Multiple topics

TOPIC 1.
Marty Fahncke, an outstanding direct-response marketer, finally convinced me to join with him as he launches www.learnfrompaulallen.com. I guess he really couldn’t have done it without me. Our first conference call, where I will answer questions from listeners about internet marketing and other entrepreneurial topics, will be held on Thursday, September 7th at 1 pm MST. This is a free conference call, so register now for one of the limited spaces.

Please don’t think because I’m doing this that I know everything or that I wouldn’t rather be learning from someone else. I view this whole conference call experience as a group learning experience. Like my brainstorm lunches, I love the questions entrepreneurs ask and the answers that everyone else at the lunches give. We all can learn from one another.

TOPIC 2.
In the last week, I’ve been promoting the Provo Labs Academy, where we provide office space and internet marketing training to startup companies for as little as $200 per month.

We’ve had nearly 30 inquiries so far, and two individuals who want to promote the Academy for commission. A large local newspaper wants to do a story about the Academy. And the city has been showing a lot of support. Economic development activity, according to Governor Huntsman, drives everything else by providing funds for education and transportation. Provo City really supports entrepreneurial activity. I am thankful for all they are doing to support the Academy.

Before we spend tens of thousands of dollars on furniture, equipment, and phones, I decided to create a little online survey for all of our possible tenants. It took me about 20 minutes to write 4 survey questions after signing up for freeonlinesurveys.com. It’s an okay tool. Does anyone out there use something else that they like even more?

Once we get feedback from the possible tenants on their phone and computer needs, then we’ll make the necessary purchases. It is so nice to have email and the web to attract customers and then find out when they want.

My favorite experience in finding out customer needs was at MyFamily.com where as VP Marketing I wrote many surveys every week (sometimes several in a single day) and got thousands of responses every day from our active users. I loved finding out what my customers liked, disliked, and wanted us to do next.

TOPIC 3.
The FundingUtah.com speedpitching event at Thanksgiving Point yesterday was superb. Out of the 10 companies that pitched, Simplifile was rated the best pitch by the investors there. But there were several other excellent ones as well, including more than one company that was profitable. One of my favorites is a company that had its first profitable month in August after 18 months in business. None of the six founders have ever been paid. They are all working to create future equity value. Hopefully they’ll get funding so they can eventually pay themselves, but I am very inspired by a team of entrepreneurs who can build a great company simply because they don’t take any salaries.

If all startups did that, I bet nearly 100% of them would survive.

TOPIC 4.
I’m speaking at the Provo Orem Chamber of Commerce lunch on Friday. I think I’ll talk a lot about how startups can become worth a lot if the founding team will defer all of their compensation.

I’m listening to an audio book called the Portable MBA or something like that. It claims that companies that incorporate stay in business for at least 8 years 50% of the time. 25% of them are still run by the original entrepreneur. 25% of them are run by someone else.

I guess the really bad statistics about business failure might take into account companies that never incorporate. Maybe they were never really a serious business in the first place.

The author also says that 4 of 5 venture funded companies are still alive after 5 years.

TOPIC 5.
I accidentally posted this blog without a title. Makes me wonder how all the RSS readers out there will handle it? And how will it show up in MyYahoo, which usually links from the title of a blog post to the blog site.

So I’ve updated the post and it now has a (lame) title. But does anyone know what happens out there if people post without titles?

May I help you grow your business with powerful internet marketing tactics?

Yes, this is an advertisement.

It’s an invitation for you to bring your startup company to the new Provo Labs Academy, where you will learn dozens of important internet marketing tactics that can help you find more success for your business.

In September, a new office building will open in Provo with space for dozens of small startup companies. It is adjacent to BYU on Ninth East, across from the Creamery on Ninth. If you like the BYU Dairy chocolate milk (best tasting in the world) you will love moving your small business into our new space.

For as little as $200 per month, you can join the Provo Labs Academy and learn all about growing your business through internet marketing. I will be drawing on 10 years of personal experience (including what I learned at MyFamily.com and 10x Marketing) and hundreds of case studies to teach you dozens of tactics on how to get your web site noticed and build up your customer base.

You’ll learn about pay-per-click marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, online advertising, affiliate marketing, web site design and development, blogging, using web analytics to improve your conversion rate, customer surveys, online PR, using auctions to generate revenue, viral marketing, how online audio and video can help you succeed, and much, much more. Provo Labs tracks its portfolio companies in 51 important areas. You’ll learn how to make smart choices in each of these areas in order to improve your chances of success.

You may be a BYU or UVSC student preparing your business plan for a competition. Or perhaps you want to start a new company on the side and need just a few hours a day of office space. Or maybe you just want to learn internet marketing skills every week so you can more effectively promote your current company. We may have exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

Or, if you need dedicated space so you can work around the clock, we can accomodate you as well.

We’re even offering a chance to win a free one-month membership in the Provo Labs Academy, a $200 value, if you sign up on our web site by August 31st.

Provo Labs has leased the entire 1st floor of this new building and divided it up into small spaces that are ideal for a small startup company. You can sign up for as little as $200 per month: that includes space, desk, computer, phone, high speed internet (using iProvo’s fiber optic network), access to our business library, conference room and break room. And, it includes all the training that the Provo Labs Academy will provide.

I teach internet marketing at BYU and love to help students and entrepreneurs learn online marketing tactics. To help you succeed, I will be inviting dozens of friends and associates who have been incredibly successful in their own internet careers to come to our training meetings and teach you the valueable things they know.

This is a rare opportunity to learn from true experts and to network with other entrepreneurs. We hope the Provo Labs Academy will become a center point of innovation in Utah.

Register for more information and a chance to win your first month free — a $200 value!.

This offer ends soon and space is limited.

End of commercial. Please spread the word. :)

Don’t overlook free products and services online

Blake Snow has a nice post about 20 free products and services that he uses online. He lists several that I have not used before. I’ll need to try them out so I can add them to my recommendations for entrepreneurs list, and make sure they get added to StrategyTree.com, my wiki for entrepreneurs.

I’ve recently mentioned Google Spreadsheets, which I love. And for years I’ve been recommending Vistaprint.com for free business cards (pay for shipping only). There are so many great free things online for startup companies, it’s amazing.

Inspiring Conference for Social Entrepreneurs Planned in Utah

I just heard about a great full-day conference on October 6th that will be well worth attending. (I think it will be in Layton, Utah.) I know several of the speakers and they are outstanding, world-changing individuals. I can’t imagine not coming away very motivated and inspired by these entrepreneurs.

Please check it out.

I dare you to read every bio and then tell me you aren’t super interested in hearing what these speakers will be talking about. Greg Warnock is a star. Hearing Hal Wing (his company sells the Little Giant Ladder systems all over the world) alone would be a great treat. But the rest will be exciting as well. Tim Hunt’s Lingotek is very cool. And my family spends a ton of money on Shade Clothing (thanks a lot, Chelsea!)

Also, in my view, entrepreneurs who start out philanthropically minded before they make their money are far more likely to make it. I heard that Jon Huntsman, Sr, one of Utah’s billionaires, used to give away $50 of his $250 per week (or month?) Navy salary when he lived in California decades ago. He did it quietly and anonymously–even back when he didn’t make any money, per se.

I think it is a law of the universe that those who have giving hearts are more likely to get into a position to give. Selfish, greedy people won’t have the same good fortune as those who are kind and generous, even when they have little means.

People didn’t believe Bill Gates when he said years ago that he was going to do great good with his money. Now look at what his foundation is going to do for the world. And of course, there’s Warren Buffett and Pierre Omidyar too.

So come to this conference and figure out what you can do to bless the world, whether or not the world rewards you later. It’s the right way to live, whether or not it leads to prosperity.

The conference web site is pretty poor, though. I hate sites where all the information is hiding in PDF files. To the conference organizers: please make the web site more friendly and information rich. Give us dates, name of speakers, make it easy to navigate. Start a blog to tell us more about the speakers and the conference as the date approaches. Generate some excitement here! This conference will be incredible!

For convenience, I grabbed the bios of some of the speakers (they are apparently adding more later), and here they are:

Greg Warnock (Keynote Speaker)

Greg Warnock is one of the most active private equity investors in Utah, having invested in 18 companies during the 12 years preceding the formation of vSpring Capital. He was previously the founder of Precision Data Link, which he sold to Profit Recovery Group (PRGX) in 1998. He was an angel investor in Knowlix, a successful software company that was acquired by Peregrine Systems. He syndicated and participated in the seed financing of Advion BioSciences, a successful company later funded by Skyline Ventures, Perseus-Soros BioPharmaceutical Fund and Polaris Venture Partners. He was principle in more than 20 M&A transactions prior to vSpring. These experiences have given Greg a deep understanding of the ingredients of successful private equity investing. Greg is a judge of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year contest and a repeat VC selection committee member for the Investors’ Choice West conference. Greg received a BS in Computer Science and a MBA from the University of Utah. Greg is on the board of directors of AVinti, BioMicro Systems, Cymphonix and MediConnect. Greg is also actively involved in the Junto program, a program that targets fresh, young minds and gives them the training and resources necessary to be successful entrepreneurs, which he started in 2004. In addition to Junto, Greg acts as Managing Director to the Utah Student Investment Program Development Committee, a committee formed through encouragement from the State of Utah to form student run venture capital firms, similar to Salt Lake

Influencing Key Influencers

While I was on vacation last week, I caught a USA Today article (I love USA Today) entitled “Using Blogs for Buzz” by Kim Hart. You can find her original article about getting bloggers to write about your product on the Washington Post web site.

When Nokia Corp. released its camera smartphone last fall, the marketing campaign cut back on news releases and flashy ads. Instead, the company sent sample products to 50 tech-savvy amateur bloggers with a passion for mobile phones.

The tactic paid off, as word spread online about the N-series phone, driving up sales and contributing to a 43 percent profit boost for Nokia last quarter.

We are thinking about a similar strategy for LDS Media. We have been considering offering full access our LDS search engine (with more than 3,300 full text books) to key influencers. There are probably hundreds of LDS bloggers who would love a free subscription. All we would ask is that whenever they quote someone, that they link back to the ldslibrary.com web site. We also want to find ways to provide subscriptions to other groups, including, for example:

  • columnists for Meridian Magazine or LDS Living
  • webmasters
  • Education Week speakers
  • Seminary teachers (there are 40,000)
  • faculty at religious educational institutions
  • We need thousands of influencers who are using and citing and talking about the new LDS Library web site, so that everyone in the LDS community hears about our search engine.

    Question is: how do we reach them and get them full access to our web site. It might be best to start with the bloggers and give the bloggers full access if they are willing to blog about the full access offer for these other customer segments.

    Another Provo Labs company is marketing a great new product to help kids do their chores without whining: it’s called Children’s Miracle Music. Last week we had record sales. But we are just doing pay-per-click and email marketing. (We will soon be using SEO, online video (through 10Speed’s online video affiliate network), and traditional affiliate marketing as well.) We haven’t yet implemented a blog-based marketing strategy.

    We are seriously considering finding every major mom blog on the internet and sending each blogging mom a free copy of Children’s Miracle Music, with no strings attached, just because we know so many moms love this product and the blogging moms are going to reach a lot more people with their enthusiasm than the non-blogging moms.

    What do you think?

    What is the best way to use the blogosphere to start a viral campaign? What other case studies exist besides the Nokia example?
    Nokia hired Comunicano Inc. to develop their blogging program. What other firms are doing this?

    What would you do if you wanted to kick of a viral blogging program for your company? Would you hire a PR firm with a blogging expert, or would you do it in-house?

    If you’ve tried giving away your product or service to bloggers and saw an impact from it, please share with the rest of us! (I’m adding the Nokia example to the Strategy Tree wiki’s blogging page.)

Vacation Thoughts

I was in New York last week on vacation, having too much fun to blog. But I did use technology (my Blackberry of course for email, phone and web browsing, and my laptop with high-speed wireless internet from Verizon) and I thought about it a lot. What technology do I wish I had while on vacation?

First, a bit about our vacation.

The first two days, my wife and I visited Niagara Falls (reading the Wikipedia article about it while overlooking the Canadian falls was awesome), the Sacred Grove (where Joseph Smith saw his first vision), the Grandin Press building in Palmyra (where the Book of Mormon was first printed in 1829-1830), and the Hill Cumorah (where Joseph found the gold plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.)

I like visiting religious history sites. In 1998 we visited Jerusalem and many holy sites where Jesus lived and taught, and I have been to many other LDS Church history sites in Utah, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, California, Nevada, and Wyoming, but until this trip I had never visited the Smith Farm in Palmyra where the young Joseph Smith began having religious experiences which has shaped the beliefs and values of millions of people ever since, including about 25 of my ancestors who found “Mormonism” in different lands (England, Norway, Denmark, etc.) and embraced it. I am a 5th or 6th generation Mormon and have many ancestors who converted from different faiths and emigrated to the United States and more specifically, who came to Utah in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s.

So the places where prayers were answered and revelations were given and meetings were held and books were printed all have deep significance for me and my family.

For such a trip as this, I wish I had a device (a next generation blackberry or GPS-enabled iPod) that connected me to a vast historical archive of geocoded text, audio and video content. For example, while on the Smith farm, I would have liked listening to clips from lectures by historians such as Truman Madsen or Susan Black about Joseph Smith’s early life and experiences. While at the Grandin Press building, I would have liked to have been able to choose from dozens of audio or video clips from lectures about printing technology in the early 19th century, or seen excerpts from the journals and letters of some of the first few hundred people to read a copy of the Book of Mormon. Local newspapers at the time started calling it the “Gold Bible” and the Book has been misunderstood every since (even though more than 100 million copies of it have been printed and Doubleday became the first major national publisher to issue a version of it last year.)

There is no question that this book has had a huge impact on the lives of millions of people. So would it be too much to ask to have a location-based service tied into my mobile device that gives me the option of learning about the people who brought the book into existence and the early reactions to it?

Next, we spent 6 days in Manhattan, caught seven Broadway shows, and had the time of our life. While in New York, we learned to take the subway (I like the little refillable Metro cards — no more tokens!) and to get around pretty well.

We love New York City. Just four months after 9/11 my wife and I had to visit Ground Zero and pay our respects to the victims of that attack and the heroes and rescuers whom we had admired so much from a distance. We haven’t been back together since.

This time, the subway took us right to the spot between the twin towers. We spent a few hours walking around, reading the Port Authority panels that tell the story of that fateful day, and looking at hundreds of pieces of art from the children of those who were killed in the World Trade Center attack.

Already it is impossible for us to comprehend what really happened there, only five years ago. Our impression was that as the cleanup and rebuilding proceeds, it will be all too easy for all of us to forget that day, and for visitors to not have any visual concept of the massive scope of the destruction.

At Pearl Harbor you’ve got a permanent memorial built over the sunken USS Arizona, a solemn reminder of the horrors of that day. We need something similar at the World Trade Center site to help us all remember.

On the east side of the site, there is a newly built mall, and on the second floor, large glass windows overlooking the site. We listened as a tour guide pointed out where the towers had been and which direction that planes had come from, and at what speed, and how destruction the building collapses had been. His words really took us back in time so that we could relive the horror of that day. Without a guide, though, it would really be hard to relive history.

As I looked through the huge glass windows, trying to remember what the buildings looked like, I wished that there could be some kind of etching on the glass, or some kind of digital overlay onto the glass, perhaps even animated, so that I could see what the skyline had looked like and so that I could visualize the events of that day.

If we had time, I would have liked to have watched the new Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center at the theater that is next to the World Trade Center site. Watching the film is reportedly a very moving experience. To watch it at the actual location would be even more impactful.

Our vacation included August 6th, which is the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima, and we watched a documentary film in our hotel room about the great destruction and horror of the first two atomic bombs. We will never forget some of the interviews of the survivors. Again, it is impossible to comprehend something this destructive and awful. When we toured the United Nations, we saw some damaged artifacts from Hiroshima.

I love history, but it scares me too. It scares me so many millions of people, including innocent civilians, have been killed in past wars. It scares me that nations can become so polarized and so hateful. It scares me that leaders of nations can shield their citizens from opposing points of view and that intolerance and hatred can be so easily be fired up among the uninformed masses.

I want to be hopeful about the future. I want to be hopeful that technology and freedom of information will make future generations less likely than past ones to engage in all-out warfare. But I worry that language barriers, cultural differences, foreign policy disagreements, and religious and political polarization will lead to more wars and greater destruction than ever before.

Perhaps one reason I like religious history sites so much is that they are so peaceful and so hopeful, not necessarily because they hold out hope for the world we know, but they remind us of an eternal world to come. They remind me that we are both physical and spiritual beings, and that heaven and earth do sometimes meet–that great religious experiences are possible for those who seek God. They hold out the promise that regardless of what happens in this world, that each of us is a child of God, an immortal being who is on earth to see if we can walk by faith and still show love to our Creator by believing in Him and obeying His will. And if we do, we can hope for a much better world in the life to come.

My ancestors thought so. And I’m sticking with them.

So now, here’s a question for my readers.

What technology have you enjoyed most while vacationing? And what historical sites do you appreciate the most?

Google Spreadsheets

I’m encouraging every Provo Labs portfolio company to set up a shareable Google spreadsheet to keep track of daily web statistics. One of the keys to success in an online company is to look at very simple web stats every day to find opportunities and problems. For example, someone needs to look every day at the top referrers to your web site and the top search terms that are bringing you visitors. Every domain that sends you traffic becomes an important part of your company’s ecosystem. These partners need to be watched, tended, encouraged, and rewarded.

I like to look at the top 5 referrers every day and log them in the spreadsheet. I hope to see new top referrers regularly as we get more sites linking to us. But I also check for declining referrers, sites that used to send us lots of traffic but no longer do.

If you have a small team, the Google spreadsheet is perfect. Each person can update their own little piece. Whoever is over sales can input the daily revenue numbers. Customer service can track number of calls and emails. Your marketing team can input how many emails went out, new affiliates, new landing pages, and how many new incoming links were recruited. You can also keep track of new articles published online as well as press releases–both of which help with search engine rankings. And you can have a separate tab to keep track of your SEO efforts and your rankings over time.

Another good use of a Google spreadsheet for a startup is to keep track of the cap table–who owns the company, who has options or warrants, and how the ownership changes after each round of investment. Cap tables are notoriously difficult to keep track of. You don’t think about them every day. But when an investor or employee needs to look at the ownership structure, it would be nice to invite them to View the current spreadsheet, but not have Edit rights.

Google spreadsheets are fantastic. The shareability outweights some of the current limitations for simple applications like daily stats and cap tables.

Sometimes the opposite is true. Some online applications have shareability but their limitations outweight that fact. When one of my startups tried Quickbooks Online a couple years ago, I love it for its shareability, but the person who used it everyday found the data entry so tedious that it wasted his time. So we switched back to the software version.

What online apps do you find most useful for your startup company?

Urgent: Affiliate Marketing Manager Wanted

I need to hire an experienced affiliate marketing manager to run the LDSAudio.com program (using Directrack) and to launch one for LDSlibrary.com (probably Directrack also) and to launch and manage a Commission Junction affiliate program for mp3books.com, home of the FranklinCovey audio library, including 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you are interested or know someone who is, please email me at paulballen AT gmail.com.

The Only Sustainable Edge

It’s one thing to learn about a powerful strategy or management technique that works and it’s another thing entirely to actually implement it.

One of the best books I’ve read in years is The Only Sustainable Edge. It suggests that trying to do everything inhouse won’t work anymore. That to be competitive you not only need to outsource everything that isn’t your primary focus, but you also need to outsource to the firms whose capacities are increasing faster than others, and to partner with firms on the edge of your business.

A recent Business 2.0 article describes how tiny companies with just a few employees have been able to become huge revenue generators almost overnight by outsourcing the design and manufacturing of their products to the right people and then focusing on building sales and marketing channels. I blogged about this Concept to Contender Overnight article last December.

But I think the most natural thing for any startup company to do is want to hire people immediately. We’ve got more projects to do, so we hire more people. We keep adding people, because there are never enough people to get all the projects done. So the burn rate grows and grows, and soon there isn’t enough capital left to make it cash flow positive.

I’ve been through this process many times myself, including recently.

So I feel that the Only Sustainable Edge principles really do need to be followed. I think a startup company should spend enough time looking for the right companies/individuals to outsource to/partner with. I’m seeing more of this kind of thinking within our portfolio right now.

FundingUniverse.com recently hired an outsourced marketing firm to help them reach more investors. LDS Media is outsourcing its pay-per-click marketing to WebEvident and is interviewing someone today who runs affiliate marketing programs. Many Utah companies, including several of my own, have used the excellent services of Kent Thomas at CFO Solutions. They provide outsourced, part-time CFO-type help. 10Speed Media is developing relationships with many fine video production companies so we don’t have to build all our capabilities inhouse. And I am meeting soon with a company that specializes in call center services for online subscription companies (this could help WorldVitalRecords.com and LDSLibrary.com.)

If you outsource to the very best partners, the ones who are super competitive in their space and increasing their capacities faster than their competitors, and if you set up efficient coordination mechanisms, you can save money and be far more productive than if you try to build everything internally from scratch, the way so many startups do. The hard part is finding the "very best partners". Especially in fields that you’re not a specialist in. For example, there are hundreds of SEO outsourcing firms. How does a non-SEO expert choose the right one? If you’re not a developer, how do you trust which web development firm really has the best people, technology and methodologies?

MarketingSherpa publishes some guides to SEO firms and Email marketing firms/technologies. It’s important to review these, but probably even more important to talk to real customers before using any service. It’s easy to make a poor decision in haste without looking at the best alternatives.

Outsourcing development and web design is even more difficult, in my experience. There are tens of thousands of freelancers out there and thousands of firms all over the world who want your business. How in the world can you choose well, other than by taking with other customers who have already hired them? This is not an easy task.

Even some of us who’ve been doing this for 16 years keep making this mistake of trying to do too much inhouse.

What is the smartest outsourcing decision you’ve ever made? And who was your partner that brought you success?