This was the week the Kellogg MBA Student Team launched their Google AdWords campaigns for Genlighten.com. So far, only a small trickle of people have clicked on their ads. I suspect we’ve managed to kill our PageRank pretty quickly. But hopefully they will learn from the process, and I’ll learn from their learning. I’ve already had at least one very positive e-mail exchange with someone who clicked through.
They say that when you’re trying to get into shape, the best motivation is seeing the dieting and exercise pay off. That principle applies to genealogy: The best inspiration to do more research is getting results.
So when you keep not finding new information despite your best efforts, you’re in danger of embarking on a downward spiral—lack of motivation to look for records followed by (wonder of wonders) not finding your ancestors.
“If you can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if you can’t bias yourself for action and if you wait around for someone else to tell you what to do, then your investors and competitors will make your decisions for you and you will run out of money and your company will die.”—
We took a big step today and pointed the www.genlighten.com domain at the Rails Alpha that Justin’s got running on EngineYard’s Solo service. It’s scary, in that there are public pages on the site that could use lots better styling and content. But it’s a good kind of scary — the kind that should motivate us to improve it quickly.
In the meantime, EV/SSL certificates and PCI compliance are getting close too. And I’m making solid progress on the “Why to become a Genlighten Lookup Provider” white paper.
Nice to celebrate some small victories now and again.
In 90 minutes, talked seriously about Genlighten to perhaps 15-20 people tonight at the booth. Most were interested in being providers. One follows me on Twitter. Another said “one of the speakers today was raving about your site”. Wonder who that was!
I almost always seem to get a huge amount of renewed energy and motivation from these conferences. Soon though, I hope to also see noticeable impact on our revenue from them as well.
“I like to start with free customer acquisition channels since they obviously offer the best opportunity to generate a positive ROI. Free drivers may include viral marketing, self-implemented SEO and listing with any directories that are appropriate for your product. Leveraging this early user flow we optimize the first user experience for the right target users and introduce a business model that generates sufficient revenue to fund future paid user acquisition. When we start developing paid channels, we work our way through the lowest hanging fruit first, beginning with demand harvesting channels, later adding demand creation channels.”—
My take: this is our roadmap exactly… get enough revenue from users we acquire through free channels that we can afford to eventually pay for ads to reach additional users. It’ll be tough to pull off, but that’s our plan.
For example, I’ve talked a few times about how IMVU raised its first venture round with monthly revenues of around $10,000. This wasn’t very impressive, but we had two things going for us:
1. A hockey stick shaped growth curve. People often forget the most important part of the hockey stick: the long flat part. We had months of data that showed customers more-or-less uninterested in our product. We were limping along at a few hundred dollars a month in revenue. All this time, we were continuously changing our product, talking to customers, trying to improve on our AdWords spend. Eventually, these efforts bore fruit – and this was evident in the data. This lent our claims about learning and discovery credibility.
2. Compelling per-customer economics. We had only a small number of customers – if memory serves, only a few thousand active users. But a little math will show that we were making over a dollar per-user per-month. Our cost to acquire a customer on AdWords was only a few cents. Our eventual VC’s were quick to grasp what this meant (in fact, they understood it better than we did): that if our product achieved significant scale, it would be wildly profitable.
“It is, I think, that we are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words, and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we don’t know at all that it is the same with others.”—
We’d love to have professional genealogists join our provider network, but we suspect for many it will not be a good fit…
Instead, we see Genlighten empowering determined _amateur_ genealogists to find records for each other, sharing vicariously in their respective “happy dances”, building reputations for reliability, dogged determination, and resourcefulness in the process.
”—Brainstorming a post for the Genlighten blog regarding the recent APG thread on Ancestry’s “Expert Connect”
“It seems to me that you have a huge opportunity to “do it right” in the eyes of professionals and move quicker than Ancestry.”—A well-respected genealogy blogger in a Twitter direct message to me today. He was commenting on the APG message board discussion of Ancestry’s new “Expert Connect” service, a direct competitor to Genlighten.
“I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”—Nehemiah 6:3, as quoted by Elder Dieter Uchtdorf at the Priesthood session of General Conference tonight. Am I doing a great work? Or is what I’m doing a sign that I’ve been “distracted” from the great work I *should* be pursuing?
Working hard to whittle down the list of To-Do tasks to get ready to pull back the curtain a little on the Genlighten Rails Alpha. Definitely feeling the pressure to get it out there, combined with the realization that the many “little” remaining items represent a large amount of effort that will probably drag on much longer than I’d like.
“What can you possibly do to be productive as a family history researcher in 20 minutes per week? Our studies suggest that currently the answer is, “Nothing.” In 20 minutes a would-be researcher can’t even remember what happened last week, let alone what they were planning to do next.”—Knutson, C.D. and Krein, J. “The 20-Minute Genealogist: A Context-Preservation Metaphor for Assisted Family History Research”, in the proceedings of the BYU Family History Workshop, March 12th, 2009.
The Three Words that Every New Bride Wants to Hear
A sister in the Val Verda somethingth Ward sacrament meeting I attended yesterday told a funny story. She and her husband had been married less than a week. The bishop of their new ward in Arizona asked him if he and his wife would speak in sacrament meeting. Husband said yes. Wife hates to give talks. Was mortally ill at the thought… dreaded it every moment. Sunday morning, she just can’t overcome her fear and tells her husband she’s not going.
"And then he said the three words that every new bride wants to hear."
[So I, for one, am thinking “Aaahhhh… he tells her he loves her, how sweet.” But noooo!]
"Tough it out."
In Made to Stick, the authors explain the power of the unexpected element in a story. If you know that your audience has a “defective schema”, and you know how it’s defective, you can “pull the rug out from under them with a well-structured surprise” and your message is likely to stick with them.
That’s what this sister did for us. She then went on to explain how “Tough it out” had become a theme in their family and had helped them deal with many forms of adversity over the years.
Determined lady who had to have her drawing entry stamped right this second and couldn’t wait until I had my Genlighten sign duct-taped up. She eventually came back while I was talking to someone and snuck around behind me to get to the stamp. Forgive me, but I sure hope she didn’t win anything.
Strong attendance in each of the three talks (especially the Geni/Ancestry Family Tree one)
Energy level in the first two (Geni/AFT and Twitter)
Surprisingly high interest in Twitter for Genealogists
Several strong afternoon booth discussions with people who *get* Genlighten
A nice steak/shrimp dinner at Sizzler brought the day to a nice close.
Caught the redeye back from Las Vegas late last night, slept most of the way. Managed to get the black monitor box home without paying United’s oversize fees or shipping it via FedEx.
Now on to preparing the two new talks for the South Davis Family History Fair next week: one on Twitter and the other on Ancestry Family Tree vs. Geni. I want to make these really enjoyable and worthwhile for the audience — above and beyond what they’re used to experiencing at these conferences.
I feel like, with effort and practice, I should be able to become a sought-after speaker at genealogy conferences, to the point where I no longer need to pay to attend them and can in fact have my travel expenses to them covered. A modest goal, but one which should help us publicize Genlighten more readily.
About 6-8 attended the Genlighten talk. I didn’t sense much response from the audience, but several seemed to get the idea. Unfortunately, the extension video cable I’d bought wasn’t high enough resolution and the screen image was blurred (i.e., double… poor sync of some kind.) The top was cut off the screen as well.
The Footnote talk felt a lot better. For one thing, around 80-100 attended in one of the smaller ballrooms at the Dixie Center. Almost all were FHC Consultants. Essentially none of their patrons used Footnote, based on their hand-raises in response to my question.
There was a fair amount of interaction, and the flow of the talk seemed to go well. I felt like I had good material, and enough of it to feel like I was delivering something substantial.
The director of the Regional St. George FHC asked me for a copy. I’ll have to visit her booth tomorrow to give it to her.
I’ve had some good conversations at the booth as well, though only a few seemed particularly enthused about becoming providers.
I’m off once again to a genealogy conference. This time it’s the St. George Family History Expo. I’ll be staffing the Genlighten booth and giving a talk on “What Family History Consulants Should Know about Footnote.com”. I’ll also give a presentation on Genlighten itself, hopefully to a room full of interested potential providers. The following two weekends I’ll be in Bountiful and Provo, respectively, doing much the same thing at the South Davis Family History Fair and the BYU Computerized Genealogy Conference.
My goal is to recruit additional lookup providers prior to the launch of our private beta sometime in April (assuming all goes well).
By now the routine is pretty familiar to me: print the flyers; pack the monitor, the booth sign and the projector; buy the candy, remember the laptops and all the associated gear. Schlep the black box to United oversize baggage check-in and hope they don’t charge me the oversize fee ($100!).
This time I get the added treat of driving from Las Vegas to St. George through the beautiful topography at the Utah-Arizona-Nevada border.
I’ll arrive back in Chicago Sunday morning after taking the redeye from Las Vegas Saturday night. Ah… the perks of being the founder of a bootstrapped web startup!
Justin’s got PayPal Web Payments Pro integration working on the Genlighten staging site as of today. Still plenty of glitches, but we can now place lookup orders in our cart and checkout using either credit cards or PayPal.
Setting up a test account in the PayPal Developer Sandbox was a bit painful, but once the process was completed I had no problem paying for a lookup with my (test) PayPal account. In fact, it was almost too easy, since the test account had a zero balance.
The credit card side works for ordering, but when the lookup is delivered (and the charge is captured) there’s some sort of authorization problem. Justin’ll get that fixed soon.
I also worked on generating more e-mail notification content, mocked up revisions to the cart page and the thank-you/receipt page, and built a list of new buttons, tabs, etc. that we need to generate.
“Take leave of this doubt, cull,
although the best also decays,
and keep your full belief
in this world despite this world.
Take a look at a woman’s features,
which look at the infant with a smile,
and feel: it is not all lies,
that life brings and sends to us.
And heart, if you will recover completely,
be true yourself, be pure yourself!
That which we read in world and man,
is only our own reflection.”—Theodor Fontane (1819 -1898)
Found in the March 2008 issue of “Der Steckverbinder” [“The Connector”] the internal newsletter of German connector manufacturer ODU, p 24.
For months my status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere have said something like “preparing for my upcoming Footnote talk”. Tonight was my first attempt at giving that talk, albeit to a small and friendly audience at our local Family History Center here in Wilmette. Six FHC patrons attended, along with one of our volunteers. Considering that I was still generating slides up until about an hour before the talk, and that I was still writing narration text this afternoon, I thought it went reasonably well.
Now I have the luxury of refining the draft prior to my more intimidating presentations in St. George Utah and Bountiful, Utah over the course of the next month.
We’ve been planning on using Braintree Financial’s gateway, vault and APIs to power our payment processing routines for Genlighten’s back-end. But they’ve grown selective about working with tiny startups, and merchant banks apparently don’t like to do business with what they call “Third-Party Payment Aggregators” (TPPAs), so Braintree’s CEO strongly suggested we try an alternative approach.
That led to an intense day of studying PayPal’s “Web Payments Pro” offering. It appears to have some real advantages (they don’t mind dealing with small startups) and some significant disadvantages (charges even when clients cancel a lookup, higher fees to transfer money to providers). After reviewing our options, it now looks as if we’ll have to go with PayPal until we generate enough revenue and transaction volume to qualify for a better deal elsewhere.
While it was scary to have to deal with this when Justin had already put in lots of work on the Braintree interface, I felt confident in assessing our options, making a decision, and moving forward. These kinds of tests are what it means to be an entrepreneur — tough, but tremendously rewarding.
Takeaways from Braintree’s lack of interest in us? Momentum’s important!
Momentum is mass * velocity
velocity => get your startup up and running quickly
mass => commit to it full-time
When you’re demonstrating momentum, people take you seriously
We may have to embrace some non-ideal approaches to get things moving