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.

I tried Google Reader for a few days, to replace my trusty Bloglines. It’s very good, got lots of easy-to-find functions I’d like to use.

But one thing made me go back to Bloglines: Google reader leaves “unread” any items you haven’t hovered over, which results in lots of unread items in feeds that don’t actually have new items (coz I’ve read the latest one).

Bloglines makes everything unread once you read the latest item, which makes it so that I can ‘clean out’ (make ‘unread’) my feeds by checking the latest items. Much better, and enough reason to stick with them after a few days of Google Reader.

Also, the Google Reader UI is a bit too cluttered and geeky.

Doc Searls points to Dave Winer thinking about the podcast device. Features that matter to Dave:

1. Self-contained, untethered synchronization, much the same way a Blackberry gets email.
2. Read-write, two-way, should be able to record and connect with a publishing system for automatic upload and feed production.
3. Must be a platform, that is, people other than the manufacturer can add apps.

About the third one, to be a platform, I wonder if being able to read RSS and OPML and let users access that would be sufficient? In other words, the device can access OPML directories and RSS feeds, and that way anyone can make directories and content available.

Or do you need to be able to program it? I’m not sure how much extra hardware/complexity/price that would involve (would it have to be a webserver itself?).

You would think there would be a website where you could browse webdesigners’ work and find a freelance webdesigner? People always ask me if I know a good designer, coz they can’t find any. But I haven’t found that website yet.

Peter Forret emailed me with an idea: Yahoo Pipes + a query language = SWQL (structured query language for rss).

I think it’s great, this could be implemented as a library for which we could then develop a PHP wrapper. The PHP would look something like:

$swql_connect(“”, “username”, “password”); // where the yahoo pipes API serves as the database engine.
$res = swql_query(“SELECT title, description, enclosure FROM rss: as rss_feed WHERE len(rss_feed.enclosure) > 0 ORDER BY rss_feed.title”);


I’m old. I mostly understand Myspace, but that’s because I asked friends who are still young to explain it to me, and I still think I only get it 80 or 90%. My site doesn’t have a picture of me. Hey, if I was young, I’d have a Myspace page, not a site. I’ve always felt kids should have blogs, when they seem to prefer to do IM and hang out on the social networks.

This NYT article explains why I’m old. It compares the new generation, with their lack of privacy concerns, and the *old* generation’s reaction to them to what happened with rock&roll int he 50s.

I’m quite happy actually, a good old fashioned culture shock between young and old! The world has been way too boring for the last 40 years.

Ev is selling Odeo. Which makes sense – for similar reasons I sold Mefeedia last month: not a bad website, but it needs attention I’d rather spend somewhere else myself. I’m very happy with how selling Mefeedia turned out: the new owner is improving it and running it with the same vision that we always had when we started it. Which is kind of a good feeling.

Here’s a thought: why hasn’t anyone made a better UI for mailing lists yet? No money in it? I could totally see how it should look and work, and it shouldn’t be crazy hard to implement.

Some more thoughts on the web as a big DB.

  • Yahoo pipes is just the first visual db editor.
  • It’ll be built on RSS, with some additional namespaces taking off (like MediaRSS, the iTunes extensions, …). If you provide data you want to open up, open it up in RSS and add metadata with your own namespace if needed.

I love the “Everything Else” category, so I love the idea of “Everything is Miscelaneous”, which now has a blog, which is in “beta”.

From a mailing list today: “Also, we haven’t covered topics such as graphics design, interactive design, creative production…which might be of more interest to female members.”

My mom’s chocolate mousse recipe:

200 gram PURE chocolade
50 gram butter
2 egg yellow
5 egg whites
75 gram cream
50 gram sugar

melt the chocolate and butter on a low fire.

Whip the cream.

Whip the yellows + 25gr sugar.

Whip the whites+ 25g sugar.

Take warm (but not too warm) chocolate, mix in yellows first, then cream, then carefully the whites.

Put in little cups 2 hours in the fridge.

A smart post by Jorge on his new culture blog: “One method I’m exploring for studying other cultures more objectively
is to focus on a single “alienâ€? element that the other cultures (and my
own) share in common, and then try to understand the ways in which they
engage with this element. I call this alien element a “bogieâ€?.

A video podcatcher in Nokia phones: “The Nokia Video Center comes pre-installed on new Nokia Series 60 devices such as the newly announced N95 and N93i but also available as a separate download for compatible devices. You can load videos onto the phone through your home computer or receive updates over-the-air at HSDPA speeds or using open WiFi while you’re on the go.”

This is a big step. Supports H.264 and MediaRSS. Wow.