How to get an EpiPen for free

New-Style-EpiPen

If you have severe allergies in your family like mine I’ll let you in on one of the Internet’s best kept secrets…You can get a Epi-Pen for free – better yet make that a 2 pack!

EpiPen is short for epinephrine autoinjector, or a small medical device for injecting a measured doses of adrenaline into a person that is experiencing anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction.

For years it has been an industry standard. Now there are newer devices like Auvi-Q which actually speaks the instructions, which makes it a nice to have for care givers or peace of mind.

However, the trusted and true EpiPen will still work fine. But if you’ve ever purchased either you know how expensive it can get, even with insurance because they usually expire in about a year so they must be replaced, even if you never use them.

On EpiPen’s website there is a coupon for getting an EpiPen 2 pack for as little as $0 depending on your insurance coverage. Considering that this prescription with insurance is around $100, this is quite the savings.

I wanted to post this because what is common knowledge to some is not common knowledge to all. I was reminded of this the other night when my wife was purchasing dinner for us and the lady behind the counter mentioned how her nephew has severe allergies. My wife went on to tell her about this coupon and the lady was so grateful. She went on to explain how much it would help them in their financial troubles.

So if this is you or you just want to save a little cash I strongly recommend looking at EpiPen’s website often for deals as they do often expire but re-run the promotion often.

And if you just purchased an EpiPen without this coupon, go ahead and print it out and take it back into the store with your receipt. Many quality retailers will gladly refund the difference because they don’t lose money on coupons. The manufacturer actually pays them for the coupon.

Hope this helps.

OS X Mavericks Updates to SVN 1.7: How to rollback to Subversion 1.6

So I’m not an early adopter but after updating my personal Mac to Mavericks with little issues, I decided to upgrade my work Mac as well.

Besides Mavericks not shipping with Java and breaking all my hard work with Jasper Reports, I soon after discovered that it had also upgraded my Subversion to 1.7 which stopped me from being able to check in my code.

So I found this little tip from Kevin Broome that fixed my issue quickly.  I figured it could be done but Keven actually found where the old SVN 1.6 lived on the hard drive.

To summarize:

1) Make a backup of your SVN 1.7

sudo mv /usr/bin/svn ~/Documents/svn_1.7

2) Point to 1.6 in paths

sudo nano /etc/paths

3) Add the following to paths

/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/usr/subversion-1.6/bin

4) Check SVN version

svn help

That’s it, you should see Subversion 1.6
 

How my Computer Science Degree Actually Hurt my Internet Business

Most online entrepreneurs that I have met are not technical people. More often than not they are visionaries with some other specialize skill set like accounting, investment banking, or general business to name a few.

For these people the fears and difficulty they have is the technical stuff: putting up their website, search engine optimization, or compiling and submitting their mobile app to the app store.

That is why so many of the beginner guides in the Internet marketing space are geared towards non technical people.

For me, the problem was not learning how to put up a website or write code – I’ve done both pretty well for about 10 years.

My problem has been what to do before and after your product is built – things like customer validation or marketing.

Because it is relatively easy for me to build something – a website, an app, an e-commerce site, whatever, I was quick to “fail fast” as the old startup proverb goes, and even quicker to move on to the next shiny object.

While we are on the subject, the suggestion to fail fast is bad advice.  Instead of failing fast, your goal should try to “learn faster than everyone else” as Eric Ries suggests.

I was given the curse of knowledge when it came to the internet.  But to make money online you need to understand a lot more than just how to put up a WordPress blog or how to write code.  In fact, I’ve seen many people better off BECAUSE they don’t know technology.

These people instead focus on the PROBLEM before they figure out a SOLUTION.

But anyone with this “curse” finds it difficult to keep an open mind and learn new things because they already feel that know it.

Like me, I already knew how to start a software company. After all, I knew how to write software. I already knew how to do SEO. My website was in Google’s search results, right?
The problem was that although I know how to write code I didn’t know how to make software useful to people.  And yes, I do know on-page SEO that was valid in 2005 but now-a-days it is off-page SEO that matters most.  But I ignored it.

Many elderly people struggle with a severe case of the “curse of knowledge.”  That is why so many reject new technology or new norms in society. “When I was your age…[Fill in the blank here]”

My point is: don’t be blinded by what you know.

Again, don’t be blinded by what you already know.

Because I knew technology, I THOUGHT I knew how to turn that knowledge into profit. My blinders were on.

It wasnt until I stopped screaming and started listening that the ball started rolling forward.  And believe me it is a lot harder to get the ball rolling than it is to keep it rolling once you have momentum.

Ultimately that is how I got 13,000 mobile app downloads literally overnight.  And no, we weren’t featured in iTunes.

Our app solved an annoying problem and bloggers liked it.

So if you have been struggling with something lately – be it starting a business or getting customers or even becoming a better listener, I suggest that you find somebody that has done what you are trying to do, or is good at what you want to learn and absorb everything you can from them.

There is this strange thing that happens when you hang out with people enough – your traits tend to rub off on each other. The same happens when you live in a country or part of a country. I am from Maine but I live in Florida. Every once Ina while I still catch myself with a little twang in my voice.

So although one might think that knowledge of the Internet might help you with an Internet based business, you might be wrong. It can only help you if you can take off your blinders long enough to look around.

Have you ignored something in your field or trade that is stopping you from getting to the next level?

Oops, I’m #1 in Google. How’d I do that?

Back in the days of 2007, before anyone knew what a “tweet” was, when Facebook was still for college kids, and before email storage space was unlimited, I needed a way to archive my funny email forwards that I got from friends and family.

Well, I thought: why don’t I just start a free blog on that blogger platform that Google acquired and just post them up there.  That way I can free up my email and others might find some funny stuff on there.  And so http://funnyforwards.blogspot.com was born.  I created the site, uploaded about 50 email forwards that were humorous, and then pretty much forgot about it.

Sometime in 2009, I had another stockpile of funny forwards so I posted about 50 more.  Then I honestly forgot about it again.

Then in 2010, happen to stumble on my Google Analytics account and noticed that I was getting tons of visits every month.  The traffic would generally be about 100 to 200 visitors a day with spikes of up to 1000.  So I did what most rookies would do and slapped some Google Ads up there.  After a few weeks and only making a couple of bucks on ads I foolishly decided to move on.

Looking to consolidate some of my web properties and focus my efforts I stumbled across this site again a couple of months ago.

Now that I know what a niche actually is in the online world and know how to identify and evaluate one, I realize that I picked a really good one and set it up properly to get traffic.

What I am still uncertain of is if I picked a niche that I can monetize easily.  For example, when selecting a website niche where the goal is to put ads on, you want ads that have high cost PPC rates.  This way you make dollars when ads are clicked, not pennies.

However, if your plan is to monetize with a different method, say an eBook, you have completely different qualifications to look for.  For instance, it might be difficult to sell an eBook to monks, as they typically don’t do a lot of purchases online, let alone Internet browsing.

To make up for my mistakes I am going to be spending some time on this site to see if I can monetize that traffic.  I’ve already changed the design, changed the ad style, and moved the ad placement a couple of times to test what works best thanks to Pat Flynn’s advice:

The changes that I’ve made with my Adsense ads that have dramatically increased (and decreased) my income.

Was I foolish to turn my back on this? Yes. But granted, I didn’t know then what I know now: that getting consistant traffic can be really difficult and that there are thousands of different ways to make money from that traffic.  In my own defense, it is hard to know what you don’t know.

So if you do have some websites already, take a look at the analytics once in a while.  What you see may shock you.  And if you do have some traffic, figure out a way to convert that traffic to sales.  Or at least start building a relationship with your audience.

I will keep you posted on my progress with this.

Oh yeah, and case and point of this post, I guess content really is king.

How to Avoid Burnout as an Entrepreneur

I used to lift weights a bit when I was in high school. I always thought that the harder I worked the more muscle I would gain. But after a certain point I noticed that it was much harder to see gains then it was when I originally started.

This only convinced me that I needed to workout harder and longer. Still no gains.

I remember one night after one of these intense arm workouts. I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. Both of my biceps we locked at about a 45 degree angle.

Luckily one was able to bend far enough for me to reach the icy hot in the cabinet. Ahhh, instant relief.

Think I over did it? Perhaps a bit.

I have a habit of doing this to myself with whatever I do.  Luckily I have discovered in the past couple of years that more is not always better, and in fact more is often worse.

Tim Ferris has a book on exercising called the 4 Hour Body that talks about doing highly targeted workouts for a short amount of time an achieving phenomenal gains with it.  I’ve even heard stories of distance runners training with sprints.

I’ve tried it myself, both with workouts and running, and I must say that I agree.  I was always able to see improved gains when my training was more focused but took up less time.

One thing that I remember about that arm workout from hell besides the pain, is that I couldn’t workout my upper body for almost 2 weeks after that – I was too sore.

That meant that any of the gains that I got in the short term were long gone before I could build on them again.

I see this same thing in my life as an Internet entrepreneur.  For so many years I was glued to my computer screen working on something really important, only to get burned out and lose momentum.  After all, my laptop is just down the hall and I DO have a mighty long list of stuff to do.

Don’t do this to yourself.

Even though running your own business is a ton of work, especially in the beginning. It is not required that you work 80 hour weeks all the time to make it happen.

In fact, I would argue that if it takes you that long then you need to take a step back and see what items are getting you the most results.  Then just do those one or two things that work. Get rid of everything causing you to spin your wheels.

That is why I have been doing inventory on all of my niche businesses and ideas. Then either bailing on them or consolidating them into niche markets.

The most important thing you can do for yourself is gain focus on one thing at a time.

Think I’m lying? I would have thought I was lying too a few years ago too.

This is why so many people like Pat Flynn, Jay and Sterling, and Patrick McKenzie are able to build businesses that require only a few hours a day to maintain.

Putting in the work upfront is very important.  But more important is staying consistant and focused with whatever you are doing – especially when it feels like you are not moving forward.

Marketing is Like Dating

In recent weeks I’ve had a difficult time explaining to my engineering buddies how I could be into internet marketing now.  They tend to equate marketing with sales, and therefore think of it as a dishonest trade.  The other day I finally thought of an analogy that helped them see things from my (newly discovered) perspective.  I thought I’d do a blog post on it.

Marketing is Like Dating

Marketing is like dating because you can be the nicest guy in the world but if you are an introvert, your crush may never know you exist.

Lets dive deeper, shall we?

Women dig confidence.  Confidence alone is why the jock, the charming guy, and the random not-so-attractive dude got the popular girl in high school.

The jock was confident and fun.

The popular guy was charming and reassuring.

And the random guy simply had social proof in his corner.

So what sells?  Honest confidence in yourself and product.  A product that is fun and risk free.  Oh, and by the way others are using it too!

You see, these are critical parts of the sales process – all of which get people to trust and like you.

The problem is that most introverts are hard-wired to not think this way.  Engineers, for example, think in terms of quantifiable metrics, not the invisible stuff that builds relationships.

But you cannot quantify building relationships and trust.  They are too infinite and abstract.

You must build trust before you can ever ask for a sale.  That is why blogs are so powerful.

They allow you to build an audience and trust.  Regular readers like your stuff and trust you and eventually some of them might buy something from you.

But it is not about the money just like it is not about the sex.  It can’t be.  Even though you both want it, if you are too direct with either you will lose the date or in this case the sale.

And it is not that the jock, popular guy, or random guy are being dishonest.  In fact, they are being themselves.  The random guy could never act like the jock and vice versa.

They do however go at dating game with their own angle.  Do this in your marketing.

If your crush likes funny guys.  Show her your funny side.  If you are not that funny and that is what she is into, move on.  She is not the right customer for you.

If she likes security, stand up straight and beat on your chest – or not.

Accounting was boring.  Freshbooks made it less boring.

“Being yourself” is not the same as “being confident,” so it is important not to integrate the two.  Everybody has a weakness just as every product has a weakness.  Forget about it and instead focus on your strengths.

Find what your good at – your angle in marketing or in dating and you will find your customer or your soul mate.

Most importantly, be confident in whatever you are doing.

-E

 

Sales and Marketing Lesson for Introverts

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/3969908944/

“If you build it they will not come…”

It took me a long time to actually accept that phrase.  Coming from a software and engineering background, when someone would mention the word sales I would naturally think of a sleazy used car salesman.

“Who needs that?” as any good engineer would say.  “Why can’t these people see that the other product sucks and ours is way better?”

I always thought that I just needed to build cool product then I would have customers beating each other over to pay me money for it like on Black Friday.  After all, that is why I got into computers in the first place.  Build it and they will come.  I could hardly wait.

The truth is a product never sells itself.  Even Peter Thiel agrees.  People may get it and they may even love it, but IT WILL NEVER SELL ITSELF!

What about Google you ask?  They didn’t do any marketing in the early days.

Yes that is true.  But even though they didn’t market themselves it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any marketing going on behind the scenes.  Google’s early users were marketing for them.  Viral marketing is still marketing.

Ok, so what is a honest guy to do? Marketing is not so evil after all; but I still feel like that used car salesman while selling my products.

Don’t think of it as being deceptive because that is not the goal.  In fact, if you are going to market a great product, you must deliver on that product as well.

Instead of thinking of marketing as shameless promotion, think of it as simply a pivot.

But instead of recreating the product, you are simply displaying it in a new light so others can better resonate with it.

Flickr, the photo sharing website (now part of Yahoo), originally started off as a online multiplayer game.  If the founders hadn’t noticed how people were actually using the site, and re-marketed it as something else, Flickr probably wouldn’t have been what it is today.

Marketing is simply discovering that angle that resonates the most with your target market.  Some businesses know it immediately.  Others search aimlessly for it.

So if you are like me and look at marketing and sales as deceiving.  Look again.  Marketing can and should be honest.

Marketing is necessary.  Learn to embrace it.  Zero users equals zero dollars.

 

How I Got 12,963 App Downloads in 8 Hours

Today our Coupon Policy App is 9 months old and continues to bring passive income month-after-month.  What started as a problem, then into a weekend project has grown into an actual product with over 25,000 users.

Summary

  • Unique downloads to date: 25,000+
  • Emails sent: 40 (November), 12 (July)
  • Google posts on websites posted during launch week: 346,000
  • Cost of gathering and listing coupon policies: $30
  • Hours spent developing API: 10 hours
  • Hours spent developing the app (version 1): 12 hours
  • Hours spent uploading policies: 4 hours

Background

Coupon Policy (iTunes) is a mobile app that allows consumers to quickly reference coupon policies on their phone.

The idea sparked after watching an episode of Extreme Couponing on TLC with family when my sister-in-law mentioned how annoying it was that she had to print store coupon policies when she went shopping because clerks, and often managers, did not know their own store policies.

After validating the idea with a few more friends and family who also shopped with coupons, we went to work.  We already had a mobile app platform for rapid development ready to go, so other than creating the interface and modifying a few features to fit the context of the app, all we needed to do is gather the coupon policies into a central database and create an API to access with the app interface.

The Plan

With the holiday shopping season kick-off (otherwise known as Black Friday) approaching in less than a month, we quickly set a drop dead date.  Our goal was to have a soft release then a more official release the weekend before Thanksgiving – when we would reach out to to several popular coupon blogs.

The Build

I’m a big fan of utilizing open source software.  So we put up a Drupal site to use as a backend so my non-technical partner could start uploading policies in a WYSIWYG editor.  We came up with a list of about 100 stores we wanted in the app at launch, outsourced the gathering of the selected coupon policies to India for $30, and my partner started uploading them as fast we received them.  In between uploads he also started making a list of the top coupon blogs to reach out to when we were ready to rollout our marketing strategy.

While he was working on the policies, I built a custom API to pull the content from Drupal into the app, allow searching, and clean up the content – all of which were not possible in the built-in RSS feeds.

Next, I moved to creating the actual app interface and functionality.  Our goal was to make it as simple as possible so we went with two tabs (“Stores” and “Favorites”), a simple retailer search, and the ability to share the policies via email, Twitter, or Facebook.  Using Best Buy’s infamous yellow price tag logo as inspiration, we settled on a yellow color scheme…plus both our wives like the color yellow (which was the actual reason. The truth shall set you free).

The Launch

Lay-people assume that when you release a mobile app (or a website, whatever) you automatically get lots of downloads, make lots of money, quickly flip the product and retire on the beach of your choice.  This is a highly unlikely scenario.  As expected when we launched not a whole lot happened.  We got a few downloads trickling in but nothing to brag about.

It did, however, give us the ability to get the product in front of real customers, and very quickly they found a couple of bugs that we didn’t.  While I worked on ironing the bugs out, my partner started planting seeds with the coupon blogs we had prioritized.  Once I pushed the fixes out, I joined him by emailing our list of blogs.  Our message to the blogs was not a sales letter nor was it the same for each blog.  We tried to cater to each publisher and relate it with the focus of the individual website, or even an article we might have read on their blog.  That being said, we used the same call to action in each email which basically stated: “We’ve created an app for referencing coupon policies.  Do you think your users might be interested?” and “We are running a special the weekend before Thanksgiving so people can make use of it in time for the holiday shopping season.”  We also used up most of our free promo app download codes that Apple so graciously gives to their developers.

Notice how both statements above cater to the website owner and their readers?  We didn’t just say “hey look at this cool thing we did, feature it on your homepage for us!”  Likewise, while reaching out to each website, we didn’t just give them false flattery either.  Everything we said or complemented them on was true:  “We like your design” or “this article was really useful the other day.”

The (Actual) Launch

Up until then we had only received replies from a handful of blogs; maybe 5 or 6 out of 50.  Even so, most of those wanted some “cut of the action” or “exclusives”, both of which we explained that we couldn’t do because “Apple and Google already take 30%” and “that we can’t track downloads from a specific source right now.”  So we didn’t really know what to expect.  The first day of app discount came and not much happened.  I signed off, had dinner with my wife and went to bed.

When I woke in the morning I did a couple of odds and ends then opened my email as I normally do.  The first page of my inbox was full with feedback from the app.  Page 2 – full. Page 3, 4, 5, and 6 all full.  I immediately logged into my Apple iTunes Connect account to check my stats.  Dammit! I’m on the east coast and Apple doesn’t update the numbers until 10 or 11am EST.  So I called my partner and asked him if he had checked his email.  He said no but that he had to turn off his cell phone in the middle of the night because it kept beeping.  I told him what had happened and that I didn’t yet know how many downloads we got but I received close to 300 emails from app users in 8 hours.

I checked iTunes Connect a few more times that morning with little luck but when I finally saw our download metrics I must have been smiling from ear to ear.

I called my partner and told him the number.  12,963 downloads.  He said “so thirteen-HUNDRED downloads isn’t bad.”  I said “no, thirteen-THOUSAND. Add another zero.”

The Present

– Few more iterations

– Slight redesign

– Adding more coupon policies

– Updating existing polices that have changed

– meetings with a few major coupon and marketing companies

– much requested offline mode (and cached mode for faster loading)

Being a web developer by trade I have “built” lots of things.  However, it is amazing the power of building something that actually solves a problem.  So many times people get stuck on the “idea” instead of the “problem” and subsequently first build a solution, then try to find a problem that it would solve.

Lesson learned.

-E

Lean Startup Cheat Sheet

So I’ve been reading several books lately in an effort to reboot myself.  One that I found especially interesting was Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup.  As I read, Eric’s words resonated with many of the past mistakes I have made.  In an effort not to make the same mistakes twice I made a Lean Startup cheat sheet full of anecdotes from the book and processes that I can run product concepts or decisions through like the gauntlet.

I thought it might be useful for others so feel free to download it below.  Let me know if you have suggestions for improvement or if I have left out something you feel is important.

Download Lean Startup Cheat Sheet

What I’ve Learned from Failed Startups

What I’ve learned from failed not so successful startups:

Focus on the customer first

I originally thought that this simply meant getting a couple low hanging fruit to say yes to an idea. What it really means is that you need to figure out a way to build buzz around what you are doing, before you do anything.  Telling people that you have 10,000 people that want what you are cooking is way more sexy then showing them what you spent a year building that 3 people are using.  Build buzz and don’t worry about “someone stealing your idea” because if an idea is all you have as an advantage, your dead anyway.

Cash is like oxygen, but too much cash too early is like poison

By not having enough cash to get customers and build a great product, all you are doing is starving the opportunity. Then before you know it someone else is there and has built your great idea. After all, ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters, and it is difficult to execute with limits in engineering talent, by outsourcing or by holding a day job.

That is why you SHOULD raise capital

Bottom line: If you can’t convince someone to give you 1M, you won’t be able to convince someone to buy you down the road for even more money.  Plus you are missing out on the network of those investors to take your product to the next level.

Investors invest in people first, ideas, then revenue

The most important aspect of your presentation to investors is the team member’s “relevant” experience. If this is your first rodeo and you don’t have X years experience in a vertical, spend a lot of your time finding the right mentor, partner, or advisor that does. If they do, they will have the right contacts to at least get you in front of the correct audience from day one. That is where the learning starts.

Launch something that you would use 

As mentioned before, ideas are a dime a dozen. Do you actually have the connections to sell or make money from the product from day one? Do you personally know 10 potential customers that you could call on today? 50? 500? If not, get someone on you team that does. He/she will be the most valuable person on your team.

 Launch something in a market that you know deeply

I’ve spent time with a lot of successful entrepreneurs that have built highly profitable businesses with under 10 employees. My questions are always the same – “how did you get your start?” and “Were you profitable from day one?”  One commonality is that they always launched a business in an vertical they both understood deeply and had lots of contacts in. Checkmate.

Know the customer

I’m not taking market statistics.  I’m talking about shadowing your customer, knowing what they buy, how they pay, and the process of doing so.  Case in point, we spent 6 months and built a solution for universities because they said they were interested but failed to realize that they were so buearacratic that it took months to get even a $50 payment approved.  But when we made the product free and owned the ad rights, we had more success. Much less approval and actually a better margin for us.

Investors like this format for presentations

It may be different in the valley but in the VC’s we’ve spoken to have told us that they are sick of waiting until slide 6 to learn what problem we solve.  Tell them on slide #1. Slide 2 they want to know about the team and if they even have the ability, background, and loins to solve the problem. If not, the investor can go back to answering emails or playing Angry Birds on his/her smartphone.

Business names should be short, memorable and unique

Memorable is the most important. Coincidentally relevant names are least important, though nice to have if you can satisfy the above criteria first. I once had a newspaper article interview me and post a to link back to someone else’s website – totally my fault. The business name wasn’t unique enough.

Even failed startups can have SOME success

Eric Ries suggests proving both your value and growth hypothesis in your startup as quickly as possible. His example: Facebook, for instance proved there growth by the number of people that were signing up and value since people were using it an average of 8x per day. We proved our value but never could get a good growth model going before running out of oxygen.

You don’t have to be in a great market, you just need to build a great product

The media gives the impression that you need to follow the latest shiny object in tech.  For instance in the late 90’s it was the web, in the early 2000’s it was social networks, now it is mobile apps.  What they don’t tell you is that only a small percentage of mobile apps ever gross over $30,000.  Also, if you read between the lines, you will notice that great, simple products that get released when there is already ample competition in the space, often do really well, like Mint.com or Basecamp.  Furthermore, there are plenty of unsexy products that practically print money.  A few examples of these that I know of are a logistics freight auditing company, a middle-man to transfer cars between car dealerships, and a marketing an promotion company that has less than 10 employees, but has clients like Disney and the NBA.  The commonality is that they all of their solutions actually solve a problem.

It is all about who you know, and more importantly, who knows you

My suggestion is to meet and get to know as many people as possible. Ask them about themselves, what they do, their families and be honestly interested. Most importantly don’t expect anything in return. You’d be supposed where people end up, how they remember you and what gates a bit of conversation might open you in the future.

Finally, get an investor/critic’s feedback ASAP

We didn’t start talking to investors until 10 months after we started.  Once we did, they lit us up.  But their points were valid and I wish we would have ad that feedback in month 2 or 3.  It would have saved us time and pride.  Disclosure: this cannot be a relative or any cheerleader that will make you feel warm and fuzzy.  It must be someone who as been there and also has your best interest at heart.

So I am sure I am forgetting other lessons but these are the most prominent currently.  More later…