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20 Marketing and Entrepreneurial Lessons from Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is an HBO comedy about Pier Piper, a Silicon Valley startup. While this comedy show is a hilarious work of fiction, there are some very real business lessons and hopeful digital marketers and entrepreneurs can learn while watching. Here are a few important lessons key characters Richard, Erlich, Gilfoyle, Dinesh and the rest of the gang have learned the hard way while building up their business.

1. Raising Capital Means Less Control

A capital infusion can help a business grow much faster in some cases, but taking money from investors also means giving up equity. Every time you give up equity or a board seat, you lose a little control over your company. In Richard’s case, it has meant some serious problems and unpredictability.

If you bring investors into your startup, make sure you understand exactly what that means and understand how the contracts are written. Whoever controls the majority of the stock has the most influence in the event of a dispute, and whoever controls the most votes on the board controls the future of the company. If you lose control, you can even be fired as CEO of your own company. It has happened to Steve Jobs, among others, and it can happen to you if you’re not careful about raising funds.

2. Understand the Legal Issues of Your Business

A major plot line takes us through the journey of figuring out who owns the intellectual property, or IP, developed by the Pied Piper team. At the beginning of the show, CEO Richard is employed by fictional tech giant Hooli, loosely modeled after Google. Hooli alleges that Pied Piper technology actually belongs to Hooli and files a lawsuit to take control of the IP.

I won’t spoil what happens, but this is another important lesson for entrepreneurs looking to build their company as a side hustle. Never work on your own personal projects on work time or a work computer, even outside of work hours. While odds are it would never come up, you don’t want to lose your job or your business after an avoidable use of employer property for your own work.

3. Don’t Grow too Fast

Each time it seems like Richard and team have figured out the financing of the company, something happens that leads to growing the Pied Piper team. While hiring new employees for a business can make sense, growing for the wrong reasons can lead to terrible financial problems.

To grow the right way, only hire when there is a specific role with a specific business need to fill. Hiring a big team of marketing staff and salespeople may see smart until you notice your burn rate has skyrocketed and you hardly have enough cash to continue regular operations.

silicon valley digital marketing

4. Focus on Your Core Competencies

At one point in the show, Pied Piper developers are forced to work on a non-core product. While it was the best version of that product available, it was not the core product for Pied Piper and was a big distraction from the core product and path to success.

Many entrepreneurs are filled with business ideas and jump to pursue shiny new ideas while losing focus on the most important product. If you have a business that is good at something, don’t lose focus and put too much effort into ancillary offerings if you need to keep your resources focused elsewhere.

5. Don’t Waste Your Funds on Stupid Publicity

Erlich Bachman, the first funder to put money into Pied Piper, brings a great comedic presence to the show. However, his business ideas prove to be less than stellar. In the name of publicizing himself and Pied Piper, Bachman blows through millions of dollars and nearly brings the entire company down with him.

If something seems a bit too extravagant, it probably is. Don’t “pull an Erlich” and waste a bunch of money on something that will lead to little, if any, payoff.

erlich

6. Learn from Mistakes to Make Good Business Decisions

If there is one unifying theme in Silicon Valley, it is that all mistakes are not permanent. One big misstep does have the chance of destroying a company, but business executives make mistakes all the time and find a way to recover.

If you have a big issue with your startup, don’t take it personally and don’t let it derail your greater vision. If you stick to it for the long run, you can create your own path to success.

7. Being flexible is a huge asset

You’ve probably heard the statistic that eight out of 10 businesses fail within 18 months.

While this stat is debatable (The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 50% of all new businesses make it to their fifth year and one third make it to their tenth year), many businesses do in fact fail.

But if you’re flexible and nimble, you can switch up your game plan to account for change and unexpected curveballs along the way. In the show, the team’s initial idea was to create a music app for songwriters to ensure they weren’t infringing on any copyrights.

But after getting feedback, they quickly realized this idea wasn’t going to fly. What did they do?

They took a completely different approach and developed a “compression cloud” solution, widening their demographic significantly. Just like in the show, adaptability in business is incredibly important in real life. It’s not always who’s the smartest or who has the most financial backing. Sometimes, success comes to those who are most able to adapt to change, making the necessary adjustments.

If it’s clear a particular digital marketing technique isn’t working, you may need to change your direction to get the results you’re looking for.

8. Don’t burn bridges or make enemies

Erlich Bachman is a funny guy. But he’s also quite crude at times.

He has a bad habit of pissing off venture capital firms and thus missing out on valuable funding opportunities. As a business owner or a marketer, you definitely don’t want to do that. Relationships are huge. In many cases, your relationships (or lack thereof) can make or break you.

Don’t take them for granted. Always make an effort to remain professional even if you don’t always see eye to eye with everyone. Even if your colleagues’ ideas completely suck, don’t bash them for it.

Instead, conduct yourself with tact.

9. Never overlook legalities

We live in an extremely litigation-happy world. You see it in Silicon Valley—the show and the real thing.

Thankfully, there’s this guy:

silicon valley jared

He is not very cool, but he knows how to keep the startup from getting screwed over by lawyers. And it’s a good thing because “there are over 100 million cases filed in US state courts every year.”

Law is a recurring theme in Silicon Valley, especially as it pertains to intellectual property. When it comes to digital marketing, you’ll want to have some basic knowledge of branding and trademark law to ensure you’re not overstepping your boundaries or infringing on anyone’s brand identity.

Check out this resource from Branding Strategy Insider for more details on this.

10. Be careful with your brand name

As mentioned, Erlich tries to shamelessly generate publicity for himself and Pied Piper. In the process, he blows through massive wads of cash and he almost ruins the company. The point is be careful about how your brand is depicted and with whom you choose to align your brand. And let’s be honest: it’s not all that difficult to tarnish your brand’s reputation.

legal aspect

Between review sites and social media, a few unsavory comments can quickly bring the walls crumbling down. Although you can’t totally control how the public perceives your brand, try to stay away from stupid publicity stunts that may do more harm than good.

11. Building a brand is a process

If I’ve learned anything during my time as an entrepreneur, it’s that patience is a huge benefit. We live in a microwave culture, where instant gratification has become the norm. And many marketers get frustrated and disillusioned when they don’t see overnight success.

But it doesn’t work like that with branding. It takes time. Sometimes, it takes several years for any noticeable results to emerge. In Silicon Valley, the team goes through a lot of twists and turns before Pied Piper becomes a household name.

So, a big part of making it is simply staying the course. You need to have the mental fortitude to keep moving along and take it step by step. But the thing I love about branding is the snowball effect, when a brand keeps getting bigger and bigger with time. While your brand equity may be next to nothing initially, it keeps growing to the point of explosion. Understanding that branding is a process that takes time should help sustain you when things seem bleak and you’re tempted to give up.

12. Embrace mistakes (but learn from them)

I absolutely love this quote from Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek:

If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.

This simply means that mistakes are an inevitable part of making progress. I’ve learned not to beat myself up too badly if I botch something or even flat out make a stupid mistake. I just chalk it up to progress.

In Silicon Valley, people make mistakes all the time, but they always work to get past them. In digital marketing, you’re likely to make plenty of mistakes along the way. I know I did (and still do).

But as long as you’re genuinely learning from your mistakes and utilizing that knowledge to improve, you should be good to go.

13. Do Better at Meeting the Needs of Customers

Pied Piper decided to innovate the Dropbox concept by making it easier to upload video and audio files. The reason why this gained the attention of investors was because it solved a major problem that had plagued the industry for many years. It shows that marketers need to focus more on how they are meeting the needs of customers, rather than using fancy language and clever marketing techniques.

You have to do better at meeting the needs of customers if you are going to gain any traction in your chosen industry. It’s the job of the marketing team to illustrate how what they are selling brings a range of benefits to the table.

amazing silicon valley

Excelling at making the customer come first is crucial to the very survival of your company. You need to go out of your way to serve your target market in a superior way.

14. Strive for a healthy work/life balance

Working hard and having a strong work ethic is good and all. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own personal well-being. I know this all too well because I have workaholic tendencies. In the show, Richard explains to his doctor that he’s been having night sweats induced by stress. The doctor explains that this can be a precursor to bed-wetting, which is never a good thing. It’s quite embarrassing.

Try not to allow yourself to get overwhelmed with your marketing activities. Strive to find a healthy work/life balance, and recharge your batteries from time to time. This will make you more effective in your marketing, and you won’t have to worry about being an adult who wets the bed.

15. Keep your eyes on the prize

It’s easy to get distracted in business and marketing. There are always new techniques and tactics that can distract you from what you’re good at and what’s really working.

For instance, at some point in the show, the team is forced to work on a non-core product, which ended up being a major distraction. In turn, this created a road block on their path to success.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t experiment, but it’s important to focus on your strengths and not lose sight of the ultimate goal.

16. Quality is key

At one point, Gavin Belson, CEO of a competing company, presents company’s new product Nucleus, which ends up being a complete disaster. This serves as a reminder that quality should always be of the utmost importance. You want to put in enough time and energy to ensure your audience is getting the best possible experience. Whether it’s creating blog content or running your social media campaign, it’s better to focus on quality over quantity.

Taking shortcuts is never the way to go.

17. Make the right hires

If you’re assembling a marketing team, you need to go about it the right way. Don’t carelessly choose someone without ensuring they’ve got the chops and will mesh with your culture.

make the right hires

A bad hire can kill your vibe and stall your progress. In the long run, this can also put a damper on morale and be disruptive to team chemistry. For tips on hiring and creating an awesome team, I suggest reading this article from Wired.

18. Trust Feedback from Users

Always trust feedback from users – they are the ultimate judges of your marketing campaign. Since 74% of buyers now conduct more than half of their research online, you can trust it’s a good source of information. In the show, Pied Piper received a tepid response when they initially launched. As they changed up their business offering, their customers started to respond in a positive manner.

This goes to show that trusting feedback from users can pay huge dividends. Failure to do so can make it difficult to defend yourself. For example, Hooli hired an online reputation firm to defend Gavin Belson’s image. By removing negative results from public view, they were able to essentially press the reset button.

Either way, trusting in feedback from users as a marketer can give you infinitely better results

19. Don’t Fear Your Competitors

It’s easy to fear your competitors in a niche as competitive as marketing. In Silicon Valley, the focus is on the app industry. The main characters had to deal with copycats all the time, but it didn’t deter them. All it required was for them to innovate again and again in order to stay ahead of their rivals.

When you are marketing a product and you feel like you are getting nowhere, it’s tempting to give in and quit. You may decide to look into another niche, but this isn’t a reason to give up. There are few lucrative niches that lack competition these days. Competition is just a fact of life – and it can be a sign that you’re working on something valuable.

gavin belson silicon valley

Nothing is ever done in marketing. You are in a race that never ends. If something isn’t working, figure out why and then implement it. Take a look at what other companies are doing and learn from them. The competition provides you with an opportunity to improve not to run away.

20. Always Have a Backup Plan

There are many times during the show when the employees of Pied Piper are forced to rethink their plans. Television shows often have moments like this because they need to create drama, but failure is something most businesses will have to deal with. If one idea doesn’t work out, there’s no reason for you to throw in the towel. You should always have a backup plan; perhaps a few more ideas at your disposal in case something goes wrong. At one point, Pied Piper has to completely rethink their business model because they were outshined by another company with a similar idea. If you allow your business to be flexible, while still keeping the same ideals in mind, there’s a much greater chance you’ll be successful.

Conclusion

Although Silicon Valley is a comedy, there are many entrepreneurial lessons that can be applied to digital marketing and business in general. In fact, I feel a lot of wisdom can be extracted from this amazing show.

silicon valley marketing lessons

Whether it’s learning to adapt in an ever-changing marketing world, learning from your mistakes, or simply refraining from being a douchebag, the business lessons from Silicon Valley can make you a better digital marketer in many ways.

Can you think of any other business- or marketing-related takeaways from the show?

 

Photo Credits: HBO

30 Top Ideas & Best Tips for Your Growth Hack Strategy

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. The phrase “growth hacker” was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010.

A growth hacker is not a replacement for a marketer. To use the most succinct definition from Sean Ellis, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth” or as defined by Andrew Chen from Uber “Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder”.

Every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth.

Here is a famous citation by Sean Ellis, a pioneer in Growth Hacking:

Growth Hacking is not anti-marketing, it is the evolution of marketing, it is pro-growth.

 

I’ve decided to list the top 30 ideas & best tips for your growth hack strategy available on the net.

1. Ad Display Advertising & Sponsorships

Get banner ads placed on key blogs or niche websites where your users visit. This will be especially helpful if they do not display other competing ads.

2. Amazon Book Reviewing and Commenting

If in your niche there are books published on Amazon and you have read them, start reviewing them. If there aren’t any books… well then, you can write one perhaps!

3. Create Targeted Lists of Twitter Users

One of the lesser-known features of Twitter is the ability to add people to “lists”. Lists are essentially a way to curate targeted groups of Twitter users. Apart from the ability to distill a relevant stream of Twitter conversations, adding people to lists is an effective way to grow your Twitter following.

4. Consider using click map tools

You might think that your landing pages and your websites are perfectly designed, but are you sure? One way to find out whether your users are clicking in the wrong places or being distracted from what you want them to focus on is to implement click map or heat map tools, which track what your visitors click on and where they’re clicking the most. That kind of information can often lead to a redesign that focuses their attention where it should be, maximizing your conversions and minimizing bounce rates.

5. Create a sense of urgency

It’s great that you have an awesome app or product, but potential customers are more likely to buy if they feel that time or quantities are limited. What about offering a promo that expires in a few hours, or limiting quantities of a product you have for sale? Even if the deadline or limited quantity is artificial, customers are more likely to act if they feel they’re competing to get a limited offer.

6. Discounts to Influencers

Find influencers in your niche and offer them heavy discounts (or even a free account) in exchange for some promotion.

7. Data-informed is better than data-driven

Data is good. But there’s a catch. Data should inform our decisions. It shouldn’t be our master, dictating our every move. The greatest asset of any start-up is the profound ability of the humans who are involved. When people are willing to be “informed” by data, they can create something special. When people are “driven” by data, they begin thinking like machines and making decisions that do not appeal to carbon-based organisms.

8. Deep growth can’t be hacked

You can do things to drive traffic. You can do things to retain users. You can do things to hack growth at a surface level, but deep growth cannot be manipulated. Great products – the ones that are woven into the fabric of our lives and become habits and addictions – tap into something buried within the human psyche. Twitter-esque, Facebook-esque, and LinkedIn-esque growth cannot be hacked. There is something deeper at play.

9. Destroy cognitive overhead

Product complexity is a killer. Users crave things that take less time and have fewer steps and features. However, we overlook cognitive overhead as a primary source of friction. David Demaree defines cognitive overhead as “how many logical connections or jumps your brain has to make in order to understand or contextualize the thing you’re looking at.” Growth hackers make products that are easily understood beyond a niche tech crowd.

10. Email subscription with 10-second trick

The University of Alberta increased email subscribers by 500% using a pop up survey by Qualaroo that asked anyone who spent more than 10 seconds on the site: “You seem interested in UAlberta news. Would you like to sign up for the Daily News email?

11. Focus more on generating leads than generating fans

There is more return from people who regularly read your content and are actively looking to be educated about your area of topics than there is from simple social media Following.

12. Fiverr Promotion

For $5 you can get someone with thousands of followers to tweet your content or do other forms of promotion. Just make sure their audience is who you are trying to appeal to.  There are lots of fake and crap accounts on here so choose wisely.

13. Follow Your Competitors’ Followers

While this technique almost seems too simple to mention, sometimes it is the simple techniques that prove most successful.

Businesses from nearly every product and service category are successful using Twitter to build communities of like-minded people. Chances are your competitors and even tangential product and service providers are active on Twitter. If you have properly defined your buyer personas you should be able to identify the Twitter accounts that your buyer personas follow.

14. Guest Blog

Find blogs that your target customer visits and ask them if you can submit a blog post. Make sure it’s your best and don’t self-promote. You’ll get a link to your app in your byline at the end of the post.

For every one blog you post on your own blog, try and write another one as a guest a blog. Some sites like Business2Community and Social Media Today also syndicate content from other bloggers. Submit your blog’s RSS feed to apply.

15. Integrate Twitter into your Landing Pages

If you are already focused on driving website traffic to landing pages you may want to test adding Twitter Users Name as a field on your landing page forms. Following and engaging with the leads that have converted on your landing pages is a great way to bring a more sales focused approach to your social media efforts.

16. Integrate Pay with a Tweet

Another way to integrate Twitter into your conversion process is to allow visitors to access your exclusive content by “paying with a tweet”. Sometimes people just don’t feel comfortable giving you their contact information or they would simply rather Tweet a link to access your content than give up their email address or phone number.

17. Increase in Total Lead inquiries

There is a hard way and an easy way of making people feel the need.

The hard way is to convince and push.
The easy way is to ask and help.

There was an interesting experiment related to this concept.
A study wanted to figure out what email tone would result in more lead inquiries.

  1. Selling tone”, which sounds like: “You are one step away from getting free access to something, here is our award winning product, you can quickly get something, try it now.”
  2. Helping tone”, which sounds like: “We`re just here to provide you with whatever assistance you need in reaching your goal.”

Results: #2 saw a 349% increase in total lead inquiries.

18. Keep your landing page on message

It sounds like a basic point, but it’s surprising how many landing pages try to do too much, confusing the user and diluting the results. Your landing page should be clean and clear, with an unmistakable goal — sign up, download or some other action. Likewise, the call-to-action button should be easy to identify and clearly state what you’re asking the user to click and why.

19. Language is Everything

Start-ups usually are concerned with design, and rightly so, but it is hard to overstate the effects of our language on consumer adoption. Play with words. Rearrange them. Change them. Make them sell, make them express, make them do the work they must do. Language is humanity’s oldest, and possibly best, growth hack. The right words, in the right order, at the right time, can do wonders.

20. Launch on a Tuesday

Almost ALL websites see a dip in traffic on the weekend. Friday’s get lost in the weekend excitement as well. Monday’s are catch-up days for most. Tuesdays allow you to capture most of the week. This is why most music artists release their work on Tuesdays as well.

21. LinkedIn Groups Promotion

Join any group on LinkedIn (you can join up to 50) relevant to your niche. When you write blog posts on your website, be sure to use a social sharing plugin to promote your content to your LinkedIn groups.

You can also send exclusive offers to LinkedIn Group owners (active/engaged ones only).

22. Leverage Your Existing Providers

If you use tools and they also service your target market, try getting a guest blog on their website. Since you are a paying customer, this will help increase your chances.

23. Reach Out to Other Guest Bloggers

Find people who contribute guest blogs and ask them to contribute a piece to your blog. You may have to pay them if you are starting out as there isn’t anything in it for them if you have a small audience.

Start by finding people who already contribute to other websites in your niche.

24. Reference Points

The psychology behind human thought is designed in a way that it needs a reference point. Either you will provide it, or a human will choose one himself.

The Economist.com had 2 subscriptions options:

  1. Web only version for $59
  2. “Print + Web” versions for $125

Only 32% bought the print and web version.

They changed their pricing and added a new reference point: “Print only” for the same price as “Print + Web”.

  1. Web only: $59
  2. Print only: $125
  3. “Print + Web”: $125

Now the “Print + Web” price seems much more tasty. And here are the results: the “print + web” sales increased by a significant 262%!

25. Retargeting

No matter how much you optimize your landing page, at the end of the day some people just won’t be ready to convert.

You can capitalize on these missed opportunities by adding a retargeting pixel to your landing page. Retargeting will allow you to show targeted ads specifically to users who visited your page but didn’t convert.

Retargeted content can include discounts, blog content related to your landing page, or social promotions.

Studies have shown that retargeted users convert 70% better than non-retargeted users.

26. Send out old articles as newsletters on the weekend

Capitalize on your mailing list by sending out relevant (but older) content on the weekends. This is a great way to drive more traffic to your blog with minimal effort.

27. Submit to Social Bookmarking Type Sites

Submit your blogs to StumbleUpon, Reddit, Growthhackers, HackerNews, Inbound.org, BizSugar, etc.

Just make sure your content is relevant to whatever community you submit your content to.

28. Two headlines, 40% difference

  1. “The simple test that increased our referrals”.
  2. “The simple test that increased our referrals by 30%”.

The second looks more promising. But by how much? +40%!
Data makes your headlines stronger.

29. Upload Training Videos to Lynda

Upload your training videos to Lynda. Lynda is an online education company offering thousands of video courses in software, creative, and business skills.

30. Use the Thank You Page

When someone does sign up to your blog, take them to a killer “Thank You” page that references the app with screenshots to highlight the benefits.

The top 7 digital marketing trends we have learnt in 2016

Good news, everyone! Today, I am happy to present here the top 7 digital marketing trends we have learnt so far in 2016.

1. Focused Planning

Marketers want to reign in the everything/everywhere approach, and plan to be more connected to customers by focusing on one channel at a time. This means research, planning and competitive analysis.

2. PPC is Changing

For 60% of marketers, PPC ads were more effective in 2015 than in 2014. Still, though, we found there’s always room for optimization. In most cases, 80% of the PPC budget gives a ROAS lower than 1. And with Google eliminating AdWords right rail real estate, PPC is about to become more difficult and more competitive.

3. SEO is Becoming Harder

Google is rewarding mobile-friendly sites. Traditional SEO efforts are no longer enough. Having a responsive site and blended PPC strategy is absolutely essential to earning a high ranking, especially with the expected increases in competition.

4. Marketing Budgets will be shifted towards Creative Approaches

The use of traditional advertising channels such as PPC and social media marketing will continue to rise. But companies will also start exploring new venues. It’s all about testing, and you’ll see companies doing more and more of this.

5. Social Media Marketing is becoming Critical

For every 100,000 followers on Facebook, only 130 people will click on an organic post. What does that mean? Well for one thing, you need to start thinking about emerging opportunities in social media, with Instagram and Pinterest opening up their ad networks. It’s all about being creative and staying relevant.

6. Mobile will take Centre Stage in the Customer Journey.

We all know mobile is getting more and more important by the day, and research indicates that mobile ads perform about five times better than traditional web ads (based on most common mobile ads that are sold on cost per click, cost per acquisition and cost per thousand bases).

7. Increased personalization and segmentation.

Marketers will need to focus more than ever on personalization and segmentation. Email campaigns need to be personalized and catered to actual individuals, content needs to target specific personas and sub-personas, and landing pages need to relate to people on an individual level.

 

My Honest Conclusion:

2016 is the year of “Looking people in the eye digitally”

The last few decades of marketing tactics have made us quite lazy communicators. It’s time to look into what is working and what makes sense relative to changing shopping trends, and then go out and do more of those things.

 

101 Smart Ways to Use Social Media Automation for Sales and Marketing

Social networking is perhaps the easiest way to waste your day away. You can scroll through Facebook and Twitter all day and still not read everything that’s posted. Try to be friendly and reply to everyone, and you’ll quickly decide that social networks are a Rube Goldberg machine of friendliness.

But for many of us, social networks aren’t just about wasting time or keeping up with our friends. They’re also for work. We’re sharing the new deals at our stores, the new products our team is working on, and our latest blog posts. We’re crunching numbers, trying to find ways to make more viral content, and crossing our fingers that people will come.

Surely they’ll come. You’ve already spent your whole afternoon on writing 140 character posts until you’re thinking in sound bites. Suddenly you hate Facebook and Twitter with a passion you didn’t know existed.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You could, instead, be growing your social media following by thousands each month and finding new time and opportunities to expand your business through social media. That’s why you need Zapier.

“It would take a few hours for our staff to do what Zapier does in seconds.”

Lucas Hall, Cozy community manager

How to Automate Social Media

We’ve compiled 101 Zaps—an instance of automation on Zapier—across five categories that smartly put social media automation to use for sales and marketing. Some of them we thought up ourselves, but a most are the genius of our awesome customers here at Zapier.

 

Via @Zapier – View the full article here Social Media Automation