channels in parallel, as early as you can? Especially the ones that take a long time to pay dividends, to actually work, like SEO.
You plant all of these seeds. If ads fail you can go back to the plants and the trees that have grown out of those seeds over time. Start networking. Start doing a little bit of PR here and there. It does serve a purpose at times, at least for the average company, I mean. In general it serves a purpose. Sometimes it can be pretty interesting for comparing it with ads. Just don’t let anything that takes a long time to snowball and build momentum, go unaddressed for too long.
In fact that is the exact same strategy I use for all of Bell Curve’s growth clients from the ads channel front. Even just focusing on those channels where you do have to pay money. We run very small tests in each, like 500 to 1,000 dollars, which is small for them. Because these are usually companies that have raised several million. We try to find out very quickly, does this channel, do Snapchat ads have potential? If not, we’ll stop and we’ll come back to it at a later time. But we want to know early on, because if it turns out that Snapchat is a quarter of the price of Instagram, and we only tested Instagram, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
Sometimes that reduction in paid acquisition cost can single-handedly be what makes or breaks your business. So the real methodology here is, go in with an open mind. Figure out what is the quickest way I can validate this particular channel? With paid channels it means spending a little bit of money, being very thoughtful about the audiences you’re testing. With unpaid channels, it depends very much on a per-channel basis. I’m not an expert in, say, conferences and PR. But with content marketing one example of doing a small test would be something like doing keyword analysis, which is a whole different topic we probably won’t get into.
But if you Google something like keyword analysis for my blog, you’ll be able to figure out what are people searching for. Then you can just start by writing blog posts of the things that are most commonly searched for, that other people are not writing much about. Make it easy on yourself and see, “OK, people who do come and read these blog posts, that should get a decent amount of visitors. Do they actually wind up converting into customers?”
One more point there on blogging, which is: it’s not just a matter of, “Will this get enough traffic, relatively speaking?” But, “Is this a topic I could write about that would segue naturally into a pitch for my product?” You can write about all sorts of stuff, but if it doesn’t usher people toward a sale, you have to think about what its value is versus trying a different topic, for the purposes of assessing content marketing as a channel in an efficient manner. Put yourself in the best possible position to win in these channel tests.
I like your emphasis on testing. You keep using the word testing. I think for people learning how to build a company from scratch, we see these examples of other companies that have succeeded. We only really see what worked in the end. They say, “I put up this type of ad,” or “I started doing this type of link building strategy,” or “I reached out to these influencers, and my website blew up.” But oftentimes, those people tried dozens of things that didn’t work beforehand, and they were just very efficient about ruling out what wasn’t going to work and have gone to the next thing.
I want to ask you some specific questions around topics that we talk about a lot on the Indie Hackers podcast and see how you would approach those from a position of growth. The first is, how would you go about creating a small to moderately sized e-commerce business quickly? People listening in might be saying, “OK, I’m sold. E-commerce might be the way to go.” What’s your road map? What would you do first and what can other people learn from that?
Let me first tie back to something I said earlier in the chat, which is I want to substantiate why is e-commerce better than SaaS? At least the frequency of it succeeding financially or profitably. With e-commerce, typically you’re selling a good like a toothbrush or a mattress that people are already buying. Think about that for a moment. If I’m creating SaaS software in contrast, is the average person in America, is the average adult already buying a tool to allow them to live chat with business customers on their website and get analytics for the live chats? That’s a very niche thing.
When you’re selling a niche thing, particularly through the lens of growth, meaning you’re pitching it to someone through an ad, a niche thing has to be explained from multiple levels of a ladder of product awareness. Number one, why do I have to solve this problem? “Oh, because when you have chats with people on your website, X, Y and Z.” In explaining the problem, you’ve now taken up half or more of the real estate available to you in your ad to pitch why your solution is amazing.
Let’s compare that back to e-commerce. If everyone knows what a toothbrush is and I run an ad pitching a toothbrush, all I have to do is point out why mine is amazing. I can just show how pretty it is. I can show a couple of its cool features. I can bullet point one, two, three, this is why it is awesome. I don’t have to pitch the problem of why somebody needs a toothbrush or a mattress. They already know.
You can more efficiently use real estate. And running as many ads as I have, I know full well that efficiency is the key to ads. You have to get to the point quickly. If you ramble too much, people stop reading. People don’t click, and then it’s very expensive to run ads profitably. So this is a huge component.
The second component is the flip side of this coin, which is if people already buy this thing, it means they’re going to buy it again. Just a matter of how expendable is that good. They’re already going to want to buy it no matter what. If you show your ad to them at a point in their life when they’re ready to buy, you have an extremely good chance to get that sale. Part of the hustle of growth marketing, running ads competently, what we do for clients, is we figure out how do we most narrowly identify those individuals who do in fact need that good right now in their life. What are the signals? What are the patterns or behaviors that correlate with someone about to buy a mattress?
I’ll give you a specific example. On Facebook they allow you to do something called behavioral targeting. That means you can target your ads to people on Facebook based on the behaviors Facebook detects in them. One such behavior might be they recently moved. They went from New York to California. That is a perfect example of what I would call a trigger for introducing someone into our ideal audience of buying a mattress. When you move, if you’re not trucking your mattress across the country, you’re going to have to buy one. There we go. Sure enough, that will out-perform just generally targeting all Facebook users as a second type of ad set. An ad set is sort of the means by which you target someone on Facebook. It will always perform better.
Just wanted to tie all that up together before I answer your question of why is e-commerce awesome. Those are two reasons. Maybe I’ll rapid-fire a couple more off the top of my head, just because I think people are interested in this. Because I’ve spoken so much about why e-commerce, why e-commerce.
It’s visual. Usually people also have a price expectation. People have an idea that for a mattress they’re going to be spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Now for a SaaS app in contrast, they usually use what’s called value-based pricing. Because there’s no actual concrete marginal cost that is in the hundreds of dollars when trying to sell something that’s software based, usually. So they’re like, “Let’s just charge 500 bucks because we think it provides that much value to our customer. So we can get away with it because they’ll be happy paying it.”
That’s, however, purely conjecture. Or maybe that’s substantiated by some user tests you’ve run. But the point is, you simply don’t know if people really put their money where their mouth is and say, “Yes. That I’m willing to pay. That’s as much value as I theoretically get from that software.” In comparison to e-commerce, if you are selling a mattress and one of your key selling points is that you cost $400 as opposed to $3,000 for an extremely premium mattress, people are like, “Wow. I know for sure that’s how much a mattress costs normally. So I know for sure you’re giving me the deal of a lifetime. And I have no problem paying your $400.”
I can go on and on about why e-commerce is awesome. This is not something, by the way, that almost anyone that I’ve spoken to in the entirety of Silicon Valley, other than investors who are savvy enough to figure this out and double down on it, even know about or talk about, ever. It’s never spoken.
I think part of that has to do with, a lot of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, in San Francisco, in northern California and elsewhere, there’s a heavy emphasis on technical founders. When you’re a coder founder and you’re trying to follow this advice and solve your own problem,
usually the problems you have are software related. Or your reflex when solving a problem is to ask yourself, “How can I use software to do so?” None of that is conducive to coming up with e-commerce ideas.
E-commerce is also sort of dismissed as a sort of non-sexy, archaic, Costco level warehousing thing. Plus the logistics of shipping things across the country can be very intimidating. Fortunately, however, falsely intimidating. Because there are tons of full solution providers that will do all of that for you.
One last note on this is, there is a part of North America that’s crushing e-commerce. That’s Los Angeles. They’re sort of like, Hollywood first, brand first, marketing first, Instagram, social influencers, celebrities. All that stuff fosters an environment where e-commerce is better supported. Emotionally, data-wise, what your friends are doing, what investors are looking for. If you go look at the startups coming out of LA, how many of them are selling physical goods, it’s relatively high. People don’t realize this. And very successful. Super high rate of success. Something to chew on.
It’s interesting how much as founders we tend to over-focus on what we already know. We look at our role models and our peers and we see what they’re doing. We copy that. We don’t realize how much that limits our perception as to what’s possible, because there are so many people outside of whatever bubbles we’re in. Outside of whatever books we’re reading or podcasts we’re listening to or people we talk to or cities we live in, who are doing things a totally different way.
I think that’s one of the cool things about talking to somebody like you who runs an agency, or talking to an investor. Because people in those positions, you guys see a lot of companies from all over the place. You don’t get limited by just seeing the same types of examples over and over.
Exactly. Also I’m realizing now that we’ve done a nice chunk of me rambling. So I would love to just maybe segue into some growth stories and hear what maybe you’ve experienced, Courtland, based on some of the anecdotes I’ve shared or some of the data I’ve shared. Maybe I could share a few as well. Does that sound cool?
Yeah, that sounds great. We’ve got a ton of questions from people on Twitter that we can mix in as well.
One question from Twitter is, “How do you target a niche? If you know that you’re specifically going to be looking at a very small group of customers who have a very specific need that’s different from other people, does this affect the channels that you can target and the ways that you can grow?”
Great question. When you’re going niche, let’s say you’re targeting people who love widgets, there are a few ways to leverage the popular social networks to find widget lovers. This is important, because if you’re just targeting a quarter million people
who would be the perfect fit for your product, if you try advertising on Facebook just very broadly where there’s over a billion people and over 200 million in the US alone, something around that, it’s going to be wildly inefficient ad spend. You’ll be targeting and spamming everyone.
If you look at Twitter, they have something very cool. You can target Twitter users based on who Twitter users follow. Those are very niche signals. If I follow Widgetco or Widget fans or Widget photos, that’s a pretty strong sign that I care about widgets.
On Facebook you can target people based on the pages that they like. However, many pages, particularly those with smaller audiences, who have been liked less frequently, or to a smaller degree, Facebook will simply not allow you to target them at all. But Twitter gives you that full, unfettered access to even the most niche of things, based on the accounts people follow. Further, Twitter can be used to target keywords. So if someone’s publicly tweeting about widgets, you can target people who’ve entered those keywords into their tweets. Pretty cool.
The downside is, Twitter is one of the worst ad channels. It’s usually worse performing than Facebook, Instagram, even Snapchat. Meaning the cost per click to your website is very high. People’s intent to buy once they reach your website is pretty poor. But if that’s the only place you can identify your audience, it’s going to be probably your best channel.
Also SEO. Piggybacking off of keywords like widget, when people Google that you can have blog posts that cover what’s called the full long tail. All of the niche topics that all aggregate together to be a meaningful number of topics. You can cover those in individual blog posts. Even people searching at very small amounts per month, maybe you can dominate that in aggregate.
One more thing I’ll say on this, because I want to try to rapid-fire these better than I am. Sorry about that. But in regard to Facebook, they have something called look alike targeting. Which is where, as long as you have some people already visiting your website and engaging and buying, without you having to do anything technical, you can instruct Facebook through their dashboard how to target people who have the same sort of demographic and purchasing behaviors as the people on your website. They can identify similar people and extrapolate backwards from there. Very cool. Extremely effective.
Another question. Several people asked this on Twitter. What about virality? What about referrals? What if you’re someone who doesn’t want to deal with any of this growth stuff and you want to build a product that’s going to grow based on word of mouth alone? What are your tips for doing that?
Virality does work. It can work. It probably will not work for your product. Let me be more specific. There are a few types of virality.
There’s inherent virality, which occurs as a natural function of your product’s day to day use. For example, if you’re paying someone on PayPal, your payment’s recipient needs to fist join PayPal in order to get that payment, right? So who’s not going to sign up to get paid? It’s an extremely
compelling offer in your email inbox. “Hey, sign up and you can get your friend’s thousand dollars that he’s paying you.” So no wonder PayPal’s user base exploded.
That’s inherent virality occurring as a function of your product’s everyday use. That is the best virality there is, because you don’t have to introduce artificial gimmicks like, “Here’s ten percent off. Here’s 25 bucks. Here’s some swag.” You don’t have to rely on that stuff, which never works as well as an inherently compelling reason for someone to go ahead and sign up for the product. And because one person will pay more than one recipient in a year, usually, it’s one to many.
Let’s use Dropbox as another great example of inherent virality. In order for me to use Dropbox in my business, I have to share it with my whole team. That’s step one. Step two, when I want to then share a Dropbox file with people outside of the team, a client or something, I may have to invite them. Now they have to sign up. That’s inherent virality. That’s the best. It doesn’t have to be incentivized. It works organically. No surprise Gmail, Hotmail, PayPal, Airbnb, Dropbox all exploded. Those are all examples of inherent virality.
Word of mouth is a second type. You guys know what that is. Basically just focus on building a product experience where people are overjoyed and want to, on their own volition, proactively recommend your product. I think that’s a conversation for another podcast. Product experience. So I’ll skip past that.
Next is artificial virality. That is the sort of contrived reward systems, getting cash or access for referring others. Everyone’s trying this. Every app I’ve ever used. “Hey, get 25% off. Hey, get a month free. Hey, get 25 bucks back.” Here’s the problem with that. I want to spend just a moment on that.
This artificial virality is a matter of moving the focus off of why people are using your product. That is a bad thing. Every single part of your customer’s journey should be doubled down on, “Hey, use the product more and get more value out of it.” Not “Here’s me paying you because I don’t know how to get you to invite other people organically or inherently.” So I guess the first point is, try to avoid it as your only means of referral if you have better options like inherent or word of mouth.
If you are going to do it, here’s how I would do it. Either offer a huge bounty, like get the product for free if I refer five friends. That’s much more tangible than, “Get five dollars.” I don’t need some fraction of minimum wage. That’s not why I signed up for your service. But if you tell me that I get a free lunch, that gets more people to take action, including wealthy people.
There’s some sort of a weird psychological trick at play there. Even though it’s not even worth and extremely wealthy person’s time. Let’s say there’s some billionaire. If you tell them, “Hey, you get this thing for free. Just don’t be lazy. All you have to do is invite three people,” you shift the emphasis of the reward system away from, “Here’s money,” to “Don’t be lazy. You can do yourself a huge favor.” Which is get this for free. “If you just invite three friends.”
It’s an interesting perspective shift there that circumvents wealth class and gets more people to take action. In summary, offer a huge bounty where it becomes free. Whatever that thing is for some amount of time. Usually to financially justify that on your end as the product offering something for free, you’ll want to figure out how many people does this person have to refer, for it to be profitable for me to then give it to them for free?
There’s much more to say but I’ll stop there. Actually, I’ll do a quick plug because it will be helpful for people listening. Go to Julian.com, j-u-l-i-a-n dot com, my name dot com. Click on this guide called Marketing and there’s a page called Onboarding in this long guide I’ve written on marketing. The Onboarding page goes pretty in depth into virality.
Another question that came up a few times on Twitter is about emerging or futuristic channels. The idea here is that, as more and more people know about a channel like, say, Facebook ads, they use it more thus driving up the price of Facebook ads and making it a less effective channel. Are there any tips that you have for how to find new and emerging channels that are promising? Do any particular channels come to mind?
Any time a social network is gaining traction, it is almost a given that they will introduce some sort of ad platform. That is the primary way to monetize a social network, is to introduce ads. Tinder sure enough at some point introduced ads. All of its competitors have or will.
So when you’re looking at those nascent social networks that aren’t as big as Facebook or Snapchat, if you can get on their ad platforms the moment they release them, subscribe to their blogs, create a Google alert. Go to Google, literally Google the phrase “Google alerts.” You’ll be able to set up little email notifications any time there’s news about these companies. Make an alert for, like, Snapchat ads or Tinder ads or whatever product has yet to release an ad platform. Get on there as early as you can.
I was on Quora super early, and was able to take advantage of the fact that no one else was advertising on Quora. That is the first emerging channel I’ll share with you guys. That’s worth playing around with. There’s also Snapchat is not an emerging product, nor an emerging ad platform per se, but it is getting much better as an ad channel. So is Pinterest.
They’re emerging in the sense that they’re now performing OK, whereas in the earlier days neither performed that well. When I say perform, I mean they simply were very hard to make profitable or they were hard to get people to actually go ahead and buy from you once they clicked through to the ad. Point being, not only do you want to look for new channels. You want to periodically assess old ones, because they have hundreds of people spending the majority of their days doing nothing but trying to improve the performance of their ad platforms. So give Pinterest and Snapchat another shot.
There are some of these audio platforms like Spotify, Pandora and so worth, which are releasing ad platforms. Give those a whirl. I know Spotify recently introduced ads. In terms of other upcoming, nascent ones – I’ll pause there. I want to rapid fire these. What else?
This is a vague one, but the question is, “Do you have any advice specific to growing mobile apps?”
Mobile apps. Yeah. Here’s an incredibly high leverage piece of advice. Most people running mobile app advertising direct traffic directly to the App Store or Google Play store.
That might work best, but usually what works better, meaning if you do what I’m about to suggest you will see people purchase at a much higher rate. Your install rate will go down but those who actually do install will purchase more, meaning your actual revenue will go higher, which is what matters. Or your profit. If you do the following, which is put a landing page in between the ad and the App Store.
A landing page just means a website, a page. So people click on the ad, they go to your website. The website links them to the App Store. That, in all of my client tests, has drastically improved performance. The reason for that, one, the Play Store or the App Store, the actual pages in the stores don’t do a very good job holistically and convincingly pitching your product. The creative is minimal. There’s not much room to play with there. The copy, meaning the text of the description, is very minimal and not fun to read. Just a wall of text, right? And by creative a moment ago, what I mean by creative is the imagery and the videos.
If you have a website instead, you can do your full normal pitch. You can show off videos. You can show off an interactive walkthrough. You can have really pretty, stylized text in small digestible chunks. It can be everything they need to know, so by the time they get into your app they actually buy from you.
Whereas if they just go to the App Store, it’s so boring and they’re so used to skipping past App Store pages anyway that they skim them entirely, that by the time they get into your app, they actually know nothing about your app. They just know the broad category, it helps me learn how to play guitar or something. But they don’t know any of the specific features that warrant them actually buying your product. But when you have that page interstitial, a landing page in between, you give them that pitch. Because they are going to skip reading the App Store page.
Another question from Twitter is, people want to know how do you sell SaaS to consumers? Assuming you have a SaaS business, you’re not targeting other businesses. How do you get consumers to actually buy your SaaS app?
Same way you would do e-commerce. It seems like kind of a generic boring question. It’s actually a great question because it gives me the opportunity to tell everyone that which ad channel you use to identify your target audience doesn’t matter very much.
Here’s what I mean by that. Our best performing ad for one of our big enterprise B2B clients, they sell $50,000 machine learning computers. Their best performing ad is an Instagram ad of a computer with doggy ears on it. Which is super counter-intuitive, right? Because you’re thinking to yourself, “OK. B2B. So maybe we’ve got to target business people. Maybe we’ve got to target
them on LinkedIn. That’s where business people hang out and LinkedIn has an ad channel. Or maybe I’ve got to do sales.”
And maybe sales and LinkedIn do work, but the point is that as long as you’re targeting the right person on Instagram, it doesn’t matter that you’re using Instagram to target them. The platform, meaning Instagram ads, is just a conduit to get to the people who you know to be the best audience fit for you. If you’re setting up your Instagram ads to target people who do really want to buy a machine learning computer, because let’s say you figure out a way to target using that criteria, using Facebook’s dashboard, which is possible, that’s all that matters. Because a person is a person is a person.
If I’m a machine learning buyer and I’m on Instagram or I’m on LinkedIn, it doesn’t matter. I’m still the same person. The context of my usage of the individual social network, whether I use it for business or for personal reasons like Instagram, will not significantly affect my likelihood to respond to a business-to-business or business-to-consumer ad. That is a huge learning we found early on in Bell Curve, when we were working with B2B clients. It holds true across every channel and not just Instagram.
That’s a good topic to close out on. Is there anything that you’ve found in your time at Bell Curve that we haven’t covered, that is counter-intuitive? That others haven’t really talked about, haven’t discovered, that you think the Indie Hackers audience would benefit from hearing and knowing while they go off and try to grow their own companies?
Great question. I’ll give you two. First would be, video ads almost always out-perform image ads. If you can attract people’s eyes when they’re scrolling through their feed, do it.
Another one I’ll give you is, demographics do actually respond differently to different selling points. A man in his 40s might respond significantly better – and when I say respond, of course I mean click through at a higher rate and all that stuff with the ad – to one type of message, than a woman who’s younger.
This might seem really self-evident but I’ve looked at a lot of ad accounts and I’ve never once seen a client – I really don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. Other than after we’ve come in and changed things – who’s segmented out demographics for the purpose of giving them the ads that are most appropriate for them. Those ads should then lead to landing pages, which is a fancy growth way of saying pages on your website, that are themselves tailored to that demographic. Think about the full journey of each person you’re targeting. Think about them as separate people, too.
All right. Well, we have gone on for quite some time. Thank you so much, Julian, for coming on the show and sharing so much of your wisdom and advice and learnings with the audience. Can you let listeners know where they can go to find out more about what you’re up to with Bell Curve and how they can learn how to grow their businesses before they even get started?
Sure. Let’s start with what’s free and easy to access. Julian.com, you can go and check out many thousands of words I’ve written recapping almost everything here and going much more into depth. Also at BellCurve.com. We work with companies to train their team members how to do growth marketing as well as we do. And we also have a job board for helping hire growth marketers. That’s really it. So BellCurve.com and Julian.com. I’m super grateful you had me back on, Courtland. Thank you.
Thank you, Julian.
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If you listen to the show, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting help from other founders rather than trying to build your business all by yourself. So you’ll see me on the forum for sure as well as more than a handful of some of the guests that I’ve had on the podcast.
If you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve also got a huge directory full of hundreds of products built by other Indie Hackers, every one of which includes revenue numbers and some of the behind-the-scenes strategies for how they grew their products from nothing.
As always, thanks so much for listening and I’ll see you next time.