This is a snip I took of my FB feed this morning...
Over 80% of the page are filled with ads.
I did not intentionally set up the page to look like this. I stopped scrolling for a few seconds to look at my notifications, and only noticed all the content on my feed was ads when I left the little notification bubble. I don't know when it became this way - we are all scrolling through Facebook, consuming ads other people pump out to us, driving our decision making.
Aside from the ad targeting problem in the news recently (e.g. this WIRED article), there is a more fundamental UX problem.
Why are we allowing FB to give us so many ads?
I couldn't find any statistics on the ratio of ad content versus non-ad content on Facebook. Primarily because all the marketing agencies have optimised Google's SEO for any searches relating to ad content on Facebook - which is a different problem for another day. I did find other interesting statistics, like this one, and this one, but none that addressed the underlying question - why have consumers not revolted against Facebook's overwhelming proportion of ads?
I think I know the answers to this - it has a lot to do with tolerance and addiction - we will tolerate ad content on Facebook because the overall experience gives us just enough dopamine to continue scrolling. Sadly, even if that were not true, there is no viable alternative to Facebook out there at the moment.
Maybe Adam has a view on this one.
"I look twice my size," Andrea complained.
"I'll make sure people know it's the chair."
People, let it be known - Andrea isn't fat. It's an optical illusion created by the chair.
As of this Friday, I am leaving the implementation of VIVA's marketing alone. That's entirely in Andrea's hands now... and I am just a tiny little bit freaked out about it.
It is a necessary step - I have to start to let things go to the specialists, and focus on important aspects of the business that only I can do... but sometimes I wonder what those important aspects are. I think I have said this before, and I will say it again, I have no idea what I am doing sometimes. I have never read a textbook on how to run a tech startup (and if one exists, I would seriously doubt its credibility).
Adam and I spent the morning discussing marketing numbers, like CTR, CPM, CPA, other C things. Adam is a mathematical kinda guy, and so he always focuses on numbers, and course correct based on those numbers. While I agree with his approach, my natural inclination is to put much more faith in intuition.
There was a famous legal case from America, Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), where the Justice Potter Stewart wrote about hardcore pornography:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
Rather than trying to claim that I know a good ad when I see it, I am asserting that I know a bad ad when I see it. We have put up a few bad ads in the last two weeks, and I knew it... but I wanted to push them to see how much traction there was between the ads and the public.
The answer: not much at all.
Having lunch with Nic today gave me two hours to take my mind off the numbers.
New ad creatives from tomorrow...
Other than when I am smoking or drinking, I am most creative in the shower. Since I don't smoke (except maybe once a year) and I am reducing my alcohol intake, I have been taking long and frequent showers, drawing pictures on fogged up glass, and humming songs by The Temper Trap. I blame Sam for those earworms.
An aside: listening to the album Conditions always reminds me of when I first landed in Brisbane in 2009, and living in a hotel suite. When listening to the songs, I am back in that room again - feeling the wood grains on the dining room table, the regular lumpy patterns on the brown checkered carpets, and the smell of the chlorine from the pool level... that was an unexpectedly defining period of my life. The songs also make me feel a deep sense of sadness, and I am not sure if that is the intention of the songs.
Here are some examples of those new campaigns.
"This could be you" campaign
The most recent campaign idea from this morning's shower was to put up desirable photos of people having fun, with variants of the caption, "This could be you. VIVA is a free app to help you find events you'll love!"
"Hold parties, make money" campaign
Neville sent an email the other day about an American app called Tuurnt - weird name - which is a US college app that calls itself the AirBNB of parties. People host a party, then sell tickets to their house party. It seems like something that would only work in American college towns that have only two bars and too many college kids... and it is something that would work phenomenally well over there.
My intuition reacted with a "eek, gross" when I read the story... but there was something there from a marketing angle - we are just not sure what exactly that something is at the moment.
"More than searching" campaign
Here's one which I forgot about. The note I jotted down on my phone was, "Why walk when you can run? When search when you can find?"
It feels like we have taken Lurnea's idea - so smart, it's simple - and veered into the corn field.
"Keep it simple, stupid" campaign
We actually tried this one already, but I don't think we did a good job on the creative. The idea is to simply say to the audience, "This is VIVA. It's an app that connects fun loving people like you to events you'll love. Take a spin!"
"Right here, right now" campaign
"Instantly find events near you!"
That's another super simple one. The biggest problem is that I dislike the word "event" because it is too narrow.
The lack of new blog posts over the weekend is not an indication we took the weekend off. On the contrary, we had been working our butts off to bring the next version of the apps to life - or, rather, Syed and Hassan had been working their butts off!
This busy sprint started on Thursday just before Denise and I catching up for a much overdue drinks. I had been daydreaming about the future of the business where VIVA has enough active users in the right demographics to help Reach Foundation achieve their goal of reaching and helping teenagers.
It seems obvious in hindsight, but I underestimated how difficult it is to penetrate any market segment and acquire customers. You will have to imagine this next bit in a Jerry Seinfeld voice, "What's so hard? Find their pain point. Tell them you have a solution. Do that a few times. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, you have a million users."
The real world is quite different to my imaginary world... B2C products are hard, and a generalist B2C product like VIVA is harder.
Nic Wright, one of Tim's friends, had been telling me for months to focus on one niche market to the exclusion of everything else. Nic had also been telling me for months to start the fundraising process... and both of those are in the works, but they are on lower rungs on the ladder of priorities at the moment. (Sorry Nic - I really appreciate the advice, and I think you might be right, but I want to see through my own vision first.)
I have been asking myself the five whys.
Why did you create VIVA? - to help people find things they want to do
Why do you want to help people find things to do? - so they can have fun
Why do you want people to have fun? - so they can be happier
Why do you want people to be happy? - so the world is a better place
Why do you want the world to be a happy place? - because otherwise the world sucks
Then I vary the line of questioning, and see where the answers lead me.
But that doesn't answer the fundamental question...
That question will be the topic of my next blog post.
Here's the after thought - version 2.5.3 of VIVA is now available on iOS, with Android to follow in the next few days. Check out the feature we are calling the "Sydney Festival" feature when you go to the search and filter screen!
I am ruthless when it comes to advising other people on their business ideas - because it is better to rip off the bandaid to treat the wound. It is so easy to do that when there is no emotional involvement. There is no pride, no fear, no ego... and so it is easy to be clinical.
Cut this, or kill that. Change this here, increase spend by 20%, take a calculated risk there, pivot based on customer needs, and most of all, do not feel attached.
All of that goes out the window - or doesn't, because your startup is a baby in a bath.
In assessing VIVA's marketing campaigns this week, we saw that VIVA's marketing is not scaling as effectively or as quickly as we predicted last week.
"I think you should wait before shutting off the campaign," Andrea said.
"So I have a tendency," I began. "I tend to make decisions based on early indicators. That's both good and bad. Good because we take action really quickly. Bad because things are killed before they fully develop. Right now, those numbers... those numbers concern me. Those numbers, and that trend, what they are saying is one of three things. One, it could be our ad isn't work..."
"Which we are fixing with targeting now."
"Right, I should rephrase. One, it could be our targeting isn't right. Two, it could be our creative isn't right. Or three, and the reason I am concerned, our product isn't right. If it's our targeting, we can fix it. If its our creative, we can spend a few grand making a new ad. But if it is our product, then that, that has two hypotheses. It could be a superficial user experience hypothesis, or it could be core concept hypothesis."
"OK. I can see why you are freaked out," Andrea said after a pause. "But, our targeting hasn't changed, and our creative hasn't changed, and our product hasn't changed..."
"So, it could be Facebook f*cking us this week."
"Yes, like Adam was saying about quarter four."
"It could be Facebook, or it could be the product."
"That's why you have me here. So you don't have to concern yourself with this stuff, and focus on the important things. Don't even look at the numbers."
"I have to look at the numbers. I have to make decisions."
"I know... but let me deal with the marketing."
As Andrea said, I need to focus on the important stuff, and the important stuff right now is to do our best for Sydney Festival and the other clients... and that means making sure everyone is getting exactly what they want from the app, to match people to events they will love.
... I forgot to take a photo today too.
The latest marketing campaign idea hits on a nerve that causes anxiety for some of us - are we getting the most out of life?
The idea was to ask the audience, "hey, your time is precious, what are you doing with it?" We did some research on this about two years ago when we first started creating VIVA. It took about an hour to find those old research notes - based on a 2006 ABS report, the average Australian has about 30 hours of "spare time" every week, and half of that time is spent on watching TV shows and listening to music. It seemed obvious that we should ask people to get off the couch and do something more fulfilling with their lives... but, that would be a silly strategy. We dug a little deeper, and we found that despite the amount of actual "free time" that we have, most of us felt the opposite - we felt rushed or pressed for time.
Australians do not have a "free time" problem. We have a "busy, busy" problem. For example, Sam and I have spent all day working together, and neither of us feel like we have achieved very much in all our time, and we certainly do not feel like we have any "free time".
The question isn't to ask "how much free time do you have", but "don't you wish you can save time looking for things to do with [insert the relevant loved ones]?" Fortunately, we have built VIVA to solve both of those problems.
Now, we just have to shape our marketing message speak to the cure for the bigger pain - the feeling that we are always rushed or pressed for time.
Nicola always tells me that it is good to switch off work so I can have a mental break.
Nicola and Greg have been friends of mine for years. While I see Nicola and the kids on an weekly basis because of our work on VIVA, Greg and I haven't seen each other in many weeks. The demands of grown up life pull us into different directions, and give us fewer and fewer opportunity to hang out and muse about life. I think the last time I saw Greg was when he invited me to watch Tosca at the Opera House. I was late that day as well, and enjoyed the first third of the opera in the entrance hall with a couple of beers. Sydney Opera House probably did not intend to reward the late arrivees like me for tardiness.
Today's lunch was one of those "switch off" times. Talking about VIVA was banned from the yum cha table.
I really, really wanted to float our new marketing campaign with them: "You only have two hours of spare time a day. How are you spending yours?" I nearly died from bottling up the desire to talk about VIVA and the reason for our celebration.
Work talk will now have to wait till the morning.
In the last few days, I have started describing VIVA to customers as "Netflix for the real world".
We have tried for months to reduce the description of VIVA into a single sentence - something that tells our audience what VIVA is, what VIVA does and who VIVA serves. You might have seen I described this problem before, and I am repeating it here because we still have not solved the problem in a satisfactory way.
For quite a while, I have disliked this sort of analogous marketing - "we are the Uber of x" or "we are the AirBnB of y" - because it erases the identity of the product, and reduces it to be nothing more than a parallel of something else. There is something positive about using analogies though. Marketing is like a journey to travel from not knowing to knowing to buying to advocating - from Point A to Points B, C and D. You can walk with your customer, you can hop in a car with them or you can catch public transport with them. Using analogies is like catching public transport from Point A to Point B - it will get you close to the destination faster than walking, but it will stop short of Point B.
The feedback from the team and our contributors so far has been mixed on "Netflix for the real world". Adam thinks it is catchy, but people perceive Netflix more as an on-demand platform than an AI recommender engine, so we might confused people. Allan replied with "not sure about it man. Netflix and chill? Netflix has connotations of staying in and staying put." Andrea was more positive, but she also appreciated the perspectives of the others.
Corkie - now, Corkie is a man that deserves an introduction - we worked together years ago at the law firm. He was an avid music lover and a great property lawyer. Our interactions of late have been isolated to a few Facebook likes and a handful of messages. We had fallen out of touch in the real world... to the point, he changed his career to become a strategic adviser to the law firm and I didn't know about it for the last two years! It is an atrocity!
Corkie and I finally caught up for a coffee today!
About the Netflix line, Corkie said, "I don't know, man. What is it? Like Netflix subscription? What about it is like Netflix recommendations for the real world? Is that too long?"
"I think of it as respect."
"Hmm. There is a tone of submission though, you are making them feel good. That's what anyone wants, to feel good."
I thought about that for a second, "Yeah, fundamentally."
"It is a simplification."
Later, when we were walking away from the Sneaky Possum, I remembered something Mike told me last week.
"You can only ever sell six things. Make money. Save money. Save time. Feel good. Look good. Feel secure."
When I shared this tangential tidbit with Beau, she said, "So you are doing three - feel good, look good and feel secure - and if your product gives them an extra, all the better."
We arranged today's coffee after the Sensation pre-launch party last Thursday night. Beau and I had been messaging about reviving an arts and music festival that ended in 2011.
Conversation jumped between topics, as they always seemed to do with us, but a little more rapid than my mind could handle today. The conversation found a landing on the topics of networking and the essential skill of making the other person feel good through deference.
My Dad used to tell me of a Chinese proverb, which roughly translates to "together walks three men, one is my teacher"; or, as our Friday funnies might go, "three men walked into a bar, an English teacher, a maths teacher and a PE teacher..." The point is to always remember to have the humility that we can always learn something from anyone.
"And always ask for someone else to meet, and always follow up..."
Beau is a genius at meeting people.
We put together a wishlist of five people to form the steering committee of this revival project. We have a month to put together the revival project's scope before we approach these people.
Farhad at the Rabbit Hole Bar ended up comparing notes with me on cameras. After I took portraits of him on my compact little Pentax Q, he retreated to his office to retrieved his Canon EOS 6D fitted with a thousand dollar portrait lens.
His photos glowed. He glowed when he was talking about photography.
"Something I learnt from this country," he said. "You either do something well, or you do nothing at all."
I had thought that perfectionism was a more common attitude in the world. For a moment, I lamented how lax I have become. I used to be far stricter with my work and anything I produced.
Nicola set up today's meeting with Farhad. We met in March this year, but he had forgotten about that. Tom and I visited back then to check whether we could hold VIVA's product launch party at Rabbit Hole. We called it the "product launch party" because we did not start marketing until 1 July, delayed because of my desire for perfection, but ultimately foregone because the product was "good enough".
Farhad used to be in IT, but he decided to open a bar after his 40th birthday. I wrote down some notes in my phone from our conversation, so that we can write the caption under the "Spotlight" portrait of him.
I wanted to stay around to have a drink with him. I wanted to do everything in my power to show the world how the Rabbit Hole, and this bar owner, works so hard to make something good for his customers. I wanted to overcome the short attention span of consumers and tell them Farhad's story.
"I will come back for a drink next time."
"A drink on the house."
"No, no. I will pay for that drink, but a drink with you, to finish that story."