This is another big week for advertising on Sleep Tight Stories for which we are grateful, as without them we might not be able to continue doing what we do. At the same time I likely won’t sleep, as I fear our listeners will balk and bail, or there will be a tech fail. Our numbers are still just about the same from the last ad campaign but this I see as a sort of stress test for listener loyalty.
Reason #100 why I can’t lead a business.
October, November and December are big months for podcast advertising and we have been fortunate to have a number of baked in ads, feed drops, and our first campaign across all our audio inventory. We upgraded our hosting to Libsyn’s expensive enterprise plan specifically to take advantage of their digital ad insertion software which we need to be able to serve ads for larger campaigns.
We’ve been advertising our own products fairly consistently for almost a year but host read ads have been sporadic and not enough of a revenue generator to start paying a salary. Our call to actions for our listeners have been slow and strategic – we wanted to make sure that this model worked for them and we wouldn’t have a mass exodus. Until now we have had no push back from them.
The new campaign ads are different. Though the script was carefully crafted, and produced to be as relaxing as our stories, the pre roll is there to listen to before each and every story. The only escape is to press the forward button.
The email and messages have already started protesting the changes. Which bothers me and has me considering whether or not this is the correct approach for us. It feels like there is nothing worse than disappointing your listeners, especially when they are children. Yet, this campaign accounts for almost a 1/3rd of our yearly income and without 2-3 of these a year podcasting as a stand alone activity will be not be viable. We’ve had the longest runway imaginable and it’s now time to see if we can continue.
I dislike this focus on money and how it interferes with making nice things.
The problem with subscriptions is often people, myself included, sign-up with the best intentions, but end up not using the service as much as intended, or at all. A few will signup and immediately forget that they subscribed. And as time goes by those charges continue to accrue.
The value of having monthly recurring revenue for a small business is pretty clear; keep your customers happy, the churn rate low, and have revenues you can count on. Our subscription service pays all our costs, while advertising and any other work I can pull in goes to my family. It’s a tidy arrangement for a mind absent of financial acumen like mine. Ideally, revenue would be large enough that I don’t have to rely on advertising and other things, but for now this is the model we have.
When you are small you can’t afford much automatization. You deal with people directly, including those who are angry that they forgot they subscribed to your service, and direct their angst towards you. Which is a drag and requires time out of my day to manage.
Sheryl often tells me to remember to smile, which I seldom do, so when in these situations, I smile, think of a sunny day and deal with it as positively as I can.
In a recent conference call with the CEO of Supercast and his marketing team we briefly discussed our recent uptick in subscriptions and low churn rate. This was part of a broader discussion which I should find time to write about later this coming week.
It’s really difficult to know why people subscribe when they do without explicitly asking them. Podcasting is entirely opaque with very little data unless you take concrete steps to invade peoples privacy, which we don’t.
We ran our first promotion, which might lead you to believe that people are price sensitive, and our pricing is too high. Our ads were more engaging. It could be the time of year when parents invest in things for their children. Or it could be, like one parent said, they finally caved in to their children’s many requests.
There is one other possibility. We wish kids happy birthday on the show and there seems to be an extreme number of October babies. So many, that we may need to produce a show to just keep up with the demand.
The long cold nights of January and February might be a boon to indie children podcasts. We’ll be sure to run a promotion next September and compare the results.
I’ve been in need of a new pair of glasses for some time, particularly for when running or other sweaty fitness activities. My old Japanese frames, though seemingly still of the same look of many glasses you can buy today, look scruffy as hell.
Eye glass frames, along with razor blades and printer cartridges, are essentially all profit, with frames being especially “scammy” as most are manufactured by a single company. Seeing as we have a family of 4 to feed I wasn’t too excited to not only have to pay to get a subscription, eye tests are not part of our universal healthcare, and pay the $400 and up, I was quoted for new glasses.
So when presented with an ad on Instagram from Kits.ca I decided to give it a try.
I measured my previous glasses, used their tool to measure my PD, gave them my prescription, and submitted an order for the pair of glasses that looked as close as possible to my previous pair.
Total cost was ~$12 for shipping, plus the time I spent entering the data. They arrived in my mailbox a week after purchase.
Kits gives you your first pair of glasses for free because they believe that you will be so impressed with the product and service that you will be back to buy another pair. I’m not so sure. The quality of the frames is on par with anything else I’ve owned and they fit right out of the box. For running and other bouncy activities they will require some slight adjustment but otherwise they are fine.
The only problem is that I don’t really like them. Online try-on can’t really compare to the experience of what you get in store, and I’m fairly certain I would never have purchased them if I had tried them on in store. The software they use is somewhat akin to a Snapchat filter. They do offer a 30 day return policy with return shipping at their expense.
It’s a great deal and an interesting business model, but I’m not convinced its for me just yet.
Paid podcast subscriptions seem to be having a moment: Breaking Points, a podcast and YouTube show, has seen 10,000 paying subscribers in just two days using Supercast. The company tells Podnews that their top ten podcasters are earning more than $9 million in annual recurring revenue from paid subscribers on the platform; and that their growth rate is outperforming Substack’s early published milestones.
I know of only a handful of children’s podcasts that enjoy similar success, albeit at a smaller scale. We aren’t one of them.
I’ve often described creating audio for children as my happy place. As far as products go it’s a simple problem to solve, it’s creative, has seemingly endless possibilities for personal growth, and you get immediate feedback from your customers/listeners. And despite the long hours and no days off, it feels far less stressful than the 996 culture I was embroiled in in the past.
Our growth, though slowing (we may have hit peak bedtime stories), has been amazing; we average over 700,000 downloads a month on Sleep Tight Stories alone. And yet these seemingly large numbers have not translated into a truly functioning business. A great side-hustle sure, but not something that we could support our family with, particularly with the high cost of living on PEI.
I’ve yet to identify where our execution is lacking – value prop?, messaging?, community?, my propensity for introversion?. All these areas need work, and I’m trying to improve our execution in each of them to see if there is any improvement with our anemic conversion rate.
As we sit at the whiteboard strategizing how to get blood from a stone, this quote comes to mind …
The interesting thing about business, it’s not like the Olympics. You don’t get any extra points for the fact that something’s very hard to do. So you might as well just step over one-foot bars, instead of trying to jump over seven-foot bars.
Warren Buffett’s $200B Berkshire Blunder
When naming this business they really got to the point. Certainly not to be confused with a vegetarian restaurant, Meat offered Roma Cuisine in a secluded alley off the Main Street near the East Gate of Hsinchu.
I spent an hour last week – much more than that if you consider shoulder time – opening a business bank account at TD. Most of that time was spent with the banker filling out the forms on her terminal and looking up our details on a website. There was nothing to be sold on, nor was there really anything I needed to be informed of.
There is real cost in 3 people sitting in a room for this length of time, and yet there was nothing that we did that couldn’t have been done online or even automated.
What a waste.
Our ad run on Overcast app. came to a close on the 21st and by their standards it was resounding success. They state an average of 20–30 subscriptions with a $5.20 cpa (which changes depending on the floating cost of the ad).
We ended up with 57,913 ad views, 603 taps (1.0%), and 57 subscribers (9.5%). As far as I know, it’s not possible to track how many subscribers became listeners, or if they unsubscribed immediately after. This makes it difficult to determine the efficacy of small ad spends.
With our current monthly downloads on Sleep Tight Stories north of 550,000 per month, 57 new subscribers won’t have any marketable immediate effect. Having said that, I do see this as a far more effective use of a limited advertising budget than say Facecrook, or Google. Google Adwords is a complicated morass of options that requires time to understand.
I took Sheryl to Monsieur VRAC yesterday enroute to Walmart, which though a horrid store has a selection of goods we often like to buy.
We walked out of Monsieur VRAC without buying anything. The store is clean, brightly light, sparsely populated with goods*, and with polite sales people who are there to guide you through your experience in the store. The only fault you might find is the quantity of goods is too small.
And yet though we had need, we didn’t buy.
For us the reasoning was simple. The pricing of all the goods we looked at were far higher than what we would pay elsewhere and with no indication that what we would be purchasing is of better or even equivalent quality. This isn’t the Bulk Barn who advertise falsely that by buying in bulk from them you save money. But they are still selling commodity goods at premium prices. So why would you pay more for something, in one instance twice as much, than what you pay elsewhere?
The in store experience might be a factor, but ordering goods via my mobile, exactly when I need them is a better experience for me in this case. A good shopping experience is more akin to discovery, and the joy of being in a store is an activity in itself. A good bookstore might have helpful staff (who recommend things), a calming environment, a rotating selection of interesting items to find, and good coffee to drink while you consider your purchases.
I think more likely what you purchase from Monsieur VRAC is the belief that you are doing something positive. That by buying from them you are making a difference in some small way – reducing packaging waste, participating in a “zero waste lifestyle.” It seems more emotional, then tangible. You feel connected with something.
It’s an interesting study in creating an experience based business around commodity products.
*which generally means the goods will be more expensive.
Living on a remote Island on the East coast of Canada has regularly meant that the multitude of things that can only be, or more likely, economically be, bought online, take far longer to arrive than in other areas of the country. Amazon’s 2-day delivery expands to 5+, and more pedestrian Canadian online retailers start at about a week, after they have prepared your order. A notable recent exception has been Nomad in the US which had an iPhone case delivered in much less a week after payment. An extreme example in the other direction was a book ordered through an Amazon reseller which took almost 5 months to arrive, with false shipping notices throughout that period, forever poisoning me from buying physical books through Amazon ever again.
The never ending pandemic has meant that all kinds of delays can be expected depending on the efficiency of the business ordered from. Amazon seems fine, with delay depending on the reseller. Coffee shipments from Taiwan speedy, and coffee from Vancouver just in time.
IKEA seems to be in a league of their own.
We are in the midst of changing our working environment from home office, to office home. This has necessitated the purchase of yet another desk; like the last two I’ve ordered recently, the economical choice locally is the used market. Which is fine, if space provided, I would enjoy the idea of refinishing or repurposing old tables, but when I looked at the usual places the choices were uninspiring. “Genuine’ office desks I’ve seen are expensive and ugly.
I’ve had a great deal of luck with turning IKEA kitchen tables into desks, I’ve owned 5 INGO tables which are just about the perfect depth to allow for optimal monitor placement, great for kids, and are a blank canvas on which to finish.
This time we opted for LERHAMN, primarily because all the desks were sold out, no doubt due to many now working from home, and because we no longer have the space for refinishing.
Unfortunately, at $199 the cost for shipping to your home has ballooned from the reasonable, to the ridiculous.
I selected the pickup location option for the more reasonable $39. The pickup location in Charlottetown is at Same day Worldwide on Day Avenue, near the airport, and a slight deviation from our route home from CrossFit. We selected a pick up time convenient to us and arrived there last Monday night after receiving an email notification that our package had indeed arrived.
Arriving at Sameday Monday night we were met by a sign stating that we weren’t allowed to enter due to COVID-19 (it’s not clear how we will eventually retrieve the shipment if we can’t enter). I called them. The call was answered with the usual Island friendliness and it was explained to me that it is unknown whether my items have indeed arrived or not, that the email from IKEA is causing all kinds of problems, and that all I can do is wait for an email or call from Sameday when they have had time to sort though the shipments. How long this could take is thus far unknown.
Meanwhile, checking back on the IKEA website it now states that the packages are on their way, with a delivery date of Monday past.
In the grand scheme of things this is nothing. The sense of urgency is a desire to move from the kitchen table to a proper workspace, particularly when the new computer we ordered arrives within the week.
What I do find interesting is how many of these automated systems break down in face of an unknown. We are now, in the case of IKEA, back to physically distanced human contact, phone calls and unknown arrival dates as their just in time delivery falls apart. I’m not sure I’m ready for “Sears catalogue it arrives when it arrives” kind of delivery, especially since the first step companies can take is to better manage customer expectations, which IKEA attempts only via an easily missed thin banner on their website.
Hopefully this won’t turn out to be a repeat of the book ordering experience with Amazon. Life wouldn’t be the same without cheap designed furniture.
I have documented at least a couple times the effects of poor or non-existent response times from businesses and organizations here on this Island and elsewhere. To restate the obvious, if your primary means of interacting with those outside your organization is email, social media, or other channels, then you should strive to answer queries in a timely manner. If you don’t have people in a dedicated customer support role, it might be a good idea to set some kind of expectations in terms of when you can reply (Facebook does this for you via algorithm). This I think is polite and makes good business sense.
I’ve been looking for dev help since I came back to the Island, which as of this week was 2 years ago, and have largely failed to find people who fit my niche. This is due to my social awkwardness, bootstrapping, and the simple fact that the pool of talent is not that deep. It’s not difficult to find help off-Island, a simple Instagram message this week immediately lead to someone interested, but I like or have been more comfortable kicking off the work in person.
The positive side effect of this is self-sufficiency, and a return to learning to code, at least until I can afford to hire regularly remote.
But I can only do so much and when Sheryl had a new project arrive that might tie in nicely with our podcast work, I reached out to hire a popular dev team. I also got on a Zoom call with an American company who has a subscription product which is, I would realize, about 1/3 the price of the dev.
I started reaching out about a month ago about the possibility of doing some work. It was very casual and I was at first just looking for some advice, while at the same time seeing if they would be someone easy to work with. Many relationships start this way, a simple hello, questions, praise of their prior work, or even a request to have a short talk.
It took a week to get a reply. I chose the wrong method to reach out, and at the time I wasn’t in a rush.
Finding out that our timeline to get a quote was moved up a month, I emailed the dev and asked if they could meet the rough scope of work outlined in an email or recommend someone who could. They replied immediately and said yes they could do the work, in fact they had already finished a rough prototype of that exact product. How fortunate.
Over the course of a week, and after I wrote a very rough software spec., constant promises to reply to email were broken and I had to chase them to see if they were truly able to join the project. They kept promising to get back to me. They never did.
If you are busy, or uninterested, it’s best to set expectations or simply say no. Saying NO can be liberating. Or set up processes to deal with customer requests.
Yesterday, I reached out anonymously to the American company via their online chat window and asked if they could give me a written quote for their product. They cheerfully replied, yes, let me see if I can work that up for you, and less than 10 minutes later I had a quote and rough statement of work.
My needs were extremely simple and didn’t require a complex plan upfront. The work didn’t even need to start for months.
Which company will get the most repeat business and future recommendations?
Via the many workshops and presentations I’ve been attending these past couple months, I’ve been immersed in a totally different vocabulary: branding, marketing, influencers, digital marketing, ROI on social media campaigns, and on and on. Sometimes, it feels a bit like eating too many carbs, as I am ultimately left feeling empty.
This is the world of business I have not been exposed to. When we were pioneering blogs at work and creating “personal projects” online, it was in some small way about self-expression, or in some cases creating value. Now it’s all about sales. It feels fake.
When you are using your second language it’s difficult to talk deeply about subjects around art, design and engineering. But I am starting to miss those conversations, as basic as they often were, when I communicated in Chinese.
I’ve often lamented my lack of marketing knowledge, my lack of business acumen too, and naive as I am, I thought that somehow if I listened and studied, it would be somewhat akin to taking a pill that would magically transform me with the ability to successfully promote products and services.
I’m oversimplifying. I’ve picked up some ideas and met some brilliant people. Charlottetown must have more marketing/ communication professionals per capita than any other place I’ve lived, so there are plenty of people’s brains to pick. I’m only at the very beginning of my study, with much more to learn, and at the very least I’ve realized that I much prefer making products for people, and the language surrounding that, than selling.
I swear that on AirBnb’s mobile app. I read that you can get a full refund within 48hrs of your, or the, booking. Meaning 48hrs before.
Unfortunately it appears booking in this case is a verb, meaning 48hrs after my booking.
With a whole team of lawyers at their disposal I doubt AirBnb has made this slip up, and it surely shows that either my level of English comprehension has decreased while in Taiwan for 2 decades, I really do need good glasses, or I was just reading what I wanted to read.
Either way I’m out a booking fee and AirBnb gets to keep my money for 2 weeks, to do with as they see fit.
Many small start-ups long for mass and greater recognition, but bigger is not always better. Consider elite schools like Harvard and Cambridge. Do you think they aim to expand their campuses all over the world, educating hundreds of thousands of people annually? Unlikely. Instead, they are comfortable being the size they are, as should you.
Being small also allows you to keep your entire team on the frontline of the business, interacting with customers firsthand and hearing their requirements and feedback. A complex hierarchy can muffle that feedback and slow you down. When everyone is responsible for customer satisfaction, you can respond to any problems quickly, which is essential for effective customer service.
Rework via blinkist
Start small, start now
This is much better than, “start big, start later.”
One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.
You can merely start.
You have to do your research, you have to do some due diligence, read some books but analysis can lead to paralysis, too much planning may mean you never launch. Best to launch small and iterate, that way you can mitigate risk and learn from doing. We have stumbled, already made mistakes, but that’s one of the philosophy’s behind the development of our small company.
This looks about right. Taken from Readdle software’s 10 year celebration page.
The longest lived businesses in the world aren’t the ones that were biggest in their day. Many of them are family firms, or small to mid-sized enterprises content with steady evolvement of their niche. Content with enough.
Enough by DHH
For a lone female entrepreneur, the journey is as frustrating as it is rewarding. Running a sex toy startup as a woman automatically makes me an anomaly. Nevermind the sex toy part—just having started my own company, as a woman, is rare. Luckily, it’s not so rare that women can’t find success. According to Wealth-X, the U.S. has the highest number of self-made female billionaires, followed by China and Italy in a distant third. China’s work ethic promotes equality through earned merit, and unsurprisingly, there are many Chinese female entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.
Despite that, yes, I have met sexism and prejudice along the way—but in China, I learned that ultimately I am judged by my character, work ethic, and the business I create, so that initial judgement is only temporary. When I visit a factory for the first time, the people greeting me often ask, “When is the customer coming?” assuming that I am a translator. I smile and inform them that I am actually the customer and it is MY company. They are taken aback, but they generally get over it quickly. Ultimately, they care about making money: as long as you pay on time, they are happy to do business with you. In my years of visiting factories I never once encountered one whose owners turned me away because they were uncomfortable dealing with a woman. They have turned me away for legitimate reasons—as volume, a mismatch between my products and the factory capability, or an inability to meet my quality assurance standards—but not because of my sex.
A sex toy start-up is not an idea that I have seriously considered.
This is a whole new category of study for me. Here are few sources that are getting me started.
Keith Schacht writes an amazing detailed how-to for analyzing your product’s customers entitled Web and Mobile Products: Understanding your customers, while defines the term viral loop and how to build your own viral loop in his article What’s your viral loop? Understanding the engine of adoption.
“Regardless of a company’s earlier success, thriving in the new mobile app economy depends on engagement and retention. After acquiring users, the real battle to keep and ultimately monetize consumers begins”, from App Engagement: The Matrix Reloaded.
“the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest ..” from The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough.
“A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”)”, from How to Model Viral Growth: The Hybrid Model.
I’m not a financial guru nor has this weblog ever had more than a passing interest in finance. The current ‘deprecession’ gives me a giant headache whenever I try to come to terms with what it all means (our lack of knowledge in this very complex subject gives more power to those who have control over the system). I may not agree with their thesis, I think everything is about money, but I do like the following paragraph from Rolling Stone’s ‘The Big Takeover’:
The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That’s $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG’s 2008 losses).
Read: The Big Takeover
A great high-level overview of the credit crisis by Jonathan Jarvis, a project which was completed as part of his thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
An article in the CS Monitor detailing just how hard it is to not buy a product made in China – it just might be impossible. I post this as I ponder some thoughts from another site about outsourcing jobs overseas. People often don’t embrace the opportunities that global markets represent – instead of complaining about your web jobs going to India or China take the opportunity to forge a partnership with developers there to allow you to bring your hometown clients to a whole new market. The Chinese can export products to your hometown, then why can’t you export your services to them as well? I remember overhearing or reading a small web development firm in small town Canada chiding the Canadian governments approach of over complicating the process of encouraging small businesses to reach beyond local markets. You don’t need long workshops – you need a telephone and the get up and go to call someone for work.
“We hit the first rut in the road when I discovered our son’s toes pressing against the ends of his tennis shoes. I wore myself out hunting for new ones. After two weeks I broke down and spent $60 on sneakers from Italy. I felt sick over the money; it seemed decadent for a pair of children’s shoes. I got used to the feeling. Weeks later I shelled out $60 for Texas-made shoes for our toddler daughter.
We got hung up on lots of little things. I drove to half a dozen grocery stores in search of candles for my husband’s birthday cake, eventually settling on a box of dusty leftovers I found in the kitchen. The junk drawer has been stuck shut since January. My husband found the part to fix it at Home Depot but left it on the shelf when he spotted the telltale “Made in China.”
Mini crises erupted when our blender and television broke down. The television sputtered back to life without intervention, but it was a long, hot summer without smoothies. We killed four mice with old-fashioned snapping traps because the catch-and-release ones we prefer are made in China. Last summer at the beach my husband wore a pair of mismatched flip-flops my mother found in her garage. He’d run out of options at the drug store.
Navigating the toy aisle has been a wilting affair. In the spring, our 4-year-old son launched a countercampaign in support of “China things.” He’s been a good sport, but he’s weary of Danish-made Legos, the only sure bet for birthday gifts for his friends. One morning in October he fell apart during a trip to Target when he developed a sudden lust for an electric purple pumpkin.
“It’s too long without China,” he wailed. He kept at me all day.
…After a year without China I can tell you this: You can still live without it, but it’s getting trickier and costlier by the day. And a decade from now I may not be brave enough to try it again.”
“If you are a freelance or small Web design firm, I have an uncomfortable question to ask you: are you thinking too small?”
Why Small Web Design Firms Should Think Big
“You can make money in three ways: (1) you make it (you are an employee; you work), (2) someone else makes it for you (you are an employer), and (3) what you own generates money (assets). Being self-employed can be thrown into the employer category, if necessary. I suppose you could add things like gifts and inheritance too. However, I’m not going to count those things because they are too random.
If this assessment is true, and your goal is to work less but still have more money, the trick is to pile your effort (and money) make into the right categories. You should try to be an employer or acquire assets. I can’t make it much more simple than this.”
Ways to Make Money :: WebWord Usability Weblog :: Usability and Human Factors for the Internet
“TRENDWATCHING.COM has dubbed the latter ‘CUSTOMER-MADE’: the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed. The CUSTOMER-MADE trend has been slowly building over the last five years, but with the current onslaught of consumer activism and the rapid rise of GENERATION C, it finally seems ready for its big moment in the limelight, where TRENDWATCHING.COM expects it to stay for many years to come. It doesn’t hurt that Management Guru C.K. Prahalad recently published ‘The Future of Competition’ an insightful and highly recommended book on co-creation, which prompted us to move CUSTOMER-MADE to the top of our emerging trends list!”
Do you take the “our product/idea/meme/service/etc is the best and the rest are crap” point of view? Or do you take “I’m an authority on this topic and I’m looking out for your best interests” point of view? Which is more likely to persuade you to change your mind?
Are you also looking to help customers become so passionate about your company and your product that they’ll do a better job of selling your ideas/products/company than you ever could?
“Many companies paid (and still pay) thousands and thousands of dollars for full-blown CMS (content management systems) when many times all they really wanted to do was add a little dynamic content to their web sites. A blog can be seen as a tiny but mighty CMS. About.com thinks so.
Ultimately using blogs in the corporate environment is about giving people who need to communicate the tools to do so easily, quickly, and in an organized manner and in one central location. ”
Read:Blogging for Business: A presentation by 37signals