Why do 80% of our visitors not sign-up?

For the past two months we’ve been developing functionality for our site at a breakneck speed. Simultaneously learning to code, learning to design and trying to keep up with the suggestions from users. As you can expect our front-end could be a lot better. So over the past week we’ve invested some of our free time in improving our UI using 3 learning methods.

First, we turned to Google Analytics to see what was happening on our site. Our main question was whether we are effectively explaining our concept and getting artists to sign-up and provide content? The short answer is that we’re not yet… we have been getting between 20 and 100 unique visitors daily for a couple weeks but less than 20% are signing up and even fewer are providing content. We use the analytics to highlight where in the user “funnel” from the landing page to the sign-up form to the nudge creation screen people were leaving. We noticed that most artists never even entered the funnel we setup, 90% of all users searched for nudges to send rather than signing up to be artists. We needed to do a better job of funneling artists to a sign-up and create a content funnel that was separate from the normal search process. We’ve now changed the landing page (in dev anyway) to direct artists to an FAQ and sign-up page rather than the view available nudges page. We are using this page to explain that we’re in alpha mode, explain the vision and preemptively answer questions that if left unanswered may lead a user to leave our site in confusion.

Secondly, we’ve been using online tutorials and shamelessly copying the best design elements. We use a tool called CSSedit along with firebug to analyze how our favorite sites do things. A big thank you goes out to sites like REI, Tumblr, Etsy, and Everlater. We don’t just copy the site, we take small elements and design cues and create something completely original. It’s the equivalent of Pretty Lights taking Biggie Smalls quotes and inserting them in their songs. Hopefully the owners of those sites will read this and feel pride in our love of their front ends. If you want some other great examples for your own site, check out the webby award winners, their sites are amazing. In addition check out Smashing Magazine for tutorials on creating great tables, forms and everything else.

Our third method is to listen to experts. There are plenty of them around Boulder, including Lyn Bain of Chili Interactive. She has advanced degrees in psychology and a storied career in usability testing and design. Out of pure serendipity we met her at a coffee shop and she offered to give us a few minutes to critique our site. Some of the key take-aways were:
1 – Laptop and mobile users don’t fiddle with their mice so they don’t see rollover elements. (We’re removing ours now)
2 – Buttons need to be descriptive of the very next screen, so instead of our button saying “send a nudge” it might say “Select this nudge and fill in delivery details.” This way they aren’t scared that something will be sent before they put in the right details.
3 – Users give you 3 seconds to understand your site and decide whether to heed a call to action. Make your messaging clear and your calls to action obvious.

If you want similar feedback, Lyn is giving back to the entrepreneurial community in a HUGE way, with UsableFeedback.com where you can get video walkthrough with actionable feedback from her company’s experts for only $139. This is a tiny fraction of her usual billing rate and is being done solely to help startups and small businesses! There are other fantastic designers around Boulder, people like @AndyInColor and @StirlingOlson. Can designers reading this give us one rule of thumb you think all startups should know when designing their sites?

The bottom line is that we improved our UI significantly by using statistics on how our users interact with our site, copying design elements from the best sites and reaching out to experts for unbiased feedback. We still have a long way to go in both design and UI, so keep giving us honest feedback. As a reminder, we’ll be buying beers for people who give us suggestions!

Why do 80% of our visitors not sign-up?

Dev Partner for Split Our Tab

Our first project was SplitOurTab, a site to help group travelers and roommates split expenses. Development stopped after a month because we got more excited about Nudgems, but we still want to see it come to fruition because the existing solutions stink. We know there is a need since initial users are still begging us to finish it, and we constantly find ourselves wanting to use it personally. We don’t have the bandwidth so we’re looking for a front end dev/designer (It’s built in RoR) that wants to partner with us to finish it up. Clearly they would be doing a lot of the work, and the revenue share would reflect that.

The vision is a site that allows groups to settle complex shared costs like roommate expenses and vacation rentals where many people paid for different things, sharing isn’t equal across everyone and where existing inter-friend debts exist. It’s a headache, we know cause we deal with it a lot, and the current solutions are just payment processing systems, not platforms that take the pain out of the calculation. It could be so much easier, everyone could login and put in their expenses, find the other participants through Facebook and then just click one button to settle the entire event with Paypal.

Most of the backend logic is running, but the UI needs to be enhanced. A good dev/design crew could complete the basics in a couple months part-time. It definitely has growth potential with a mobile app, premium features and white labeling for the travel industry. Get in touch with us and let’s make this happen!

Dev Partner for Split Our Tab

Learning What Makes You Influential In Social Media

We started blogging to distill our learning each week. It’s been fun but we’re not content to just write into the ether anymore after seeing the impact and influence many of our peers have garnered from their intelligent use of social media. The major questions are how to do you measure “influence” and how do you systematically improve yours?

Luckily there are plenty of great tools and strategies. Google Analytics to track traffic, Klout to track an algorithmic measure of your twitter influence and Bit.Ly to track clicks on your referenced links. As with everything else you want to master, you must use the tools to constantly test your hypothesis about what will improve your metrics. Don’t forget to be clear about which metrics you want to improve (for us it’s the number of responses and amount of traffic).

So how are we going to take this blog and our twitter accounts to the next level? Right now, this blog gets roughly 50 unique readers each week and is growing steadily at 10% per week. You may have noticed that in the past couple weeks I’ve released multiple tweets and Facebook announcements about the same blog posts at different times. It was a test, you guys all passed! We learned from these experiments that releasing the blog at a bad time impacts awareness, and have since learned that mid-week at noon EST is the best time to publish for our audience. It gives the post maximum awareness and allows people time before the weekend to read it, once the weekend hits the readership drops to zero. Another thing we’ve learned from some big bloggers in town is that we need to be more active on other blogs’ comments, be guest bloggers for others and have others guest blog for us. You’ll see both these strategies at work in the coming weeks.

On the twitter front things are different. Success for us is measured in large part by the interaction we get in the form of retweets and engagement in larger conversations with multiple people. Last week one of my tweets about a recipe was retweeted by a handful of followers and got hundreds of clickthroughs and a lot of new followers for us. How do we replicate this success with content relevant to our industry and at the same time enhance our brand? More importantly how do we leverage tweets to reach my talent acquisition goals? It’s a two pronged strategy, first we’re starting to monitor search terms relevant to greetings and the creative community as a whole in order to respond and engage with people doing cool stuff. For instance this past week we reached out to the official funny poet of Wimbledon! Another strategy is to interact with people outside of Twitter. For instance, in one of my personal side projects I’m reviewing every coffee shop in Boulder (bouldercoffee.tumblr.com) and have been using twitter to post “where is Joel at today” posts with a prize for the person who finds me in real life. This has been really successful. The combination of engagement, fun and games and relevance to my highly localized twitter following has resonated well. So that’s my amateurish approach and we’ll see how it works. I know some readers are the country’s foremost social media and community management experts. I’m talking about you @MikeFraietta, @AndrewHyde, @SativaBella, @tcabeen. Use that comment box and give me your thoughts.

At the moment we’re nobodies in social media, but after 3 months completely engrossed in the technology startup community we’re hooked. The value of this medium to propel your brand, enhance your influence and even help gain traction for your product is huge. As with everything, find the people who do it best and learn how to improve.

Learning What Makes You Influential In Social Media

The Networking Dance

Networking is a key part of our growth strategy. It allows us to get third party validation for our concept, get free professional services, refine our elevator pitch, find talent and build a reputation within the technology startup scene.

We’ve taken a two step approach to achieve our goals. The first step I call the “brute force” method: we met with everyone and anyone that would meet with us and then singled out the stars to keep close relationships with. We found these individuals at networking meetups and through existing relationships. On average we probably met with about five individuals per week for a one-on-one. These meetings launched us quickly into the startup scene and got us familiar with the Boulder coffee shop landscape (where a ton of startup networking goes down in this city).

This week our tactic shifted to what we call the “selective service” method. It was clear we had to change course; some meetings offer us value way beyond the brief time we spend with them, and the others waste our time and drain our energy. We’ve largely accomplished the goal of introducing ourselves to the community and now it’s time to focus on only those people who give us great advice and push our product to the next level.

The need for this shift was brought into stark reality this week after I met with two world class entrepreneurs. One is an existing mentor and another is one we hope to continue meeting with. The most important thing they do for us is call us out on issues and help us to intelligently think through how to solve them. At this point with our product, it’s important that we surround ourselves with people who can give actionable feedback and have been through the product refinement process. Here are some observations we have on the top three characteristics of a world class advisor:

1. They are straightforward. A critical comment doesn’t hurt us, it helps us. We want to know what is wrong so we don’t get burned. Great advisors know this and won’t avoid their core thoughts just to prop up your ego.
2. They’ve been there and done that. While I have the utmost respect for the GE executives I’ve worked for and with, a good mentor for us needs to be an entrepreneur. They need to have experience launching a startup from scratch and doing the minutia work themselves. The problems of startups and big companies are not the same.
3. They are smarter than you. This doesn’t just mean they have more experience, it literally means you feel humbled in their presence and amazed at the depth of their critical thinking skills. If you go home at night and lay awake thinking about how they came to some conclusion, this is a good indicator that you have the right person on board.

At the end of the day, we’ll continue to meet with people whether we’re looking for advice or they are looking for ours, but our tactic is definitely changing. We’ll let you know how it turns out. Hopefully you’ll see it in a much improved product.

The Networking Dance

Identifying & Acquiring Test Users

We’re following the lean startup approach. Its premise is that you don’t know what your customers want at the beginning, so give test users a minimal solution and learn from them. In the past few weeks we have pushed out a minimum viable product with just one simple feature, emailing a text greeting to a friend. Now we’re listening to our initial users and adding requested features like attaching photos, videos, music and being able to edit the font type of the greetings. Our few users are awesome but we didn’t get them by accident, we identified who we wanted and tried to recruit the right ones. Here is what we looked for and why:

1 – Willingness to give honest and frequent feedback: This was a non-negotiable and we were clear upfront that we wanted them to help us improve and shape the final product.
2 – Mix of users from our target and non-target markets: We’re trying to test if we properly identified our target market.
3 – Capacity to find additional users – As the alpha period progresses we will need to steadily add new test users to keep the suggestions fresh.
4 – Be part of the entertainment/creative community – Our biggest long term hurdle will be attracting talented vendors because we believe that acquiring customers will be natural and less expensive if we have intriguing items. Recruiting creative talent seems to require finesse and experience, so we’re reaching out to talent now in order to hone our skills. So far this has been going really well for us and we’re looking forward to making some of these relationships public soon.

Finding users isn’t difficult but finding and convincing the right users to be committed test users is. Right now we’re still looking for talented writers, poets and artists. If you know any let us know and as we add new features, like music nudges, we’ll begin reaching out to all of you for recommendations on great people to recruit.

Identifying & Acquiring Test Users