Navigate / search

Timing is everything — especially in startups.

You need to be pretty durable to be an entrepreneur. It’s said that the best lessons in are often the most painful emotionally and financially. And entrepreneurs get hit by these type of lessons almost daily, sometimes twice.

I awoke this morning to find the New York Times had just the ripped the duct tape off an old, painful wound:

In early 2011, I sunk my life savings to launch PoliMobile. We would bring mobile marketing tools into the world of political campaigns. I didn’t make this decision lightly. I spent six months speaking to politicians, political campaign managers, party officials and others. It was enough due diligence to risk it.

Three years of 70-80 hour weeks, two pivots and some successes followed. I left the decision to the results of a meeting of a 20-something campaign staffer. (I won’t mention the campaign. I respect Al Franken.)

He proved to be a carbon copy of most campaign staffers. He was young, clueless, not curious and somehow arrogant despite this being his second race. He preached that young voters would never connect with campaigns using mobile. His iPhone never left his hands.

Moments later, I happily killed off my startup. I never looked back on those three years until this morning’s tweet, but I learned these lessons.


#1: Due diligence never ends.

While in development, we checked in the with a group of political advisors. They provided excellent feedback. It helped us create a great platform that solve critical issues.

Unfortunately, I was asking the wrong questions to the wrong people. The BETA of our platform got great reviews. The question I didn’t ask the right people is “what you pay for this?” No campaign wanted to buy it..

The reality is that 90% of all the money campaigns raise goes into media buys. The rest goes for food for the volunteers and minuscule salaries for those who manage them. Outside of the candidate in a few key campaign staffers, the rest tend to be pretty worthless.

Those key campaign staffers got to their positions by following the status quo. They stuck to using outdated campaigns tools: lawn signs, direct mail and broadcast media.

Never quit doing due diligence. You can always pivot sooner than later.


#2: Customers pay you.

Startups put a lot of weight on building a sizable user base. They invest hordes of funds to get users. And adapt to keep them.

Users don’t matter. Customers do.

Many campaigns signed up for trials. We invest new features based on some of the feedback we received. Unfortunately, most of them never used our platform for one key reason: they never paid for it. No matter how much you give away, most will never use what they won’t buy.

Focus on those who pay. Fuck the rest.


bernie-sms

#3: Timing is everything.

You could do everything perfectly. You could have a few paying customers to validate your work. But if the market is not ready it doesn’t matter.

PoliMobile was ahead of the curve. We launched time when mobile was in heavy use with consumers. Some enterprising campaigns had great success with mobile tools like we offer. Most campaigns today are still not ready for what we offered in 2011.



I ran into that same campaign staffer later. He was pushing bean water at a second tier coffee chain and didn’t recognize me. I left him an $8 tip on a $2 tea in thanks. He saved me from another few years of pain.

Murder, Begging & ZOMG!!!

May is usually a transition month for most midwesterners — storing the cold weather gear and bringing out the hot weather supplies. We BBQ, we burn our pasty white skin, and we look forward to a little slower summer pace.

Mobile doesn’t take a similar seasonal shift. It’s been a race to curate an every expanding and diversifying mobile content pool. Here are 7 of the 15 items that I sent in May:

3FER-April Archived Edition

3fer-200x67

Over the last few years, I’ve taken a close interest in mobile, and I’d like to share bits of it with you. The mobile world industry is evolving and growing faster globally than the Internet did roughly 15 years ago. It’s hard to keep current, especially in the mobile marketing space.

That’s why I created the 3FER, a SMS newsletter of three stories text to you weekly–always less than 300 words so that you can scan it easily and continue with your day. Topics will cover all of the facets of mobile marketing and commerce from many sources I track daily. Expect it to be loaded with case examples, opinions and techniques that will help give your efforts an edge.


Here are six items you missed from last month:

#1: 20% of American Adults Don’t Use the Internet -Pew Research

While the headline is a great zinger, those who make up the internet-adverse are not. Senior citizens, high school dropouts and households earning under $30K annually largely take a pass on the info superhighway—mostly because they don’t think it’s pertinent.

The interesting hook to this Pew report is that mobile is reducing the digital divide. These same groups who are computer adverse are often more mobile savvy—using their phone to gain Internet access. While less than 57% of American have a laptop, more than 88% have a mobile phone. In fact, African American and Latinos as likely own a mobile phone, but end up doing more with it.

For more information on this report, please visit:  http://bit.ly/IciZP8

#2: Obama Raises Money via SMS.

Before you think “Hold on, I thought the FEC banned Text2Give campaigns like the Red Cross uses,” pause a moment. The tech-savvy folks at Obama for America now can raise money via SMS. Prior donors who’ve saved their credit card and mobile information received the following text:

“Support Pres Obama in less than a minute using our new secure system: just reply with the amount you want to give and we’ll charge your saved credit card.”

While a simple idea, the campaign is showing off its data integration muscle to make it all happen.

This technique can be used without all of the tech wizardry. For example, your local pizzeria probably has both your mobile and credit card info in their system from prior orders. Imagine them texting you an offer you can’t refuse via SMS, you reply yes, and 30 minutes later it’s delivered to your front door.

Read more at Time’s Swampland blog:  http://bit.ly/Icjmcz

#3: Mobile Impacts March Madness Broadcasts.

While linking mobile to TV is no longer cutting edge, its impact is exploding. Chief Marketer cites a recent study that 79% of fans used their mobile device during the NCAA tournament—91% of 18-24 year old viewers did the same. A little less than half check scores and 20% viewed highlight videos.

If you’re time crunched, check out the related infographic at Mobile Marketing Watch: http://bit.ly/IcjGIf

#4: PayPal flexes it’s POS muscle.

While Square has the early lead in the SMB space, it can’t match the reach and depth of PayPal’s parent company, eBay. Their smartphone-based POS system (point of sale), PayPal Here, signed up over 200K in its two weeks, 2,000 Home Depot stores in Q1 2012 and, unlike its competitors, has inroads overseas.

Check out the article at Retail Info Systems News:  http://bit.ly/IN1PGn

#5:   Rand McNally Tells America Where to Go.

I’ve waited two decades to use that tagline I crafted in college. That said Google and others have clobbered map publishing business in the last few years. Instead of fighting this trend, Rand McNally is embracing it by incorporating QR codes in their atlases while releasing a mobile app.

Read about their efforts in Mobile Marketer:  http://bit.ly/IKs68O

#6: Half of Mobile Traffic is Now Audio & Video.

Is mobile audio and video part of your mobile market mix? It should be. Check out these great global usage stats in a report by mobile equipment provider, Sandvine:  http://bit.ly/JoapxL

Jobs: a Fortune 500 Epic Fail

Photo from Shane Morris Photography (Flickr)

Last Friday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report was brutal: a scant 18,000 jobs were created in June. Many look to big business for answers — especially those corporate leaders who joined President Obama earlier this year for his job summit.

Unfortunately, they are looking the wrong people.

According to the WSJ, Big Business slashed 2.9M domestic jobs in the 2000s while creating 2.4M overseas. In fact, all of the net job growth in the last 35 years did not come from Big Business. Those jobs came from entrepreneurs.

This later claim came from a great article from Henry Nothhaft: “What if they Listened to Entrepreneurs?” He makes a compelling call for politicians to start listening to entrepreneurs on job creation, and not captains of big business.

Nothhaft has serious street cred. As a serial entrepreneur, he created 6,000 jobs and return $8B back to investors over his 35-year career. He last founded Danger, the creator of the T-Mobile Sidekick which was later acquired by Microsoft for $500M.

Plainly put, Nothhaft is rightly irked at the Fortune 500’s whitewashing in Washington DC on job creation:

“Entrepreneurial startups are the sole source of net new job growth in the U.S.”

So what can government actually do to spur job growth? Nothhaft first points to the underfunded US Patent Office:

“Simply clearing the [1.2 million patent] backlog and properly funding the patent office would create as many as 2¼ million jobs over the next three years.”

But he holds his greatest criticism on the US’ shrinking manufacturing base. Citing the lack of funding support from both VCs and the US government, Nothhaft zeros in on the critical link between manufacturing and R&D:

“The NSF reported that in 2008 $58 billion, or one-fifth, of total R&D spending by U.S. firms took place overseas…A nation that no longer makes things will eventually forget how to invent them.”

His arguments are some of the most compelling for states and DC to start paying attention to entrepreneurs. Consider this article required reading for politicians and their economic development staff, and forward it accordingly.