Reverb 2011 – When did you struggle?

Quite a bit, actually. This year was funny in that way.

I opened 2011 with money saved and no good ways to earn, so by the end of January I was a little tense from the work-search. On January 27th, two crazy, simultaneously-strugglesome-but-opportunityesque things happened.

1. My boss at The 1010 Project told me that he’d be leaving very, very soon. I would be the only paid staff (aside from our part-time Country Director in Kenya). At that time I’d been hanging around as a consultant with a stipend. Anything could have happened – maybe I’d become Executive Director, maybe we’d find someone else, maybe the organization would shut its doors. But we rolled through. The Board crowned me Director of Operations (a part-time employee) and tasked me with guiding us during the transition.

2.  Spotted Koi, a web development firm whose principal I was friendly with, offered me another part time position. This meant doing some project management stuff for online things here and there.

Suddenly, my calendar was a LOT more full, and my bank account wasn’t hemorrhaging quite as massively. But then came April, and TAX SEASON.

For the second half of 2010, I basically earned all my money as a contractor, i.e. I did not pay taxes. Suddenly, I was staring down the barrel of a considerably large payment to the IRS. I hired an accountant and set about trying to make sense of the previous year’s expenses and payments. Luckily, we worked my dues down to a slightly lower level, but it was still enough to wreck me. April and May were not pleasant, as I dodged student loans and cut back on food budgets.

I went to Kenya for a few weeks in June to lead a group of high schoolers on an Engaged Learning Experience with The 1010 Project, which is not the easiest thing to do, but it did provide some breathing room.

I spent the rest of the summer and early fall with Jackie, hiking and camping around our beautiful state. That wasn’t a strugglesome part, but I will mention it in a later REVERB post, I’m sure.

And then to wrap the year up, I started Denver Seitan Company with Mark Mann and another dude. Launching a company, especially one that requires me to cook food and distribute it is a wildly nuts thing to do.

Also, it was goddamn cold today and my bike rides to and from the office were fraught with misery.

Reverb 2011 – What books did you read?

Crush It – Gary Vaynerchuk (won it in a prize drawing and devoured it one sitting inside a tent at the edge of a large cliff)

Four-Hour Body – Tim Ferriss (pre-ordered it because I’m a sucker – if Ferriss wrote a book about punctuation marks I’d buy it)

Brewing Up A Business – Sam Calagione (he founded Dogfish Head – need I say more?)

The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls (terrifying tale of a dysfunctional family)

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller (another terrifying and offensive [in that special White African way] memoir that I guess I didn’t really finish)

Mirrors – Eduardo Galeano (bunch of vignettes from human history – I realized after the first page that Galeano had stolen my idea, damnit)

Buncha cook books (because I can’t not read them)

The Way to Paradise – Mario Vargas Llosa (amazing story weaving together the lives of the civil rights activist Flora Tristan and, many decades later, her grandson, the artist Paul Gauguin)

Couple others. Many. Books good.

Reverb 2011 – Who did you meet?

Most important meeting of 2011: Yet another version of Tim Brauhn – more on him later.

This is definitely a post that I should move further down in December, since four of the most interesting meetings will happen after Christmas when I’m back home in Illinois.

I have so many babies to meet.

Five, to be exact:

1. My little brother had a baby, so now I have a nephew. His name is Eli, and he seems fine.

2. My oldest buddy Murph’s wife is in labor as I type this, so that’s another baby.

3. I was home for a short time in June to attend my buddy Jason’s wedding. Now he’s got a baby named Benjamin, so I’ve got to meet him and tell him not to trust his father’s lies.

4. My cousin Jason had twins, like, forever ago, but his family moved back to Illinois from Florida so I’ll get to meet the babies at a family reunion/Christmas/New Year’s part of sorts.

So many new shiny little baby-people. I dig it.

 

Reverb 2011 – Where did 2011 begin?

This year came in with a great WHOOSH. I was living with a little kitten named Jackie. Note: Jackie is actually a woman who I refer to as a kitten. She is also my girlfriend.

I was hopeful, I suppose. I had money in the bank, but the consulting gig that had provided my income for the second half of 2010 was gone. I knew that I’d eventually have to square away new work, but what it would look like and smell like and feel like was a complete unknown.

The support network that is Denver was ready to help, though, and I inherently knew that it would all figure itself out.

What I didn’t know was just how difficult and workful this 2011 would be.

Aaaaaaaaaand we’ll get to that soon enough. Still plenty more posts to go before I sleep.

Reverb 2011 – Let’s do it.

Gwen Bell said that she won’t be organizing Reverb11, but that we are indeed welcome to do it ourselves.

“Fine!” I said. “I’ll go right ahead and do it, then.”

And then I didn’t.

Instead, I waited for Cali Harris (of the Formerly Reverberating Triad of Gwen, Cali, and Kaileen) to serendipitously tweet about how I could outsource my Reverb prompts to Kaileen: [blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/caligater/status/142627309692788736"]

After scraping Kaileen’s list and saving each item as a draft here, I am now ready to get it crackin’ once more.

It is time for Reverb11.

AppSumo Review: Brand Perception with Grasshopper.com

appsumoIt’s time for another AppSumo Review! This Action Video’s headline was “Grasshopper.com got big through extremely creative marketing, learn the tactics” and led in with a story about Grasshopper’s Jonathan Kay getting kicked out of SXSW by police. That’s attractive to me, so I bit.

To be honest, I didn’t read through all the rest of the description before I clicked “BUY NOW”, and in hindsight, I may not have purchased it if I had read all the way through. I thought that I had a good handle on “brand perception”, and figured that I’d eventually watch it when I had some downtime to kill.

As luck would have it, I was visiting Crested Butte for the Thanksgiving weekend and found myself alone at the house on an elliptical with some time to murder. I started the video.

Jonathan Kay is a funny fella. He and Paul Hontz kept up the energy throughout, and it paired nicely with my workout. Grasshopper.com, of virtual phone system fame, is a company that I am familiar with, but I didn’t know much of the specifics of their growth and corporate culture. I enjoy AppSumo’s Action Videos for the insider’s look not just at issues facing startups and tech-folk, but at the companies and people that make up the sector. Jonathan walked us through A WHOLE BUNCH of practical examples and solid knowledge about how to exploit brand perception to promote and convert. It was very interesting stuff.

Brass tacks: I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I had a blast and walked away with a few ideas for how to firm up the ways that customers (potential and current) interact with Denver Seitan Company. The video was 41 minutes, but it went by super-fast. Using my arbitrary ratings system, I’d give this one 8/10 magical glowing stars of fury.

Our first night turning a profit – Denver Seitan Company

denver seitan company

Courtesy of Plants and Animals Denver

At the time of writing, Denver Seitan Company is about two and a half months old. I know that I haven’t posted about it here yet – we’ve been a little busy prepping for the more or less official launch of this wheat meat beast. ;)

A big part of the momentum behind Denver Seitan Company has been CHOMP, a monthly vegan dinner run by Plants and Animals Denver. Josh, one of the points on our Glowing Triangle Shuriken of Business Doom, is an organizer, so it’s a natural fit. At October’s CHOMP, we brought a ton of logs to sell and plenty of samples (probably too many samples, actually), including some raffle items and a few other giveaway logs. Some people paid us, even a few at our desired price point, but we more or less burned money on the promotional value of the event.

In hindsight, it was more than worth it. The response online and off was incredible, and built momentum that propelled us into serious planning sessions. We returned to November’s incarnation of the vegan feast with some modified recipes and slightly fewer logs than last time. To be honest, we were a bit tired from all the cooking and thinking and raw material purchases. This CHOMP was make or break. And we…maked?

We turned a profit, at least in an isolated sense. The ingredients that I’d purchased for that night would last us at least two other cooking sessions, so there was plenty to go around. We sold every log that we’d brought before dinner was over, which is crazy. We even had to wrap up a few of the logs that we’d brought to chop up as samples!

Money in our pockets at the end of the night – cost of materials to last for a few more weeks = Something in the black. A positive change. A profit. Now granted, in the history of the company, we’re still in the red. Start-up costs will eventually be met, but at least for that one night we were a “functional” business.

I’m looking forward to a few more evenings such as this. Demand for our product is growing. I’ll more formally introduce Denver Seitan Company on this blog some time hence, but for now, we continue to move forward.

We are the Denver Seitan Company. You will be convinced of the merits of wheat meat. Resistance is futile.

Actually, resistance is pretty much fine, cuz we’re not gonna force this lifestyle on anyone. It’s too awesome and we don’t want to water down our mojo. ;)

AppSumo Review: One-Hour Marketing Plan

appsumoI’m a real fan of AppSumo, and really do look forward to their emails to see what kinds of cool offers will be on hand for the coming days. It’s always a grab bag pricewise, which adds to the fun. Some offers are free, some are $249, many come in between $25-$99. Generally, about half of the deals interest me – I’m not a coder, some of the products/services are far too tech-focused anyway, and frankly, cost often dissuades me from a buy.

A recent purchase was “One-Hour Marketing Plan”, where Startup Foundry’s Paul Hontz interviews The Image Group’s Jason Kehrer about the simple steps needed to create a lean, useful, and more or less evergreen marketing plan (in one hour, no less). Here’s a distillation of what the video promised:

Auditing your biz and auditing your communications tools

Picking the right communications tools (i.e. web, video, social media, etc)

Voice/tone, responsibilities

Follow-through/measurements

Discovery process (long, short, guided, unguided) prepares you for a great wireframe, which prepares you for a beautiful design and a solid, wise build

Bringing audience profiles

Designing a reasonable content strategy

How to hire freelancers/agencies

I’ve been marketing ideas and organizations online for the past three years, but it’s always slapdash and ill-planned. I figured that this video, which states “Don’t spend weeks on stuff that should take hours.” would be a good way to start a “proper” marketing plan, especially when it comes to the new hotness of Denver Seitan Company. :)

I was slightly disappointed. Like many of AppSumo’s action videos, the insider knowledge was often common sense or oft-repeated truisms like “Be sure to measure.” or “Write it down.” While the video goes into good detail on wireframing websites with an eye to marketing, I didn’t buy a video on how to wireframe a website while thinking ahead. I wanted an easy-to-follow, practical guide for building my marketing plan in an hour.

Kehrer clearly understands this stuff, and it was great to hear him give some examples and especially show off Billy Bear Hug as a page to stage creation from a wireframe. Still, I could have used a little more information about audience research and what he refers to as “discovery”, at least in the “What do we want this to do and who do we want to do it to?” sense. Some pointers on thought experiments or a better-explained guide to determining an audience would have been nice.

The video lists at $39, but my checking account shows a debit of $25, so maybe there was a fantastic accidental discount there. In any case, I’d say that this action video was not quite worth the cost. Blah blah gripe gripe I’m still going to buy their stuff because AppSumo is good people.

AppSumo Review: Facebook Ads Action Video Bundle

appsumoI’ve messed around with Facebook ads before, but never with any real success. It’s not an intuitive process, nor does Facebook make it very easy to figure out what’s actually going on with the ads dashboard. The financial commitment itself makes all the buggersome aspects even harder to handle, so when I saw that AppSumo was offering an action video with a true Facebook ads wizard (Jennifer Sheahan from Facebook Ads Lab), I jumped at the chance. Or rather, I jumped at it with some AppSumo credit that I had on my account, which made the $49 price tag a bit easier to stomach.

The video comes in two parts at somewhere just shy of two hours total. There’s plenty of great content – Sheahan has a way of explaining incredibly complex concepts and actions in an easy-to-understand way, but she doesn’t try to hide the fact that she doesn’t know everything. Some of the processes behind Facebook ads are quite opaque, and keeping campaigns active enough for good ROI can take a lot of hands-on work. Jennifer shows us step-by-step just how to do it and not overdo it.

I wouldn’t say that this action video turned me into a Facebook ads wizard. Maybe more of an apprentice; I now actually understand the platform and some of the nuttier things that determine bidding and CTR. I am by no means ready to raise an advertising budget for Denver Seitan Company with an eye to Facebook ads, but I in a far better position to read the more detailed guides and case studies online and put them to work for me.

Brass tacks: This video gets an 8 out of 10 from the Tim Brauhn Corporation of America. It would have grabbed a 9 or 10 out of 10 but for the following. I think that there’s a bit too much talk about general Facebook page engagement strategies that could have been left out or replaced with more drilldowns on ads themselves. I’m ready to do some more testing and try to make the platform work for me, and I have this video to thank.

AppSumo Review: Uncommon Sense with Derek Sivers

appsumoI’ve only seen CDBaby.com mentioned in one other place, so when AppSumo offered an action class of CDBaby’s founder Derek Sivers talking for 45+ minutes, I wasn’t immediately sure if I should check it out. But the description was, in typical AppSumo fashion, full of interesting tidbits, namely, how Sivers had turned a side hobby into a many-many-millions-of-dollars business and then sold out, only to bounce the money to charity and start all over again. That got me interested. I enjoy watching entrepreneurs talk about their ideas and work, especially when it’s informal and fun. Derek Sivers does all that.

He’s self-deprecating, honest, and informative. The video itself was nothing if not inspiring – Sivers has a positive, infectious attitude that led me into a hyperdrive morning of work and research. That alone made the video worth it. He has some actionable nuggets in there, too. It’s not all theory.

I’d download it again in a heartbeat. Great content from AppSumo.