Oh What a Difference a Meme Makes: A reddit Success Story (Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the downvote)

I started this blog for two reasons: to have fun documenting my journey through the craziness of startup-land, and also as a way to connect with other like-minded individuals. I’ve been doing it for about a month now and it has already enabled me to interact with some awesome people. It’s even resulted in some relationships that have tangible value for my career. Of course, if nobody read it it wouldn’t really make a difference. To that end, one of the first places I wanted to get the word out on was reddit. If you are unfamiliar, you should get familiar. You will find that if you dig past all the inside jokes and cat memes, it’s a great place to connect with like-minded individuals about every imaginable topic.

What makes reddit great is that it is the best example of a pure meritocracy of content. As Luke Kingma describes it, “The quality and relevance of content is more important than the individual who posted it.” All content is user-submitted, and users can either up-vote it or down-vote it. The ability to down-vote is key. Unlike on Facebook, where the only possible way to voice your opinion on a post is to choose to “like” or remain indifferent by choosing not to, reddit more accurately reflects how things work in the real world. Your content lives or dies based solely on the value it provides to those who see it.

When it comes to using it as a “marketing” tool, the good news is that reddit is extraordinarily popular, to the tune of over 100 million uniques per month. Reddit is a huge influencer all across the internet. Many times content that ends up on other online platforms originates on reddit. The bad news is that, due to its popularity and the no-bullshit nature of the site, it is extraordinarily hard to break through. But if you can, there’s no better place to get your message out.

So when I decided to promote this blog on reddit, I knew that a general “Hey guys, come check out my blog! Pretty please!” post would come across as a disingenuous plea for attention. Sure, there are relevant subreddits such as r/entrepreneur and r/startups, but these “only” have 50 to 100 thousand subscribers each. Not insignificant, but only a small slice of the reddit audience. I wanted more. So I made the only sensible decision: I made a meme.

For those who don’t know, memes live on r/adviceanimals, which is one of the most popular subreddits, boasting over 3.5 million subscribers. I wanted to post something that fit into the topic of my blogging struggles, but at the same time providing comedic value for the people who saw it. I then remembered a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting, where Matt Damon mentions that he read Robin Williams’ book and he replies with a great self-effacing one-liner. Using this as my inspiration, I posted this, with the headline “Whenever someone tells me that they read my blog”. The post made it all the way to the front page of the site, and generated over half a million views. It wasn’t long before people started asking me to post the link to my blog in the comments, which I did. I quickly noticed a bump in traffic. Thanks to the detailed stats available on WordPress, I was able to see just how much of a difference this random meme made:

The increase in traffic resulted in a handful of emails from other entrepreneurs- I heard from people on a similar level as me telling me about how it helped to have another perspective, as well as more experienced people who were kind enough to offer their advice about some of the challenges I brought up in previous posts. Not every response was, um, constructive, but I like to think that in this modern digital age, you’re no one until you get trolled.

follow me on twitter @whatsaflashbang

How not to be a douche on Twitter

A while back at my day job (front desk at a hotel), I discovered a phrase that always gets a smile out of regular guests during check in:

“I know you know your way around by now, but is there anything else we can do for you?”

It’s a small thing, but I realized that even something as trivial as saving someone 30 seconds by not giving them the same information that they have heard a hundred times goes a long way. This is because by doing so they understand that I see things from their perspective. And me doing this stands out among all the repetitive service industry spiels that they hear constantly during every business trip they take- from flight attendants, rental car agents, or at the front desk when they check in to their hotel.

This is a lesson that can be directly applied to cold-tweeting. Unlike other forms of social media, Twitter is a platform entirely free of any barriers to reaching out to someone. This is both good and bad. Good in that everyone is accessible, and bad in that people are less trusting when you first contact them.

It might sound strange, but the best way to get in touch with people you find on Twitter may be to not tweet at them at all. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are some great resources out there to help you find people on Twitter. Then it just becomes a question of how to craft those 140 characters in a way that is engaging and genuine. When I gathered my list of potential developers, the first thing I did was look for a link to one of their other social profiles in order to find an email somewhere. I think “snooping around” in this way is the perfect amount of stalking- doing the work to find them on a public platform but not going so far as to find them on Facebook and write on their wall.

So let’s assume that there is no additional information in their profile and your only option is to actually tweet at them. Going back to the story from the beginning, when you are actually composing a tweet it’s best to think about things from their perspective. That is to say, make your request of them in a way that shows you understand it’s a little weird to get a random tweet from someone you don’t know. I settled on something like this:

With this tweet, I tried to establish a few things:

1. That I am a beginner and see this person as an expert

2: That I realize they have better things to do than respond to my request for help

3: What’s next if they say yes. Or, let them know that if they agree to help me I’m not going to spam them with a long, public string of tweets- it would be a simple direct message that they can check out at their leisure.

One last piece of advice to consider if you are going to launch a cold-tweeting campaign is to avoid sending a bunch of similar tweets to different people at once. This is because you don’t want someone to get your tweet, click through to your profile, and see that you sent the same tweet to a bunch of different people. If you do find someone on Twitter and the only way to get in touch with them is by actually tweeting at them, mix it in with some “regular” tweets. To borrow a line from Mad Men,  “No one wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box.”

follow me on Twitter @whatsaflashbang

Pounding the digital pavement (Make sure to wear comfortable shoes)

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” -Unknown

A speaker at an entrepreneurship meetup I attended recently pointed out that one of the many valuable skills for a founder to have is the ability to form relationships with people who will add value to your business. He pointed out that this doesn’t always mean someone who will give you money or work with you directly, but rather someone who can give you insight or advice, or especially introduce you to other relevant people.

You can find a lot of advice about general best practices when it comes to networking, but I think my favorite tip is to always offer to help. For me, putting this advice into action was difficult because, as confident as I am about my idea, I realized that at this point in my career I still amount to a bacteria at the bottom of the fish tank of Silicon Valley. But eventually I figured out that this doesn’t mean I can’t provide value to people who are farther along in their startup career than I am.

One day while I was working in film casting in LA, I realized what separates the few great actors from the many many bad ones: the great ones can remove all shred of ego from their intention while they are on screen. The great ones are just there to be a channel for the raw emotion of the scripted story, while the shitty ones are there because they want attention, they want approval, they want to be famous. And the reason this matters is because humans are so good at perceiving intentions (whether consciously or subconsciously) that performances given by actors who are motivated by their ego ring false compared to those that aren’t.

So all that to say, when you are talking with someone about their work in a networking setting, don’t just go through the motions of acting interested like we are all conditioned to do. Mean it. Do things like offer to email them feedback on their demo video and actually do it. When you are first starting out, you likely aren’t established enough to be seen as an “expert” yet, so giving your offhand input probably won’t mean too much unless you can come up with some brilliant insight that they haven’t thought of yet. So you have to be super diligent about finding every opportunity to be useful to them in some way.

One example of this from my personal life happened a month or so ago. I was chatting with a guy at a meetup who has already had a few moderately successful ventures and was currently in the middle of launching a new mobile app. He mentioned off hand that he hadn’t found a good prototyping platform, and luckily I knew about a few from my own experience. Like I always do at the end of these conversations I asked for his card and promised to email him the names of the two sites that I mentioned. This was great because it gave me a way to reach out to him that wasn’t just me asking him for help. The good news about the tech startup world is that everything is pretty interconnected, so if you make it a point to try and know as much as you can about new products and the general goings-on in the industry, you will be far more able to make relevant points in these types of conversations. Always have an opinion about what works and doesn’t work with the latest and greatest tech things out there. There isn’t one new idea that doesn’t share DNA with something that already exists, and being able to make these kind of connections is a superb skill to have.

One last point I will make about networking is that you have to accept the fact that it’s a numbers game. I don’t have an exact breakdown on how many times people promise to “definitely email me” after we have a 10 minute conversation about our various projects and actually follow through, but it’s pretty low. So suffice to say that successful networking is also about quantity. You have to reach out to a lot of people if you want results. And it is imperative to have a system of keeping track of these connections. Log each and every person who you meet, tweet, or email. If you don’t, it will be impossible to manage your contacts. And if you don’t feel like you have a problem keeping track of the people you’ve reached out to it means you aren’t reaching out to enough people.

Here’s what my spreadsheet looks like:


I’ve found that it’s helpful to identify what your basic needs are as a startup, and categorize each contact you make based on which of these needs they can potentially help you with. For example, my two basic needs right now are finding a technical co-founder and raising money. So these two areas are the primary focus of my networking efforts. But I still make time to cultivate relationships with people who may be able to help me in other areas- such as UI/UX advice or time management.

It’s important to strike a balance between following up and being patient.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent an entire morning sending emails and then the rest of the afternoon like this.

Email antsy-ness has even changed the way I look at weekends.  To borrow more football coach wisdom, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Next time: how to (hopefully) not be a douche on Twitter

follow me on Twitter @whatsaflashbang

Power Stalking 101

So a running theme of this blog will undoubtedly be my search for a technical co-founder.

This is obviously no easy task. When i first started this venture I thought the hard part would be actually getting the coding done, but I realized that this can easily be accomplished by outsourcing the work using oDesk or eLance. The price for this kind of work has fallen enough in recent years that getting a working MVP is (in theory) well within my bootstrapping means.

However that’s only half the battle. Far more valuable is finding someone willing to take the journey with me. Someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to tell me how stupid my NEW AWESOME IDEAs are. Being in Silicon Valley is a blessing and a curse in this regard. It’s a blessing because I am surrounded by literally thousands of awesome, brilliant people, but a curse because at this point I am just one of a million guys with an idea and a powerpoint.

I know it’s a numbers game. If I knock on enough doors and tweet at enough people eventually I can convince SOMEone to buy into what I’m doing.

To that end, the other day I found a great Twitter profile searching tool called Twiangulate that has proved to be a powerful tool in my professional stalking arsenal. I ran a keyword search with the words “iOS”,”developer” and “San Francisco” and came up with a list of 70 or so twitter users in SF who describe themselves as iOS developers. Now it’s up to me and my sparkling personality to reach out to them- 140 characters at a time.

I am one of them

My name is Matt. I live in San Francisco, and I have a startup.

I am one of “them”- a guy with a powerpoint and a dream- plopped in an ocean of people of the same mind.

I came to San Francisco to study advertising, and through a series of twists and turns, found myself in possession of a seemingly credible startup idea. It was the strangest thing, being immersed in a journey towards a career that I was dead-positive was my calling only to discover something within that journey that turned me on even more…enough so that I decided to officially drop out of advertising school to pursue the startup dream full time.

Both pursuits have a relatively low success rate, but I realized that the potential to dynamically shape my destiny is much stronger in the startup world.

The purpose of this blog is to document my journey as I go from “idea to ipo”, to borrow a phrase from the title of a meetup group I came across.

I’ll share helpful resources I come across, people I meet, and anything else that might help out fellow up-and-coming entrepreneurs.