Customer acquisition

Customer acquisition is often a kind of forgotten part of building websites. Relying on just “viral” growth isn’t all that’s it made out to be. It’s usually hard work.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with some people that are very experienced in this area, and I’ve learnt quite a few things.

One, it’s easy enough to get 10,000 or even 100,000 users for your website. It’s much harder to get 1,000,000 or 10,000,000, and active users mean a lot more than just people who signed up and never came back.

Two, it’s hard to get paying users. The same numbers apply, but divided by about 100. So it’s realtively easy to get 100 paying users or even 1000. It’s a whole different ballgame to get 10,000 or 100,000 paying users. That’s very hard work, and it will cost you probably around 5 to 20$/user.

These numbers of course don’t mean a lot, but they give an idea. If you’re planning for a million paying users for your startup, you better realize it’s gonna take at least a year or two of hard work to get to that point even *if* you’re successful, and cost you millions, perhaps 10s of millions in customer acquisition cost (advertising, rewards, the whole customer acquisition engine).

If you’re going for a few 1000 paying users, that’s something that’s much easier to achieve. Just build a kick-ass useful product. If you can be way profitable with 10,000 paying users, you’re good.

I kind of hestitated to put numbers in this post, because things vary so much, but perhaps this can help some unexperienced entrepreneurs so here we are. Grain o’ salt please!

Would it be fair to say that when coorporate blogging fails, it does so most often because of the cultural problems? The coorporate culture doesn’t allow for the free flow of ideas, hence the “blogging” effort becomes nothing more than a news channel, and the whole point is lost.

When it does work, it’s because it supports an existing culture of openness. True? (ps: I know the comments are broken..)

Sitemaps at the bottom of the page: the evolution of a design pattern.

I’m sure this would have happened anyway, but back in 2000, I did some usability experiments with having a sitemap on every page of the website. Peter Merholz wrote about it (I didn’t have my blog yet back then). I actually measured clickthroughs on that sitemap, and it turned out to be very popular.

Years later, that idea started to get picked up by more and more sites, and these days it seems like everyone is doing it (because it makes sense). So in a sense I could be the father of the sitemap at the bottom of every page pattern. Then again, it’s one of those things that would have happened anyway.

Like the navigation in the main column pattern that Amazon is using these days. They used to have left hand navs, but over time, slowly, undoubtedly with lots of testing, they moved to having almost no left or right-hand navigation on their product pages, they’re just one long page. The navigation is in the main column. I expect that pattern to take off more and more as well, since users quite effectively blind out the classic left hand nav.

Oh, in Peter’s post, in the comments, a beauty: “Putting a site map on every page really riles me, actually. It’s just laziness on the IA’s part. Come up with a navigation that makes sense, and there won’t be a need for it.” – Hahaha.

Check this for a laugh and some insights:

“The kids in Iran are pissed off at the way the old Mullahs won’t let ’em rock and roll, but the idea that they’ll support an American invasion because they’re bored is totally insane. It’s like imagining that the kids in Footloose would’ve backed a Soviet invasion of Nebraska because John Lithgow wouldn’t let them hold school dances.”


“If we attack Iran, that’ll make three Muslim countries invaded in three years. We may as well dress our soldiers in white tunics with red crosses on them, like they did in the Middle Ages.”

The newly relaunched Ning is very much like Typepad for running your own social network. A basic account is free, your own ads or domain name cost money.

Hatred of America unites the world: “The best explanation is in fact the simplest. Being hated is what happens to dominant empires.”

Oh, wouldn’t that be a nice, soothing explanation Americans can live with? It’s wrong though, America is hated for it’s arrogance and imperialism.

Until just 10 years ago, America was still widely loved in about half of the world. Then Bush happened. I saw it in my family and friends in Europe: old people who lived through the war and were immensely thankful to the US for their role in that all their lives, suddenly started to actively, from the gut, hate the US when the Bush policies became clear. I never heard my old aunties express that much hatred for anyone in my life as for Bush and “America” which is represented by Bush and his policies.

It’s not because of its power that the USA is hated throughout the world, it’s because of how it chooses to use that power.

That’s not an easy thing to live with, or even to understand perhaps, if you’re American, but that’s what I see is going on. Americans generally are unaware and don’t seem to care what their country does to other countries.