Sunday, November 10, 2013

Increasing CTR on Facebook

Increasing CTR on Facebook

The level of holistic thought we put into Borentra might make people think we're insane. We work incredibly hard on building up the technology just right so that there are no barriers to borrowing, renting, trading things nearby. Incidentally, we also find that it is important that while we are small, we can take tons of risks with our marketing, sales, and engineering.

In this blogpost, I'd like to give a run down on how we're solely focused on growing on top of Facebook's 1.3+ billion monthly active users, as well as, the technical design side of how to increase Facebook CTR on desktop, mobile, and tablets. It is important to note that since Facebook's growth strategy for the next few years is focused on mobile that our strategies continue to evolve alongside.

Epic Growth On Mobile Across The Globe

Connecting The World

In Facebook's Q3 results, they state that they currently have 1.3 billion monthly active users -- and they will continue to acquire users for next year's target of 2.2 billion.

Evolutions In Click-Through-Rates (CTR)

Testing out new News Feed photos

As Facebook continues to innovate and push businesses into being able to reach a wider audience, we constantly see the News Feed constantly go through quick evolutions. As such, the new sizes for photos on news feed articles are

  • Square: 320px x 320px
  • Vertical: 320px x 398px
  • Horizontal: 398px x 320px

These dimensions are typically consistent across desktop, mobile, and tablets. With your news feed stories having images that are optimized for these sizes, you'll generally find that your CTRs will increase over time. Beautiful photos that really amplify the context of the story or your brand make it so that you can reach a wider audience. Furthermore, one would think that since photos are becoming the de-facto way of increasing CTRs, one would think, "why not just put text on my images?". Great question; however, we've recently seen that Facebook has implemented background processes to detect if you are uploading photos with too much text. It is really interesting to be a part of a living, breathing system of 1.3+ billion monthly active users -- marketing has to be on the ball with every single marketing strategy just to stay on top. I could be reading this blogpost a few months from now and say to myself, "Yeah, I remember how back in the day that worked really well".

As you can see, we're always thinking outside the box -- we believe that's part of being built on top of Facebook, which is a living-breathing-ever-changing eco-system -- this will require constant evolution in our marketing tactics. Stay tuned for more as we continue to blog about our experiences!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Finding Potential Customers on Facebook

Facebook - Connect the World

Typically, when asking other marketers about their Facebook user acquisition tactics, they typically say a few things

  • "Facebook isn't great because boosting your posts costs a ton of money with no return on shares/likes"
  • "Twitter is a better place for user acquisition after you build up a huge following"
  • "Building up your SEO on your blog improves your brand and helps with acquiring users as they will be able to find you easily"

As the clever cat I am, I decided to take on this challenge. Was it even possible to do efficient user acquisitions on Facebook? is it true that when some of your users say "I only use Google" or "I don't trust Facebook" that you should focus on supporting different OAuth providers?

After a bit of experimentation, we've found out the following:

  • If your friends are using the product, they will be willing to signup via Facebook as they don't want to miss out on what their friends are sharing
  • Facebook has over 1.3 billion monthly active users now, 2.2 billion supposedly by next year
  • Facebook has real people, a low percentage of fake accounts/spam/robots as opposed to Twitter with a high percentage of fake accounts. Ultimately, people pay for your product, not automation scripts/robots/fake accounts

You can still achieve amazing growth and acquire users on Facebook.

What are we currently doing to achieve our growth?

In my last blogpost, we were using multi-vertical marketing over Facebook Open Groups and leveraging the Social Graph Queries "Open Groups about Snowboarding" with sprinkles of location-specific queries (Open Groups of People living in Germany about Snowboarding) to target countries or regions that have a high product adoption rate. These regions include Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and Philippines.

We're currently using the same tactic but changing our Social Graph Queries to include more verticals like Fashion, Video Games, Magic The Gathering, Pokemon, and more.

In addition to Facebook groups, we also use Facebook's new trending widget to find users talking about specific things like Snowboarding or Hiking. You can view this by going here: http://www.facebook.com/hashtag/Snowboarding. You'll end up seeing an endless stream of public posts where people are discussing the topic. We've managed to get a ton of traction this way too as it is context-specific and it's super easy to start conversations with people.

Trends on Facebook

Hashtag URL

Just to tie it all up, we've been able to achieve 120%+ user growth month over month on Facebook alone for the past 3 months -- we intend to keep going up because the more we start using different features on Facebook like Closed Groups, Hashtagging, and Trending Status Updates, the more we find opportunities to reach out to potential users. Additionally, as we push towards 2,000+ users, we're finding that when people borrow a book or a tent, they most certainly refer 1-2 friends on to the platform. This may not seem like a lot over one night; however, over a year, this is massive growth.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Borentra at DemoCamp16

Vancouver DemoCamp 16

We are truly excited to have been a part of Vancouver DemoCamp16 and we'd also like to give a huge thank you to the community who voted for Borentra to be a part of the demo list!

So what was in our demo? I've thought about this a lot over the past week while preparing for this DemoCamp and I realized that 5 minutes isn't enough for all of the amazing features on Borentra. Things that were in the demo:

  • What problem we're trying to solve (people have things they barely ever use that they can make money off of, and people would rather borrow/rent/trade than buy: access over ownership)
  • What our current traction metrics (100%+ growth month over month for the last 3 months) since we started in July 2013
  • Logging in through Facebook with one click
  • Being able to use quickly see what's going on around you (activity stream of people putting things they have, things they want, things people are borrowing, renting, or trading nearby)
  • Being able to quickly and easily add things you want and things you have (adding Halloween costumes or power tools that I have or want)
  • Being able to borrow items from people (demo: borrowing an XBOX360 from someone nearby)
  • Being able to trade items with people (demo: trading a BMW for a Tesla Model S)
  • Recap of what our vision is, the problems we're solving, and our current traction

Jaime Bueza up on stage demo'ing Borentra

After demo'ing, I was asked the following questions (from what I could remember):

  1. how do you make money? peer to peer rental via Stripe integration, if someone wants to rent my car for $50 for the weekend, the platform takes a cut off that transaction
  2. how do you deal with someone not returning an item? we're a facilitator of borrowing, rent, trade but we intend to work with legal and insurance entities to ensure that we provide an utmost amazing customer experience -- there shouldn't be any barriers to borrowing, trading, or renting.
  3. how many transactions are happening right now? We've done about 50 or so since we started 3 months ago
  4. how do we handle digital software like XBOXONE or Steam? We've been heavily focused on physical objects

Other presentations were

OrangeDox (www)

OrangeDox Homepage

OrangeDox presented a really awesome way of tracking your cloud-based documents (the example shown as off of Dropbox). As part of the demo, they created a shared link, had people visit it, and projected the real-time analytics around who was viewing the document. OrangeDox looked really well polished!

GIVE (www)

GIVE Homepage

GIVE did a brilliant presentation -- a really beautiful and elegant product that makes it easy for anyone to easily support music artists. This is a huge initiative as the GIVE team would say, "everyone loves music" -- how can we as people step forward and motivate music artists to keep putting out amazing music? GIVE provides a platform that makes it super simple to donate to your favourite music artists and their monetization strategy revolves around taking a small cut from each donation transaction.

Silota

Silota Homepage

Ganesh did a fantastic presentation showcasing Silota, an elastic search as a service (ESaaS). One of the neat things I see here is that any site that requires search (items, profiles, etc) can easily leverage the power of Elastic Search without having to worry about the infrastructure. Additionally, after talking with Ganesh, he mentioned that he had several mechanisms in place that decrease the latency of all search queries. Also, he mentioned that most other competitors don't have authentication around elastic search -- where as Silota makes it easy to search with authentication tokens (read and write).

MySkillBase (www)

MySkillBase Homepage

The MySkillBase team did a great job of presenting a very elegant solution to gamifying resumes and making things easy -- I am looking at this from the perspective of "if I was a retail guy looking for a job" -- not as a programmer. I always tweet on Twitter about the art of connecting people with employers in non-technology verticals being a huge process-heavy task but I do think they are on to something by simplifying every aspect of recruitment.


The winner by vote was GIVE -- they did a fantastic job of building up a great platform to support music artists!

Overall, I had an amazing time at Vancouver DemoCamp16. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to start their own product, meet other passionate entrepreneurs, and be a part of Vancouver's vibrant technology/startup scene.

A huge thank you to Ian MacKinnon, Jackie, Launch Academy, Unbounce, and Picatic!

Be sure to join the Sharing Economy on Borentra - Borrow, Rent, Trade!


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Marketing at Borentra

The World

At Borentra, the move-fast-break-things mentality is deeply ingrained in our culture. We not only apply the same work ethic to engineering and product design but also in marketing. We've been able to achieve multiple weeks of over 70% growth (week over week) with The Art of the Grand Hustler.

I believe that the term marketing has evolved into a Grand Hustler role which spans a multitude of skills including copywriting, graphic design, blogging, event management, social media, and a bit of programming in HTML/CSS. I won't dive into what the skillset has become but more on the strategies and tactics that are required for Grand Hustlers to achieve growth at the level of YCombinator startups or better. That said, many startups like to think small and build up a tight community around specific cities on hyper-local platforms (so-lo-mo, aka, Social-Local-Mobile); however, we've taken the phrase, get big or die trying seriously.

User Growth month over month since we've launched

Item Growth month over month since we've launched

The screenshots above are from our administration console on the site -- this includes month over month reports for user growth and item growth with a few pretty graphs with day over day graphs using canvas/svg. That said, we take our traction metrics very seriously. If we're not growing every week, we're doing something wrong.

In order to achieve these numbers, we've employed a few strategies and we hope you find these useful.

Internet Memes

Using internet memes is a fantastic way of increasing engagement across your social media channels -- as long as they are funny or cute. We've learned that you can't make memes out of random topics because some memes have a framework for what response they should elicit. For example, the cat reading a newspaper should be related to some first world problem.

Social Media Automation

Always use HootSuite or Buffer -- these are great tools for saving you time on posting across multiple social media platforms like Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. HootSuite is especially awesome because you can queue a few days worth of news and interesting articles/videos/photos -- and then move on to something else.

Social Graph on Facebook

We've recently been started using the Social Graph queries on Facebook to help us expand across the globe. Below are a few screen shots of how we use the Social Graph queries to join groups and get feedback on Borentra

"Open Groups about Books" for Borentra's Book Borrowing Vertical

Books

"Open Groups about Hiking" for Borentra's Hiking/Outdoor/Camping Vertical

Hiking

"Open Groups about Fashion" for Borentra's Clothing Swaps Vertical

Fashion

If you want to target specific countries, you can change the query to Open Groups with people living in Germany about Hiking. Additionally, we found that based on Top Countries Using Facebook -- we are able to convert users easily. If you're solely focused on Canada/US (which has users who aren't exactly easily converted due to the Facebook login), you should always focus on countries that have a more open-mind about signing up to new sites using Facebook login.

Global Marketing Initiatives Across Timezones

Timezone Dashboard of Jaime Bueza

Our work ethic when it comes to marketing and getting Borentra in front of as many people as possible to get more feedback requires that we have marketing pushes in different times of the day.

  • At 8am in Vancouver, we start talking to user groups in US/Canada.
  • At noon, we start talking to user groups in London and Germany (8pm their time),
  • At 6pm we start talking to user groups in Asia (Malaysia/Philippines/India) (9am their time)
  • At around 2am in Vancouver, we start talking with user groups in London or Germany when it is 10am their time.

With this level of hustle, we're able to get as much feedback as possible and acquire users across the world. The idea behind this is to ensure that we're able to evolve extremely quickly. Sometimes, users don't see value in a particular feature, so we do our best to get that feedback and quickly fix it.

What about KPIs?

Key performance indicators for marketers / platform growth specialists include users acquired per week, followers gained per week, user likes on the Facebook fan page per week. Since our primary platform we market on is Facebook, we put Facebook engagement at a higher priority than Google Plus or Twitter.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Execution

Systemic problem in the startup culture is that people have plenty of ideas but no execution. I'm incredibly lucky to be passionate about software engineering and that I have the ability to build products (on my own).

We all can't be great at everything and I'm a firm believer that people should focus on their strengths while on a day-to-day basis keep improving their weaknesses. For me,  I kept following my love for software engineering (I've become both technical and design focused); therefore, my weakness is really the sales and marketing side. After hanging around plenty of software salespeople -- I've come to realize that their primary strengths boil down to inside connections, confidence, and presentation.

Thomas Watson (IBM) once said, in order to sell software, you have to look like the person you're selling to. IBM at the time was selling "punch carded tabulating machines" which were used in many law and financial offices.  This was when an IBM salesman was distinguished with their navy blue suits and wing-tipped shoes. Thomas Watson and his son were amazing salesmen. They were so dominant in their field of expertise that they could close only a few deals and have their quotas filled for the year. Many salesmen at the time were all about a large volume number of small deals here and there (less risk) but the Watsons closed the big deals.

Based on the couple of projects that I've tried tackling, I've come to learn that the only way to really push your product into the hands of people who can provide constructive criticism is to be disruptive, aggressive, and 'in your face'. Never be shy about sharing what you've built and don't worry because embarrassment is key to improving. Push forward, be bold, take risks, and most of all, learn to sell the vision of your MVP in order to encourage constructive criticism.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Significance of working in the same proximinity

Best Buy and Yahoo have started their own initiative to remove the ability to work from home. Incidentally, for the past few years, I've been a big advocate for autonomous, remote working in teams. Great examples of amazing work cultures including Github and 37signals (Basecamp). In the best conditions possible, we should all be able to trust each other to pull their weight; however, it has become a huge dampener for Yahoo as the culture has become stagnant. It is the gradual deceleration over a number of months that kills the company's ability to innovate and ship great products.

For me, I prefer to work in an office with my teammates, perhaps, this is because in my past experience, I was part of teams shipping software on fast deadlines (3-week projects including design, development, testing, and user acceptance) -- you need that face-to-face interaction to show a number of things
  • confidence in your teammates
  • optimism on hitting targets
  • validity on progression 

If I saw a teammate working late to finish something, I would get back in there, redistribute the workload, and help out. Truthfully, I am not saying I'm an expert in death marches, but I've been in a few to know that instinctive feeling of "do or die"; where you're in the trenches with other teammates, sleep deprived, and clients keep changing requirements. Welcome to the world of software -- this is how it is. There are certainly other ways of shipping fantastic products without much hardwork (or at least it seems that way on the outside) but I truly believe that in order to exceed the expectations of your customers, you need to put in an order of magnitude of effort upfront.  

Bob Fitch is the hero who saved Blizzard Entertainment from uncertainty -- when their customers called Starcraft "Orcs in Space" -- he invested countless hours to rewrite Starcraft so it would go beyond the expectations of its users. Starcraft went on to have a massive legacy -- people in Korea are still playing the game even after a decade.

We can try to sugar coat things as much as possible on tight deadlines but at the end of the day -- we're all here to do the best we can. Sometimes your "best" isn't good enough, which is why it is important to take the necessary steps to set yourselves up for success (even if it means less work freedoms like remote working). This is why I side with Marissa Mayer's decision to all workers to a Yahoo office to get shit done. When Yahoo! emerges as a successful internet technology company as it once was, I'm sure they will give back remote working to specific employees who have proven themselves. For Yahoo!, in an optimistic and determined tone, it's time to go to war.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Death and Taxes

I recently came across a post in regards to Manny Pacquiao refusing to fight on US soil due to the high tax rate applied to his earnings. From his last fight, the total payout was $24 million (he lost to Marquez) -- but after tax, it can turn out to be $15 million. At 39% tax rate, it becomes stupid to think about fighting on US soil.

Incidentally, there are reports of Americans giving up their citizenship for other countries to "evade" tax -- One being Eduardo Saverin, who saved over 60 million dollars in tax when Facebook IPO'd. He now lives in Singapore. Looking at tax rates per country, it almost always feels like the go-to country to setup a corporation will always be Ireland. Setting up shop in Ireland is a fairly common "pay less on taxes" strategy because it is only 12% for corporations. One thing I am starting to notice in startups that start to gain traction and revenue is that they all start bringing in a CFO who has significant experience in being able reduce paying taxes in order to invest more money into engineering or marketing. The stages (when growth happens) are usually:

1) MVP
2) Get users
3) Convert users to paying customers
4) Hire a CFO in order to "shift" money into more product development when revenues reach X/year

Howard Hughes is another great engineer who moved his companies around into different states to get around paying too much tax. While governments have become smarter about stopping these processes, it is always a constant battle because as a growing company, every dollar counts. If a startup can pay another salary in engineering or marketing because it didn't pay that amount in taxes, it can increase the potential of the company to grow.

Ultimately, 40% in tax seems ridiculous for boxing earnings. I'm in total agreement with Pacquiao's team to never fight on US soil. Boxers spend their lives on training (they only have a few years of being professional), pushing themselves to the limit -- they deserve every penny of the agreed amount when signing a fight contract.


Monday, February 11, 2013

A search for more sustainable business in Vancouver

I recently saw that the government is wanting to introduce a sales tax to help improve the transportation services in the lower mainland. There was massive uproar from people who claim that they're already paying too much ($151 per month for 3-zones). While I do agree that the costs of living in Vancouver are becoming insane, I do believe that the government is doing a great job of keeping the service up and running.

The Skytrain is the backbone of our city. The interesting thing about Vancouver is that the core of downtown is full during work hours but drops drastically in the evening. This is because most people who are downtown are only there for their jobs. Incidentally, an increase in tax would require too much effort to collect and would dispel its advantages. I'm sure they have run the numbers on this strategy but I'm thinking a better way to go about lowering the cost of transportation is to help businesses transition to a model that

  • allows remote working (usage of Skype/IRC/Yammer/Basecamp/JIRA/Confluence to communicate) -- this will allow employees with a growing family to take care of their kids while working
  • provides biking/walking incentives (if you have a bike and you bike to work, provide showers, enviromentally-focused employee awards, etc)
  • redistributes startups/divisions across the lower mainland (Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby, Cloverdale) instead of staying in downtown core
The problems with Skytrain aren't the cleanliness issues, the crime, or the ridiculous cost per month -- it's the reliability and scalability of the system as a whole. During the mornings, if there's a problem and people are late coming to work by a specific amount of time -- that's a cost that businesses are swallowing every morning. One can easily say, "just go to work earlier" -- waking up at 5am and leaving for work at 6am sounds like a logical plan but practice that for several months -- you'll find that on average an employee will be in "work mode" for 11+ hours (3 hours transit and 8 hours of work). I don't think any person with a growing family will find this sustainable.

Zooming out, that 0.5% tax increase is nothing compared to how many businesses are literally losing money from the Skytrain being delayed for several minutes across multiple stations. In my mind, the Skytrain is an intermediate service that should be used in order to transition to a new, more cost efficient way of living -- a more sustainable, environmentally-focused way of "going to work".

In order to help companies adopt these initiatives, a program much like SRED but for "environmentally-focused / healthy living companies" would need to emerge. If a company was to allow remote working (tracked by hours and results), provide biking/walking incentives, and create sub-offices/shared offices in other cities (branching), they would receive a tax credit. The problem I am trying to solve in my thinking is, how can we make Vancouver a city with healthier, happier employees?


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Momentum



We've all been through that phase in product development where you're extremely excited to keep building out specific features and you're hustling so hard that you want to get it into the hands of your users and get feedback (The MVP, minimum viable product). Incidentally, I've come to the conclusion that what really makes or breaks startups is momentum.

If the team stagnates on product development and continuous improvement, your team's overall confidence, dedication, and motivation will dissipate slowly. Taking this advice on, it becomes ever so clear on how to determine whether a team is going to be successful; also, it provides you that level of insight when to cut your losses short.

They say, "never give up when all hope seems lost". I'm a big believer in this; only if I'm the only person in the equation. For example, if I'm on the treadmill with no breath and needing to hit a specific benchmark (time or distance) -- I'll muster up an immense amount of motivation to hit that mark because I know in the long run it'll have a return on investment. 

When you're in a professional, collaborative environment where you have to rely on founder (majority stakeholder) to pull their own weight as part of a business venture -- the situation gets increasingly more complex. 

Ultimately, everyone has to make tough decisions and I'm passing this advice to anyone wanting to do any risky business venture, you should always be surrounded by people with the same level of passion and dedication. This will allow your team to gain momentum and sustain development velocity to really nurture a great product, grow your user base, and make a positive impact on your customers.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Guidance: A Practice For Better Teams and Better Products

Mufasa

Have you ever been told by a peer they look up to you? It's a feeling that pushes me be a better person everyday. Righteously, it's the experience (the mistakes, the heartbreaks, and the victories) that have taught me a lot about how to make a positive impact on the lives of others -- believe it or not, it all starts with attitude: Never let people see you sweat and always be positive & professional.

How you carry yourself in battle (stressful situations) indefinitely reflects your level of integrity, your maturity, your empathy, your stewardship, your commitment  and your compassion for others. From the sound your voice in meetings, to the eye contact you have with even the most unfortunate. This isn't something that is achieved but practiced -- it is a way of life. 

People know me as executer. During my days in software services (I now focus primarily on products) -- I was known as a person who you call to finish the job. No one questioned my ability to get the job done and I pushed incredibly hard to help every teammate that I could while shipping projects on time and on budget. Stepping back and reflecting on these experiences, I consistently see myself as "not doing enough to make a difference". Incidentally, 2012 was a challenging year for my team -- it was a test of our endurance and our compassion. Now that it is 2013, we are picking up the pace and we've formulated some rock solid strategies around profitability within the coming months.

It is incredibly important for anyone truly driven and skilled in their mastery (whether it is engineering, finance, etc) to find the best in their team and provide guidance to their peers. If negativity is infectious, so is optimism -- infect your team with positive thinking. Be a guide for your team: always be professional, optimistic, and most importantly, always go above and beyond their expectations on a day-to-day basis.