Our Infusionsoft Journey

A few years ago, I had to be convinced to switch our email provider to Infusionsoft.  It was a pricey service compared with other services on the market.  Being a software guy, I always think about just doing it myself.  But we were having big issues with email at the time, and I was tired of being in the email business.  Our site was sending thousands of emails a day, much of it manually sent, and we were looking to automate those processes so that we could easily send out segmented or city based email to 50 to 100 different markets.  This was no easy task, and Infusionsoft was not exactly going to solve much for me other than the white listing issue.  The biggest issue was getting the right data with the right message to the right market.  While Infusionsoft does send well and now has Infusionsoft CRM and other great tools like Infusionsoft Ecommerce, it still would mean that we had to build 75 separate pieces of content and send it to 75 separate lists.

Why Such Personalized Email?

Well, our business is events.  We send event notification emails to many many markets and each market has different events.  This kind of information can only be generated through a content management system, and that’s why we created Take It National, a Localization Content Management System.  And then within some of those cities we needed to send to specific groups occasionally that were Catholic, Jewish, African American and other segments. The end result is we need to be very specialized in what we send.

How We Made Infusionsoft Work?

So, if you think about it, the email CRM providers only provide the sending mechanism.  Yes, there may be a place for content like contact information or product information within Infusionsoft, but most companies need to copy and paste their core business content into these Saas packages like Infusionsoft.  That means that there are a lot of copy and paste writers out there prepping data for Infusionsoft.  In the case of “one city” or “one time” events, which often use Constant Contact or Eventbrite this is a relatively easy thing to manage.  You throw many users into the mix and combine that with both multi-city, multi-segment information and you will need more than just Infusionsoft to get your emails out the door.  So, how did we make it work.  We used the Infusionsoft API and wrote a connector between Infusionsoft and Take It National.  Now the two systems talk the same language.  Our local coordinators in up to 100 cities log in to Take It National and create all the content, and the content gets sent out automatically through Infusionsoft.

So Why Is Infusionsoft Just Better

If you talk with Infusionsoft, they will give you all kinds of reasons why they are really better, like the way their Sequences work, Opportunities, and things that do what they are supposed to do, when people click.  Their sequences are killer.  The way the system works is really amazing.  Infusionsoft added Infusionsoft CRM and Infusionsoft Ecommerce, and all of that is terrific. The bottom line is our emails go through to our customers better than any provider we worked with on the market.  That is why we ended up using Infusionsoft and while it did cost more, in the end it cost us less as we grew and grew.  Our business now uses Infusionsoft and we are back as the top provider of Speed Dating in the US.

You will probably notice that this blog article is really pushing Infusionsoft, and that’s because I am not just a user of their service, I am a partner and affiliate and if you use one of the links in this blog to purchase an Infusionsoft license I will get credit.  If you are thinking about signing up and want to find a person who has been through all the things necessary to connect content to Infusionsoft, you should come and knock on my door and fill out the contact info form on this website.    To learn more about Infusionsoft, just follow any of the links on this page and let me know if works out for you.

The Startup Chasm

Currently I am in the middle of my own start-up, called “Take It National“. And apart from my own business, I am quite often chatting with others about their start-ups, or just having conversations with people about start-ups in general. Now that I am in the middle of my own, and not just an outsider looking in, I am experiencing some new feelings and empathy for those taking this journey, that I would have not really taken too seriously. So these are just some of my recent thoughts about start-ups and small to medium sized Internet companies, good and bad, for those who are already in the know or just want to have something to think about. (I know when you work for a large corporation, often the lament is to think you should run your own business and do your own thing. Acting on going on your own is only for the strong-hearted, seriously!) So these paragraphs below use big company life vs. small company life and some of the start-up ups and downs as discussion points.

Freedom Pays Less But You Are Happier

Well, lets start out by saying quite often freedom means no pay (at first). I am noticing that while I am, of course, feeling the stress of getting my business off the ground, I am generally less stressed than at a big corporate job. Who knows why, but I am much happier in my own business. I would often get all stressed out and unhappy about having to be at a meeting at 10:00 AM (a time most software developers abhor), to discuss very little with people you really don’t want to be in the room with. In fact the lack of getting anything done was downright pissing me off in my corporate life. It is a fact of life in corporate life. Accomplishing something everyday is a happier way to go for me. I will of course have to get back to big company life one day where we hang around the coffee room, but for now I have to get things done!

Freedom Is Not Really Freedom

Just a reminder point that freedom is not really freedom. This counter point is just the reaffirmation that we all have to report to someone and a start-up person has to face the music, every day.

Indeed…Indeed

A small tinge of self-doubt is apparently always there in being an entrepreneur who was an ex-corporate person. I was telling somebody recently that my hands start typing Indeed.com, when I start to feel the burn of not having revenue flowing in my business yet… You can liken this to the experience of giving a major speech to a very large audience. Everybody feels the nerves of a speech and everybody feels the pull of going back to a soft cushy company job. But like a speech, you have to just make sure the audience doesn’t really know you are nervous, and like in “You Got To Be Believed To Be Heard” by Bart, you just have to make sure the audience does not know you are nervous. Believability is everything. You have to convince your mind you are on the right path, and quite often you are.

People Suck

Another reality check with start-ups is people. These people, who, if they took the time to read this blog post, are the people you do work with on a regular basis. In a start-up you are constrained for time and money, and often because you don’t have the big money, you have to take what you can get in certain areas, and often these people lack the training that people have at big companies. Not that they all suck, but you have to just accept the fact that they are not going to be perfect. I am talking your partners, your employees, your customers, everybody sucks. Sorry, but get over it and just let them do what they got to do (Even though you feel like doing it yourself…)

You Thought You Knew Something But You Didn’t

I love this article that came out in the late 90s about a Stanford class of young ladies who made thousands picking stocks… Gailbraith was asked about this group and he basically said they were lucky. Those successful the first time and even sometimes both the first and second time often are unlucky the third time. Luck still has something to do with success and nobody has a perfect record in the end (I know a few, and they were extremely lucky). Have the attitude that you don’t know everything and do not get emotionally attached to your ideas! Have the attitude that you can flex to survive or pull the plug and take a parachute out. Don’t go down with the ship! If you see the hurricane ahead get out of the way. You know what happened to the WindJammer Cruise Ship that defied common knowledge and attempted to sail through a hurricane from the Yucatan to Miami years ago. The boat is gone without a trace along with the crew…

Mimicking Has Its Limits

There is this mimicking business theory I am understanding and adhering to more and more, especially after being introduced to the concept of your story by David Tyreman and World Famous “Branding Experts”. You got to be yourself. You have to develop your own brand and niche. Every time some company makes it big, either Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Meetup, Facebook, Digg, etc, you see a sea of mimicking companies. What else are thousands of programmers to do, but make a Twitter Copy… What they did not understand is copy-cats have their limitations. If you are going to be the next Twitter, just quit now! You have to be your own company and your own thing. Being the same as others is not a winning strategy, with a few minor exceptions. Those exceptions have to do with commodity markets, like 4 gas stations on a corner, where nobody can identify the brand… Other than that, your web start-up needs to be unique and have its own story, or it will fail. It may just fail as well if you are a niche and have your own story, so this can’t be guaranteed, but it is a start towards success. Be yourself.

It’s The Asset Value, Stupid!

Online start-ups need to be accessed and valued for their asset value and not revenue. This doesn’t mean I believe in advertising models… I do however believe in the following as assets:

Monthly Unique Visitors
Number of Valid Email Addresses
Number of Online Members
Software Code
Patents, Trademarks, etc.
Resources Such As People (Networks, Contacts)
Building And Physical Stuff
Revenue & Net Income (of course)

In an online start-up it may never be about revenue or net income if your membership is enormous. The valuation is all about critical mass. It is counter-intuitive to old time accounting, but this is where the value is, at least in selling your business off.

Good Luck!

A Summer Of Web Discontent Or Bliss

Just when it appears that the economy is failing, the stock market is chaotic, housing prices are down, and it looks like the future is bleak, there are always people who are succeeding and working. So, I am not so sure about this horrible future.

While those of us in our 40s and 50s or older freak out as we get let go from jobs with corporations that we have been with for 5, 10 or 15 years, there is another group of workers who are working through the night on their own businesses.

This group is a variety of people. They are 21 year college kids who see that this is by far the best time to ever start a business online, with unlimited access to millions on the web with just an idea and a keyboard. Never has there been that much opportunity to do something different, get access to the world, use the tools that are out there, often free, and just do it. These young people and others (not so sure if I am one of them) are regrouping themselves for a new career after figuring out there is none out there. There are those who have been working the part-time thing on their own thing for quite a while are getting ready to launch.

Getting Ready To Launch

It seems like this new hard core group, and they may be 15, or 75, I might add, are gearing up for their big launch. I am doing it too, as we get Take It National, Inc. ready for market. This is the same conversation I have with Don from Austin, who is building a new kind of online business generator, or Jeromi from California, who has a new kind of dental floss, he is getting ready to launch. And then there is the lady we met who is starting a business of sending out young cute female models to boxing matches, wrestling, auto shows…

I guess if you don’t have the patience to go through the process of starting your own business and want a job, then follow some of these people around and when they grow their business big enough you will get a job from them, someday soon.

Where Do They Hang Out?

Now, not that I am a joiner, and even if I do join, it is only as an experiment typically for me, but my business partner and I have been hanging out at CEOSPACE. Got nothing bad to say about them, especially now that I am a member. They take in the wide-eyed, wondering if they can do it on their own crowd, entrepreneurs to be, and give them an street smart MBA like education in a weeks time. I think from our recent experience, that CEOSPACE is for the serious entrepreneur with the serious idea… My business partner has a similar type of training system for the every man called StartupBusinessBootCamp.com. This one is for the masses and it can handle any idea. Startup Business Boot Camp is running these weekend boot camp events around the country. If you are in south florida I would check it out.

Real MBAs

Finally there are those like myself, who suffer through the full MBA curriculum. In fact, I did it twice, once at Farleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ, where I did not finish my MBA. I finished my second at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL in 2006. Either way, this is a little more than a week, 2 weeks or a weekend. It is a serious academic exercise whether you go to Harvard or FAU. You do this for you mind and not for the paper, because the paper will do a little for you in a practical sense. You still have to sell yourself to make it work for you. In fact these other boot camp and CEOSPACE types of education I am finding more practical and more geared towards startups. Sorry about that, but I am yet to find an MBA with entrepreneuralism that is honest and direct. They are more like outings for professors.

Where Do The Hungry Hang Out?

Well, if you haven’t already put the words “Startup YOUR TOWN” or “Business Group YOUR TOWN” or “Entreprenurship YOUR TOWN” into google, you will find a mixed bag of groups in every town out there. There is BarCamp, an Internet Social Media Startup Group, which is for the youngest and boldest of entrepreneurs starting out mixed in with bloggers. BarCamp is in most big towns out there along with WordCamp (A WordPress Conference That Runs In Most Large Towns). I would provide a link here, but BarCamp is always so disorganized an event, I can’t find one single national link…

There are also a dozen civic, technology, marketing, social media, internet or other related startup groups in every town. Just look around and attend and maybe you can find some bliss.

Reading The Startup Tea Leaves

As I slowly (I mean slowly) move into my new startup venture called Take It National, I have been thinking about a series of events that have happened over the past year. Its these series of events that have lead me to this startup. So, I tell people that this startup was not our choice, but rather like a car broadsiding us as we were just sailing along.

What does “Reading The Startup Tea Leaves” Mean?

I have to say that there really is a pattern to startups in terms of success and/or failure and this is all in the data… You have to look through the real information, not the ones in your mind that can confuse you because you love an idea to death and are willing to go down with the ship on it, but rather the ideas that bring on real customers, real growth and real income.

How Do We Get There?

So, like a person who can read tea leaves, you have to sift through your tests and find out if there really is a market for your product or service. For a direct selling service like creating a gas station, there is no question of success, especially if there is a gas station across the street or 2 or 3 gas stations. This is an early sign of success, even if you have not taken action.

Other Signs Of Possible Success

So our current startup comes from tests we were not even aware of. In fact, until we had a company say to us, hey how are you doing this, taking your event businesses national? We really did not know there was a product there. First they asked, and then we presented. When we started presenting, we got lots of feedback about wanting our service in their backend. So, from this we began the process of producing a product. No hocus pocus or risk taking involved. This was simply listening and sorting through the info and taking a risk.

Astrologers Are Not Right, Most Of The Time

So, how do you get it right? It is not easy, because just one customer can say that there is a problem. Is that enough to start a business? Not really. You need more customers, more analysis, more pro formas and a complete analysis of branding and the market to really understand the opportunity. Finally you take a chance, but at this point you have done your homework, have a few potential customers and are ready to go.

Testing Is Everything

You can get lucky. But you can also just work hard and learn. No need to throw away everything with a potential loss. Early on test, test in ways you have not thought of. Call customers, ask their opinion. Seek more advice from them. Get things started and get your product out there. I have been through this a dozen times and have made my mistakes, but I think eventually I will get it right.