Category: Talks & conferences

Business of Software Europe 2019

By , April 18, 2019 11:00 am

Last week I attended my the Business of Software Europe conference. This year the conference returns to Cambridge after a few years in Dublin and London.

This year the conference logo is the black squirrel, which is apparently a genetic mutation local to Cambridge.

As usual, an excellent conference with a wide range of topics and an interesting mix of speakers. I’m not going to go into detail on the talks, other folks will have already written them up in more detail than my sparse notes will allow. If you’re interested in high level strategic thought about how to run a software business, this is the conference for you.

But I did make a note of every book that a speaker or attendee mentioned.

Let It Go, by Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley CH. This book was provided to all attendees by the conference.

Art of Profitability, by Adrian Slywotzky

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

The Games People Play, by Eric Berne

Rest, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

What Got You Here Wont Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith

Skin In The Game, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard

This Is Marketing, by Seth Godin

Clean Code, by Robert C. Martin

Building A Story Brand, by Donald Miller

11 Laws Of Showrunning, (PDF) by Javier Grillo-Marxuach . Also a podcast.

Powerful, by Patty McCord

The Art of Product Management, by Rich Mironov

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard, by
Mark H. McCormack

Chimp Paradox, by Professor Steve Peters

The Manager’s Path, Camille Fournier

Radical Candor, by Kim Scott

Badass, by Kathy Sierra

Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

Film: Free Solo

Video: Steve Jobs marketing talk

Metcalfe’s Law, as the number of people rises, the number of connections gets out of control.

Conway’s Law, your designs are constrained by your communication structures. This graphic captures it all. Note the Microsoft graphic.

Ogilvy Lab Day

By , November 22, 2012 11:50 pm

Friday 26 October 2012 was Ogilvy Lab Day, held at Ravensbourne next to the O2 Arena, London, UK.

I apologise if any details are incorrect (please notify me) as I am writing these notes from my hand written notes on the day. I can’t always read my own writing!

Ogilvy Lab Day has been running for 10 years (I think) and this was the first time they have held the event outside of Ogilvy. Another first, they allowed members of the public to attend . You had to apply and if they thought you matched their criteria you could attend.

The audience was comprised of media creatives, advertising people, marketing people and another group which they referred to as “coders”. Thanks but I’ll keep my software engineer title. Coder implies I don’t think, just do as I’m told. The reality is if you want anyone any good, you want a creative person, a software engineer/developer. Whether the use of the word “coder” is ignorance or deliberate I don’t know. Based on continued reference to coders through the day by various speakers I think they see the creativity completely on the media/advertising/marketing side and software people as merely people to do their bidding. I hope that isn’t the case. Given the increasing reliance on interactive marketing having good software people is and will increasingly become a must, even in the advertising industry.

The day starts with an introduction about education, DMIC (Digital Media Innovation Consultancy) and the relationship with Ogilvy and the future of the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund). Ogilvy and Ravensbourne have had a relationship for the past several years, which has benefited both parties, with Ogilvy hiring some talented graduates from Ravensbourne.

The room contained 3 large screens. One large screen at the front and smaller screens at each side. The event was filmed. Video clips were interspersed with the talks. The title of the day was “Storytelling”. As such, the day covered various topics and contained stories from two women during the day.

More people attended than could fit in the main room. Apparently these people could watch from monitors in another room. Many extra people crammed into the room and stood around the edges or sat on the floor. An A4 ring bound white paper (40 pages) was available on each seat – “Making magic, using logic”. This file described some of Ogilvy’s methods for creating their work. I was lucky enough to get a chair and white paper.

A couple of animated clips of points from Rory Sutherland’s Wiki Man book were shown on the screens.

Branded Entertainment

This talk was given by Doug Scott and Cody Hogarth.

Ideas can come from anywhere.

They demonstrated several examples from the 60s, 70s and 80s. One such example was a Flintstones cartoon promoting Winston’s Cigarettes from the 1960s. How times change!

This is called Brand Equity.

Fast forward to 2010 and it’s all about co-created content. This is Collaboration Equity.

  • 77% of TV viewers watch with another device at the same time.

  • 40% of viewers watch and surf the web at the same time.

  • 68 million on mobile.

  • 248 million on tablets by 2015.

The “Fear of Missing Out” (FoME) is driving all this.

2011/2012 is the tipping point. Content must work on multiple platforms. An example given is Coca Cola’s “content 2020” program.

The speakers observe that “creative excellence is going to be superceded by content excellence” and that “VC funds are redirected from tech to content”. This is a $1.8 trillion market.

Types of program

Digital – downloadable or streamed, Broadcast – traditional TV broadcasting, Event – related to an event (for example the Olympics), Property – or related to a property of some sort.

Example: Make It Possible (I have note next to this indicating Coke 2020). Entertainment first, advert second. It’s not even a balance.

Example: Red Bull content for brands. Started by paying for the content to be shown on networks. Now the content is so high quality and there is a demand from the networks for extreme sporting content Red Bull can charge for their content. There is never an explicit advert for their product, but the branding is all over it. Red Bull’s work is produced by their own in-house media company, Red Bull Media House. Red Bull also release their work on a dedicated You Tube channel.

We were shown an excellent extreme snowboarding video promo which I later found on the Red Bull Media House website. It doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but this page contains videos of similar quality for other sports.

Example:Carling Lager. Carling Black label football campaign.

Example:Intel. The “vice magazine” creative project.

Example:Canon: “Project imagination”. This improved Canon’s marketshare.

Example:Mont Blanc watches. This was a compilation of 1 second videos to celebrate the beauty of a second.

Example:American Express. The Hidden Talent program. Sorry I couldn’t find any examples of this work.

The barrier for participants in these types of programs must be as low as possible and must be social and/or viral.

Branded Entertainment Assessment Model

Content strategy leads to brand wealth.

Story about IBM’s Watson computer which featured on the US TV show Jeopardy. By the end of this unusual appearance of a computer on a TV game show, the results were 21x revenue with 3x profit. An estimated $50m marketing value.

The talk now moves on to discuss BEAM, the Branded Entertainment Assessment Model, which is described in detail in the white paper.

A reference is made to which can be seen at

Case Study #1 Storytelling

This story is told by Pat Cadigan, a female American science fiction author. Pat’s story is hilarious and involves nearly dying from anaphylactic shock (twice), once from prescribed drugs and the second from a contraceptive vaginal sponge that failed to work properly.

Two quotes from this story stood out.

“Children are wonderful, where do all the mediocre adults come from?”


“Make a difference, don’t hate your life.”

Case Study #2, Ford and Channel 4

This case study is presented by Cody Hogarth and Rob Romsay.

The case study is about “The Endless Winter (A very British surf movie)”. The movie is about surfing in the UK and features two surfers spending a year (I think) travelling the UK in search of surf, travelling, sleeping and living in the Ford S-Max on the days they are away from their families surfing.

The Ford S-MAX is an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle), not SUV and is aimed at people in their early 30s who have a family but are still active with sports. Surfing seemed an ideal vehicle for this, sorry I didn’t intend that pun. It’s a crowded market so they used content marketing to penetrate the market.

They created a website for The Endless Winter which garnered over a million views.

The aspriational product placement film was re-scripted to make it more like a “Channel 4” production. More graphics were added to the film to make it appeal more to non-surfers. This is known as surf-porn.

The film was 90 minutes in length. This was then edited into 3 films of 30 minutes so that it could be shown as a film or as three separate shows depending on the channel or time of day it was being shown.

2.7 million digital viewers.
14 million broadcast viewers.
167 million watches.

They also held 8 events (2 at beaches and 6 in cinemas).

The film won an award at a film festival.

The £3 million price was paid by Ford.

Case Study #3, Transmedia Skins

This case study talked about the TV series Skins and how different media were used in the creation of Skins and the overall strategy. Skins is not just a TV series.

The creation of Skins as well as involving the traditional TV script writers, actors, production crew etc, also involved a content design company, games and adverts.

The main problem is how to deal with multiple series of a TV show when sometimes the characters are different from series to series.

50% of views are not from broadcast TV. 4oD is also available as an app. Viewing also happens on iPad and XBox. Much of the viewing is time-shifted from the original broadcast time. Demographics are 16 to 34.

There are two timelines. The first timeline is the video/casting timeline. The second timeline is the offline timeline where they make the characters “live” using Facebook posts, tweets and interviews. This second timeline is independent of the video, although it has to be in sync and cannot reveal any spoilers for the video. To do this they hired extra staff to play the offline part of the characters and develop plot/storyline for the offline periods (between each series). They developed a custom software tool to do the job – a beats and stories tool.

Panel Discussion – The Virtuous Cirle of Transmedia Storytelling

The panel comprised Doug Scott (Ogilvy), Bruce Daisley (Twitter), Danielle Style (Tumblr), Ian Forrester (BBC R&D), Cait O’Riordan (BBC Olympics).

I only have rough notes for this.

BBC Olympics had:
57 million unique users
111 million streams of video
12 million video streams to mobile devices
Did not exceed BBC’s capacity planning despite the planning being guesswork (no baseline to work with – previous Olympics and Commonwealth games with less people having broadband, no reference point). All it all worked just fine! Result.

“Binders full of women” Obama campaign produces Romney misstep.

“Tidal wave of crap that comes at us”.

Tracking sentiment via social media during Olympics.

Viral is a dirty word

The speaker is Olivia Rzepczynski.

The talk starts with some examples of what constitute a hit. “overnight successes” to organised events to completely unplanned successes.

The Gangnam style hit by “PSY” is not an overnight hit. This is his 6th album.

Red Bull Stratos.
8 million view live.
60 million views.

490 million people viewed Charlie Bit My Finger. $500K earned by the family. Now pursuing a collaboration with Ragu.

Four percent of YouTube videos get over 100,000 views.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world.

5 Step Plan

  1. Have a plan of action
  2. Creative in context
  3. Optimise first
  4. Distribute and promote
  5. Measure what matters

1) Have a plan

You need to identify a trigger event for your video. What will cause this to be interesting?

You need to account for different screen sizes. 20% of YouTube video is watched on mobile devices.

Define your “post-play” interaction (PPI). This is the conversion. Examples might be signing up, watching a movie, downloading a white paper, etc.

2) Creative in context

What is the job to be done? (Clay Christensen will love that :-))

Entertain Brand reappraisal
Inform Product acquisition
Support Make lives easier

Sources of video:

  • Pro
  • Pro-am
  • Archive
  • User generated
  • Sponsored

3) Optimize

Work out the script beforehand.
All dialogue, stunts etc.
Tags, metadata, etc.
Channel naming (video SEO – VSEO)

4) Distribute and Promote

Distribution channels:

  • Paid
  • Owned
  • Earned

You need to careful how you do this. This advert for Liquid Plumr went viral and even ended up on porn sites.

5) Measure what matters

Measure conversions as well as likes/plays

Case Study/Panel Discussion

There was a case study but nothing I felt worthy of noting, followed by a panel discussion for which I have no notes. Can’t have been that interesting 🙂

Story Telling – Incredible Edible

The next speaker was an amazing lady from Todmorden Incredible Edible. She told the incredible story of how Todmorden went from an ordinary slightly run down town to a place covered in vibrant planters, disused land turned into viable allotments, crime reduced. And all of this done by volunteers spending time tending to plant beds, replacing weeds and flowers with edible food.

The talk was wild, funny and informative. The speaker (I think may be Pam Warhurst) was mad, passionate and crazy (in a good way). Brilliant. Talk about audience engagement. A great speaker at any event and a superb inspiration for what can be achieved in a community.

Food, creating a revolution.
“If you eat, you’re in”.
Every egg matters.
Vegetable tourism.
Green Route Map.
The power of small actions.

Sexy Little Numbers

The next talk was by Dmitri Maex, co-author of the book Sexy Little Numbers.

The subtitle is “How to grow your business using data you already have”.

You can also use free data. Free data is available in product reviews. For example look on Amazon at any product then look at the product reviews for that product. For me, I always read the best AND the worst reviews and include those as data points along with everything else I already know about a product.

Data Visualization, referencing Ed Tufte (giant in this field, Google him).

Useful guidelines:
Graphical Integrity
Data Ink (amount of ink must correspond to size of data)
Chart junk (don’t add stuff to a graphic that is decoration, that has no value)
Tag Clouds
Story Telling

An example is soso limited and the creators project.

Apparently a talent crunch is coming. There are not enough people with good, relevant statistics training. As such getting good analytics in the future may be hard.

“Everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the face”, Mike Tyson.

Agility. OODA loop, created by man that designed the F16 fighter.

Sense -> Orient -> Create -> Intent -> Sense -> Orient ->…

Data is used in the basement, but not in the boardroom. This needs to change.

Random notes:
New Data
Double Hub blog (sorry, I couldn’t find this)

At the end of the day Dmitri signed and gave away a large pile of his books. I haven’t yet had time to read Dmitri’s book. When I do I’ll write it up. It looks really interesting.

Rory Sutherland

Rory was the last speaker of the day. He had been unwell prior to the talk but decided he was well enough to attend. He was talking about behavioural economics.

People are influenced by:

Habituation What I do
Contagion What others do
Context When and where I do
Social pressure

Market research, problems.

Sunk cost bias. Innovators dilemma.

Things need to be consistent.

The framing of student loans in the UK.
If you call it a loan people feel like their is a nose around their neck for the rest of their life. This is wrong because you only pay the money back if your income exceeds a certain threshold and even then you pay it back as a small increase on your income tax. There is no penalty for late payment and no bank to foreclose on you. If you reframe the student loan as simply a small increase in your income tax until the money is repaid it is clear for any student from any background, wealthy or poor to see that they don’t have a noose around their neck and the offer is a good one.

Start with theories then use the data to validator or invalidate it.

Reference to Peter Drucker (he gets into so many talks!)

I have an MP3 of this talk, but at this time I don’t have permission to post it. When I do I’ll make the MP3 available. When I get more time I’ll provide detailed notes of Rory’s talk from the MP3.

As usual Rory’s talk was very funny and entertaining.


I’m very pleased I could attend Ogilvy Lab Day and delighted that I was allowed to attend. I’m not exactly a media type, whatever one of those is. I don’t use that term as an insult. It’s simply that I don’t know what jobs most of the other people in the room do. I guess most were marketing, sales, media creation (design, graphics, video, audio), etc. There were some software people there as well.

It was an interesting experience being there. At first I wondered why I had attended. I was watching these lovely videos (some of which I’ve managed to include here and others which I could not find to show you) and listening to these interesting talks about an industry I know nothing about. And I was thinking “this is great, really interesting, but why am I here? What can I learn? And can I help anyone else that is here”. Anyway as the day progressed the topics turned more towards things relevant to the software industry and I started to understand more of what is involved in the transmedia industry. I have a much better understanding and respect for the work these people do than I did before I arrived. It’s clear the people in this industry are there for the same reasons people enter the software industry. They enjoy it. They thrive on being creative and having a challenge.

It’s the same and it’s totally different. If that makes sense.

I really enjoyed it. It was a blast.

And I got to see the Millenium Dome, now christened the O2 Arena. Much smaller than I expected. I just don’t understand where the money went. A billion pounds (1.6 billion dollars) for that? You’ve got to be kidding.

Business of Software 2011 – mind food

By , November 22, 2011 10:36 am

A few weeks ago in October I travelled to Boston, MA for the Business of Software conference. This is the number one conference to go to for folks aiming to create a software business to last the long term. This isn’t a place to come if you want to create a Facebook then flip it and walk away with millions. Nothing sustainable about flipping companies.

Twitter seemed to come into its own at and before the conference. People using phones, iPads, laptops to coordinate who they were eating with and when. #BoS2011 became unmanageable. Mark Littlewood’s advice to use Tweetdeck was well received.


Its a self selecting audience. They’re all very bright, self motivated. A lot of the people attending run their own businesses, from one man companies to some larger organisations like Red Gate who brought a good chunk of their staff with them. 30 people? 50 people? I don’t know. A lot – more than many people have on their entire staff. I spent Saturday evening with 5 Red Gate people and most of Sunday with some more Red Gate folk. It seems that Red Gate is being quite entrepreneurial with its staff – exposing them to conferences like this and training them for the future. It seems like a much more thoughtful vision for their future than most companies take.

Microsoft had some people in attendance too. The only Microsoftee I met was Patrick Foley, who was brave enough to give a Lightning talk. One attendee had travelled all the way from Romania, using three planes to get to Boston. He was probably one of the youngest attendees too. I spent a chunk of Tuesday evening chatting with him in The Whiskey Priest. Not sure I’d have been that keen to travel that far for a conference at age 25. Kudos.

The quality of the speakers was incredible. I thought Clayton Christensen would be the top draw (I’ve read most of his books, found them really interesting) but as it turned out I preferred the speakers on the second day – Rory Sutherland and Josh Linkner in particular. Most speakers manage to weave humour into their talks. I don’t know if this was planned, opportunist or just something you get good at.

Note taking

I typically record each speaker so that I can listen to them again. Unfortunately for me, although armed with loads of AA batteries when it came to record day two they all failed. So I couldn’t record what turned out to be my favourite talks. Next time, purchase the batteries when I get there, don’t rely on them being OK just because they’ve never been used.

Although at MicroConf I took copious notes, I took very few at Business of Software. I was just too wrapped up in what was being presented. When I look at my notes its in my typical unreadable “I should have been a doctor” handwriting, with a good chunk of the notes not about the talk being given but about ideas for improving the software process at Software Verification. Its as if being there was stimulating me to take action over what we will do in future. Part of me is pleased with this and part of me is frustrated I didn’t take more written notes.

The Business of Software goodie bag was unusual – full of stuff I will actually read. Books from some of the speakers. Their talks were interesting, so that bodes well for the books they wrote.

Business of Software Team

The team Mark Littlewood assembled were superb. They were always on hand to help. When I asked them for help with some nuts (I needed protein as the vegetarian food was all carbohydate and had no pulses etc) they to my amazement found some fruit and nuts for me. I expected them to tell me where I could find a shop. Later that evening two of them saw me collasped on a seat at The Whiskey Priest and came over. They wanted to walk me back to the hotel until I explained I’d be alright in about 20 minutes – when my blood sugar had become normal again after eating (I shouldn’t have had the beer so soon after eating with the noise of the Business of Software band – too much).

As well as the BoS team, the conference centre staff were helpful and courteous. Americans really understand service. So often I’ve had bad experiences in the UK.

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen’s talk was pretty much a summary of his Innovator’s Dilemma book. Given that I’ve read his books I didn’t talk many notes. I think the standout items for me were:

  • The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.
  • You should be focussing on “What is the job to be done (by the customer)?”.
  • Look to the bottom of the market, that is where the innovation will come.

The second point is really telling. Most companies create products they try to sell to customers. They don’t actually research what it is a potential customer is trying to do. Are you really trying to buy a car or just go from A to B conveniently? If its the latter a car may not be the best thing to sell them. On this point, in Cambridge, UK, there has been a rise in the number of people ditching their car and switching to electric bicycles. Job to be done is commuting around town. You don’t necessarily need a car for that.

This third point was illustrated nicely with the example of solar power. In the USA and Europe we have government grants creating solar power and wind farms. But that is trying replace the existing fossil fuel based systems with intermittent solar and wind power. But if you go to Africa and parts of Asia where there is an underserved market (people with little or no power supply) then an intermittent supply of solar and wind is more useful than no power supply. It is in these markets that new technologies to improve the intermittent power supply (with better battery technology for storage and better solar cell technology for improved generation, etc) can flourish. Eventually these technologies will get good enough to start competing in the more traditional markets for power in the Western economies. The key thing is that the economic drivers are in the underserved markets, not in the well served markets.

More Information:

Jason Cohen

Jason Cohen talked about Honesty and how companies misrepresent themselves to make themselves appear different from reality. A bit like a bird puffing up its chest to look more intimidating we write our about pages to appear different than we really are.

Jason argues that this is dishonest and misleading and that by being honest it is more profitable in the long run (and feels better). Jason also argues that by being candid about what you can and cannot do you also inform your customers better than the one-sided comparison charts (where every feature your software can do is listed and only your software gets a tick mark next to everything).

Jason sold his previous company and now runs a WP Engine. WP Engine is smaller than most of his competitors and as Jason admits, he isn’t the cheapest solution. However he believes that by being candid about your strengths and weaknesses your company size doesn’t have to be a weakness. You size means you need every customer, thus you must focus on them. Contrast this to the approach you get from Big Corp, where you are a faceless customer and often get treated like one.

I wrote two quotes during the talk:

  • “Truth in limitations earns believability advances”.
  • “Open source is free like a puppy is free”.

I had two todo items on my list at the end of this talk and a big note saying I must re-listen to this talk when I get home. It made an impression. Dave Collins from Software Promotions was so impressed he wrote a post about it then posted the before and after About pages so you could see the difference.

More information:

Alex Osterwalder

Alex Osterwalder gave a talk on Business Model Generation. I had thought Alex’s talk would be boring. And talking to some people later on (in the UX class lead by Richard Muscat) it appeared some other attendees also thought that. How wrong we were. One of the books in the goodie bag was Alex’s book on Business Model Generation.

On the face of it the title “Business Model Generation” sound rather dry. Alex demonstrated how to use a simple business model canvas to enter simple facts and figures about your business then use those to create other information you could use to see if the business is viable. If not viable, change some parameters and see if the new model is viable. It was surprisingly simple and easy and by the end of the talk I got the impression people wanted more.

To demonstrate a business model Alex used the Nespresso coffee making machines as an example.

  • The machines are sold in retail outlets.
  • Most of the profit from sale of machines goes to the business partners.
  • Nespresso make their money from sales of the coffee pods by mail order,, call centers and from nespresso stores. These are all distribution channels owned and controlled by Nespresso.
  • This allows Nespresso to keep all the recurring margins.

This talk also introduced the audience to Stattys, a non-sticky note that uses static electricity to stick to things rather than glue. After Business of Software Paul Kenny resorted to some awful puns because he liked Stattys so much.

Later on I was in the UX workshop (where we redesigned Business of Software) and talking with other attendees I found that my subgroup in the workshop all wanted to be in the Business Model Generation workshop but all of us had excluded that workshop because we thought it would be boring. None of us held that opinion after Alex’s talk.

Alex also demonstrated his iPad application which is a software implementation of the business model canvas. Looks quite slick and certainly an easy way to create and explore different business concepts.

More information at

Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh spoke about customer retention and how to measure it, and pricing.

4 Churn Types:

  • Customer. e.g. 5% 5 out of 100.
  • Revenue. e.g. 10% 20K out of 200K.
  • Discretionary. People cancel their account.
  • Involuntary. Billing failure causes cancellation.

At Hubspot they use the Custom Happiness Index 2.0. This predicts how well the customer uses the software.

Dharmesh argues against Freemium pricing as this is a sunk cost. Instead if you want to do Freemium but without the sunk cost you should do Cheapium which is where you charge the customer the cost of supporting them. You don’t make any profit with Cheapium, but you also don’t lose money with Cheapium and you may convert some Cheapium customers to paid customers.

You need humans to sell Complex Products, New Products and products where the price is somewhat high (which Dharmesh defines as greater than $100/month). The point of indifference for most customers is between $30/month and $40/month.

More Information:

Jeff Laswon

Jeff Lawson gave a talk on “Saas Mating Calls” and value as perceived by the customer.

I don’t have many notes on this talk. The talk was somewhat ruined by a couple of people persistently talking behind me until I take no more and asked them to leave or shut up. I was so wound up by this point that I couldn’t really concentrate on Jeff’s talk. I found out later that many other folk had also been annoyed by these two people (perhaps they had not spent their own money to attend?).

So, sorry for no notes worth commenting on.

Tobias Lütke

The last talk of day one was by Tobias. Again, I don’t really have many notes. I think I was struggling with low blood sugar.

Tobias talked about the culture of your company. What sort of company do you want to build?

“Do not start a company to make money. Start a company to delight customers.”

Patrick McKenzie

Patrick McKenzie talked about sales funnels and A/B testing. He also revealed an engagement ring he was going to present to his girlfriend when he returned to Japan.

Sales Funnels:

  • Describe the Funnel.
  • Measure the Funnel.
  • Optimize the Funnel.
  • Profit!

Shorter funnels are better. Analyze your funnel. If you can find any un-needed steps in the sales funnel, remove them.

A/B Testing places:

  • Home Page
  • Landing Pages
  • Pricing Page
  • Shopping Cart

Test the following:

  • Headlines
  • Offers
  • Calls to Action
  • Prominent graphic elements
  • Important micro-copy – address customer objections.

    Example “Don’t worry, we won’t spam you” next to an email address field.

Patrick recommends doing the A/B testing yourself so that you have the test data, but if you don’t want to do that use Visual Website Optimizer (Note: Dharmesh also said Visual Website Optimizer is good when I talked to him about Hubspot – even though Hubspot now has Performable’s A/B testing suite). Be systematic about A/B tests. It works. He says it “prints money”.

Purchasing page
Change your purchase page to do purchasing only. Remove all un-necessary links from the purchasing page so there are no distractions. I suspect this advice is much more important for B2C websites than B2B websites.

First run experience
Collect first run experience statistics. How many people run your software once? How many people run it twice?

If you know the search terms for an evaluating customer find a way to provide customised startup help for that search time on the first run of the software.

Tour Mode
Find a way to provide an interactive tutorial to lead people through the steps to use your software effectively. This is called Tour Mode.

If you do gather telemetry from your desktop software be sure to ask the user’s permission to send that data back to your servers.

More Information:

Laura Fitton

Laura talked about how your communication to your customers and potential customers should Be Useful.

Be Useful. Its not about you.

Laura advocates a sequence of actions you can use to be more useful.

  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Care
  • Serve
  • [repeat]

Laura’s presentation is on

Recommended book: Content Marketing for Startups by Dan Martell.

More information:

Josh Linkner

Josh Linkner is VC. He didn’t talk about funding or finance. He gave an excellent talk on unleashing your creativity. His book Disciplined Dreaming was part of the Business of Software Goodie bag.

Josh started by giving a background to creativity and explaining that although most of us think we are not creative, creativity is 85% learned behaviour.

Blocks to creativity are fear. Fear of failing. Fear that the idea/design won’t be any good. I’ll also posit that for a few people, they are afraid the idea/design will succeed and they will have to follow through.

Be curious. Make a point of being curious. Ask Why? Why if? Why not?

“Fail more to win more.”

Do not criticise small mistakes.

Encourage experiments, tolerate failure.

Remarkably Different
Josh gave an example of an unusual and creatively inspired business – – where you can only buy socks in odd numbers. The socks don’t match and you can’t buy pairs. It’s a roaring success. It’s remarkably different.

5 Whys
Josh recommends using the 5 Why’s technique. Ask “Why is this?” about the topic. Then repeat for the answer. Do this 5 times to get to different insights about what you are looking at. This technique is used in quality control, user experience design and other fields. You can use it creatively too.

Learned behaviour
Josh demonstrated learned behaviour by describing an experiment known as The Pike Syndrome where a carnivorous fish (A Pike) ignores the prey fish because it had earlier learned that it was unable to eat them. In the same way, although creative during childhood, many things during our adolescent years and adulthood teach us not to be creative. But you can learn to be creative.

Role Storming
Another technique Josh uses to encourage people to be creative is to “Role Storm”. This is where you take on the role of a particular person or character and approach the problem from their point of view. For example what would Business of Software be like if Darth Vader hosted it? What benefits and features would he be interested in? What sort of user experience would Darth Vader be expecting?

Josh demonstrated an alternative form of captcha that relies on understanding a caption and then acting upon it with a simple game. The layout of the game changes on a regular basis as do the captions. This makes it almost impossible for a bot to defeat the captcha. The example given was “Drag 3 peppercorns and 2 mushrooms onto the middle pizza”. It’s an inspired bit of creativity by taking the original problem and re-framing it.

Take 5% of your time (2 hours) to be creative each week. You will be more productive.

I’ll be posting more on creativity as I compose tunes and people always ask me how I do that as it must be so hard and complex. Wrong! Its easy. Anyone can do it.

More information:

Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, the advertising giant. Rory gave a talk about Praxeology, the study of human action. Rory talked about how creativity and rational thinking don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Rory was hilarious and the talk full of interesting nuggets.

I’m afraid my notes don’t do justice as I appear to have written short snippets to jog me into performing Google searches. As such I’ll list the phrases here and if any of them jog your mind or cause you to search then that is more use than me trying to frame them for you.

Creativity is policed by rationality but rationality is not policed by creativity. This can lead to very creative people being prevented from being creative but leave rational people to create things like the finance and banking meltdown that happened a few years ago and which we are still living through now.

If you want people to finish a task, split the tasks into chunks. People are much more likely to complete all tasks if approached this way.

You want your customers to avoid disappointment or complete surprises.

Rory introduced Ludwig von Mises and the subject of Praxeology.

Do not distinguish between subjective and tangible value.

Hueristics and biases
Framing, comparison and content

Information asymmetry and commitment.

Satisficing vs Maximising.

Make choosing easier
Choice making is easier with 3 items than with 2 items. Put the best choice in the middle and create cheap, average, expensive choices. Most people will choose the middle one.

Framing is all about the context in which you see the offer. Every thing is relative.

Reduce web steps from three to two improves conversion by approx 40%.

Resolve discomfort and disquiet to improve sales.

Behaviours lead attitudes.

Book: Ash Murya.

Lightning talks

I didn’t take any notes on the Lighting talks.

The most memorable talk for me was Tyler Rooney’s talk about the failures he witnessed and experienced at Amazon. The most hilarious being someone nobbling the companywide internal DNS, which killed everything. Including killing the IP-based telephones so that nobody could contact anyone to tell them to fix the problem. Sometimes economies (like purchasing IP based phones) are not economies.

Justin Goeres won the Lightning talk competition, so I never did bump into him (we were going to go for a meal later) because he was invited to the Speaker’s Dinner. Would he pass that up for a meal with me? No… 🙂 We finally met up at breakfast the next morning.

Michael McDermott

The next talk was about being a design dictator at Fresh Books. I didn’t take any notes. I think I was struggling with low blood sugar.

Fresh Books is a good product. We use it.

John Nese interviewed by Peldi

The final talk of day 2 was John Nese, the owner of an independent Soda Pop store being interviewed by Peldi. The interview was prefaced with a video. John Nese was fantastic. The little guy going against Big Corp (in the form of Coke and Pepsi). He had passion to spare and a true depth of knowledge about the products he sells, strong opinions on stuff he doesn’t like (Energy drinks and stupid recycling laws).

After the talk everyone was talking about him. Strong resonance between what he had to say and how most people felt business should be done (rather than how it often is done).

Paul Kenny

Paul talks about how to close a sale. How not to leave the sale dangling and how to not ruin the close by closing in the wrong way. Closing is a soft skill and not something that you can deal with in terms of cold hard data.

How many people in the audience are founders? Lots of hands. Good. “You are a founder. Therefore you are a salesperson.”

“The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”

How not to do it: Alec Baldwin (always be closing).

Closing is asking for a commitment. Commit to what?

  • Concept
  • Action
  • Purchase

Asking avoids the decision making process. (can’t read my handwriting, I think it says “avoids”).


  • Ask the wrong way at the wrong time. (push)
  • Fail to ask the right way at the right time.

People are pushy when the have only one way of asking.

Once you have asked for your commitment, shut up and wait for the answer.

David Cancel

David Cancel talks about A/B tests. David’s company Performable was acquired by Hubspot in late 2010/early 2011.

Failing is good. It is OK to fail. You learn by failing.

He recommends having a business dashboard so you can measure your company’s health.

All initiatives should show improvement.

Use the Net Promoter Score to measure satisfaction.

If using multi-variate tests, don’t bother if you are a small company.

David thinks 2% is average percentage conversion rate. (this is out of context).

Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian talked about different ways of making the world suck less.

I didn’t take any notes in particular except to remind me to give some of my time away to a local charity.

He also gave away an Apple MacBook. The two people that came up with winning entries both said they didn’t want or need the MacBook, so it was given away to a public school in Melrose, Boston and a local programmer has agreed to teach at a local class.


I attended two workshops at Business of Software.

The first workshop was by Richard Muscat from RedGate. This was a user experience workshop where we created user empathy maps for one member of a group of 5 or 6 people. Our workshop had about 30 people so we divided into 5 or 6 teams and redesigned Business of Software conference. The feedback from this workshop was given to Mark and the BoS team.

The second workshop I attended was with Dirk Paessler on the topic of “what do people do to keep their business online”. I had hoped to attend Nemo Chou’s workshop but it was cancelled at the last minute. As such I chose Dirk’s because I thought it may be interesting even if not directly related to what I do. It turned out to be surprisingly interesting, if only because of the extraordinary lengths Dirk’s company has gone to ensure it remains online. I got quite a few business specific takeaways from this workshop.

Coming home

Krishna Kotecha, Patrick McKenzie, Corey Reid, Patrick Foley, Levi Kovacs, Tyler Rooney

After conference everyone had a chance to grab some food, possibly be interviewed by the roving cameraman. He got me. I don’t think I made a very good subject. I think you’re either good at this or not. When asked a question that required a thoughtful answer I should have paused and thought. But no. So a bit of a disaster on that front. I’m sure other people had better things to say to the camera than I did.

I milled around for a bit then a group of us headed off to a local restaurant for some pre-flight food. Mark Littlewood said he’d come and join us, but he took so long he met us on the way back to the hotel. Better luck next time Mark.

The photo shows (left to right) Krishna Kotecha, Patrick McKenzie, Corey Reid, Patrick Foley, Levi Kovacs, Tyler Rooney.


My notes are littered with TODO items scrawled done as a speaker sparked something in me. On the plane home, reflecting on the conference, I found that every few minutes I’d have to write something down. In total I have about 4 pages of TODOs, 1 per line. Thats about 120 items to do or research. All directly from attending the conference. Not all of the TODO items were new to me at the conference, but the conference reinforced my pre-existing thoughts and coallesced them into an action point.


If I could summarise Business of Software into a few words, it would be “Incredible mind food, stuff to think about for a long time”.

Would I go again? Yes.
Am I glad its on the East Cost of America? Yes. 5 hours out is one thing. 8 hours out another altogether.

Why you should go to conferences

By , August 25, 2011 10:12 am

Why should you go to a conference?

I’m sure there are many different answers to this question, but I’m posing this question in response to the first question Rob Walling asked me when I arrived at MicroConf. “What are you hoping to get from MicroConf?”. I was a bit blindsided by the question – I’d had 5 hours sleep after a long journey starting at 5AM in a timezone 8 hours different. I just didn’t have an answer. Which I guess left those in the group we were talking in a bit puzzled – its not the hardest question in the world.

I never used to go to conferences. I was full of the self-doubt and “I’m a fake, a fraud, I don’t know what I’m doing.” anxiety that it seems so many entrepreneurs have. I live in the middle of nowhere and despite Cambridge being 20 miles down the road with the famous university, Science Park, Innovation Centre etc I don’t know any of the folks there. So my view of my business was rather limited to my own perspective. And you really do need other people’s perspectives. I still haven’t got to many meetups in Cambridge – something to work on (its work that keeps me away from the meetups!).

European Software Conference

I’d ummm’d and arr’d about going to Business of Software twice and never quite done it. So having screwed up on going to BoS 2010 I thought what the hell I’ll go to the European Software Conference in Vienna in November. The worst that could happen would that I’d speak to no one and have a boring few days on the outskirts of Vienna. The ESWC website is horrible. Its living in the past, design wise – it doesn’t fill you with confidence. The conference is not particularly well attended. Some of the speakers are good (for example: Dave Collins of Software Promotions) and some less so. A mixed bag. But the good speakers were worth listening to. I hired one of them for a consulting gig a few months later.

However the socialising, meeting other software developers and business owners. That was great. It was also tiring – not uncommon for some people to still be in the bar at 2AM (on the last night it was about 4AM for some of us) talking about stuff. And all done sitting down, having a drink and a chat.

This experience was great – people were surprised at what I’d managed to acheive. Plenty of validation for what I’d been doing. And from the speakers I found interesting, some useful hints, tips and ideas.

This was completely different to the MicroConf meetup experience which was all standing up and which ended early (everyone had gone by 11:30PM). I think that may be a cultural thing. I can live with it ending early, but I hate the standing up chatting thing, sitting is so much nicer (and you drink less if you sit).


So Why did I go to MicroConf? Simple – if I got one good idea from any of the speakers or from any of the attendees that would be a good enough reason to go to MicroConf. Good ideas are hard to come by. People complain at the cost of books. Rubbish, books are cheap – a good book is filled to the brim with advice, some of which may be application to your situation and which may not know. How much would it cost to hire a consultant or expert to get the same advice? Exactly. So although my plane ticket to MicroConf cost more than the conference itself, I got a lot of interesting hints, tips, insights from MicroConf. And I came home a lot more focussed and more importantly interested in different things than before I went to MicroConf.

Business of Software

I haven’t been to the previous Business of Software conferences and each time afterward I’ve regretted it. I’m going this year. Its much more expensive than MicroConf. But if I get one good idea, or a change/improvement in focus/attitude then I’m sure it will have been worth the effort.


So next time you’re umming and arring about whether you should spend what seems like a lot of money travelling to another country, paying for the conference, the hotel and all the other costs, stop thinking about the expense and think about that possibilities for change as a result of attending.

That said, there is a limit. I would not attend the $10,000 a day marketing conferences. I can’t see that level of expenditure being recouped – I’m not in that business. After all, what you get is an intangible.

MicroConf 2011 – Website teardowns and wrapup

By , August 22, 2011 12:00 pm

In this final article about MicroConf I’m going to cover the speakers at MicroConf that I haven’t written about – Todd Garland, Marcus McConnell and David Hauser.

David Hauser

David Hauser runs He was going to speak about generating buzz.

David arrived at MicroConf then had to leave before he could speak due to a personal emergency. I hope that things worked out well for him.

Todd Garland

Todd Garland is founder of BuySellAds.

Todd’s story is a rather unusual one. He grew BuySellAds from nothing to $1.5 million in 11 months, while at the same time holding down a 9-5 job at Hubspot, a rapidly growing inbound marketing company. Most people working somewhere like Hubspot probably would not look to jump ship, but that is ultimately the decision Todd had to make.

I didn’t record Todd’s speech. I can’t remember why. I have a few brief notes. The key points are:

  • Overcome fear by doing.
  • Automate everything.
  • Do not do one-off work for customers. It is better to discard such work as it keeps you focused on the business and keeps the product simpler to use and simpler to maintain.
  • Invest in customer happiness and good vibes.

Marcus McConnell

Todd Garland is founder of BV Software.

I didn’t record Marcus’s speech or take any notes during his speech. I think this was because it was about a shopping cart and I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. I was wrong. But I have no notes or recording to recall the interesting bits of the speech.

I apologise if this leaves you feeling empty handed, but my initial reason for recording was for personal use. It was only afterwards that I decided to write up my notes and audio.

Website Teardowns

Due to the space left in the programme by David Hauser being unable to speak at the conference Rob and Mike decided to have a couple of website teardown sessions where different speakers would provide feedback to anyone brave enough to put their website forward for critical analysis.

The first session was with Ramit Sethi, but Ramit has declined to let me post the MP3.

The second session was with Hiten Shah and Patrick McKenzie. The MP3 is linked below.

The following URLs were the subject of tear downs in the audio. Its probably a good idea to look at the website in question as you listen to the audio. Note that some of these websites may have changed appearance since the talk because the authors acted on the criticism provided by Hiten and Patrick.

00:00 A Twitter client.
06:46 Password recovery software for registered nurses.
09:27 Freelance recruitment software.
12:30 Bridal shop management software.
18:15 Bookmark management software.
25:30 Make men happy by keeping their woman happy.


I cross the Atlantic and the USA to go to MicroConf. No one else from Europe could be bothered. No one from Asia came except for Patrick McKenzie. I’m glad I made the effort. The people, the place, the information, its all good. Would I do it again? For sure. Will I attend in 2012? Almost certainly.

MicroConf 2011 – Hiten Shah

By , August 19, 2011 12:00 pm

Hiten Shah is founder of Crazy Egg and founder of KissMetrics. This is the closest I could find to a blog:

There is a lot in this talk, some of which I couldn’t accurately write down. You will get additional insight by listening to the audio.

Hiten starts by listing some key ideas he wants to talk about.

  • Make something people want. Create a product people want to buy. Seems obvious, but many people create a product people don’t want to buy.
  • Always test your ideas first. Don’t waste time building the wrong thing.
  • Nurture earlyvangelists. You’re looking for those crazy people that are really into what problem it is you are trying to solve. These people will be willing to try your rough ideas before they are polished products.


Hiten started a consulting company ACS. They re-invested money from this into creating products. The most successful of these was Crazy Egg, a self funded software as a service company. KissMetrics is a venture funded business. As such Hiten has run companies on both sides of the funded/not funded equation.

Hiten had one venture where they wasted $25,000 in two months following a bad idea (a podcasting advertising network). They followed lots of ideas without testing the ideas or the price points. At the end of this their partner said “I was sincerely hoping we’d find some magic combination of events that would jumpstart us”. Wow! Hiten never wanted to be in this situation again.

They also built a social media search engine.

Also built The idea is “People want feedback but they don’t know what questions to ask their customers.” They created a template that works for most businesses.

Customer Development

Hiten mentions Steve Blank‘s book Four Steps to the Epiphany and the core concepts behind customer development.

You need to start with a hypothesis you can test. An example could be that “product manager” has the problem “schedule management”.
Things they wanted to learn about their target market:

  • What are they doing now?
  • What other tools are they using?
  • Who else is involved with the company?
  • How frequent and severe is the pain they have with this task?
  • What else are they complaining about?

They did 24 in person interviews, about 15 minutes each asking questions with a paper prototype. They tested calls to action. Turned out to be people intensive. Interviewees often wanted developer feedback. They built lots of user tracking detail into the product to track all sorts of action and gather feedback. All combined with easy to understand reporting.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg was created by trying to satisfy the problems designers had with no knowing which parts of the web page people were interested in.

Collected lots of emails prior to launch. Spent $10,000 to do it.

Early Access, not Beta

From A/B testing research they determined the Early Access makes people feel special having access to the software compared to Beta which does not.

Test yourself, don’t rely on other’s results

Hiten gives the example of the 37 Signals Buy Button which 37 Signals tested and published the results for. Hiten thinks that most people use this button without testing it. His recommendation: “Don’t do that, you need to test what works in your situation”. I think he has a point.


  • A/B test each landing page.
  • A/B test video for each product if you have video.
  • You should have between 3 and 7 key metrics that you measure.

Tomorrow I’ll publish the final article on MicroConf 2011.

MicroConf 2011 – Justin Vincent

By , August 18, 2011 12:00 pm

Justin Vincent is the creator of pluggio a tool for managing your twitter account. Justin blogs at Justin talks about his experience prior to pluggio and then how he created and grew pluggio.

I’m afraid the beginning of this talk is missing, mainly I think due to me being absent minded and forgetting to press record. Sorry! You only missed a little bit of preamble.

The Big Idea

For Justin’s first business idea, he planned the idea and thought over every deal. He didn’t write any code. He spent some time on this activity. Finally after chatting with some people he realised he wasn’t going to get anywhere. But he had nothing to show for all this time. He spent $60K of VC money doing this.

Conclusion? Just get on with it.


Nanoflirt mixes online dating with real world dating. Real world cards, write their profile number on the back and then hand it to someone they like. Research indicated a possibly good idea. Build the site. Then printed a million flirt cards. But when a stranger walks up to you and hands you a card the reaction is not what he expected.

This was a fail.


Got involved with a social media knowledge website, spent $250K in the same space as Wikipedia.

This was a fail.


Mash API was a good idea to put together components to allow others to easily build websites with pre-built functionality. This was probably ahead of its time and the timing was important. VCs were not interested in ideas at the time they were trying to do Mash API. The VCs liked the team and the idea, but ideas were not on the menu for funding.

This was a fail.

Its hard

Doesn’t matter how good an idea is. Sometimes that isn’t enough.
Bootstrapping is hard.


Started interviewing people with Jason Roberts. Interviews formed the techzing podcast. Learned a lot by interviewing people.


Justin wanted to grow his twitter following. He found posting this every day was a pain. So he started by creating a simple RSS reader that could provide stories for him to feed into twitter. This grew from a simple idea into a product that was generating revenue in a few months.

Then he ignored pluggio for 9 months until a big argument with his wife. The result was that she persuaded him to re-focus on pluggio. Pluggio was generated revenue but he wasn’t interested in marketing it. After his refocus, revenue improved 3x immediately.

Customer research showed that his simple user interface was a bonus. People were using it in preference to the complex multi-screen twitter helpers.

Trial or Refund?

Pluggio used to offer a 30 day free trial. Used to get about 50% of people cancel and receive no revenue for that 30 days. When he switched to 60 day money back guarantee much fewer people cancel and he receives revenue for every day of the period.

Its an interesting tactic and based upon the idea that once people commit to something (they commit by completing the credit card payment form) they mentally then switch models to one that supports their decision. The main problem with this is that some people will be reluctant to commit to such a refund based trial.

Free Email Course

Pluggio provide a free email course (even if they do not signup) providing useful marketing information over a 5 day period.

Free plans pay!

35% free plans convert to paid accounts. This demonstrates that freemium can work, use the free account to demonstrate the value of the service.

The free version also has a nag screen that starts after 3 days and eventually gets more persistent over time.


To help Pluggio get off the ground Justin used the following techniques:

  • Used the techniques he had learned from the techzing interviews.
  • Found 1000 users using a signup page.
  • 100% free for all users for the first month so that he could watch what users did and determine who the top 5 users were.
  • Approached the top 5 users and asked them what functionality they wanted.
  • Get Satisfaction link on every page.
  • When Pluggio was first launched Justin was getting 10 emails per day asking how Pluggio worked. So he created video answers to each question. Each video is 1 minute long. This turned 10 question per day into 1 question per month.
  • All customer questions he uses to build relationships with customers.

Tomorrow I’ll post Hiten Shah’s talk.

MicroConf 2011 – Noah Kagan

By , August 17, 2011 12:00 pm

Noah Kagan currently runs AppSumo. Prior AppSumo, Noah worked at and Gambit. Noah blogs at

Noah starts his talk with an MP3 rap looping “buy something, buy something…”

He surveys the room for entreprenuers, developers, wannaprenuers, etc. Says he wants to change your life, gives brief bio of where he has been etc. Intel, Gambit, Mint, AppSumo.

His talk is in 3 parts: Improving yourself, being unique, improving your business.

As his talk progresses Noah gives out hot sauce for interesting insights from audience. Also gives out stickers with one having a special code on it for a prize from appsumo. Audience engagement is good.

I didn’t know a thing about Noah Kagan before this talk. He is high on energy and focused on things that most people probably are not. I really enojoyed his talk, although the handing out of Srircacha sauce got slightly out of hand at one point (not Noah’s fault).

Improving yourself


Noah only answers email twice a day. Once at the start of the day and once at the end of the day. He does this to avoid wasting time by being in reactive mode always scanning and answering email.

Benefits: Lots of free time.
Downside: Hard to have fast moving discussion.

I can relate to this. I think this will work for you or not work for you depending upon your business. If we operated Software Verification this way customers would wait a long time for customer support – I don’t think it would work for us. But there is a good germ of an idea here. If you can’t just reduce it to twice a day, can you reduce it to once per hour, or once per two hours?


Don’t waste time typing, ensure you type efficiently.

If you type 30 emails day, 50 words/email how much time do you save? If you go from typing 50/wpm to 60/wpm that is a 20% improvement. Over a year you can save a day of typing. This is fine at these speeds but doesn’t work if you are already typing at 80..100/wpm, the % improvements are smaller (12.5% & 10%).

This topic generated quite a bit of discussion later. Not many folks agreed with it because they already typed reasonably quickly. Later on several of us had a chance to chat to Noah about this over a beer. He is really focused on people that haven’t learned how to type with this comment. In that context I agree. However I think its more important to think about what you are typing before you type it. Doesn’t matter how fantastic you are at typing if what you are typing is rubbish.

The point is not typing so much as “what things in your life can you improve to save you time? To give you more time?”

Examples of this:

  • Type efficiently
  • Better tools, don’t use gmail – reactive waterfall
  • Use chrome
  • Use a faster computer. If you are waiting for your computer you are wasting time. Speaking to many MacBook Air users it seems that SSDs are a major win.
  • Annoying people, filter them in gmail. Don’t delete, filter that way they are gone for good.
  • Annoying email, filter.

Don’t allow people to waste your time. Ensure you use your time effectively.

During this part of the talk, Noah upsets a member of the audience and handles it really well. The member of the audience had won one of the bottles of Sriracha sauce and Noah had passed it back to her. What Noah didn’t know was that she was upset with him for a graphic he had shown (which he had intended to be a joke) and she threw the bottle back at the stage. She didn’t throw it far enough and if landed on some guy’s MacBook, split open and covered his keyboard with sauce, then bounced up, just missed Noah and splattered the back of the hall with sauce. No idea what happened to the MacBook, I hope she helped the unfortunate recipient to clean/fix it. (I didn’t see this incident, I was watching the slideshow. I saw the end of it, but the MacBook part of it was related to me by someone else, so it may not be correct, if you know better, please let me know).


Found out that the routine of exercises for the marathon was really effective at improving his life and how he thought. Make a routine for exercise.

Interestingly since Noah’s talk some studies into depression and brain function have been released and they confirm improved brain function is linked to exercise. I don’t have references to this, I heard this on a BBC Radio 4 program related to this. On a personal note I swim 1km several times a week. I often get solutions to problems while swimming.


Noah puts everything on credit cards. Never puts anything on debit cards.


Noah sets aside time time for reading every day. During this time he does nothing else. This is a good way to take a break from “normal” work and also to educate yourself.

Difference between remembering and forgetting? Writing things down. This is also particularly effective as writing things down forces the information to be internalised differently in your brain. So as well as having a permanent written record the information is also stored in your brain in a different form.

Being unique

Be unique. What makes you, you? Differentiate yourself.

Noah consumes information from a variety of sources and recommends that you do to.

Interestingly Noah does not rate HackerNews. He gets his information elsewhere.

Interesting / Boring

Shows a job posting (boring) then another job posting (interesting) for the same job. The boring one is the standard one. Which application would you prefer to receive? The safe, boring one, or the one taking a risk by being unique?

Noah gives some examples of other people being unique. How do you do extraordinary things? How do your surprise people? He then follows this with a story of how AppSumo messed up which ultimately improved how AppSumo behave today.

Customer for life

Noah thinks you should treat people as customers for life. How would you treat customers if you could never lose one of them? What changes would you have to make to meet this goal?

Noah uses to automatically create followups and never miss an appointment again. For him its a real time saver and email management helper.

Improve your business

Create Rules and systems for improving your business.

Noah gives an example he uses at AppSumo, the Rule of three: Three deals per week. Make it happen. Simple.

  • Checkboxes for each stage in a deal. All have to be checked before it can go live.
  • Prevents foul ups.
  • Anything done more than once, automate it.


Plan your time each day so that you spend parts of each day doing tasks you need to do. Sure you can function without a plan, but things will be forgotten or left on the side and before you know it they are not getting done.

Success: The percentage of people that will work with you again


Find an advisor that is complementary to you. For Noah that person is Andrew Chen: Marketing guru, super advisor.


If you really want to do something, do it. No excuses.

At about this time Noah notices a conference attendee has fallen asleep. So he plays a trick (gets the audience to make a lot of noise) and the sleeping attendee wakes up wondering what he has missed.

Data driven decisions

AppSumo use data to drive all decisions in their business. Get people that bring problems to also bring potential solutions. Empower your employees to make their own decisions and take initiative.

Build models and test the models and experiment with new models. Google spreadsheet models are quite useful.

To close, Noah talks about RewardLevel – an AppSumo idea that failed.


I enjoyed Noah’s talk and found it interesting.

  • Value your time better (faster computer, etc)
  • Stop working on the wrong idea with the wrong people, use your time effectively – right business with the right people.
  • Test, experiment, use data.
  • Type Faster (wrong! type more efficiently)
  • Slides

Tomorrow I’ll post Ramit Sethi’s talk at MicroConf.

MicroConf 2011 – Patrick McKenzie

By , August 16, 2011 12:00 pm

Patrick McKenzie starts with a “I didn’t believe I could do this” preamble explaining how he ended up learning Japanese and choosing a career with a Japanese firm that nearly killed him through exhaustion until one day he stumbled across his future business idea by accident while trying to help a colleague create some bingo cards. Patrick blogs about his business at

For reasons I can’t remember Patrick’s talk is in two parts – perhaps the batteries ran out part way through. I’ve glued the two parts together. Hope you can’t spot the join (its about 3 minutes in).

No budget

Patrick had no budget ($60) and as a result had to be creative about how he did his marketing. He researched the bingo card market and found niches to target and went after those for his bingo cards. Slowly grew the business while working on it in his spare time.

Google Conversion Optimizer

Patrick found that Google Conversion Optimizer was useful for using with Google’s content network. Only display’s content adverts at places that convert.

The Google Halloween

Discovered that Halloween is useful for bingo cards – another spike of traffic for Patrick. He wrote a blog article about it, ended up getting called by Google because his blog article was out-ranking Google’s own blog articles!

Exact Match Domain

Exact Match Domain (EMD) is when your domain name is a perfect match for the search phrase. When this happens Google give you a boost to search ranking. An example would be a search for “New York Plumber” finding the domain EMD works for .com, .net and .org.

Breaking Free

Eventually Patrick realised the revenue from Bingo Card Creator was starting to outstrip his paid salary job. Finally one night while he was asleep he sold quite a bit of software then calculated the hourly rate for the job that was killing him and decided it was time to quit his job and start working for himself.


Patrick had some interesting observations about software pricing.

  • Programmers consistently underprice their software. You should double your price.
  • By charging more you automatically select out pathological customers.
  • Revenue is dominated by people spending other people’s money – monthly budget.
  • Recurring revenue is best.

Web apps

Reasons you should consider building a web app rather than a desktop app.

  • Sales double
  • No piracy
  • Faster iteration
  • Easier support
  • Better tracking of actual use
  • Better conversion rates

Make things easier for your customer, focus on the user experience.


For Patrick’s business 50% sales come from SEO, 75% profits come from SEO.

Create a reason why non-purchasers should cite your website. If someone doesn’t purchase still give them a reason to rave about you.

For all the non-core projects you do (A/B testing rather than bingo cards, etc) write about it and make it available for everyone. Give other people a reason to cite the work you’ve done. This is what Patrick calls the “Iceberg Effect”, the tip of the iceberg is the visible part of your company, the rest of your company is below the waterline and effectively invisible to everyone (and Google!). An example of this is the A/B testing system Patrick wrote for Ruby On Rails. He wrote about this and contributed the software to the community. The result was a lot more links pointing at his website, improving his Google rankings.

Create a system which makes content at scale. This isn’t possible for all businesses, but if it is possible for your business you should focus on this area for easy wins.


A/B testing, cheap + easy to do.
Optimize the first run experience
Work on sales funnel optimization
Collect stats on eval users and re-uses.

Customer support

Do not outsource customer support. Customer support is an important source of feedback plus a great way to make a customer happy or ruin the customer relationship. This needs to be under your control.

Awkward customers

Its a fact in life that some customers are much nicer to deal with than other customers. Its also a fact that some days you are just not in the mood for dealing with awkward customers. I know I struggle with this. Patrick has an interesting, if unusual solution for this problem. When he has an awkward customer, Patrick does not write the email. Patrick’s friendly customer support puppet writes the email instead. Patrick has never known his puppet to write a snarky email to a customer.

I don’t know what Patrick’s puppet looks like, but you can see Gwendoline on the right of this text. She’s a rather sweet witch I picked up from a Cambridge market years ago. I’m sure she’d never write a nasty email to a customer – although she might be tempted to cast a spell or two!


Outsource: Web design, web content, self contained programming projects.
Automate: Routine customer support tasks. If more than 3 times, automate it.
Eliminate: Don’t do stuff that isn’t useful, ask customers before doing (lean!).

Patrick has also written up his talk.

Tomorrow I’ll post Justin Vincent’s talk.

MicroConf 2011 – Ramit Sethi

By , August 15, 2011 12:00 pm

Ramit Sethi is author of the book I will teach you to be rich and also blogs at

Ramit’s talk was excellent and I’m glad I was present. He clearly knows a lot about pyschology. As with the other speakers I did record Ramit’s talk but Ramit has declined to allow me post the MP3 recording of his talk. Please do not ask for the MP3, I will not provide it. Sorry.

Ramit talks about behavioural change. How to get people to change their behaviour. For their own benefit and possibly yours too.

People are obsessed with micro-tests. Testing is important. But don’t over-test. Some tests are meaningless. You cannot test your way to success. You need to combine running the right tests with insight into what is significant and what is not significant.

You can cause behavioural change by deeply understanding your customers. Behavioural change can lead to business and/or personal success.

Said not received

Don’t do words that are said not received. Example of words that people use but which which wash of customers like water off a ducks back: “easy setup”, “fast”, “convenient”, “secure”.

Instead of “easy setup”, try “1 minute setup”. More specific benefit is better. “easy” doesn’t mean anything as it is a relative term, where as “1 minute” is a specific time amount and none-relative.

Think like a customer

Stop Thinking like an expert – don’t show off. Your customers don’t think like this or care.
Customers have their own problems, these are the problems that you should be answering.

Wrong: “What is the difference between corporate bond and mutual bond?”
Right: “How can I invest this $10,000 for the best return in 10 years?”

No one wants to be “financially literate”, they want to “know how to invest their money”.

You should write copy as if answering questions your customer have.

Paper Shredder

Ramit gives another example, this time using Paper Shredders. We’ve all used them. Ramit discusses the upsides and downsides of papershredders. He asks the audience for their ideas. Answers range from technical to benefits:

  • durability
  • security
  • number of pages
  • robust
  • hide your secrets
  • peace of mind
  • fear replacement
  • protect your identity
  • stop worrying

The number one problem with paper shredders is that they break. They typically break when they jam. Ramit then shows a very effective paper shredder marketing message.

“100% Jam Proof Shredder” (They even shred your scepticism).”

Note that there is no message on security even though all the competition messages on security. This works because the customers already know about the security benefits but they are sceptical on the reliability aspect of this product.

Customers come to learn, evaluate and buy. Your job is to improve this. Stop describing your product and start answering customer concerns. You need to understand your customer’s hopes, fears and dreams.

Proxy answers

When asking customers questions do not just accept the first answer. It may be the majority answer is a proxy for another answer. For example “I want to earn $1000 per month on the side” because “long term I want to be my own boss”. The second answer came from pushing back on the first answer.

Why ask people if they want to earn $1K on the side? Because $1K seems acheivable. On the side because you then know you don’t have to quit your job.

What do customers fear?

  • Price.
  • Isn’t worth the time to change.
  • Too hard to use.
  • Scared of breaking the computer.
  • Not enough time.
  • Is it right for me?
  • I can find this material myself.
  • I never finish things.
  • Price objections are often a proxy for some other objection.

Your testimonials should answer specific objections customers may have (using the list above).


Ramit deliberately excludes certain customers based on their profile. Ramit will not accept people with credit card debt. He knows that they are not good candidate customers, so he does not wish to waste time with them.

Solve the customer’s problems

Customers do not care about you. They care about solving their problems. Deeply understand their hopes, fears and dreams. Ethically help them acheive what they want to do, but they will not do for whatever reason.


Example survey:

Surveys are good. Ask surveys occasionally. Surveys should be no more than 5 questions and always fun to complete. Use the results of the survey to write another article for your blog. Use a good survey tool. Ramit uses

Perry Box

At one point in Ramit’s talk he showed a long form conversion page that converted really well. He then focused on a part of the page and said this is the “Perry Box”, it helps convert even more customers. I wasn’t quite sure what this was but when I asked Ramit he kindly provided me with a link about this. It’s type of button designed by Perry Belcher. This video describes how it works.

Results in Advance

Spend time writing material for your website. Deliberately set time aside to do this. This provides a lot of free material for your customers to digest. If they like what they find that increases their chances of becoming a customer. Ramit did this 6 hours a day for 30 days for one of his projects.

Price objections

Price objections are often a proxy for some other objection.
Ask your customers what their concern is – why are they visiting your site?


Asking people for testimonials is good, if they say yes they will be more commited to your product.

Web Forms

Remove all facebook and twitter badges from web forms. You do not want any distractions on a form.

Recommended Links

Ramit also recommended a website but it does not appear exist.

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