Archive | January, 2008

PBwiki co-founders will be speaking in Palo Alto on Monday, February 4th

31 Jan

This Monday Monday, February 4th, we (the PBwiki co-founders) will be speaking at an SDforum event on PBwiki and entrepreneurship. We’ll talk about how we grew, what the technical/organizational challenges were, and how we spread the word about PBwiki.

If you want us to speak about anything in particular, just leave a comment here and we’ll definitely cover it. But we’d love to see you there!

“At an all-night SuperHappyDevHouse event in May 2005, David Weekly spent 7 hours coding a simple hosted wiki service from concept to production-available. Within 48 hours of launching, PBwiki was adopted by over a thousand groups as news of the service spread on blogs like LifeHacker and BoingBoing. PBwiki is used by the SDForum Startup SIG, and is extremely easy to use: its name suggests it’s as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich.

Fast-forward 2.5 years and PBwiki:

  • Runs 300,000 wikis for millions of montly users.
  • Supports 20,000 businesses, including AT&T, Wal-Mart, and 1/3 of the Fortune 500.
  • Has 11+ fulltime employees and several part-timers and contractors.
  • Has received $2.5 million funding from Ron Conway, Seraph Group and Mohr Davidow.

We’re delighted to host PBwiki’s founders, David Weekly, Ramit Sethi, and Nathan Schmidt.”

SDforum charges $15 if you’re not a member (see their event calendar here).

Get the full details here.

If at first you don't persuade, try, try again (The Rule of Six)

31 Jan

One of the most important principles of marketing is persistence.  Every marketer I’ve ever worked with has said that a target has to be exposed to your message at least six times before it sinks in.

At first, I wasn’t certain if I believed them.  After all, six times seems kind of arbitrary, and I never saw any scholarly research to back it up (I am so ancient that this was actually in the pre-Google days, and you had to go to the library to look anything up).

Yet as the years went by and I heard it from more and more people, I came to accept it…which just illustrates the power of this homely rule.

But there are also some important implications to this rule that most people forget, especially in this age of instant gratification.

If it takes six impressions to make an impact, the relationship between marketing and results is non-linear.  In a linear world, buying 1 week of ads would drive 10% awareness, 2 weeks 20%, and so on.  Here’s a quick table for emphasis:

Week 1: 10%
Week 2: 20%
Week 3: 30%
Week 4: 40%
Week 5: 50%
Week 6: 60% 

But in the non-linear world of the rule of 6, the results actually look more like this:

Week 1: 0%
Week 2: 0%
Week 3: 0%
Week 4: 0%
Week 5: 0%
Week 6: 60%

If you give up after Week 5, you’ll have spent 83% of the money and achieved 0% of your goal.  You can only achieve a worthwhile ROI if you have the stomach to stick with your guns and keep sending your message out, even without visible results.

I have a theory on why this principle works.  I believe that what’s actually happening is that a lot of the effects of marketing are exponential, rather than linear.  That’s why overnight success is generally an oxymoron.

What’s actually happening is that the press only picks up on the effects of “week six” marketing–the debut album, or the starring role in a sleeper hit that shocks Hollywood–and completely ignores the previous five weeks of marketing–the years of playing in clubs and building up a fan base, working for scale in indie movies and making the right contacts.

In my own life, I began 2002 as a failed entrepreneur who had managed to lose $6 million of investor money.  I had no job, no money, and no reasonable prospects (caveat: I did have degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School, but we’ll ignore those for the time being).

It was around that time that I started getting involved in professional organizations such as SDForum and HBS Tech.  It was also around that time that I decided to change my hermit-like workaholic ways, and start reaching out to venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs.  And I started using something called Blogger that had recently been launched, and was being run by a single dogged entrepreneur named Evan Williams.

For years, it was difficult to see how those activities were making a difference.  Those were weeks 1-5.  But fast-forward to today, and all the little things and persistence ended up making a big difference.  I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people since then, including the founders at PBwiki, whom I invested in, and later joined, and PBwiki’s main VC backers.  And most of these good things have happened in just the past 18 months (helped along by a heck of a boom in our industry).

But if I had gotten discouraged with entrepreneurship and decided to cash in my chips by becoming a consultant or investment banker, I would never have had all these great experiences.

Marketing is hard, and the rule of six makes it harder.  You have to be willing to persist, even when all the standard measures scream for you to pull back and give up.  But if you’ve made the right call, and you persevere through day six, you may find you’ll get the chance to bask in the glory of your “overnight success.”

Putting Customers First

28 Jan

I’m nearing my first two months here at PBwiki and as they say, time flies when you’re having fun! We’ve come a long way since I started:

  • We’ve setup support metrics and begun measuring the team (and the company) wherever possible
  • We’ve added 2 more great people to round out our support team
  • We’ve improved the PBwiki community and our entire team here at PBwiki is actively involved 

And the best part – we’ve got a lot more on the way in the coming weeks!  We’ve made some conscious decisions to ensure that our customer’s needs come first – our support team is actively working to ensure that the answers you receive are high quality and relevant to your situation. Although we sacrificed some speed for this, we feel this is the right decision - I’ve received some great feedback from many of you (keep it coming!) with regards to our new support processes – here’s one that I got just today: 

I gotta tell you, I am MUCH happier with your help on my recent help ticket (and for hearing me out with my complaints about past help tickets) then I would have expected. You guys are doing good things on the customer relations front, and I appreciate it :)     

So, for those of you that are already using PBwiki – thanks for sticking with us, we’ll make sure we continue getting better at everything we do. And for those of you not using PBwiki – what are you waiting for?!  Hear what our users are talking about and get involved in the discussions here! 

You Get What You Inspect, Not What You Expect

24 Jan

When I started my first company (long, long ago in a valley not so far away), I learned a valuable lesson from Jim Fitzsimmons, the guy I recruited to be CEO.

Jim had experience both as an entrepreneur, and as a corporate manager (he had been assistant controller of all of Pepsico), and he had a favorite saying:

“Chris, you get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Translation?  Unless you can define success in measurable terms, you’re not likely to achieve it.

This is why metrics are the lifeblood of marketing.  Just as professional military commanders understand that logistics are usually more important than the oh-so-sexy field of strategy, so professional marketers understand that metrics are more important than flashier cousins like branding and positioning.

Unlike Sales or Engineering, where everyone knows how to measure the results (“How much did you sell?”  “Does the product work?”), Marketing is not blessed with such simple metrics.  While it is important to be in the right sector of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, inclusion or exclusion doesn’t determine the fate of your company.  And don’t forget, Pets.com had great brand awareness.

There are marketers that slide by on pleasant talk and cool advertisements–these are often enough, especially in large organizations, to satisfy questions about the marketing budget–but startups don’t have that luxury.

It’s a challenge, but you have to pick the metrics that matter, and then manage to them.

My personal philosophy is to manage sales support and branding/awareness separately.  Measure your lead generation programs on the sales they generate (and how cost-effectively they do so), and separately agree on the amount you’re willing to spend to generate awareness and PR.

Even then, I believe it is important to set PR targets such as # of mentions and article placements.  Otherwise, it is far to easy to spend $20K/month on a PR agency without knowing what you’re really getting.

Figuring out what to measure isn’t easy, but if you do a good job of defining your goals, it makes your ability to judge your success (and justify your budget) far greater than relying on that old-fashioned blarney.

Support Happenings: Satisfaction

22 Jan

As most of you know, we recently locked up our forums and started a new community discussion space here. A number of you emailed me directly asking for more insight into how we made our decision here at PBwiki. So, rather than send out a mass email, here’s the answer:

The problems with classic forums are well known, particularly in the context of mainstream customer service. The best answers get buried in long conversations, they breed endless duplicate topics, they’re hard to search, they tend to be either under-populated or clubby. They generally aren’t friendly or inviting to casual use. We’re using Satisfaction to harness open conversation without falling into these traps. One example of how we’re doing this so far is the “talk box” at the top of the page-by merging the process of actually asking a question and searching. The result is very few duplicate topics, and more focused engagement around the issues. The pages are designed to be more like blog posts, with each topic creating a focused conversation piece that makes sense even when entered from a Google search. The conversation threads themselves are more personal.

From the standpoint of customer service, traditional forums are too general purpose to be that useful. We’re building tools that support the distinct activities that dominate conversations between our customers and the PBwiki team – questions, problems and ideas. There are outcomes and interactions in these activities that forums just are not suited to support. Satisfaction provides us the ability to mark certain answers as “official responses,” and our community to vote best answers to the top. This has the surprising effect of auto-generating FAQs based on the real interactions with and between our customers.The result is a more trusting, valuable conversation space. The value of this approach for providing a higher level of support will become apparent over time -or so we’re betting.

Feel free to join me (and the rest of the PBwiki Team) here as we talk more about why we made the switch – we’d love to hear any feedback you’ve got for us.

Education is Compression

17 Jan

Last night, Nathan (the CTO) and I were talking with our roommate Ben, who at 22 is working on his first startup and naturally has a lot of questions about the process. We were all somewhat surprised by how much wisdom we could communicate to Ben in about half an hour of discussion, but then it became clear to me: education is the compression of others’ experiences into rapidly transferable knowledge.

Were it faster to just have the experience, education would be meaningless. A well-taught math course can generally teach a student several centuries of discovery per year.  Reading the journals of the best minds in a field is much less efficient (and, for most, less effective) than reading a well-written summary of their work.

Wikis let people collect and compress knowledge continuously, making it discoverable and usable. Wikis mirror the very processes by which education operates. It’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of educators found us before we found them. It’s good that your customers can help slap some sense into you and give you a clue.

-David Weekly, Founder & CEO of PBwiki

How PBwiki Made My Life Easier

17 Jan

As the new guy at PBwiki, folks often ask me about why I wanted to join the company. (thankfully, not too many ask the logical corollary, “Why would PBwiki want you as an employee?”)

Besides the people here, who are great, the biggest reason for me is that I really love the product. Even more importantly, I love what it does for my life.

PBwiki really is my external brain. I use it to keep track of everything in my life.

For example, for my work, I use the company wiki to keep track of all my work.

After every meeting I attend, the first thing I do is to create a new wiki page and enter my notes. That way, everyone in the company has the chance to see them, and to edit and add to them. It’s a great way of keeping everyone up to date.

A couple of weeks ago, David actually came over to my desk after I saved my latest batch of notes, because he had also been working on a similar issue, and when the notification came through, he realized that it was a perfect time for us to get together and work on things together. Without PBwiki, it might have been days or weeks before we synched up.

The next step is to take any action items or tasks and add them to my Job Page (you can find the template I use for my Job Page on the Transparency Project wiki). This way, everyone can see what I’ve put on my plate, and they know who to follow-up with if I don’t make timely progress.

I’m convinced that these simple actions save me hours of time every week, simply because I don’t have to spend time thinking, “What did we talk about,” and “What should I do now?”

Naturally, one of the daily/weekly ongoing tasks I have on my job page is to post to this blog each Thursday.

I’d love to hear how you are using PBwiki to save time or become more productive, either in your personal life, or at work. I’ll try to share some of the best stories in future posts, both because I think it’s cool to highlight what people have done, and because it may help other readers figure out new ways that they too can make their lives easier with PBwiki.

–Chris (The New Guy) Yeh

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