Thursday, June 28, 2012

Independence Day

For me, Independence Day fell on June 27, 2012. This is the day that I finally overcame a lifetime of self-doubt and walked away from the succor of someone else's paycheck. As Vice President of Business Development for a Seattle tech company I had a pretty comfortable life and I chose to trade all of that security for a chance to pursue starting my own company (with a few friends) - a process that I ought to have started 15 years ago.

Over the years, I've had tons of ideas - some reasonably plausible, others less so. In every instance though I've stopped short of actually pursuing them, satisfied instead with the vanity of people telling me that's a good idea. There comes a point though (some call it a middle-age crisis) where you ask yourself what you're all about. What are you actually teaching your kids? Are you really happy? Does your work reflect the values that are important to you? 

In truth, I've always asked myself those questions, but the seniority of the positions I held grew over time as did the paychecks and perks, and I got lazy. We got married, we had kids, we bought a house, etc. You can easily convince yourself that it's never the best timing to take a leap into the unknown. Over time, the frequency and amplitude with which I questioned myself lessened to the point where I was basically along for the ride in the near-inevitable corporate machinery of big company America. 

However, earlier this year, along came the catalyzing event that began the metamorphosis from indolent Microserf to fledgling entrepreneur. A trip to a dermatologist and a resultant cancer scare was all it took. Turns out it was nothing but it was all I needed to remind myself of the impermanence of my life. That my mother died of cancer aged 44 should have been enough, but as I said, I got lazy...

So, here I am sitting in a Starbucks on Day 1 of not having a paycheck for the first time in 15 years, trying to focus on the road ahead and ignoring the nagging, fearful self. Regardless of whether Härnu proves to be a hit or a bust, I'm committed to this state of independence that I eschewed for so long. I owe it to my kids to show them that life is something to be embraced with confidence, not survived in fear.

As for Härnu, all four founders are now full-time and there's nothing holding us back except ourselves. We're in the middle of a big redesign, we're rapidly building out our go-to-market plans, and learning as we go. 

If you're reading this post and you have aspirations of starting your own company, I won't pretend to have any advice for you. All I can say is that honesty with myself is where it begins for me. Every. Single. Day.

Good luck! 

p.s. If yesterday wasn't momentous enough, I became the Foursquare Mayor of the India Gate restaurant in Eastgate. What a way to end my Eastside commute!

Monday, June 4, 2012

More Camels

Right now, we're in the middle of a complete redesign of Härnu based on early feedback (both implicit and explicit) from our users. So, as the guy on point for bringing users, there's not a whole lot for me to do but plan assiduously and sit tight for the next iteration.

Having said that though, I've been dabbling in posting Twitter and Facebook updates on behalf of Härnu and what I've learned won't surprise anyone - photos are gold

A word on virality

Before I get into details, Facebook defines virality as "The percentage of people who have created a story from your page post out of the total number of unique number of people who have seen it." In other words, it's the number of people "Talking about this" divided by the "Reach" as defined by Facebook.

So, with that out the way, here's a quick rundown of what I've learned so far:

Photos Trump Text

One day recently, I posted a Facebook update about a mother using Härnu to find her adopted son's biological brother in Ethiopia. This was a use case we could never have imagined but it was one that we thought was incredible and were really pleased that our efforts could play a small part in helping. This post was all text.

The next day, I posted a quick Facebook update about Indonesian users now on Härnu. I included a stock photo of Bali to highlight my point.

We saw a virality score of 2.41% for the post about the mother and a 4.55% score for the post about Indonesian users. In other words, the post about Indonesian users was 1.9X more viral than the one about the mother looking for her adopted son's brother in Ethiopia.

Hypothesis #1: Posts with embedded links and / or photos are more viral than those without

Easy and obvious enough right? What came next though was a much better illustration of that point. One of our users from the Philippines whom I've been chatting with, sent me a picture of him and a camel (he's living in Saudi Arabia just now). He also told me that people eat camel meat there. In retrospect, not very surprising. Kind of like horse being on the menu in much of France right? I thought this was pretty interesting, so I posted this to our Härnu Facebook page (note I started with an attention grabbing question):

This post had a virality score of 12.1%. Our most successful one yet and 2.65X more viral than the post about Indonesia and 5X more viral than the one about the mother.

Hypothesis #2: Photos that are more personal and authentic are more interesting than stock photos

Hypothesis #3: Posts framed as questions are more viral than simple text updates

Note I'm using the term "hypothesis" here and not yet "conclusion" - we're still learning and a sample of one does not a trend make. That said, I followed up this last post about a camel with another one with a photo, posed as a question, and tried to piggyback on the Queen's Jubilee in England.

How viral was this one? The answer is not at all. Turns out no-one cares about the Queen, or at least, none of our users does.

Conclusion: While we have yet to achieve Konyesque virality, in the meantime, our winning formula appears to be MORE CAMELS ;-)

For the experts out there, what kind of content has worked best for you on Facebook & Twitter updates? What kind of virality scores do you typically see? Do you think it even matters?