The importance of a blog for entrepreneurs

Writing is an important tool for entrepreneurs because it helps them clarify their thoughts, reach new people, and build their brand. We’ve had this blog for 4 months now. The blog has been a great decision not only for our business but for me personally. I’ve learned to love an important medium that I largely discounted and neglected for a long time. In my previous job, pitch pages and verbal explanation were the sole communication medium. Obviously, both of those mediums did not necessitate the power of good writing.

In verbal communication, people aren’t focusing fully on what you are saying. A lot of times people miss something you say, are just waiting to make another point, or have already turned off because they don’t like what you are saying. Writing helps minimize these issues by presenting a unified, structured and concise explanation of your thoughts. If you still manage to confuse them, they can stop and reread until they do. In addition, the mere writing down of your thoughts forces you to be structured and prioritize the key arguments. It’s not a coincidence that I’m able to talk more clearly and influentially about subjects that I’ve written about.

An ex-girlfriend had a tendency to write emails to me when she was upset. At the time, I thought it was because she was nervous about discussing it in person and I attributed her writing “habits” to her insecurities. In both personal and business situations, I’m now the one writing emails when I am dealing with difficult situations. It has helped resolve issues in a better way than trying to tiptoe around the issue in a verbal discussion.

I normally write about the subjects that I dealt with heavily during the previous week in order to clarify my thinking on them. In the past this has included my thinking about entrepreneurship, big decisions Chad and I have made, and how-to guides for overcoming technical challenges for technology startups. I could have just written all this to myself if it were just about clarifying my thoughts. Instead we’ve made it all public. The benefit is that it builds a following, helps us solicit feedback, and helps potential partners and supporters understand our thinking process. Some entrepreneurs have built huge followings that have helped increase the success of their core businesses. A few examples include: 37 signals, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson amongst many others. This week ~110 people will read our blog post and for 12 of them, it will be the first of our posts that they read. By being open, honest, and doling out our honest statistics, we’ve convinced readers to support our business and follow our progress.

Interestingly I often find myself asking people if they have a blog and read whatever they have written. The blogs my friends are about a lot of things, from volunteering in Africa to business learning from mentors:

Sebastien Desmarais – Downshift
Ahn Ei – Flatiron Flavor
Steve Lowtwait – The CampSteve Blogazine
Monika Runstrom – BLOG
Al Doan – Hard Knock MBA

Clearly some of my friends are not technology startup founders, but they all feel the act of regularly writing has improved their writing, thinking and decision making skills. Writing—and blogging—isn’t just reserved for founders but it is a powerful vehicle of expression and brand building that no entrepreneur should neglect.

The importance of a blog for entrepreneurs

Why I became an Entrepreneur (the short story)

During my last trip back to the East Coast it was obvious that people didn’t understand why I’d become an entrepreneur. Why give up a successful career trajectory for something with a 90% chance of failure? It bothered me and I wanted to start getting my thoughts down, I want to revisit and expand on this topic later. For now, the basic answer is that my life goals and desired lifestyle are not achievable with a job.

Like @mattmireles I grew up as the middle class kid amongst the super rich. This gave me both a strong desire to change my economic positon and also an outsiders mentality. It was obvious that the if the status quo remained I’d never move up. So throughout my life I’ve tried to create things that break the paradigm.

While my last job was perfect for me, the next roles I saw in the future weren’t. It was apparent that the highest I could reach at a large company would be an exec role entrusted to maintaining steady growth and compensated to live a comfortable, and always working, lifestyle. This just wasn’t what I personally wanted and the thought of settling down into a routine job and lifestyle scared me. I still harbor dreams of changing the world and living an adventure. The corporate career path seemed to conflict with that dream.

Entrepreneurship on the other hand feeds directly on passion, profit from disrupting the status quo, and is one of the biggest adventures one could undertake. There is a definitive risk of failure, but the payoff if successful in both money and status is far beyond what is achievable in a job. In essence I’m risking comfort for a chance to be extraordinary.

Its hard at this very moment because I’m not earning what I was, but I’m compensated well by having a lot of fun, working with great people and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This first project, successful or not, is a chance to really learn the ropes and in that way I see it as an investment.

I know quite a few of the readers here have made, or are contemplating, similar decisions. Use the comment box to tell us what you think.

Why I became an Entrepreneur (the short story)

How Boulder increases our company’s chance of success

We moved to Boulder four months ago and it was a fantastic decision. The town’s values, and abundance of willing mentors make it a perfect place for new entrepreneurs trying to learn the ropes. It’s a place that values risk takers and those that take big swings to try and make a difference in the world. There are just under 100k residents here and yet it contains an outsized number of accomplished people and budding superstars who are willing to help the newcomers.

Risk taking and lifestyle design aren’t desirable career traits everywhere but in Boulder they are admired. This attitude has drawn hundreds of startups to town and the passion and energy from those endeavors is infectious. When we’re working at coffeeshops we’re surrounded by our fellow bootstrappers and it gives us energy to try even harder. Of course there are failed endeavors, but people view those founders as wiser and experienced from the ordeal rather than as personal failures. Its a positive environment where we are not afraid to take big swings.

The mentorship driven growth strategy made famous by TechStars is at the heart of what makes Boulder a great place for startups. The town has an absolute plethora of accomplished entrepreneurs, financiers and academics that are passionate about business and willing to give honest feedback. Some of the most popular VCs attend networking events like the Boulder Open Coffee Club and even hold office hours so people can chat with them. Breaking into the startup ecosystem was one of our top priorities and thanks to the collaborative environment here, we’ve had access to the level of mentors we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Boulder has given us confidence, mentors and fundamentally shaped our thinking about startups in a positive way. Its budding reputation as an important startup hub is evidence that outsiders are starting to see what the locals already know. If you are thinking about moving your business here, do it! Call us when you do, we’d love to give newcomers the welcome that we received.

How Boulder increases our company’s chance of success

Psychology justifies why you don’t send eCards

The value of a greeting is the value that the recipient perceives it as. The value they derive is from the feeling that someone cares and sharing that feeling with others. Current eCards do a poor job maximizing value on both criteria. So as we build Nudgems, we’re thinking specifically how to maximize the value for the recipient.

Greetings represent the caring the sender has for the receiver and can be conveyed in a number of ways. It can have value in time spent, like those that are created from scratch, or it could be value in time and effort spent on finding and purchasing one that is pre-made. Only 55 million eCards (mostly of the free variety) are sent each year in the USA, a paltry amount compared to the large $2B greeting card market. This disparity is obvious when looking at the perceived value of an eCard. It represents low value to the recipient as little effort or money is spent by the sender. Traditional cards still represent time, effort and money to make someone feel special. Furthermore, traditional cards are shared with friends, family and coworkers when they are displayed on mantles, desks and refrigerators. eCards go to the inbox and are never seen again.

Nudgems correct both these issues by instilling more perceived value with the receiver. Nudgems are artist branded greetings in a variety of media types, from recorded birthday songs to unique cards from established independent artists. As fans of the artist, the content already has intrinsic value to the receiver. Furthermore, the sender must demonstrate thought and familiarity with receiver to know their likes and then must spend money to acquire it for them. So it’s easy to send like an eCard, but as significantly more value to the receiver.

The other difference with nudges are that receivers can share them across social networks. So if your boyfriend got you an anniversary song from your favorite band, an mp3 snippet and a short message could be posted to Facebook or Twitter. Now that declaration of love is seen by everyone and the value is increased. It’s the same reason that flowers received at an office are worth more than those received at home. Sharing is a key part of our strategy because it promotes our brand and that of our artists. The receivers’ social groups are likely the target markets of the artists and we can quantify the amount of awareness that each nudge generates. At the end of the day, we want to show our artists value in both a direct financial return and invaluable marketing.

Psychology justifies why you don’t send eCards

Great design and UI doesn’t happen overnight, Everlater.com’s front-end process.

This is a guest post from Natty Zola, founder of Everlater.com, the webs best free travel blogs.

Through my experience designing three (soon to be four) front ends for Everlater.com over the past year and a half, I’ve come to believe that great design and UI doesn’t and can’t happen overnight. Like most everyone, we like to iterate fast, extremely fast, but absolute speed is the enemy of good design and UI. We use a simple process to brainstorm, create and build front end interfaces. While not flawless, this process creates a structured workflow that guarantees an improved user experience. Moving from step 1 to 5 should take time – each step requires intense critical thinking, a heavy dose of creativity and each must be completed before the previous.

Step 1: What have we learned thus far.
(This step mostly applies to a redesign but first time web site builders can use simple mockups and paper UI to substitute a live site.)
The first critical step is to analyze what we’ve learned from our UI thus far. We gather information from Google Analytics, internal statistics dashboards and user focus groups and use the information to figure out what is going well and what is not. Where are we losing visitors, what happens in our conversion funnel, do users and visitors always know the next step they should take, when we direct users and visitors to take actions do they actually do it, etc. We write down two lists; concrete learnings based on data and assumptions based on observations. We spend about a week on this step.

Step 2: Review and set goals.
Now that we know how people are using our site, we review the goals we’ve set for what we want a user to do. How is our front-end/UI helping and harming users achieve our goals? By combining what we’ve learned in step 1 and reviewing our goals for users in step 2, we’re able to identify key areas where we need improvement and learn what to leverage in our new front-end. The last part of step 2 is to re-assess the goals we’ve set and make sure they don’t need to change. If they do need to change, we incorporate the modifications into the goal performance analysis. This step usually takes us at least a week.

Step 3: Iteration.
Finally we are ready to pull out the sketchpads and fire up Photoshop. We prefer to use Photoshop from beginning to end but do what works best for you. The tools don’t matter in Step 3, the key is iteration. We take one view at a time and systematically construct the important UI elements that drive users to achieve the goals we’ve set in Step 2. We modify and review our mockups many times, consistently iterating on both the design and the messaging to drive users to take our desired actions. We limit desired actions to a maximum of two per view. We usually design two or three different versions of each view so we can compare and try different hypothesis. We try to gather as much feedback as possible in the process. At the end we have a thoroughly thought out set of mockups that drives users to take our desired actions. This step usually takes three weeks.

Step 4: Integrate flexibility.
Even though we’ve now spent over a month planning and designing a new interface or redesign we know we’ve done stuff wrong. Without a time machine we compensate for our inevitable errors by spending time thinking about how to build flexibility into the design so we can modify and tweak based on new information and observations. Flexibility to us means turning UI elements into modules which can be easily changed, moved or removed. This step usually takes one week.

Step 5: Build.
Lastly, we build the UI, making sure to use proper markup and flexible CSS. By now, we have analyzed past performance, reviewed and set our goals, and designed a flexible interface based on data and goals. Now it’s simple execution of the mockups. Depending on the complexity of the Javascript this takes between three days and two weeks.

We just went through this whole process and will release a new redesign of Everlater.com soon. We strongly believe in data driven design and development. We also believe that to do something incredible it takes time, iteration, and dedication. Our process is designed to deliver useful front-ends that are intuitive, beautiful and help our users successfully use our product. I’m very curious for comments on our workflow and what has worked successfully for others.

Great design and UI doesn’t happen overnight, Everlater.com’s front-end process.