The Bootstrapped, Scalable Start-up: Charlie vs. Ted

October 23, 2009 – 1:21 pm | by Matt Ackerson

Charlie and Ted are two web entrepreneurs, equal in brain power and wit.

Chapter 1: Background Stats

  • Charlie’s company, Charlie Inc., has hired 4 employees and has $100,000 of his own money in start-up capital; Ted Inc. has brought on board one business partner to work on the tech side of things and has $1,000 in capital.
  • Charlie Inc. and Ted Inc. both have the same web-based B2B product idea, called Digi-Widgets.
  • Their target customers are small to medium sized businesses (SMB’s)
  • This is Charlie’s first start-up, while this is Ted’s second (his first one failed)
  • Both Charlie and Ted happen to start work on their businesses at the exact same moment on the exact same day…

And they’re off!

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The Biggest, Dirtiest, Slimiest Internet Marketing Lie

October 22, 2009 – 10:24 am | by Matt Ackerson

Many internet marketers are peddling false promises on the internet today and appealing the worst in people. “Make $20,000 a month sitting at home, doing nothing.” We’ve all seen this kind of junk. About once a day I’ll get a Twitter user following me who is some sort of “Multi-level Marketing System Rep.”

The lie internet marketers are implicitly and explicitly putting forward is that to run a successful online business you don’t have to work hard or know much of anything, besides their so-called “secrets.” Don’t believe a word of it because it’s all garbage.

Most of these charlatans (who poison the waters for honest entrepreneurs like you and I) are piggy-backing on the advice and concepts of more legitimate businesses. For example, HubSpot recently put out a book on Inbound Marketing. It talks about building web traffic and online sales primarily through the creation of interesting content (blog posts, videos, simple & free web services, etc.) among other tactics. I have not yet read the book, but I am very familiar with its concepts, which, at the moment, can work for an online business if done right and can deliver sustainable value.

However the false prophets of the web today are pushing blatant lies with regard to start-up search engine optimization, link building, improved page rank, viral traffic, blah blah blah. I won’t call anyone out specifically in this post, but it’s important to recognize a bad opportunity when you see it.

I also see some shades of gray with regard to books like The 4-Hour Work Week which is both an interesting and an entertaining read. I see shades of gray because the book appeals to an easy human sentiment, which is that most people dream about making a ton of money, quitting their day-jobs to retire to the Bahamas, and telling their boss to f*ck off.

If you’re one of the “true believers” I hate to break it to you but the fact is, sustainable valuable can not be created, maintained and grown if you have a minimal work ethic. Those who have succeeded in the implementation of some of the ideas that 4HWW pushes (business systems, talent outsourcing/ delegation) succeeded because they were willing to work hard upfront, and actually enjoyed the work to a large extent!

That brings me to the point of this post which is this: real value is sustainable over a period of time and the creation and dissemination of real value can require a large investment of capital and labor.

But what do YOU think? Am I off-point or being too vague?

3 Tips for Making Better Start-Up Business Decisions

October 21, 2009 – 9:13 am | by Matt Ackerson


It’s great to “believe in yourself,” and all that jazz, but what are some more concrete, actionable tips you can start using today to be a better decision maker for your start-up business?

1) Trust your judgment over that of others. I emphasize this especially if the advice you’re given is unsolicited. Every entrepreneur has a vision for his or her start-up. If you follow someone else’s advice you are less likely to be passionate about the execution of that vision. So trust your own judgement, even if you fail miserably. At least you’ll learn from it and you won’t be second guessing how it played out, thinking: “If only I had stuck to my guns and done what I thought was best.”

2) Learn to NOT be reactionary. I wrote an earlier post about the metaphor of the Spinning Top, which is related to this. The basic principle here is this: you’re going to be deluged with lots of ideas and suggestions from other people, inside and outside of the company. Be cautious and appropriately paced in turning your attention and resources towards implementing any of those new ideas.

3) When in doubt, defer to the numbers. The biggest reason more people don’t start businesses is because they are afraid of the “risk” that comes with the persistent, high levels of ambiguity. This is the context under which you will make decisions everyday as an entrepreneur (e.g. Why should I make this phone call rather than finish this research survey? Which is a higher priority for the company?). When you are uncomfortable with your ability to make a decision, try to evaluate the facts of the situation. Even better, check to see if there is data to counter or support your choice. This can be one of the most effective tactics for minimizing ambiguity and making better business decisions.

To review, you’re on the ground floor everyday so rate your judgement above that of others; deftly pace the reallocation of resources with regard to implmenting new ideas that come up; and finally focus on that which can be measured.


6 Reasons for Not Starting a Business that You Should Overcome

October 1, 2009 – 7:13 pm | by Matt Ackerson

At one time or another we’ve all dreamed of striking out on our own and starting a business. However for most of us, those dreams get postponed indefinitely for a few key reasons. After reading this post you’ll understand better why this is the case and why most individuals, perhaps yourself included, are apprehensive about the idea.

Here are the most frequently cited reasons:

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Top 10 Tips for How to be a Social Media Douchebag

September 21, 2009 – 8:25 pm | by Matt Ackerson

Author’s Note: I am aware that this post may seem a little out of character in comparison to previous posts that I have written on I recently got bored and annoyed with some (only some) of what I’ve observed in the so-called social media realm on the internet. This post is how I express that benign frustration. No one (who I know) should take this post personally. Everyone else should feel free to be offended, but hopefully more amused. Admittedly I do not claim to have never followed any of these “tips.” Oh the irony… Enjoy.

Hi, my name is Johnny Full-of-Shit. I’m 27,  and a graduate of Appleseed online virtual college and I am a Social Media ROCKSTAR (that’s right show me the follow-love @JohnRocksMajorSox on Twitter). I secretly live in my mother’s basement but make frequent references to my real life where I abscond to far away places to get drunk and prentend to sleep with good looking women all thanks to my monthly six-figure pay check from Scammer’s Inc.

Question: Are you a lazy, naive visitor whose come across my website in your desperate search to make lots of money without even lifting a cheek to fart? Well, then you’re in for a treat because this blog post is going to reveal the secret, awesome POWER of Multi-Level Affiliate Scheming Social Media Media Guru-ness. In other words, I will teach you how to be a ROCKSTAR, just like ME. Listen up:

10 ) Be immodest. Promote yourself and the “secrets” to online marketing that you know but will never quite reveal (until people buy your e-book), and do it 24/7.

9 ) Author shitty e-books (like, “How to sign up for a Twitter account and send your first tweet”), just as long as people leave their email address and pay you $13.54. Gotta love the green :: sunglasses… on ::  8)

8 ) Read the book “Never Eat Alone” and the “4-Hour Work Week.” Then call yourself an entrepreneur in your Twitter 1 line bio, but spice it up up with adjectives like “guru” and “extraordinaire” and, my favorite, “Rockstar.” boo yah bitches.

7 ) Be a thought-leader and create the impression that you are elite, the butter of the cream of the crop, by creating and promoting your own personal-brand-ish-nish. Trust me, people are dumb, they won’t know you were actually drunk in that photo or that you weren’t wearing pants! Thanks Photoshop.

6 ) Spam your friends on Facebook whenever you write one of your super-awesome, thought-leader-ing blog posts. Pressure them to re-post and comment it. Do the same on Twitter. Viral like a virus, oh yeah!–Cheers Malcolm Gladwell.

5 ) Diligently point out spammer comments on Techcrunch. Pointing out blatant comment astroturfing will also score you some major net-props. Damn straight.

4 ) Waste your time reading repetative blogs posts about entrepreneurs launching un-inspired startups who are only slightly more motivated than you. “What pioneers they are! What risk takers–launching a web-based business in this economy, GOLLY!”

3 ) Tweet like a douche bag. That’s right, tweet all day, everyday. Better yet, do the smart thing and set up robots to converse with people for you. You’ve got to get in the conversation, dammit!!

2 ) Make shitty top 5 or top 10 lists (remember it ‘s great link bait on Digg and other social uh stuff).

1 ) Finally, be COMPLETELY un-original, but then claim it was you who wrote it or originally thought of it. Remember, recycling is good for the environment baby.

That’s all I got for now kids. Oh BTW, add me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, Deliciousness, and everything else. And just so you know, I won’t accept your “add to network” request on LinkedIn since we haven’t done business together, but I’m still flattered so try it anyway.

K thx bye.

Not sure how to network? It helps if you know how to dance.

August 16, 2009 – 2:45 pm | by Matt Ackerson

A friend recently asked me for some tips on how to get the most out of an upcoming networking event. I thought I could give her the best, most complete answer if I took the time to formulate my thoughts into a article.

The thought of “networking” can be a scary thought if you haven’t done it before or only have a vague idea of what it means. It might conjure up thoughts of your first middle school dance where there were all these people around, but no one thought you were cool enough to dance with. Of course, networking at conference or a local event has nothing to do with the awkwardness of adolescence right? Well, there are some similarities so lets walk through it.

Step #1: Know what to you want

If believe you will get the most out of the “dance” by sitting on the sidelines and being a wallflower then that’s fine, do it, see what happens. But remember the point of a networking event is to meet people just like the point of a dance is to dance. So if you don’t dance why bother leaving home?

Let’s assume what you want is to generate leads for new job opportunities. Now get more specific than that: what sort of job are you looking for? Does geographic location outweigh the importance or whatever type of job it is? What type of job do you NOT want? What are some examples?

Defining what you want is the first step to networking success.

Step #2: Know how you’re going to get what you want

After you know what you want, you have to understand the tactics you must undertake in order to attain it. For example, one of the most important first steps you can take is to find out if there is a list of the names of individuals who will be at the event. By doing some research in advance on who will be in attendance you target 2-3 individuals who you presume have the resources to give you what you want or who can introduce you to someone who can.

Without such a list at your disposal your ship isn’t sunk, but you will have to keep focused on what you concluded from step one. To do so, prepare 2 or 3 introductory questions in advance that will help you strike up conversation with different attendees at the event. The questions should be specific enough that anyone answering them will be sure to give you the pertinent information you need to determine if the conversation is worth your time to continue having. If not, be polite, look for an exit, and then move along to the next person.

There are other fish in the sea and realize you don’t have to slow-dance with everyone.

If you meet someone who can help you, make it clear that you are interested in learning more and that they have the power to help you. Sometimes, it can be as simple as making sure to get that point across. Otherwise be prepared to show how you can help them in return, what is the benefit to them helping you? Specifically what do you have to offer?

Step #3: Act to get what you want

After you know what you want and how you intend to get it, the last step is to actually do it. Be prepared for rejection and be prepared to reject.

As you seek to “bust a move,” remember the importance of being polite, and the supreme importance of listening to other people. If you are perceptive you will be able to quickly determine what it is the other person wants. At that moment you should be thinking in your head of someone or something you know that could help that person. If you have an answer, exchange contact information and then seek to make a positive exit to the conversation. The assumption is this example is that although you could help them, that individual is unable to help you (at least, at the moment, and that should be part of the long term motivation for you to help them).

Recognize that not everyone you meet can help you and vise versa. Meeting new people is great for the fun of it, but stay focused on your goal as well.

Last Number

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Matt, I’ve got a problem with some of this advice–much of it completely self-interested. I don’t want to be like that.”

The truth is it is and it isn’t. It is in the sense that you are actively looking out for yourself and your best interests. It isn’t in the sense that you will (presumably) add value where you can and then continue along in your search for someone else where your interests are mutually aligned.

Going back to the dance example, if you’re in a crowd or people there’s bound to be a diversity of personality and physical attributes. Some you will find attractive enough to dance a number or two with, others not so much.

In life we will temporarily plug ourselves into any number of potential relationships with others. The chance for a successful outcome to those interactions is dependent on whether or not there is some sort of mutually aligned interest for both parties.


The Top 3 Most Scalable Sales Methods for Startups

August 6, 2009 – 4:09 pm | by Matt Ackerson

How are you going to sell your web-based product or service? It’s a question that all internet entrepreneurs must ask if they are serious about turning their idea into a growing, robust business.

My current start-up, Bluesky Local, which offers a web-based, automated small business marketing service for restaurants and stores, is in the midst of making this important decision.

There are numerous sales methods that could possibly be employed. However in making this decision, it is important to consider how scalable each option is. For the purposes of this blog post, there are two definitions of scalability: labor efficient scalability and cost efficient scalability. First the former, then the latter. Labor efficient scalability requires the least amount of additional physical labor capital for every additional sales lead generated.

Here is a listing of possible sales methods for generating leads among the local business owner community in order of how scalable they are based on labor efficiency (1 is the most scalable).
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Fire, Fire, Fire

April 26, 2009 – 3:45 am | by Matt Ackerson

There’s a phrase I’ve been repeating to myself lately: “Pull the trigger, Pull the trigger.” It may seem an odd thing to be repeating this phrase to oneself, but let me explain (no, I’m not looking to buy or discharge a firearm in the literal sense).

This phrase was derived from the phrase “Ready, Fire, Aim.” If you’re an entrepreneur (especially an internet-based captain of industry) you should already be familiar with this saying. In theory it means, get your product to market ASAP and refine from there. In practice it may mean, for example, “Build the damn website, launch that sucker, market that sh*t, and then go back and start tweaking and do it quick!” Excuse the language.

Recently I’ve had trouble moving from step one (“Build the damn website”) to step two (“launch that sucker”). For instance, though the Scrimple coupon website has been live for a little while now, I have recently spent too much time planning on what would happen rather than taking immediate and individual steps to launch each change as we made it. At the time I was engrossed in the thinking that, well, we’ll get all our “ducks in a row” and then launch the latest changes at once. This turned out to be taking way too long and I found myself losing motivation to continue building and programming behind the scenes.

I realized this the other day while day dreaming in Managing and Leading in Organizations at the Johnson School. Then I began to get quietly very excited, I felt a rush of adrenaline when thinking about, “What if I just launched the damn local business directory listings on the site? Granted, it would be far from complete or perfect, but the fact that I would be making that single step in the development process public would push me to work harder to rapidly improve it.”

That is what I am doing right now, the database is unpacking the business listings file up as I type this. Forget waiting until it’s a little more perfect, forget all that. I’m pulling the trigger this time. We have readied and aimed enough, now it’s all about rapid fire web development and agile marketing action:

Fire, Fire, Fire.

I’m finally understanding the importance of this and I hope you will as well in your own projects and business endeavors.

The Laser and the Spinning Top

April 18, 2009 – 5:49 pm | by Matt Ackerson

Kevin McGovern once said, focus is the laser to success. I believe that today and I have internalized that through hard work and many mistakes in the last few years. I realize now that in order for a start-up business to be successful a team must be relentlessly focused on doing one thing very well at any given time. Distractions must be labeled and turned down. I cannot say the same is true for larger corporate firms (after all, there is much more talent and capital available in that circumstance).

The Scrimple team was always most effective when labor and resources were focused on tackling one big task at a time. For instance, this past summer when we shifted our business from doing printable coupons online to a local discount card model. We did this in a matter of about one month. We signed over all our clients, built and launched a new website, placed orders with suppliers, and signed a contract with a local distribution partner for $2,000 immediately turning a profit.

In the past, my mistakes as the company’s leader lie in the fact that I acted less like a laser and more like a spinning top. To be a “spinning top” means to work sporadically and to re-appropriate one’s energy too often toward different projects or tasks that are not interdependent. Thus, less is accomplished than otherwise would be. For example, at the start of last summer we had a particular vision for our company and a specific path that we were headed down in order to realize it. It involved making our coupon website more scalable and viral. However we began to drift a little as we investigated other ideas, such as our coupons on a credit card concept and also with two supplementary website develop jobs for local businesses. We also spent time trying to raise capital, which was not necessary either.

Looking back on it now, those two side jobs actually provided unnecessary income for the company compared to where that effort could have been allocated. Also, we should not have been looking too intensely into the credit card idea and instead realized that we did not have the bandwidth at that moment to fully implement it. Rather we should have been focused on scaling the website by building on top of what we already had.

Success requires many mistakes, however repeating the same mistake must be avoided. Now that I have made this mistake I will strive to never again repeat it. Learn from my mistake; understand the difference been the laser and the spinning top.

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Design Issues

March 3, 2009 – 10:18 pm | by Matt Ackerson

We’ve had some difficulties resolving cross browser display issues recently. For instance, display in Internet Explorer has been inconsistent with other, more modern browsers (Firefox, etc.). A decent percentage of our audience still uses IE6, which merits our time being devoted to this task.

One very annoying problem that I managed fix today was the IE6 float bug. For example, in IE6 when you float something to the left it will float it to the left however it will add extra margin to the left so that the div appears to  be indented by about 55px. The link in the first sentence of this paragraph provides a relatively simple work around. My hope is that browsers are moving toward a more widely agreed upon set of interpretion/display rules of the W3C spec for CSS. IE7 and FF3 seem to be a positive step forward in terms of a roughly equivalent display.

List of items to fix on the site:

1) Fix positioning of navigation menu at top of page

2) Graphical hyperlinks are not clickable in IE6 (I know…)

3) Display of divs on business page

4) Display/ orientation of divs on directory page

5) other stuff that I’ll put here later…