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The Worst Part of the Global Startup Battle at Startup Weekend

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I recently participated at Startup Weekend DC which was part of the Global Startup Battle where we built Stream Motion, it turns a #hashtag into a photo stream designed specifically for events. (Try entering #SWDC to see what Startup Weekend DC was like)

I've participated in a lot of Startup Weekends, once as an organizer and countless other times as an attendee. I love it. I always have a great time, meet awesome people and get a chance to work on something interesting.

This one had one element I really disliked: The Global Startup Battle Hashtag Battle

Look at this screenshot:

The #1 ranked team has 22,000 tweets per hour. Let's consider how much that is.

22256 / 60 = 371 tweets per minute.

If every tweet took 1 second to post that's 6.18 human hours wasted per hour tweeting.

But looking at these numbers, we all know they are fake. There is no way any event was legitimately generating that volume of tweets.

How do I know? Because I've written different bots and tools for Twitter for years including my Master's Thesis. I turned on a few during the DC event for fun because I had them setup already. Most of the 24,000 tweets in DC were caused by me playing with my bots (probably 20,000 or so were me).

Every city in the top 6 definitely cheated (and probably ones below as well).

So what's the point?

I had fun toying with my Twitter bots, but I've attended a lot of events and the experience isn't new to me. I think it does detract from the whole experience overall though.

There is/was zero benefit for participants to take part in the Hashtag Battle.

It was a giant distraction that obviously captured the attention of a few people, judging by the volume of cheating. And since it's just a cheat-off, what benefit does it really have for anyone?

I think Startup Weekend should be about the event itself, the 'global' battle component can happen with actual startups competing instead of #wastingtime.

TL;DR: Global Hashtag Battle is a stupid waste of time and it should never be done again

Analyzing the EIG (HostGator, BlueHost, HostMonster, JustHost) Outage

I just published an article looking at the impact of the major outage that occurred yesterday (August 2, 2013) when EIG's Provo, UT datacenter failed. I also predict what to expect based on previous major outages.

There was definitely a major spike in data produced and I got down to analyzing it.

Full Story: http://reviewsignal.com/blog/2013/08/03/service-interrupted-a-look-at-th...

Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies

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I just wanted to share the newest blog post, titled Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies, on the Review Signal blog

Reverse Engineering Startup Press: How and Why TechCrunch Covered My Launch

After my startup's launch was covered by TechCrunch I was asked by a lot of people how it happened. People wanted copies of my pitch to learn from. It was as if I had discovered some arcane secret. But I didn't believe that. All I had done was read a couple blog posts from other startups with copies of their pitches (Thanks Jason L. Baptiste, Vinicius Vacanti, Leo Widrich) and one journalist who shared his thoughts (Thanks Sean Blanda). So instead of saying here is the magical way to get press, I wanted to find out what journalists really thought of my pitch and how it could be done better. They receive hundreds of emails from people trying to get their attention and I wanted their advice and expertise. I also wanted to know why the author who covered me on TechCrunch chose to write about me. How did I win the press lottery? In this post, I will share their thoughts and opinions.

Let's begin with the actual pitch:

Subject: Exclusive Story Opportunity: Could Twitter replace review websites?
Hey Eldon,
We talked briefly at TC DC meetup and I showed you a quick demo of my startup: Review Signal.

We're planning to launch on September 25 and you're the first journalist I've reached out to and I'd be happy to give you guys the exclusive on our launch.

What is Review Signal?
Our goal is use the conversations on social media to build a review site and bring a new level of transparency to the (sometimes? often?) shady review industry. We've started with the web hosting industry (probably the shadiest of them all) and plan to expand after launching (we're in data collection mode for a few more niches like domain registrars). At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews.

We also have a 45 second video explaining how our system works:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPpwbZWLwJQ

You're welcome to login to our private beta (username: xxx, password: xxx at ).

If you're interested please let me know and I'd be happy to follow up with any information or questions over email or phone.

What happened after I sent this email? I got a response from Klint Finley, who Eric Eldon had forwarded my email to.

Eric forwarded this to me -- I'd love to get the scoop on this. Are you available Friday?

I will skip sharing mundane details because everything of importance was handled over the phone after the first response. I told him about what I was doing and answered some of his questions. And the article came out the day we launched.

What did the journalists think?

The opinion I was most curious to read was Klint's. He is the one who wrote about Review Signal. I was thrilled when he said he would be willing to participate in this article. Please note this is his opinion and his alone. They do not represent the opinion of TechCrunch or any other publication.

Klint Finley

For a startup launch I think pitching to the press is really not all that hard: blogs like TechCrunch and The Next Web are always looking to cover new startups. The important thing is to have something worth writing about. Offering an exclusive always help grab our eye, but it's not always necessary.

The pitches I've seen fail are 'yet another...' for spaces that have long since ceased to be exciting and don't have anything else to sex them up (well known founders, a sizeable investment, a really interesting new spin on the idea...)

If the pitch sounds too much like "It's like Foursquare, but better and built by someone you've never heard of," I don't think that many people are going to pay attention at this point. If you don't have a name or a big investment you've really got to get that differentiation in there early.

I like the "it's like X for Y" type of pitch format, but not everyone does. But telling me "We're an HTML5 mobile app framework with some really advanced features" won't tell me much. Telling me "We're like PhoneGap for building Foursquare-style apps" is going to be a bit more attention grabbing.

The subject line of an e-mail is really important. To be honest, I didn't think your subject line was very good. I probably would have missed that e-mail entirely if Eric hadn't flagged it for me to check out. But once I opened the e-mail and saw that it was about using Twitter sentiment analysis to rank web hosts, I was really interested since web hosting, sentiment analysis and data mining are interests/beats of mine.

Which brings me to the importance of finding the right person for a pitch. This can be hard. Since you think of your company mostly as a b2c company and I write mostly about b2b and dev tech, it might not have been obvious to pitch directly to me. Again, luckily Eric saw it and thought, correctly, that it might be something I'd be interested in.

Some of the pitches I've gotten recently that I wrote about came directly to me and mentioned articles I'd written before. Sometimes I see this stuff and it's totally left-field and vague, like "I see that you once wrote something about 'cloud,' I too am in the cloud business." But sometimes I'll luck out and someone will e-mail me something along the lines of "you once wrote that it would be interesting to see a company doing X... well, that's what we're doing!"

So, in summary: do something awesome, make sure you explain your differentiation, put that in the subject line of your e-mail, and send it to the right person. Easier said than done.

Klint also pointed out that “this would be just one journalist's preference.” So I also decided to get a few more opinions and approached other journalists I've talked to in the past.

Ville Vesterinen and Miikke Kukkosuo, Arctic Startup

Ville:
Was not too bad at all. Nice job! My critic:

1) It's a bit too long. Journos might just skip if it's too many lines to read.

2) I'd answer your headline by 'How:'

Miikka:
I have pretty similar thoughts as Ville.

Headline could be slightly sharper. 'How' is good. Or maybe even something edgier if you can think of something else.

I got a bit lost in the explanation, wasn't too easy to follow it. Depends a lot on the reader I guess how it's received - very big sites like TC might get so many mails that they move on quickly, a bit smaller ones probably would try to make sense of the message even if it takes a bit more time.

I think it would be enough to state the problem&market you're tackling, and why you will rock. Make it easy to read and understand, go straight to the point.
For example:
The review industry is shady. We will change that using social media conversations to bring a new level of transparency. At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews. Then we'll expand to more niches.

Carl Pierre, InTheCapital

I would take out the Could Twitter replace review websites part and just write exclusive story opportunity, maybe include your name in the subject line too so they remember who you are.

Um...the first part is cool, I would probably avoid mentioning the demo part, just say "we talked briefly at TC DC meetup and you gave me some good points on my new startup, Review Signal."

Then you should probably just say that you talked about providing an exclusive for your launch, and wanted to share the information with them before you go live.

Probably avoid the part that says, What is Review Signal, I would probably skip to something like...

Here is a quick refresher as to what we do:

- bullet point
- bullet point

Trust me, nobody likes slogging through paragraphs for info, especially as a journalist who gets bombarded with pitches constantly. Keep it succinct, short, and with key information in bullet points.

Again, this won't guarantee that you'll get a story, but it should hopefully significantly improve your chances.

From talking to the journalists, the basic recommendation seems to be:

  • Do something interesting
  • Explain why you're different
  • The subject line is your one chance to communicate why someone should care
  • Target the right journalist
  • Explain your idea clearly
  • Keep it short

I have to thank all these journalists for taking the time and participating. I had a great time talking to them and getting feedback about the pitch. I learned a great deal and hopefully this helps others too.

If you have any other tips please feel free to share them in the comments.

Facebook's New Monetization Strategy - Best News for Domain Owners in Years?

Guest Post I wrote for DomainNameNews

I was reading Mark Cuban's thoughts about Facebook trying to get him to pay to reach his fans. It's an interesting opinion and one I can empathize with. The crux of it is this picture:

Brands have spent millions of dollars getting people to 'Like' their brands. Now, Facebook is asking them to pay more to reach the audience they already paid to build. It feels fundamentally unfair because Facebook has changed the rules of the game half way through.

Of course, there is another perspective to consider: the users. They probably don't want every brand spamming them. There is some ambiguity to the word 'Like'. Some would argue it's not a laissez faire situation where brands are free to advertise to every user as much as they want. Facebook's EdgeRank is supposed to improve the user's experience by curating what users see in their feed (and it just so happens that more money greases the EdgeRank wheels).

That's a quick synopsis of the article. Let's get back on topic.

Why is this important to domainers?

Mark Cuban is advocating for brands to maintain more control over the way they communicate with their audience. He's promoting Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and MySpace (no joke!). It's not mentioned in the article, but there is still only one place that the brand still maintains full control: their domain name(s).

I've argued in the past that domains are becoming less necessary as brands opt to use social networks for their primary web presence. Facebook has about one sixth of the world's population as users. It's easier to manage, easier to share content and easier to reach your audience (assuming you have money to spend).

This is a real kick back from brands. Maybe it's just one guy. Maybe not. But it should be a good reminder that when you buy into these social networks, you're potentially making a deal with the devil. They control the rules and you are beholden to them and the changes they decide to make in the future. Your relationship with your fans is moderated by someone else.

In the developer community we worry a lot about building our software on top of someone else's platform. We've seen Twitter take out competitors it didn't like and restricting their API to control what developers can do. Perhaps it's reckoning time for brands. Maybe they will experience the risk they've put themselves at by investing into social media on platforms they don't control and that don't have an established business model.

Let me be clear: I don't think this will stop brands from using social media. However, it may be the first of many tiny cuts in Facebook's business model which moderates how it will deal with brands. Some brands may decide to try to control their fans' experience more and invest in their own domains. At the margin, there may be some increased demand for domain names. Which is good news for domainers and the first good news I've seen in a while for the industry. I think the longer term outlook is still fairly grim for most of the industry, but end user demand is the only bright spot in my mind.

How to get a logo for $30

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Logos are a trap. Let me explain that statement: they are a place many startups get stuck. A logo is what identifies you. It's the symbol that takes up space in a customer's mind when they think about your company. There is no symbol that is more connected to your company than a logo. This traps entrepreneurs because it drives many of us to want the perfect logo.

This is how I got Review Signal's logo created in 3 days from start to finish for $30.

review signal - web hosting reviews

Step 1. Write down what you're looking for in a logo

The formula I generally follow is:

  • What is the name of your company?
  • What style of logo do you want? (text/icon/character/etc)
  • What does the company do?
  • What sort of associations does the name have?
  • What am I trying to communicate with the logo?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What color(s) do I want?
  • Is this for web and/or print?
  • What are some examples of logos you like?

Optional:

  • Links to current designs/mockups.
  • Any other information that might be relevant about your business or in regards to the designer (eg. if you liked a particular they designed before)

Step 2. Go to Fiverr's Logo Design category

Step 3. Find some designers with logos you like and hire them

Make sure you pass along the information you wrote in step 1. Make sure to follow any special instructions they might have. Also double check the deliverables to make sure you get a source file, generally .psd/.ai, in addition to .jpg/.png/.gif.

One concern that comes up is does this count as work for hire and who owns the rights? Fiverr says this:

Buyers are granted all rights for the delivered work, unless otherwise specified by the seller in the gig description. Fiverr retains the right to use all published delivered works for Fiverr marketing and promotion purposes.

So just make sure the designer hasn't revoked your ownership and rights.

I ended up hiring 6 that I liked ($5 x 6 designers = $30).

Step 4. Get revisions

Most of them include some number of revisions, often that number is 1. They also may deliver a few variations/options for you to choose from. This step can be hard because you will get results asynchronously. Your instinct will be to see all of them before asking for revisions. However, Fiverr only gives you 48 hours to accept or decline work after it's been delivered. Ask for the revisions you want on the logo you like most or think could be the best after revision.

If you can get feedback from users/friend/anyone in between these revisions, do it.

I received 11 logos from the 6 designers.

Step 5. Get feedback

I ended up with 11 options. I ran a survey about which logo people liked the most. The one my respondents chose also happened to be the one I liked most, so I was set. If they don't agree with your personal opinion then you have a tougher choice.

Step 6. Get back to building your startup

Exhibit A: Logos Received

Winner First (Pre-Revision and Post)











Review Signal Launch: Stats, Failures, Successes and Lessons Learned

It's been two weeks since Review Signal launched. The initial excitement of reaching it's first major milestone is over and I finally have a moment to think about how it went.

The Stats:

3,041 Visits
10,163 Pageviews
3.34 Pages per Visit
Average Visit Duration: 2m 16s
Bounce Rate: 5.52%
Visitors from TechCrunch: 727

Failures and Short Comings:

Social Sites - Reddit, HackerNews
It got very little traction in these communities which was disappointing because I thought these were the audiences most likely to appreciate Review Signal. Reddit was a gamble that it would be picked up, it's a huge community and it's hard to balance legitimacy and self-promotion. HackerNews I thought would be more appreciative of the problem I was trying to solve. I got a couple hundred hits and a few comments (15, many of which were my own replies). The commenters brought up some good issues, for example, the hosting recommendation doesn't work well for the HackerNews crowd. There are so many options for hosting that making a good recommendation for advanced users is incredibly hard to do with a simple form.

Contact an Expert Broke
It worked when I tested it, but somewhere between testing it and launch day it stopped working. Not sure how that happened, but it did. Some people will never hear back from me because it didn't save and send their requests for help properly. I am truly sorry about that.

Preparations
I didn't prepare enough for launch day. I had been working towards this day for months and prepared an exhaustive list of things I wanted to accomplish on day 1. I completed maybe 15% of that list. I hit the major ones, but I missed a lot of low hanging fruit which could have helped make a bigger impact. The more human side of it was I got overwhelmed and I vastly underestimated how much I could do on the fly.

Utilizing Other People
I built Review Signal alone, but on launch day I had two friends take the day off and volunteer to help me do things. I say things because I don't think I effectively used their skills. Let me be clear, Zack and Danny are both fantastic people and what happened says nothing about their talents and abilities. I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing friends. I wasn't prepared enough to work with other people on launch day. I had a few vague ideas about what they could do to help but very few concrete things for them to actually do. I definitely didn't have instructions or information to make it easy for them. More planning and better communication would have made a big difference.

What went well:

TechCrunch covered the launch.
That was really exciting and sent a lot of very high quality traffic. The bounce rate was under 2% and people were staying for over 2 minutes. I thought the article did a fantastic job explaining what Review Signal was and the challenges it faces. Some might say it's a vanity metric, the number of people who reached out to me because of the article was incredible. It opened a lot of doors that I am sure would still be closed if I hadn't gotten covered in TC.

Secondary Press

The TechCrunch article also got me covered in The Web Hosting Industry Review (TheWHIR). One of the largest, if not the largest, web hosting magazine. I also had a couple other articles written by smaller startup blogs.

Nginx + Blitz.io

Once I knew I was getting TechCrunch coverage I got worried about how much traffic my server could handle. I setup Nginx as a reverse proxy and cache and it performed like a champ. I had people complimenting how fast the site loaded. As far as I can tell the server never blinked. It peaked at 60 active users according to Google Analytics. I tested my site constantly with Blitz.io which allowed me to test up to 300 concurrent users for free. The site was struggling under Apache with that load, but once I got Nginx in front of Apache, all my concerns faded away. I couldn't generate enough concurrent users to see where Nginx would actually start to slow down.

Lessons Learned and how I would do it next time

Preparations
The most time consuming thing on launch day was crafting messages. Coming up with post titles, writing emails, IM'ing friends, and all sorts of other messages. Almost all of that could have been done before hand. I could have drafted emails, I could have written a few templates for IMs and message boards. I had the stories I wanted to use crafted but they weren't ready to simply copy+paste into messages. Each message also required some degree of personalization because nobody likes spam emails. Next time, I will have everything 1 click away from sending for launch day.

Test Everything. Again. And Again.

I should have done more thorough testing. I especially needed to make sure that the contact points with customers functioned properly. I got a lot of emails reaching out to me on launch day, but I missed quite a few hosting recommendations. The hosting recommendations probably had the highest potential value of any visitor to my site, and I lost all of them. Fail.

Paid Press Releases

I used PRWeb and their analytics tell me I got 15508 impressions and 221 reads. I have no idea what or where those impression numbers come from or how they are calculated. PRWeb sent 83 visitors which had the lowest stats of any referrer in terms of bounce rate, pages/visit and visit duration. But, that got syndicated across a bunch of websites like Yahoo. If the goal is strictly to get press, it was a waste of money. From an SEO standpoint, I don't know and it's incredibly hard to measure the value of the release.

If you have any ideas, questions or feedback I would be happy to hear it. You might also enjoy my previous project's launch story: Gift Lizard Launch: Stats, Failures, Successes and Lessons Learned.

Imagining a Better Review Site

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Originally posted on the Review Signal Blog

I was a pretty unsatisfied consumer. There are so many review sites and so few that I actually trust. Other than my few trusted review sites which covered very specific topics, I was lost and confused about who to trust for information. Asking friends only went so far and people often give conflicting opinions. I searched what a lot of people were saying but there was no easy way to find any sort of consensus. There were always questions, and I often felt like I didn't have enough information to make a good decision.

It was a year and a half ago, I had just finished my Master's thesis about using Twitter data to predict box office sales for movies based on word of mouth. Then, it occurred to me, we don't write reviews, we talk with friends. Reviews are embedded into our every day conversations, and every single person on earth does it. We talk about what we like and dislike but it doesn't happen to be written in 'review' format. What if I could collect that data and make sense of it all?

I am proud to introduce Review Signal: a new kind of review site based on what people really think.

Our goals are simple:

  • Be transparent about where each opinion comes from and source it to the original location

  • Define very clearly how things are rated in an easy to understand way

Review Signal has been launched covering our first market: web hosting reviews. We've gathered a list of some of the most popular web hosting companies and collected over 50,000 opinions expressed about them. We've analyzed them and even broken down some important and hard-to-measure values such as how satisfied people are with the support offered by a company.

Visit Web Hosting Reviews at Review Signal

Web hosting is just the start. We would love to review everything, but we're also realistic about what we can do and how fast we can do it.  We will expand to other niches as fast as we can while still maintaining our strict quality standards.  If there is some market you're unhappy with and think we can make a difference, we would love to hear from you!  We also look forward to any and all feedback, suggestions, ideas and criticisms.  Contact us.

Thank You

Posted in

I launched my startup today, Review Signal (You can read about it here if you're curious). I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past 19 months of my life that it took to get to this point.

Although Review Signal is a one man operation, I didn't do it alone and couldn't have done it alone. There has been a huge cast of people who have helped me along the way.

Mom, it wouldn't be right to start the list off with anyone but you. Thank you. You've always been my biggest supporter and wouldn't have made it here with you and your support.

Dad and Cheryl, you guys have supported me too and helped me with a lot of issues over the past two years. It still impresses me that with no programming experience your logic can help me design and improve my systems.

JR, my designer extraordinaire. Your ability to capture an idea, refine it and design it is inspiring.

Mike St. John, you've mentored me and continue to do so. You're always there when something goes wrong and don't hesitate to step in and help in an emergency. I can't thank you enough for your help.

The Nerd Herd at Affinity Lab: Sam, Raphael, Sean, Mike, Dan, Andy, Chris (and ex-herder Lin), thank you for the constant help and feedback day in and day out.

Kira, thank you for your invaluable help with PR.

The rest of my Affinity Lab family, thank you. You guys keep me going.

Nico Garcia, you designed our first logo, for a brand name that ultimately didn't pan out (Mention). I really loved it too.

Monique Priestley and Jordan Gibbens, the ball would not have started rolling without you. Thank you for your help at the very beginning.
Daniel Kleinman, my partner is silly projects and learning new technologies. Thanks for you constant help and feedback.

Last but not least, Zack, my oldest and best friend. Who took a day off from work to help me launch. You've always been there for me no matter what.

And if I've forgotten anyone I am truly sorry, there have been so many wonderful people who have helped me out along the way. Thank you.

144 of the Largest Companies Using Godaddy

I took the top 1500 sites from Alexa.com and checked their registrar. Some companies have already said they were moving (Hi StackOverflow!). Huge thanks goes to Mike St John for his help in querying the registry.

Here are the 144 companies using Godaddy as a Registrar :

woothemes.com
proboards.com
stackoverflow.com
alot.com
wowhead.com
xkcd.com
seriesyonkis.com
exoclick.com
flipkart.com
goodreads.com
twitpic.com
babylon.com
bytes.com
opera.com
foursquare.com
r7.com
thechive.com
realclearpolitics.com
yousendit.com
dreamstime.com
justdial.com
ilivid.com
github.com
multiply.com
imesh.com
optmd.com
wimp.com
youm7.com
urbandictionary.com
amung.us
informer.com
pingomatic.com
networkedblogs.com
histats.com
chicagotribune.com
grooveshark.com
infusionsoft.com
buzzfeed.com
trulia.com
yoo7.com
hawaaworld.com
bearshare.com
slutload.com
piriform.com
incredimail.com
noticias24.com
ioffer.com
buysellads.com

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