How to stop vanity marketing from killing your startup – gpgmail


In 2014, I got in on the ground floor of what I thought was a rocket ship. Fling was the fastest-growing app in 2014, and I was pulled in as their chief growth officer, with a handsome compensation package — one that in retrospect should have given me pause. Within 24 hours of arriving in London, I was greeted at the door by a Fling-branded Humvee, which wouldn’t even turn out to be the worst use of the company’s money.

Fling’s marketing team consisted of 20 people, or about 30% of the company. Skeptical that any startup needed a marketing team remotely close to that size, I sat down with each one of them to learn about each individual’s expertise, role and what value they added. Each focused on a particular area — online user acquisition, brand, partnerships, metrics, to name a few. Surprisingly, I found myself impressed with their skill sets, at least on paper.

Nevertheless, my spidey sense was tingling. It’s not that they were lazy or shirked responsibilities; in fact, each seemed like they tried to create value in earnest. But everyone on the team lacked a sense of urgency — the one that drives truly great startups to be thoughtful and careful about understanding why and how things work.

And when resources are seemingly infinite, any expenditure — whether time, money or both — seems like a good idea, so long as the return is net positive. And in isolation, perhaps many (or all of them) yield a positive ROI. The result was a constant cash-burn, despite “doing everything right” — everything was working, but it wasn’t working in a sustainable, manageable way, and I’d ended up buying into the hype. I’d been concerned about marketing bloat, and I was right. The company would eventually go under after burning $21 million.

I knew I was part of it. I could have stopped the bleed. But everything I was doing had a positive outcome — not one I could necessarily quantify or describe, but I knew it was there. We had all the money and time in the world — right up until we didn’t.

Before Fling I’d been scrappy, constantly brushing arms with death running one of the most popular fitness apps in the world perpetually from the end of our runway. After Fling, I’d developed bad habits — by my own hand — and had to force myself through a series of less glamorous but more fulfilling jobs wherein all that really mattered was results.

For me — and I’d say for any marketer — to develop resourcefulness, I needed to have spent significant time in an environment of scarcity, not abundance. This environment is the difference between whether or not a marketer ends up cutting their teeth and growing in their abilities or forever sucking on the teat provided by your friendly neighborhood VC.

And the word  “resourcefulness” is a misnomer, containing a beautiful irony of sorts: it’s a trait that only develops when resources are running on empty.

It’s time for you to understand a new term — vanity marketing.

We had all the money and time in the world — right up until we didn’t.

Vanity marketing is a tempting investment for a company. It’s got some vague, ephemeral yet satisfying results — you’ve got a big party, you’ve got a wrapped Humvee, you’ve got something cool to point at, and perhaps you’ll achieve the mythical “virality” that gets a particular thing 10,000 shares or retweets.

You’re popular — a non-specific yet incredibly sexy thing that theoretically would mean that investors would talk to you, or reporters would speak to you, or that you’ve “made it.” It’s a result of the fact that many markets don’t have the level of scrutiny of, say, a sales team applied to them — marketing’s this big, powerful juggernaut where many people survive just by not getting fired.

If premature scaling is the leading killer of startups, marketing is the symptomless cancer that leads to its demise. Marketers with abundance ingrained into their mindset will spend until those resources are no longer there. It’s easy to succeed in marketing by burning capital to grow.

You know how there are some people who are entrepreneurs just so they can say they’re entrepreneurs? I’ve noticed a similar pattern in marketing. Everyone wants to call themselves a “growth hacker,” but no one wants to learn to write SQL or Python.

Why? Because it’s not sexy. Neither is obsessing over metrics like CPM, Average Order Value and cost per unique “add to cart.” What is sexy, though, is spending (other people’s) money to reach new audiences, and pointing at increasingly bigger numbers. The problem is that unless you get your hands dirty, you won’t actually be able to understand whether your marketing efforts command a return. I’ve seen marketers waste hundreds of thousands of dollars with no repercussions. Could you imagine if a salesperson expensed that same amount in sales trips without landing a single client?

Almost every single major startup flameout you’ve seen has had some form of major Vanity Marketing Spend, one totally divorced from, say, the cost of acquiring a single user. If you’re reading this and saying that you’re not one of these marketers, then I’m proud, yet suspicious, of you. It’s fine if you’ve dabbled — a happy hour here, a CES party there — and understood that those were brief attempts to get something that’s unquantifiable. And it’s even stupider if you’ve spent this money “just because everybody else is doing it.”

But the dark truth is that many, many marketing expenditures are totally unquantifiable — they have little to no grounding in reality beyond telling people you’ve spent money.

The boring, consistent marketing you can do — that you can analyze, that you can truly understand the effect of — is so much less interesting than the big, shiny objects. It might not look as impressive, but it’ll work. And it’ll teach you to succeed anywhere.


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Despite Brexit, UK startups can compete with Silicon Valley to win tech talent – gpgmail


Brexit has taken over discourse in the UK and beyond. In the UK alone, it is mentioned over 500 million times a day, in 92 million conversations — and for good reason. While the UK has yet to leave the EU, the impact of Brexit has already rippled through industries all over the world. The UK’s technology sector is no exception. While innovation endures in the midst of Brexit, data reveals that innovative companies are losing the ability to attract people from all over the world and are suffering from a substantial talent leak. 

It is no secret that the UK was already experiencing a talent shortage, even without the added pressure created by today’s political landscape. Technology is developing rapidly and demand for tech workers continues to outpace supply, creating a fiercely competitive hiring landscape.

The shortage of available tech talent has already created a deficit that could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth by 2028, stifling innovation. Now, with Brexit threatening the UK’s cosmopolitan tech landscape — and the economy at large — we may soon see international tech talent moving elsewhere; in fact, 60% of London businesses think they’ll lose access to tech talent once the UK leaves the EU.

So, how can UK-based companies proactively attract and retain top tech talent to prevent a Brexit brain drain? UK businesses must ensure that their hiring funnels are a top priority and focus on understanding what matters most to tech talent beyond salary, so that they don’t lose out to US tech hubs. 

Brexit aside, why is San Francisco more appealing than the UK?


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Where have all the seed deals gone? – gpgmail


When it comes to big business, the numbers rarely lie, and the ones PitchBook and other sources have pulled together on the state of seed investing aren’t pretty. The total number of seed deals, funds raised and dollars invested in seed deals were all down in the 2015-2018 time frame, a period too long to be considered a correctable glitch.

The number of seed deals, defined as U.S.-based deals under $1 million, dropped to 882 in Q4 2018 from 1,500 three years earlier, a 40% drop. The number of seed funds raised and the total dollars invested in seed rounds were both down roughly 30% over the same time period. And the trend isn’t limited to the U.S. — venture capital investment volume outside the U.S. dropped by more than 50% between 2014 and 2017.

The rise before the fall

To discover the reason behind the precipitous drop in seed deals requires a trip back in time to 2006, which was the start of a seed boom that saw investing rise 600% over a nine-year period to 2014. If you’re an internet historian, 2006 should ring a bell. It’s the year Amazon unveiled their Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, its revolutionary on-demand cloud computing platform that gave everyone from the government to your next-door neighbor a pay-as-you-go option for servers and storage.

Gone were the days of investing millions of dollars in tech infrastructure before writing the first line of code. At the same time, the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated and freely available open-source software provided many of the building blocks upon which to build a startup. And we can’t forget the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and, more importantly for startups, the App Store in 2008.

With the financial barrier to starting a business obliterated, and coupled with the launch of an entirely new and exciting mobile platform, Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs were suddenly booming with new businesses. Angel investors and dedicated seed funds quickly followed, providing capital to support this burgeoning ecosystem. As more capital became available, more companies were formed, leading to a positive reinforcing cycle.

Enter stagnation

But this cycle began to slow in 2015. Had investor optimism waned, or was the supply of founders dwindling? Had innovation simply stopped? To find the answer, it’s helpful to understand a key role of the traditional venture capitalist. Once the Series A round of financing closes, the lead investor will join the company’s board of directors to provide support and guidance as the company grows. This differs from the seed round of financing when investors typically do not join the board, if one exists at all. But even the most zealous and hardworking of VCs can only sit on so many boards and be fully engaged with each portfolio company.

An old-fashioned logjam

If you’ve ever ridden Splash Mountain at Disneyland, you’ve likely experienced a moment when the boats stack up due to a hiccup in the flow somewhere farther down the route. This is what happened with seed companies looking to raise a Series A round of financing in 2015.

Venture capital remains a hands-on business.

With venture investors limited by the number of board seats they could responsibly hold, a huge percentage of seed-stage companies failed to successfully raise more capital. Inevitably, many seed funds also felt this pain as their portfolios started to underperform. This led to tighter availability of capital, which led to a tougher fundraising environment for seed-stage companies. Series A investors could not absorb the giant wave of seed opportunities — the virtuous cycle had turned vicious.

The scaling of venture capital

In its simplest form, venture investing has three distinct phases: seed, venture and growth.

Because seed investors are not weighed down by the constraints of active board roles, they have the ability to build large portfolios of companies. In this sense, seed funds are more scalable than traditional early-stage venture funds.

At the other end of the spectrum, growth funds are able to scale their volume of dollars invested. With the average age of a company at IPO now being 12 years, companies are staying private longer than ever, which affords growth funds an opportunity to invest enormous amounts of capital and raise ever-larger funds.

It’s in the middle — traditional venture — where achieving scalability, by quantity of deals or dollars, is the most challenging. It was this inability to scale that led to the great winnowing of seed companies hoping to raise their Series A.

It’s a situation that is unlikely to change. Venture capital remains a hands-on business. The tight working relationship between investors and founders makes venture capital a unique asset class. This alchemy doesn’t scale.

The irony for traditional Series A venture investors is that the trait they find most desirable in a startup — scalability — is the one thing they themselves are unlikely to achieve.


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International students face immigration hurdles under Trump – gpgmail


This fall, nearly half a million international students will begin or return to STEM degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. If you’re among them, congratulations — look forward to being wooed by talent-hungry U.S. tech firms when you graduate. But there’s bad news, too: Under current immigration rules, switching from a student visa to an employment visa can be tricky, so it’s important to understand what’s required and how the latest policy upheavals could impact your journey.

In theory, it’s a great time to be a STEM graduate. U.S. STEM jobs are expected to grow by nearly 11% — or about 10.3 million positions — between 2016 and 2026, faster than all U.S. occupations. In practice, however, it can be tough for international students to secure permanent residence in the United States. The H-1B skilled-worker visa system is badly clogged; a federal lawsuit could slam the door on many STEM graduates, and the White House is shaking up both the skilled-worker and student visa systems.

But don’t despair: There’s still a pathway to a future in the United States — you just might face a bumpy ride. Whether you’re starting your studies or preparing to graduate, it’s crucial to understand your options.

Getting an employment-based visa

An employment-based green card requires an executive-level job, a truly extraordinary résumé, or an employer willing to pony up thousands of dollars in fees and labor-certification costs. Because it’s hard to get a green card, most international STEM students aim for an H-1B visa, which lets you work for a specified U.S. employer for up to six years. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can be a useful launchpad for your career.

Even getting an H-1B isn’t easy, though. There’s a hard cap on H-1Bs: This year, there were more than 200,000 applicants vying for just 85,000 visas. Recipients are selected via lottery, and while you could land an H-1B on your first attempt, many tech workers have to try again — and again, and again — before they finally get lucky.

In the meantime, international students typically start out using the temporary work authorization through their student visa until they transfer to an H-1B. 

Let’s dig into the details of what’s allowed under your student visa: 

If you’re on an F-1 visa

Image via Getty Images / South_agency

The F-1 student visa is one of the main on-ramps to the U.S. tech sector for foreign-born workers. That’s largely thanks to Bush- and Obama-era changes that expanded the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows F-1 holders to work at American companies after graduating, from 12 to 36 months. 

Graduates with multiple STEM degrees (such as a bachelor’s and master’s degrees) can also chain together their OPT periods, working for up to six years in total before switching to another visa. That’s great news because each year of OPT is another chance to play the H-1B lottery, increasing your odds of winning a visa. 

To use OPT, you’ll need to get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) as you near graduation. You’ll also need to file for visa extensions in order to make the most of your OPT entitlement. 

If you’re on a J-1 visa

Similar to the F-1, the J-1 visa is designed for students involved in cultural exchange programs or who receive substantial funding from governments or institutions. 

As a J-1 student, you won’t get OPT but 18 months of Academic Training (AT). Any internships or jobs you take during your studies will count toward your AT allotment, so it’s possible to finish your degree with less than 18 months of work authorization remaining. And while a second 18-month AT period is available for postdoctoral research, there’s no automatic extension for STEM degree holders: Once your 18 months are up, you’ll need to leave the United States.

There’s another catch: Many J-1 visas come with a home residency requirement (HRR), requiring holders to return to their home country for two years before seeking a work-based or family-sponsored U.S. visa — that or apply for an HRR waiver

If you’re on an M-1 visa

The M-1 visa is used by students at technical and vocational schools, not academic programs. As student visas go, it’s very restrictive: You won’t be able to work off-campus and can’t work for more than six months. You also won’t be able to switch to an F-1 visa and won’t find it easy to transition to an H-1B. If you hope to stay in the United States long-term, think carefully about whether an M-1 is right for you.

No job lined up?

If you don’t have a job offer, there are other ways to stay in the United States after finishing your studies. One popular option is to enter a graduate program: Getting a master’s degree could extend your student visa by a year or two, while upgrading to a PhD program could get you several additional years. In fact, an advanced U.S. degree under your belt effectively doubles your chances of getting an H-1B in the same lottery. 

If you can’t find work and don’t want to keep studying, you’ll need existing family ties to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). If you’re the direct relative of one (for example, a spouse or child), then things are relatively easier: You have a clear path toward a family-based green card, allowing you to live and work permanently in the United States. That’s true even if you’ve become a family member through marriage: You’ll be able to obtain a marriage-based green card more quickly and easily than an H-1B or other employment-based green cards.

If you’re the spouse or child of someone on a temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 visa holder, you can usually obtain a dependent’s visa. Such visas often allow you to study, but you won’t qualify for OPT after graduating. It’s also getting harder for H4 visa holders to obtain work permits, so don’t count on using a dependent’s visa to launch your career in Silicon Valley. In many cases, OPT is still a better springboard to an H-1B or green card.

If the person who claims you as a dependent applies for permanent residence, you may be able to get a green card through “derivative” benefits, meaning their green card eligibility trickles down to you.  

Next step: Mark your calendar

GettyImages 1132448431

Image via Getty Images / normaals

Whatever immigration status you currently have or want to get, you’ll need to plan ahead. In some cases, you might need to start planning your next step almost as soon as you begin your studies, in order to make sure you aren’t left without a valid visa.

  • For graduate study: Update your existing student visa before the end of the 60-day grace period (for F-1 visas) or 30-day grace period (for J-1 visas) following the program completion date listed on your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record and I-20 or DS-2019 form. 
  • For F-1 OPT: Apply no sooner than 90 days before and no later than 60 days after completing your studies. If your official completion date is June 1, 2020, for instance, you can apply for OPT between March 3 and July 31 of that year.
  • For J-1 AT: Apply shortly before your program ends. Your school will facilitate your AT application and will set its own deadline to process your paperwork before the end of your studies, but your AT must begin no later than 30 days after completing your program.
  • For H-1B visas: Play the annual visa lottery held in early April. You’ll need a job offer lined up well in advance from an employer who’s willing to sponsor you. You can’t begin working until your H-1B is approved, unless you have separate work authorization through OPT, AT, or some other means.
  • For employment-based green cards: The timeline depends on your specific green card category, but you’ll generally wait months or years
  • For green cards through marriage to a U.S. citizen: You’ll typically wait 10–13 months, but you’ll be able to stay in the United States while in the meantime, even if your student visa expires.
  • For green cards through marriage to a permanent resident: You’ll typically wait 29–38 months, but you’ll need another valid visa, such as an unexpired F-1, for the first 11–15 months.
  • For family-based green cards (other than for spouses and children of U.S. citizens): You might face a lengthy wait depending on your relationship to your sponsoring relative and home country

Whatever your plans, remember that immigration rules are constantly changing — and seldom in ways that benefit new immigrants. If you can, file your visa or green card application right away to avoid nasty surprises.

Trouble coming down the line

It’s important not only to understand your current visa but also to recognize that the U.S. immigration system is in flux — and many of the planned changes spell bad news even for immigrants with advanced degrees and vitally needed skills. 

The new public charge rule, for instance, will make it harder to get a green card if you’ve used public benefits and allows the U.S. government to deny your application if they suspect you’ll fall on hard times in the future. For STEM grads with solid job offers, that might not seem like a major concern, but the new rule will apply even to those on temporary visas, including H-1Bs, who wish to extend or change their immigration status. At the least, it’s a sign of how much harder the immigration process is getting.

The Trump administration is also targeting students with a new “unlawful presence” rule that imposes tough punishments for minor violations of student visa terms. Fortunately, the rule is tied up in court, but if it goes through, it could lead to lengthy bans on future work visas if you overstay on your student visa, work in ways that aren’t authorized, or otherwise fail to play by the rules.

Such changes underscore the importance of doing your own due diligence and not simply relying on your college or employer to steer you right. Figuring out your immigration options can feel overwhelming — but as the many thousands of foreign-born STEM graduates who’ve successfully built careers in the United States can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.

Get your pressing immigration questions answered

Have a question about the complex and shifting immigration process? Boundless can help. Please send your immigration-related questions to our resident immigration expert, Anjana Prasad, at ask.anjana@boundless.com. We will consider your question for a future column on the Boundless blog.


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Why am I seeing this ad? AI, ML & human error in advertising – gpgmail


Ad platforms create equal opportunities for businesses but not equal outcomes.

They’re mostly marketed as self-service and easy to use, however, there are new features added regularly and open-ended ways to set, structure and target. Meaning, countless ways to spend—creating winners and losers in advertising.

This is where machines and digital advertisers are needed, to provide a profitable outcome.

Enter AI, ML and experts as freelancers, via agencies or housed in some of the world’s biggest companies, equipped with ample data, tech and educational resources to match people with companies via ads on search, social, and elsewhere on the web.

But, are the machines still in infancy or too heavily relied upon and do the experts always get it right?

Well, how often are you seeing ads that are irrelevant to what you wanted or where you were or who you are?

An irrelevant ad is an ad paid for by the company advertising but can return zero value as it’s of no use to the person receiving the ad.

As a digital advertiser via my company Adboy.com, I’m always curious as to why I was served an ad and if the company paying makes or loses money from it.

Something I’ve noticed is that in easily avoidable errors, ads can be served to existing customers, people with irrelevant needs and people that can’t be or are far less likely to become customers.

With this article, I’m going to give you the lenses of a fastidious digital advertiser. You’ll spot errors like these for yourself and know how they could occur, what the negative impact could be and how they can be avoided.

Advertising to existing customers


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Matt Cauble on changing consumption with Soylent and Kin – gpgmail


In the latest episode of Flux podcast I sit down with Matthew Cauble the co-founder of Kin Euphorics, a functional beverage company that aims to reduce stress and boost bliss. Matthew was previously the co-founder of YC-backed startup Soylent. He shares tales from the company’s early days and describes how they made one of the largest pivots in YC history, from building software-defined radios to meal-replacement shakes.

Matthew explains why Soylent resonated and we get into co-founder Rob Rhinehart’s latest interest in space settlement and the Mars industry event he hosted in the Mojave. Matthew shares why he became interested in wellness, how he’s applying lessons learned at Soylent to building the Kin product, and why he believes that strong companies often look like new social movements. We get into the beverage’s formula that includes nootropics and adaptogens, and what it means to challenge a ritual as ancient as alcohol.

An excerpt of our conversation is published below. Full transcript on Medium.

Soylent now also sells solid meal replacement bars

Rob Rhinehart

Rob Rhinehart, Matt Cauble, David Renteln, John Coogan

“Soylent Green” the 1973 thriller starring Charlton Heston

Rob Rhinehart’s 2013 blog post here

Coverage of the Betaspace event in April 2019 [LA Times]

Kin bottle — $39 per bottle. Kin spritz — $24 for a 4 pack.[Shop]

Alcohol volumes have been declining in the U.S. [Source: WSJ]

Other estimates put the nootropics market at $6 billion by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 17.9% from 2016 to 2024 [Source]

The discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs shows that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period, 10,000 years ago. Wine clearly appeared in Egyptian pictographs around 4,000 BC and wine samples from Greece date to the same period. [Source]

Kin Euphorics co-founder Jen Batchelor


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As college football attendance slumps, new ways to ticket may hold an answer – gpgmail


As college football’s second week draws to a close, one storyline has gotten an unusual amount of attention: the game’s slumping attendance numbers.

While opinions on cause of the 22-year-low in ticket sales vary, technology has been cited as a culprit by many pundits; including Northwestern’s head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who recently blamed the youth and their phones.

While there’s no question that highlight-filled phones create stiff competition for ticket sales, college football’s biggest attendance problem may be that it hasn’t adopted enough technology in its effort to fill seats.  At the start of the 2019 season, however, that appears to be changing, with the majority of top 25 teams moving away from their reliance on 3rd-party distribution via the secondary ticket market and inside season-ticket sales.

As a supplement, they’re introducing more products than ever using the kind of brand-centric, direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing that helped upstarts like Dollar Shave Club, Casper, and Warby Parker take share from some of the most entrenched brands on the planet.

While the ticket category is estimated to be around $20 billion across both the primary and secondary markets, if that number is going to grow over the next decade, direct team and artist brands will likely have to lead the charge by taking a page out of the DTC brands playbook. In addition to leveraging performance-based marketing channels like Facebook, Instagram and Google, schools will also need to move away from a one-size-fits-all message and focus on hyper-targeting consumer with new and more personalized products than ever before.

They’ll also need to make it cheaper.

In a recent poll by Front Office Sports, 58% of respondents cited ticket cost the top reason for not attending a college sporting event. According to TicketIQ, since 2012, the average price of top 25 college football tickets on the secondary market has increased by 24%.

Add to that the cost of parking, gas and food, and the cheapest option to see Saturday football live is a couple hundred dollars…most likely for a game that will be over in the first quarter. For a competitive rivalry, prices can easily be double or triple that. For the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn, the cheapest lower level seat will run $300, while USC’s semi-annual visit to Notre Dame starts at $254.

Image courtesy of Getty Images/Bernard Lang

One play to boost ticket sales is through group ticketing. It’s become a major driver of direct-to-fan marketing for college sports. According to Jake Bye, EVP at IMG Learfield–a leading outsourced ticket sales platform that works with over 40 colleges–group ticket scan rates can be as much as 20% higher than season or single-game tickets.

That may be one of the reasons that IMGL has entered into a national deal with ticket startup Fevo, which launched in 2016 and provides technology to help ticket sellers manage and customize group offers to any affinity group.  Using Fevo, IMGL has rolled out multiple new group products this season with themes including education day, tickets for veterans, youth sports, as well as cheer and dance–all cohorts that can be targeted directly.

Based on a report last year from the Wall Street Journal, ticket products that improve scan rates for purchased tickets may have arrived just in time.

According to the Journal, the difference in announced attendance and scanned tickets was as high as 50% for some major college football programs, and in the range of 10-15% for big-name schools like Alabama and Ohio State. That’s on top of the numbers reported by the NCAA and making headlines, which shows that FBS attendance is down 9% over the last 10 years.

In addition to innovating around products and price, teams looking to evolve their marketplace also must actually have tickets to sell. While that may sound like an obvious statement, it requires a break from the old-school definition of ticket-market success: Selling Out.

2018 was the year the sell-out died for some big name ticket brands like Taylor Swift and the Washington Redskins, and 2019 appears to be the year that college football is following suit. Of the top five teams in the 2019 TicketIQ top 25 only the University of Georgia is completely sold out, meaning that the secondary ticket market is the only place to get tickets.  Even blue chip programs like Notre Dame, Ohio State and the National Champs, Clemson, have unsold single-game tickets available directly through Ticketmaster or Paciolan, their primary ticketing platforms.

Even with single-game tickets to sell, new products in the market, and measurable, ROI-positive marketing channels to tap into, reversing the downward trend for college ticket sales isn’t a sure thing. It will take an entrepreneurial mindset and willingness to test a lot of new strategies, which can be an uphill battle, especially for bureaucratic-heavy state schools.

In a world that values experiences more than things, however, the platform that college sports has to work with is enviable.  Colleges likely have the deepest level of brand identification of any major sports category. Even the most ardent professional sports fans can’t claim to have ever actually been a Yankee or a Laker. For a large percentage of college ticket buyers, however, the opposite is true, and it’s the kind of brand loyalty that can’t be bought. For the 2019 season and beyond, the key to reversing the negative attendance trend will be figuring out how to sell it.


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APIs are the next big SaaS wave – gpgmail


While the software revolution started out slowly, over the past few years it’s exploded and the fastest-growing segment to-date has been the shift towards software as a service or SaaS.

SaaS has dramatically lowered the intrinsic total cost of ownership for adopting software, solved scaling challenges and taken away the burden of issues with local hardware. In short, it has allowed a business to focus primarily on just that — its business — while simultaneously reducing the burden of IT operations.

Today, SaaS adoption is increasingly ubiquitous. According to IDG’s 2018 Cloud Computing Survey, 73% of organizations have at least one application or a portion of their computing infrastructure already in the cloud. While this software explosion has created a whole range of downstream impacts, it has also caused software developers to become more and more valuable.

The increasing value of developers has meant that, like traditional SaaS buyers before them, they also better intuit the value of their time and increasingly prefer businesses that can help alleviate the hassles of procurement, integration, management, and operations. Developer needs to address those hassles are specialized.

They are looking to deeply integrate products into their own applications and to do so, they need access to an Application Programming Interface, or API. Best practices for API onboarding include technical documentation, examples, and sandbox environments to test.

APIs tend to also offer metered billing upfront. For these and other reasons, APIs are a distinct subset of SaaS.

For fast-moving developers building on a global-scale, APIs are no longer a stop-gap to the future—they’re a critical part of their strategy. Why would you dedicate precious resources to recreating something in-house that’s done better elsewhere when you can instead focus your efforts on creating a differentiated product?

Thanks to this mindset shift, APIs are on track to create another SaaS-sized impact across all industries and at a much faster pace. By exposing often complex services as simplified code, API-first products are far more extensible, easier for customers to integrate into, and have the ability to foster a greater community around potential use cases.

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Billion-dollar businesses building APIs

Whether you realize it or not, chances are that your favorite consumer and enterprise apps—Uber, Airbnb, PayPal, and countless more—have a number of third-party APIs and developer services running in the background. Just like most modern enterprises have invested in SaaS technologies for all the above reasons, many of today’s multi-billion dollar companies have built their businesses on the backs of these scalable developer services that let them abstract everything from SMS and email to payments, location-based data, search and more.

Simultaneously, the entrepreneurs behind these API-first companies like Twilio, Segment, Scale and many others are building sustainable, independent—and big—businesses.

Valued today at over $22 billion, Stripe is the biggest independent API-first company. Stripe took off because of its initial laser-focus on the developer experience setting up and taking payments. It was even initially known as /dev/payments!

Stripe spent extra time building the right, idiomatic SDKs for each language platform and beautiful documentation. But it wasn’t just those things, they rebuilt an entire business process around being API-first.

Companies using Stripe didn’t need to fill out a PDF and set up a separate merchant account before getting started. Once sign-up was complete, users could immediately test the API with a sandbox and integrate it directly into their application. Even pricing was different.

Stripe chose to simplify pricing dramatically by starting with a single, simple price for all cards and not breaking out cards by type even though the costs for AmEx cards versus Visa can differ. Stripe also did away with a monthly minimum fee that competitors had.

Many competitors used the monthly minimum to offset the high cost of support for new customers who weren’t necessarily processing payments yet. Stripe flipped that on its head. Developers integrate Stripe earlier than they integrated payments before, and while it costs Stripe a lot in setup and support costs, it pays off in brand and loyalty.

Checkr is another excellent example of an API-first company vastly simplifying a massive yet slow-moving industry. Very little had changed over the last few decades in how businesses ran background checks on their employees and contractors, involving manual paperwork and the help of 3rd party services that spent days verifying an individual.

Checkr’s API gives companies immediate access to a variety of disparate verification sources and allows these companies to plug Checkr into their existing on-boarding and HR workflows. It’s used today by more than 10,000 businesses including Uber, Instacart, Zenefits and more.

Like Checkr and Stripe, Plaid provides a similar value prop to applications in need of banking data and connections, abstracting away banking relationships and complexities brought upon by a lack of tech in a category dominated by hundred-year-old banks. Plaid has shown an incredible ramp these past three years, from closing a $12 million Series A in 2015 to reaching a valuation over $2.5 billion this year.

Today the company is fueling an entire generation of financial applications, all on the back of their well-built API.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.02 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Then and now

Accel’s first API investment was in Braintree, a mobile and web payment systems for e-commerce companies, in 2011. Braintree eventually sold to, and became an integral part of, PayPal as it spun out from eBay and grew to be worth more than $100 billion. Unsurprisingly, it was shortly thereafter that our team decided to it was time to go big on the category. By the end of 2014 we had led the Series As in Segment and Checkr and followed those investments with our first APX conference in 2015.

Plaid, Segment, Auth0, and Checkr had only raised Seed or Series A financings! And we are even more excited and bullish on the space. To convey just how much API-first businesses have grown in such a short period of time, we thought it would be useful perspective to share some metrics over the past five years, which we’ve broken out in the two visuals included above in this article.

While SaaS may have pioneered the idea that the best way to do business isn’t to actually build everything in-house, today we’re seeing APIs amplify this theme. At Accel, we firmly believe that APIs are the next big SaaS wave — having as much if not more impact as its predecessor thanks to developers at today’s fastest-growing startups and their preference for API-first products. We’ve actively continued to invest in the space (in companies like, Scale, mentioned above).

And much like how a robust ecosystem developed around SaaS, we believe that one will continue to develop around APIs. Given the amount of progress that has happened in just a few short years, Accel is hosting our second APX conference to once again bring together this remarkable community and continue to facilitate discussion and innovation.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.10 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel


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The new marketplaces connecting school and work – gpgmail


Evidence continues to roll in that American workers are out of position for the high-value jobs of today and tomorrow. Start with the fact that there are 7.3 million unfilled jobs, millions of which are high-skill positions in IT, professional services and healthcare. Then add that employment growth in IT is stagnant — a phenomenon that is entirely a supply-side problem.

What are America’s colleges and universities doing to solve the problem? Until recently, they’ve been a big part of the problem. Academic programs at colleges and universities are controlled by faculty members who typically aren’t incentivized to align curricula to employer needs. Few are interested in what employers are seeking, particularly for entry-level positions. Many have never worked in the private sector or have only outdated or tenuous connections to non-academic employers.

Most educators simply resist the idea that instruction should be aligned to employment opportunities. Colleges have always positioned themselves to help students gain the skills they need to get a good fifth job, not necessary a first job. Unfortunately, the labor market has changed: If you don’t get a good first job, you’re unlikely to get a good fifth job. And currently, around 45% of new college graduates are not getting good first jobs and find themselves underemployed.

In early August, EMSI, a provider of labor market analytics that is part of the Strada Education Network, released a study showing that our current system of post-secondary education is not providing linear paths to good first jobs, but rather a “crazy flow” or “swirl.” The report analyzed millions of graduates from six very different majors and found that graduates of all six are effectively going after the same jobs in sales, marketing, management, business and financial analysis.

Commenting on the study in Inside Higher Education, experts concluded that straightening the swirl might require integrating actual work into academic programs. “This really makes a strong case for work-based learning,” said Jane Oates, a former official in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration, now president of WorkingNation. “Colleges and universities need to provide students with practice in the context of the workplace,” agreed Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Creating clearer pathways to good first jobs by connecting school and work becomes even more critical considering that a recent survey found that 61% of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees at least on the surface ask for at least three years of experience, and that summer employment for students remains near an all-time low. With this backdrop, perhaps 45% underemployment for new graduates is as good as we can do.

New models are emerging to better connect school and work. New career services management platforms like Handshake offer much more functionality than legacy systems to connect students with employers recruiting on campus. Portfolium — a division of Instructure — allows students to create ePortfolios of their work and show their skills to employers.

Many colleges and universities have invested in experiential learning and work-study programs. Some schools do this better than others; Northeastern University offers the most comprehensive co-op program of any American institution. But few have been able to do it systematically, for the same reasons academic programs aren’t well-aligned to employer needs. That’s all changing with the rise of new marketplaces connecting students and faculty with real work from real employers.

If you don’t get a good first job, you’re unlikely to get a good fifth job.

One such marketplace is Parker Dewey. Named for progressive educator Francis Parker and philosopher John Dewey, Parker Dewey helps employers create “micro-internships”: real projects that employers need done but that can be outsourced to college students. In Parker Dewey’s micro-internship marketplace, the employer defines a project and sets a fixed fee for completing the work. Parker Dewey reaches students through career services postings and attracts applicants for the project. Then the employer selects one or more students to do the work. The marketplace makes it easy for employers to try out students who may have no work experience and therefore reduces “Hiring Friction,” i.e. the reduced propensity of employers to hire candidates who literally haven’t done the same job before, and the reason so many entry-level jobs seem to be asking for experience.

Another marketplace that’s gained even more traction is Riipen, a platform that got its start in Canada, connecting Canadian colleges and universities with employers, but now growing rapidly in the U.S. While Riipen works with employers in a manner similar to Parker Dewey, its approach to colleges and universities is very different. Rather than approaching career services, Riipen incorporates employer projects directly into college and university courses, thereby connecting employment and employability with the beating heart of colleges and universities: individual faculty.

Riipen’s three-sided marketplace of employers, educators and students appears to provide a more effective vehicle for gathering talent (and employers) on the platform; once faculty incorporate projects into their coursework — e.g. a professor of marketing adding a project reviewing and analyzing Google Ads data — the projects become mandatory and more students complete them. On Riipen, small and mid-size businesses tend to provide real-time projects, while larger companies have begun to re-use the same projects in a bid to test dozens or hundreds of students and recruit top performers. Over the past year, Riipen reports an order of magnitude increase in platform usage by employers, faculty and students.

New marketplaces like Riipen have the potential to be win-win-win-win. First, employers recruit better talent, and more reliably; content valid simulations are more than twice as accurate as any other talent screening mechanism or criteria. And it’s more cost-effective than attempting to recruit on campus. Second, universities augment career services and improve employability of graduates, which should allow them to attract more students. Third, for the first time, faculty can easily incorporate real work projects into their courses — projects that students will be energized to complete knowing there’s a real employer on the other end. And last but not least, students gain a way to stand out from the pack by exhibiting their abilities in a meaningful context, hopefully clearing a path to a good first job at the same employer, or if not, gaining valuable relevant work experience.

In a few years, as a result of marketplaces like Riipen, completing real work projects as part of an academic program should be commonplace. So there’s also a fifth winner from marketplaces that connect school and work: the overall economy. Millions of new college graduates will get relevant work experience, many more will find good first jobs and our workforce will be better positioned for the high-value jobs of today and tomorrow.


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How early-stage startups can use data effectively – gpgmail


“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” – Jim Barksdale

It is a commonly held belief that startups can measure their way to success. And while there are always exceptions, early-stage companies often can’t leverage data easily, at least not in the way that later stage companies can. It’s imperative that startups recognize this early on — it makes all the difference.

In this piece, I draw on my experiences using data to take Framer from seed round to Series B. More concretely, I’ll describe what to (not) focus on, and then, how to get real results.

There are good and bad ways for startups to use data. In my opinion, the bad way unfortunately is often preached on saas blogs, a/b test tool marketing pages, and especially growth hacker conferences: that by simply measuring and looking at data you’ll find simple things to do that will drive explosive growth. Silver bullets, if you will.

The good way is comparable to first principles thinking. Below the surface of your day to day results, your startup can be described by a set of numbers. It takes some work to discover these numbers, but once you have them you can use them to make predictions and spot underlying trends. If everyone in your company knows these numbers by heart, they will inevitably make better decisions.

But most importantly, using data the right way will help answer the single most important – but complex – question at any moment for a startup: how are we really doing?

Let’s start with looking at what not to do as a startup.

Table of Contents


Common pitfalls

Don’t measure too much

Technically, it’s easy to measure everything, so most startups start out that way. But when you measure everything, you learn nothing. Just the sheer noise makes it hard to discover anything useful and it can be demotivating to look at piles of numbers in general.

My advice is to carefully plan what you want to measure upfront, then implement and conclude. You should only expand your set of measurements once you’ve made the most important ones actionable. Later in this article, I provide a clear set of ways to plan what you measure.

A/B tests are anti-startup

To make decisions based on data you need volume. Without volume, the data itself is not statistically significant and is basically just noise. To detect a 3% difference with 95% confidence you would need a sample size of 12,000 visitors, signups, or sales. That sample size is generally too high for most early-stage startups and forces your product development into long cycles.

While on the subject of shipping fast and iterating later, let’s talk about A/B testing. To get reliable measurements, you should only be changing one variable at a time. During the early stages of Framer, we changed our homepage in the middle of a checkout A/B test, which skewed our results. But as a startup, it was the right decision to adjust the way we marketed our product. What you’ll find is that those two factors are often incompatible. In general, constant improvements should trump tests that block quick reactionary changes.

Understand your calculations


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