Sock Monkey-ing Around

Posted: November 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Business, General, Technology | No Comments »

I have an un-curable case of the entrepreneurial bug. I love beautiful products. I am addicted to building things. I almost always have my iron in a couple “side-project” fires.

My latest venture is my first foray into a market that is otherwise quite foreign to me. This market is more about design, taste and experience than technology. This venture is an idea that was inspired by my wife Melissa and my son Kingston.

I present PaperCow.com. Paper Cow is an idea that I came up with as I watched my wife Melissa plan and prepare for my son Kingston’s 1 year old birthday party last Spring. Melissa is someone who loves to entertain and loves to create a fun and memorable experience. Our son’s first birthday was the perfect storm of an excuse for her to go all out putting together a sock monkey themed birthday party that would be sure to garner many a Facebook photo album like. While looking around online for fun ideas for decorating a sock monkey themed birthday party, Melissa stumbled onto what appears to be a pretty vibrant community of designers who are building businesses putting together customized party decorations and selling them primarily on Etsy.com. She found a designer who’s work she liked and had her create a set of sock monkey themed party decorations customized with Kingston’s name and age. She paid the designer for PDF files containing the completed designs and we printed and assembled the decorations ourselves. While it was a fairly significant undertaking to print and assemble these decorations it made for a couple fun family nights of “crafting” together.

After watching Melissa go through this whole process, my entrepreneurial curiosity set in and I started wondering what kind of a market there is for high quality, designer, customized party decorations. After a little research clicking around Etsy.com, Pinterest.com, and a handful of Google searches, I concluded that there appears to be a not insignificant market for these types of products. While the product is definitely niche, it is an “experience” culture product that I can only see a growing demand for as sites like Pinterest pummel every female on the planet with a never ending stream of “must-have” cuteness.

So the basic idea of Paper Cow is that I will work with professional designers who’s work I love to create extremely high quality party decoration sets that are easily customizable and then use my technical and entrepreneurial savvy to streamline the marketing, creation and delivery of these completely custom decoration sets to the customers.

I’m somewhat obsessive with customer experience and I long to build a brand that is known for amazing customer experiences (like Zappos). I think this market is a great one to capitalize on providing a great customer experience that will become associated with some of the most precious memories our customers will have. If I can make Paper Cow brand synonomous with fun, memorable, beautiful celebrations of human life, I will have achieved my goal.

To be honest, I am very, very early into this side-project adventure. Probably too early to be talking so openly about it. However, I’m someone who has always had tremendous appreciation for entrepreneurs who operate liberally in the sharing of their experiences as they are experiencing them. It is a goal of mine as an entrepreneur and technologist to share as much as I can possibly afford to with the community even if at times it means sacrificing slight competitive edge.

On that note, I will share my initial three pronged approach to this project where I am testing out three different ways to get my products to customers and seeing how each of them pans out.

Prong 1 is PaperCow.com. I hope to build a primary flagship website that will be the primary way of purchasing my products online. I’ve put together a simple Shopify store that is up at PaperCow.com. So far I have very little organic traffic to this store but I’m experimenting with adwords to send traffic there. I’m hoping that over time I can build up a good base of organic traffic as well and have a extremely solid brand name website where I can provide a great customer experience as well as run various conversion optimization tests to figure out the best possible ways to sell my products. I have yet to make a sale hear but I also have very minimal traffic.

Prong 2 is an Etsy.com shop. Etsy is a fantastic market place and seems to be where a lot my target market is doing their shopping for these types of products. I put together simple Etsy store and I’m experimenting with purchasing traffic through Etsy’s promotion tools which feature your products on the top of Etsy SERP pages. So far this is where all of my sales have come from. I will likely share some numbers in the near future but at this point everything is too early to be meaningful. My conversion rates are all very, very low but so far I am actually turning a profit on Etsy.

Prong 3 is SockMonkeyBirthdayParty.com. This is purely an SEO play. For that reason it may very well be a complete flop. The idea is to build a website around sock monkey themed birthday parties and hope that with enough time/content it will rank for sock monkey birthday party related searches. This is an idea I got from Patrick McKenzie who does something similar with his BingoCardCreator.com product. SockMonkeyBirthdayParty.com is pretty fresh and has very little content at the moment so it is currently getting no traffic. I will slowly add content over the course of the next year, attempt to do a little bit of link building and see where we are a year from now. I suspect with many of Google’s recent changes I may be better off pouring all of my time and energy into the primary PaperCow.com domain but I figure it’s worth a shot to try a couple of super vertically focused sites in order to optimize for search.

So there you have it. I hope to share more as this project unfolds. I have even toyed with the idea of doing a completely open source business where I publish literally every detail and fact I legally can in an effort to share valuable knowledge with others and hopefully solicit feedback and insight from the community in return for sharing that knowledge. That prospect slightly scares me because if it does start to work, it would give any would be competitors the short cut road map to completely copy what I’m doing. Part of me thinks that risk would be worth it but I’m still thinking on that one.

I would appreciate any feedback, thoughts, ideas you may have in the comments.

Please watch my project grow with me:
pinterest.com/PaperCowDesign
facebook.com/PaperCowDesign
twitter.com/PaperCowDesign

- Travis


Why Google+ Will Not Take Down Twitter or Facebook

Posted: August 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Business, General, Technology | 1 Comment »

I’ve been super bullish on Google+. It’s a beautiful product. Google clearly finally understands a lot about social and so much of Google+ is so right. There are areas for improvement but overall they really knocked it out of the park with Google+. I’ve had several discussions over the last month where I defended why I believed that Google+ has a chance at taking out either Facebook or Twitter. My opinion has been based on a bunch of different factors but the root of it has been primarily Google’s built in user base and the wonderful execution of Google+. Google Buzz had the built in user base but was not well executed or planned.

Last night my opinion changed and I’m no longer bullish on Google+. Let me tell you why. I was helping my wife set up a Google+ account because she wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology. As I was watching her add all of her friends to circles, I realized that none of them are actively using Google+. While they signed up and filled out their profiles, literally NONE of them are using it or posting anything to it. I thought to myself, “Why would this be? Why are none of them even trying to use it or enjoy it?” After thinking about it for a few minutes, I think the answer is very clear and a lot of people have been saying it since day one of G+.

I believe the reason that G+ will not be able to take down Facebook or Twitter is because G+ adds nothing unique or must have to the social networking paradigm. Duh! right? It’s a well know fact that in order to steal customers from an entrenched competitor, in any industry, you can’t be just as good as the competition or even twice as good. In order to overcome a long standing competitor’s hold on a particular market you have to either be several orders of magnitude better OR offer something completely unique that the competitor is not currently offering and that the customer “must have.” Google+ accomplishes neither of these things. Both Facebook and Twitter offered something completely unique and compelling when they gained the momentum that has taken them to where they are today. They offered things that caused people to not only use their service but to LOVE their service. To be addicted to and evangelize their service.

Now there are a lot of people in the Tech world who are using G+ heavily because it is a such a well designed product and many of us are sick of Facebook and Twitter for one reason or another. However, after talking to my wife and some of my non-tech friends and watching my wife look through the profiles of her non-tech friends, I have come to the conclusion that G+ doesn’t offer anything that the average Joe wants or needs enough to invest in using it over Facebook and or Twitter.

Many people, notably my boss, Jason Calacanis, are touting the awesomeness of G+ because of the high level of engagement and the amount of referral traffic it generates. While you can’t deny the numbers, I personally believe this can be easily explained by the early adopter effect that is almost always seen near the beginning of a product loved by the tech community. There is much higher signal to noise on G+ right now because it hasn’t hit the masses and that automatically creates a much higher level of engagement. I don’t think this will last for long.

I realize that my evidence for making this conclusion is completely anecdotal but I believe that the theory behind my conclusion is sound and the products speak for themselves in terms of what they offer to consumers.

This observation has also lead me to conclude that whatever eventually takes down Facebook, is going to look nothing like Facebook. Facebook’s power is currently in the fact that it is your photo album, your address book and your Rolodex. What is it going to take to get everyone in your address book to spend their days living in another service? It’s definitely not going to be a knock off or slightly improved version of Facebook but rather a service that is so compelling, appealing and new that literally everyone in your address book will WANT to use it and will WANT to tell all the people in their address books about it. I honestly think Twitter might still have a chance at being the king of social for a variety of reasons I won’t detail here.

I would love to here arguments for why I’m wrong and why Google+ will last. I also would love to here more information on who is really using Google+ and loving it more than they love Facebook or Twitter.


MyFavoritePodcast := TWiST;

Posted: December 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business, General, Podcasts, Technology | No Comments »

During the last year I have started spending more and more of my discretionary time listening to podcasts. There are several that I listen to regularly but I have to say that my favorite podcast is currently TWiST (This Week in Start Ups) hosted by Jason Calacanis. Jason is currently the CEO of human-powered search engine Mahalo.com and has an impressive track record of work in the web industry.

TWiST is a show dedicated to the subject of start-up companies. It focuses primarily on companies connected to the web industry. Jason is a very entertaining host and a tremendous source of knowledge and opinion, both of which he shares enthusiastically.

There are several regular segments on TWiST including “Ask Jason” (a listener call-in segment), “Shark Tank” (a caller pitches their business idea to Jason and a guest and receives feedback), “Guest Interview” (Jason interviews someone prominent from the start-up world) and “The News” (the latest news in tech and start-ups is discussed).

As an aspiring entrepreneur, I get a lot of value from the advice that Jason gives during the “Ask Jason” segment. The subject matter covered by the questions is often centered on real-world issues that most entrepreneurs will face at some point in their career. Jason always finds a way to give answers to the question that tie in a lot of great insight and fundamental advice any entrepreneur can learn from.

The quality of guests that Jason has on the show is always fantastic. The wealth of knowledge shared during the “Guest Interview” segments is extremely valuable. Listening to TWiST every week makes me feel like I get to sit down with two start-up rock stars and pick their brain for a couple hours. The stories shared on the show are also a great source of inspiration.

One thing that makes the show so valuable is the opportunity to listen to how Jason handles producing and promoting the show. There is lot that can be learned from studying the mastery with which Jason communicates, promotes the show, engages the audience, builds community and shapes his own public image. He is clearly an expert at self-promotion, leveraging social media and building his own buzz/momentum. These skills/traits are things that I think every entrepreneur should learn from.

I would strongly recommend TWiST to anyone who has a start-up company. It is well worth your time!