Effectively using MailChimp and its API to communicate with your customers

Image representing MailChimp as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase
I've been managing a mailing list with MailChimp for a few months now and I'm tremendously impressed with it.  It's a powerful application that produces effective email campaigns and it has a huge array of features. I thought I'd write up some work I just did with their API this week to show you how to effectively manage your communication strategy.

Where They Go and Why They Leave

Image representing Google Analytics as depicte...Image via CrunchBase
When I first constructed OtherNum we had a list of priorities about 1000 items deep (I'm sure you can relate...) and way down near the bottom was something like "Write some content for the About page".  I had a short blurb up there about Walter and I and Twilio but it was extremely terse.  I didn't think it mattered.

But after we launched our public beta I was looking at our Google Analytics reports and I realized something...

People were looking at that page!  Not only that, but they were going there almost immediately after hitting the homepage.

And then they were leaving.

I was floored, but then I thought about it.  These people don't know anything about OtherNum or Walter or me.  They aren't going to just sign up for an account (even if it's free) on a website unless they know something about the company.

So I wrote a lot of content for the About page, I put it up on the site and now I'm looking at the results...

And it looks good!  The number of pageviews on this page soared (most likely because I tweeted about it specifically) but the Exit % for that page dropped like a rock.  The Bounce Rate actually went up, but that's actually not unexpected. 

The Bounce rate is actually only a measure of how many people enter on that page AND exit on the same page.  Before I tweeted about this page specifically, nobody was landing on it directly so the Bounce Rate was basically 0%.

So how did I know that the About page was a problem?

One of the things I saw was that 15% of the people who went to the homepage, went next to the About page by drilling down into the Content -> Top Content report in Google Analytics.

That surprised me because I hadn't written much on that page, thinking nobody would go there!  You can also see in that first graph that the Exit Rate on that page was 50%! 

So What?  You're still in beta...

What I was concerned about was the perception of the company.  You only get once chance to make a good first impression.  I'm spending time tweeting, blogging and emailing people to try and get them to come and sign up for an account.  If a chunk of the people I manage to get to the site is going to go straight to the about page and then leave then I'm wasting my own time and money. 

By looking at where people go when they get to the site and seeing what they do once they get there I've hopefully made the site more effective.  Now all my attempts at generating more traffic will be that much more valuable.

Share Your Experience

I'd love to hear about your experiences with similar changes.  I'm also working on using KISSMetrics to measure our user behavior.  Post your stories in the comments below!

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What Matters in a Startup

@RedMaven just asked me a question related to my latest post on the OtherNumber Blog.

@andrewwatson which would you say is more important in a busines: the team, product/service, business model, or the market?
I answered him this:
@RedMaven 1. team 2. model 3. market 4. product
 But it's a great question so I wanted to write a more in depth answer to it.

I've seen it written many times that investors don't invest in companies, they invest in teams.  A lot of VC / Angel types will talk openly about how they prefer to invest in entrepreneurs that are on their second or third startup - even if or especially if those startups failed.  ( see Fred Wilson here and here and Cindy Cheatham here or Mark Suster here) You could have a great product in a huge market but if you have the wrong team, you're going nowhere. 

You have to know your model inside and out.  You also have to know your competition's models and the history of those models.. Don't try to pull off a model that only works with high margins if you are going into a space with historically very low margins, for example.  There's been a lot of discussion lately of the "Freemium" model as of late.  The "Advertising Supported" model has, thankfully, largely been killed off.  

Also, make sure that the model fits the growth plan for your business.  If you're going to bootstrap, choose a model that will throw off revenue ASAP  This works best with service oriented companies.  However, if you are building a product company then you won't be seeing revenue right away and you may need early stage investment to get going.

Research your model, make sure it makes sense for the space your in and the way you want to run your business and go for it.

I could write a book about picking the right market.  Mark Suster has a great series of posts about startups and he wrote about being a deer hunter vs. an elephant or rabbit hunter.  The customers you decide to sell to will determine the length of your sales cycles and how you will have to support those customers once you sell them. 

Also, watch out for 800lb Gorillas in the market you're entering.  It's never a good feeling to realize that a Google or Oracle could divert a few billion in cash from a cash account to create a competitor for you overnight.  That being said... the presence of GrassHopper and Google Voice isn't stopping me from building OtherNumber.

I put this last.  Most people put this first.  I still see / hear people express the fear that someone will steal their ideas.  I saw someone almost ridiculing the ATDC for its reformation and it's inclusiveness because they couldn't imagine people would get together and talk about their startups.  In my humble opinion, that guy is an idiot.

Dont' get me wrong.  Ideas are great.  I love ideas.  But ideas aren't worth shit.  Execution is what really matters and that's why the founding team is at the top of my list.

Anyway, I hope this longer answer sheds more light on the thought process behind my abbreviated tweet-answer.  I'm hoping to have a lively discussion in the comments!

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More Google Voice Stupidity

This message will get indexed, show up in search results in Yahoo, Bing etc... and be out there forever until I delete it. There isn't anything else I can do about it.

Too Lazy To Ping

Too Many Social Networks

I have to confess something.  I have too many accounts on too many social networks.  They all pretty much do the same thing.  I post a link, a picture of something insane I saw or some text that describes what I'm doing at the moment.  I post it on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Ping.fm, Tumblr... I don't even remember half of them.  Oh, and FriendFeed.  See!

It's insane.

Consolidation / Automation

I tried things like TarPipes to automate some processes.  Post a pic via email and it goes to Evernote (forgot that one too!) and the text parsed out of it goes in the description on Flickr.  Then you send all that to Twitter via TwitPic and maybe you GeoTag it along the way.  I setup Ping.fm to send some things to FaceBook and Twitter.  Other things go just to FaceBook.  Others just to Twitter.  Oh and some things get sent straight to my blog.  Those end up getting fed into FriendFeed... and then Twitter  Oh and those blog entries get picked up by TwitterFeed and sent to Twitter again.  12 hours later..  I can never remember what goes where.


Coping Strategy

So what do I do now?  I just updated Twitter.  I'm too lazy to update 27 things.  Is that cool?  What do you do?

I'm going to submit this now to blogger.com and see what happens...

What Twitter Means To Me

I get asked sometimes what Twitter is.  I know, it's a little hard to imagine, but it happens.  Sometomes people know what it DOES but the big question is WHY do I use it?

So what is Twitter to me?

1. Twitter is a marketplace of ideas

On Twitter, ideas that resonate with people get passed around.  Ideas that don't, die a short painless death in the abyss of the 5,000 tweets / second public timeline.  You can see this by looking at any number of sites that will help you see which tweets get re-tweeted.  You can also see this be looking at trending results (but that's a whole different story...)

2. Twitter is an incubator

Incubators are normally thought of as predefined structures like academic institutions, research laboratories or specialized groups dedicate to the task of evaluating ideas, applying a selection process to them, nurturing them through growth phases and seeing what flourishes.  I think the Twitter Incubator breaks that mold.

For example, two of the things I'm working on right now are direct results of tweets I've seen from the people I follow.  I saw a need and thought of a way to fill it.  Direct market research with help from people who didn't even know they were taking part.  The early discussions about these ideas took place in public, on Twitter, and chime in with their own ideas.  In both cases, my eventual co-founder was part of that discussion.

Even tonight, a discussion of backnoise.com resulting from the recent New Media Atlanta conference led to a discussion of what could be done to improve the system.  People suggested what they saw as its weakest points and ways to address them.  I suggested that people be required to sign in to backnoise.com via OAuth with their twitter / facebook or openid account.  Their comments could still be anonymous but they can be banned effectively or suspended.  That idea made it out into the marketplace of ideas where it could be evaluated on its own merits.

So what does Twitter mean to you?

OtherNum Applies to ATDC

75 5th Street, Midtown Atlanta
Today I filled out a simple form and applied for membership in the ATDC for OtherNum.  The new ATDC has about 100 member companies now, which is staggering considering over the course of its history it graduated 120 companies total.  The new model for the ATDC is really amazing.  There are several great articles about it from Stephen Fleming, Lance Weatherby on their own blogs, Peachbuzz and the ATDC website itself.

The other Startup I'm working on, ShockJam, probably won't apply to be an ATDC company for several reasons.
  1. It's not really based in Atlanta.  My co-founder is in Orlando and most of our first productions will be based there.
  2. It's not a 'Technology" Startup by the ATDC because it's not something that can scale easily.

I also setup an appointment with David Sung of the ATDC during his office hours at Roam Atlanta.  I plan to seek some advice from him on our product offerings, rollout plans, pricing structure etc...  I think these office hours are an amazing resource that more Atlanta Startups should take advantage of.  You can find more information on them here

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