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A little over a year ago, I joined HotPads.com as their online marketing manager. I was the first marketer at HotPads in a while, hence the team was me and I was doing everything (though nothing super well). One year later, I have a team of eight marketers (including myself) spanning SEO, email, and content. We’re soon to add a few more positions too.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned creating and growing a marketing team over the past year.

But first, here’s how I feel about my leadership experience over the last year:


Lead Don’t Dictate

As an individual contributor, I never had issues with motivating myself to learn new skills or challenging myself to try new things where I might fail. As a leader, this can work well if you harness it correctly, because then you can show your team that what you are proposing could actually be a) feasible and b) helpful to your goals.

The challenge comes in communication. One lesson I learned the hard way was that I was failing to communicate to my team *why* I was doing something. They took it as me doing their job and not trusting them, when really I trusted them completely but wasn’t sure myself if an idea would actually be a good idea.

A large part of leadership that I previously did not understand is communicating why something should be done, and what the end goal is. If you fail to get someone on board to do something, you’ve failed to inspire and you’ve failed to lead. At this point you’re a dictator. I especially have to be careful of this because my personality type is ENTJ, which I share with Napoleon, Stalin, Steve Jobs, and others. Yikes!


Hire for Culture, Not “Culture”

In San Francisco where I live, and in tech culture more broadly, people talk about “hiring for culture” frequently. When I started thinking about hiring, at first I thought culture was similar interests, a fun attitude, etc. Those are nice things to have in a coworker, but what about things like work culture, humility, how they solve problems, and other things like this that affect the day to day?




Make Your Team Look Good

The last feedback you ever want to hear as a manager is that your team feels like you are taking credit for their work. Part of your job as manager is to amplify their amazing work to your boss. If you’re leading well by making them decision makers (next section), this should be easy to do because they’ll be the ones sending the update emails and you can either a) make sure that your boss is CCd on them or b) you can forward it directly to your boss.


Make Them Decision Makers

You’re probably not the right person to make tactical decisions in areas that you are not a specialist. The person actually doing the work is the right person to make that decision, so why do we try to make the decision when we are the senior employee? I recently read The Decision Maker after the team at Buffer wrote about it, and it changed my perspective on leading a team. Now, instead of making a decision when asked for one, I respond with a question and get them to think through the answer. I’m always the support (and rarely will push back, and only when I think it’s the wrong decision or they haven’t gathered enough information), but the channel owner makes the decision.

I’m actually actively trying to give away as much decision making as possible, and it’s been amazing for the last month.



Some Final Words

I love the HotPads marketing team. I love leading the HotPads marketing team and inspiring them to do great work. This last year has been the hardest of my professional career, but the lessons learned have been invaluable.

Here is what I’ve decided are what I care about on my team:


And how I feel about leadership:


I wrote this post as part of our bi-annual Hackweek. Yes, we do hackweeks twice per year, and yes, we are always hiring.

In my role at HotPads, I manage an ever-growing team of smart marketers. My job is to hire, train, and retain the best and smartest, with the goal of removing roadblocks that keep them from both working together and succeeding at their individual jobs.

I’ve had managerial positions before, but never this direct and I’ve never been able to build my own team. Building your own team is quite different from inheriting a team, which is a whole different topic I’ll explore at some other time. Continue Reading…

I’m Not A Good Employee

John Doherty —  August 5, 2014

Have you ever heard someone say “I’m just not an employee” or “After working for myself, I can’t imagine ever working for someone again”. I’ve often felt this way, even though I don’t work for myself (well, there were those two weeks).

When I started my job at HotPads back in October, I told my then-boss “I have to be honest with you – I’m not a good employee”. What I meant by this is that I hate to be managed by others. I want to explore this a bit more, because not everyone who hates to be managed can work for themselves. Sometimes, we must learn how to succeed as we are, where we are. Continue Reading…

Last October, as many of you know, I made the move from search marketing agency Distilled to become the Online Marketing Manager at hotpads.com, the nationwide rentals brand of the Zillow Rental Network. I’ve been at the job for four months now, and a recent conversation with Jonathon Colman (another Bay Area transplant) has made me take some time to reflect on the difference between agency and inhouse life.

Here are the main differences I see between agency and inhouse life.

Access to Decision Makers

In an agency, you are constantly viewed as an external member of the team, or in my least favorite term ever, an external “solution”. Even in agencies that pride themselves on getting close to their clients and working to affect change (two terms used constantly internally at Distilled, and I love them), you are still not able to build the close relationships through serendipitous conversations and lunches that happen when inhouse.

Inhouse, you have much more access to those who are able to make decisions. Even if you are a fairly junior member of the team, you will likely still have access, within one or two steps, to the top of the chain in your business unit. The marketing team at HotPads (which has four people including me, and growing) has direct access to Zillow’s CMO, who is my boss. If they wanted, they could directly email her and ask questions (though they normally will go through me and we will approach together). But that access is (usually) much tougher to come by in an agency.

Now that I’m inhouse, I’ve found that I spend less time trying to simply reach the right people, and more time actually building relationships with the right people and getting things done internally.

Accountability To Results

Agencies are often brought in to fill a gap or to help out the inhouse team when a problem is out of their ability level or the team is too busy to come up with new ideas. The agency will usually be the one to think big and come up with ideas, and then the inhouse team is left to execute most often (and in my experience, agencies are most successful when their client has a strong inhouse team). Because of this, the agency is often not held to achieving results quickly because of the added steps of delivering work to the client, interpreting it for them, and then relying on the inhouse team to implement.


Working inhouse, this is not true at all. If I went to my boss and said that it will be at least 6 months before we see a positive impact through my and my team’s work, I’d be laughed at. When inhouse, you are responsible for the results, not just delivering work. You could argue that agencies will not be kept onboard if they are not getting results, but in my experience an agency is rarely let go because of a failure to deliver results.

Kill Your Pet Projects

I’ve always championed content, especially writing. I’ve recommended that clients create and invest in blogs to drive traffic. I’ve executed on large content pieces and outreach. All of this is well and good when you’re an agency hired for these purposes, and longterm I still believe that they work and I will continue to invest in them.

But when I moved to HotPads and soon found myself owning the inbound channels, building out a team, and researching online opportunities for other businesses, I quickly realized that I had to focus on what moves the needle now, while still looking to the future.

I wrote a number of posts on the HotPads blog, but after a month or so I realized that the three or more hours I spent writing a blog post that might get 400 visitors was probably better spent diagnosing a technical SEO issue that would get us an extra 100,000 visitors. The trade-off was easy to make.

At heart, I’m not a specialist. I know a lot about SEO and am very good at it, but I’ve never been the type to be a specialist. It’s a specialist’s job to focus on one area and grow that. It’s a strategist’s job to see the opportunity and figure out how to get there. Inhouse I’m a mix of the two. At Distilled I was a strategist. Depending on your level at the agency or inhouse, this could be true for you as well.

Ways of thinking change when you’re accountable instead of a third party vendor, and if what you’re doing is not getting the desired results then your inhouse career will likely be short-lived.

Depth Not Breadth

Mike Tekula wrote a great post on the Distilled blog in December 2012 about a t-shaped skillset. He illustrated it thus:


I think this is a really helpful way for agency marketers to think about building their skillset, but the inhouse life is slightly different if you are not a head/director/VP level. As an inhouse marketer joining above an entry level position, you are already expected to know your job (and continue growing in your abilities) and continue to go deeper in their area of expertise. Unless you’re a director/VP level, the expectation is that you will be the subject matter expert in your area that the higher-ups can lean on for solid advice.

Work/Life Balance

Agencies are known for less of a work/life balance than an inhouse job, and in my experience this is true. Most of my agency friends work at least 60-70 hours per week. I had weeks at Distilled where I worked 80+ regularly, and probably did that at least once per month during my whole time there.

Inhouse life has afforded me more of a work/life balance in my new home of San Francisco. While some of this may be attributed to moving from the 9-8 New York workstyle to the 9-5 San Francisco style, I still see my agency friends in San Francisco working (at times many) more hours than I do.

I’ve credited a lot of this with the difference in how a day at my inhouse gig is from a day at an agency. When managing multiple clients plus team members, the interruptions come fast and furious in an agency. According this Gallup poll from 2006 (http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/23146/too-many-interruptions-work.aspx#2), it takes over 20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.

Working inhouse, I find I have better planned days, fewer frantic moments of diagnosing issues, and thus I am able to concentrate and get my work done quicker than in an agency. Because of that, I work fewer hours and have more time in my evenings.

This isn’t to say that inhouse life is any less busy. In any given day I’ll be helping other team members with their job, communicating with internal stakeholders, giving SEO recommendations, and chatting with other managers about the office and teams. The difference lies in how frantic the day is and if you could be called upon any second with an issue. That happened all the time in an agency. Inhouse, this happens way less.

So What’s Better, Agency or Inhouse?

There is no “better” in my mind. Rather, I’d encourage you to think along the lines of “what’s best for me at this point?” I think everyone should work both at an agency and inhouse during their career,because you learn different skillsets that will help you out down the road. Without my years at Distilled, I would not have been prepared for the challenges of working inhouse, and vice versa when I went from inhouse to Distilled in the first place.

Have you worked both inhouse and in an agency? What do you find to be the main differences?

I recently had to go through the challenge of finding an apartment across the country, while also in the midst of starting a new job and the holidays. I couldn’t have done it without UBER and AirBNB.

For those of you not familiar with them, UBER is “Everyone’s private car service”, an on-demend car service that you use to call a personal car. It’s a much better experience than trying to hail a taxi, which is easy(ish) in New York except on rainy days and less easy, yet doable, in San Francisco. Uber costs a bit more than a regular cab usually, except for eco-friendly Pruis-driving UberX vehicles.

AirBNB, of course, is the epitome of the “sharing economy” mindset where people put their own apartments up for rent for a nightly or weekly fee. While it is a controversial service, I have met many who use AirBNB and love it, both hosts and guests. I think of AirBNB as a premium CouchSurfing experience, since you find interesting places and people to stay with wherever you may be traveling.

Loyalty, not Habit

Both UBER and AirBNB have zeroed in on the convenience factor of business. Some businesses, like Snapchat, are what one of my favorite books, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, calls a “fad.” These are a flash in the pan that peaks early, often because of so-called “viral growth”, and then trails off and in the Internet world eventually dies. The Internet is littered with them too – Turntable.fm, Groupon, SocialCam, (insert Facebook app here). Check out Socialcam’s search volumes in Google Trends:


I’d even argue that right now Snapchat and Pinterest are both fads, and we will see over time if they can become trends.


When building for the longhaul (a “hundred year business”, as the Evernote CEO likes to say), you set out to engineer something that builds loyalty, not just habit. A product or company that builds loyalty can still see “viral” growth, in that they grow very quickly and people use them often (aka habitually), but their focus on experience is what sets them apart. Then they become a trend, like Zillow:


Then they go and make you feel special, such as sending you a gift card for a similar service:

Both UBER and AirBNB have built loyalty with myself and many others I know (given, I’ve been living in NYC and am moving to SF). When moving out of my apartment in Park Slope, I used UBER when I was moving the last of my boxes. I knew that I could load up the app on my phone, and within 5-10 minutes I would have a black SUV at my door to help me out with taking my boxes, and I knew that I would get a great experience. I could have called a cab, but I didn’t.

Similar with AirBNB. I have become loyal to them, to the point where I asked special permission from my boss at Zillow to stay in AirBNBs in SF instead of hotels downtown. I was able to get to know both the Mission and the Castro because of staying in them for a week at a time in an actual apartment instead of a hotel.

Both services also know who I am, which as I’ll cover in the third section makes them even more valuable.

Local-based Knowledge

Check out the list of UBER Twitter accounts that I found on a recent Followerwonk search:

They have a Twitter account for every major city. When I’ve left a note about a driver or let them know about a bad experience, they’ve been quick to get back to me on email or Twitter. This lets me trust that the person behind the account knows approximately where I am and what is going on in that area. They can’t immediately give me a better route to the airport, but they can make me feel better that I’m being listened to.

AirBNB is in another category. They’ve invested years of time, effort, and money to produce their local guides. AirBNB isn’t just a housing site – they’re a travel site invested in getting you familiar with the city you are visiting so that you can make the best decision possible about where to stay. Check out their beautiful Park Slope page -

I actually used AirBNB while checking out neighborhoods for where to live in San Francisco. Not the typical use case, but that’s indicative of a trend not a habit as well – you figure out new ways to use the service to enhance your life.


Finally, they’re personal. UBER knows who I am because I use the service. I have a profile (complete with a star rating) that the driver sees when I request a car, and I see theirs. Apparently, if my star rating gets below 4.5 stars, I won’t be allowed to use UBER. Wow. This makes sure that both the person and the driver are accountable, and serves to make UBER a trend instead of a fad.

The customer support people at UBER know who I am as well because of my profile on the site. Everyone gets personal attention, also adding to the overall experience and making you “feel like a badass”, as the UBER founders describe how they wanted to feel when founding the company.

AirBNB goes as far as displaying your profile online for all to see. Here is mine:

Not only do you review where you stay, but they review you as well and the reviews are made public at least to potential hosts. Not only does this build in accountability (just like UBER), but also serves to personalize the service to you. AirBNB is becoming my canonical travel profile online (which is what Foursquare really should be) and I love them for it.

The Future of the Sharing and On-Demand Economies

Look at a few of the characteristics I’ve covered:

  • Personalization
  • Transparency
  • Extendability
  • Platform-ability

These characteristics can and should be taken to other verticals as well. Zillow and HotPads, for example, do this for you when you are logged into the site or mobile app. I am consistently surprised how few sites actually do this and I think it’s the next step for both the sharing and on-demand economies.

I love new businesses. I love technology that connects the world. I also hate seeing companies who change the world languish and not reach their full potential. FourSquare is one of those businesses for me.

I’ve thought for a while now about what I would do if I was Head of Online Marketing for Foursquare. No, I’m not looking for a new job, because I just started my new job at apartment site HotPads, but if I was I’d write this about Foursquare. If you’re the marketer at Foursquare, listen up. And if you know that person, you should forward this to them.

I have four three things you should do to see a bump in traffic.

Build A Web Presence

Note: I wrote this, and they rolled out their new site before I could publish. Well done guys.

Foursquare is one of the few startups that I can think of (Instagram and Snapchat come to mind) that has been able to build a mobile-first experience and company. Of course, Foursquare did this in competition with Dowalla. They ended up winning that fight and were the first movers in the check-in space, so they received good growth from the start.

While I agree and accept that the world is moving to mobile, and there are even countries skipping the desktop and moving to mobile, desktop and mobile search can still drive amazing traffic. Look at sites like Yelp and even OpenTable. These sites rank very well for restaurant names and have been able to monetize it. Even if you monetize with traffic, at least you’re monetizing. Foursquare is struggling to monetize, so this could be a nice stopgap while they figure out their mobile revenue streams.

So build a web presence. Offer something different than Yelp.

Oh wait, you have that. You have how popular a restaurant is. You have even how popular an airline at a specific airport is. You should harness that to not only show popularity, but also to make it a point of pride for restaurants and users. And you can use this data for awesome, because you know the types of places I go after other places (thanks to 4SQDAY):


But for the love of pete, allow me to embed them. Also, do more of this and this. Data = awesome. Tell us stories.

Email (or Text!) Me Recommendations

Foursquare, I’ve been a member of yours for over two years. I thought we were friends. I’ve given you a lot of time. I’ve played with you when I was bored. I’ve ignored other friends for you. I’ve given you free information. You even know where people go:


But never once have you recommended a restaurant to me. Or told me where I should take my girlfriend on a date because others have taken their girlfriends there and they had a great time.

You should get in touch more often. I give you permission to do so, and I bet a lot of other people will too.

Another bonus to this: you have nationwide and worldwide coverage. My friend tells me you are immensely popular in Turkey. This gives you a huge power, because now when I check in at another airport in another state while traveling, you can recommend me places to eat or see there. You know where I am. Leverage that. Don’t underestimate the power of the connections you have drawn for people too.

Be More Aggressive About Reviews/Tips

The most useful part of Yelp is their star ratings system. If I see a restaurant with less than 4 stars, I’m a bit reluctant to go there.

But you offer tips, and that is the center of your experience. You should take the different tips people leave and surface them as search filters. But you should also ask me more often to leave tips about the place. I know you’re trying to gather information about credit cards and pricing through the app right now, but do more than ask me yes/no questions. Also ask me what I would recommend people get or what I enjoyed the most.


Curate Awesome Content

Finally, you are in the position to be the place people go when they are trying to find out what’s happening at the Met or where they should stay on a business trip to Atlanta. You have data on everything.

I have always wanted a service that will recommend places for me to go on Saturday night based on other places I’ve been or bands I’ve seen. I’ve managed to cobble together a decent workflow for finding good new restaurants or when my favorite band is coming to town (Wednesday, by the way), but you should be doing that for. I shouldn’t have to use BandsInTown on Facebook and Thriliist for restaurants. You know what I like. Curate that for me and I’ll love you forever, especially as I move to San Francisco.


I love you, Foursquare. Build a decent web experience and send me communications, and I’ll love you even more.



Why I Write on Medium

John Doherty —  October 15, 2013

Hi my name is John and I write on Medium, and I like it.

Before I start this post I feel the need to make that confession. Medium, if you don’t know, is the current darling of writing online. It’s the brain child of Evan Williams, the man behind Blogger and Twitter. Medium is currently invite-only, though it’s easy to get access to write if you edit someone else’s post (#protip).

I’ve been surprised by the number of professional marketers I know who have been asking “Why write on Medium? Aren’t you just building someone else’s platform?” I expected this from certain groups online, but not from the professional marketers that I know. Hence, I think it necessary to respond here, as I did over on Inbound.org about why I personally write on Medium, what I’ve seen from it, and how I plan to leverage it in the future.

Why Write?

I think of writing on Medium as thought leadership content. If you’re a company owner or an expert in a field, would you jump at the chance to write on Forbes (well, the Forbes of old maybe) or Time.com? Would you pose the same question of “but why write on there?” if you had those chances? What about the chance to write on Mashable (even if you don’t like it) or TechCrunch (once again, whether you like their content or not)? Of course you would jump at that chance and of course you wouldn’t ask me that question.

So why ask it about Medium?

I write on Medium for the following reasons:

  • To access a new (and tuned-in) audience
  • Try different types of writing that I don’t want to put here yet
  • Drive traffic to sites I care about (content strategy anyone)?

Access A New Audience

The Medium audience is an Internet savvy bunch. They’re writers, designers, marketers, brand people, product people, and even some quite influential characters like Gary V and Evan Williams (founder) hang out on there. In short, it’s the perfect target audience for startups and people involved in that industry, even tangentially.

Think back to marketing at its base. Marketing, especially in our day and age, involves meeting your target customers where they are. This is the ultimate goal because these are the people that are going to pay you, which then pays your rent and for your food. But to reach your customers by getting in front of them where they are, you have two choices (that are not mutually exclusive):

  • You write and get content placed that refers people back to your site/business
  • Others reference/recommend your business in content that they write.

Quick tangent: This is why I believe many companies are doing it wrong when they engage writers to create content to be placed on another website (like Medium). Often, the company will hire the writer to write the piece, then the company will do outreach to place it. Or, if they’re a little more savvy, they do outreach first in order to get the content idea secured and then they hire the content writer. But why stop there? If I was doing it (and I soon may), I’d hire a person who can do both the outreach and the writing. Of course, you need to qualify the places that the writers are putting content and make sure that they do it in a way that won’t get you into trouble (ie trying to “scale” the same content across many article directory websites), but I think the return would be there.

Different Types of Writing

I also write on Medium to try new content types. I have built a very marketing-focused site here. That makes sense – this is a marketing website. Building an audience focused around a topic lends itself to many challenges though, not the least being the fact that you can’t easily branch out into other types of writing. I’ve always been a writer and even still write fiction, but I don’t expose that here. I could do that on Medium, though.

If you look at the posts I’ve written on Medium, they’re about entrepreneurship, musings about life and fate, and lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years. Not all of them have worked. Check out the stats.

As you can see, some did well and others not so much. That’s kind of the point though – I can experiment with other types of writing in a low-risk environment where I can see what resonates and what doesn’t (and build some strong links while I’m at it :-)

I was intrigued by a recent post over on Buffer where Belle, their main writer now, talked about how she and Leo decided that they would experiment with different content types *on the Buffer blog*. She even points out that one of the content types they tried – personal stories – did not do very well. I think there are a few reasons for this, namely:

  • It’s not the type of content the Buffer audience is used to
  • The audience was not primed for a different type of content
  • Maybe not the kind of audience the Buffer crowd wants

Do I think people should experiment? Absolutely. The issue here isn’t Belle’s writing though. She is a phenomenal writer, one of my favorites to read these days, but they missed the target audience. If I were her, I would have put that content on a different site with an audience (like Medium) to see how it’s received. Then, if it’s received well, start putting together a strategy for how you are going to incorporate that into your own site if you decide your site is the right place for that kind of content. You should be willing to recognize that your site might not be the best place for it at the end of the day.

It All Goes Back To Your Marketing Funnel

Remember your marketing funnel? In regards to content people talk about top, middle, and bottom of funnel (T/M/BOFU), but this doesn’t just apply to content. When we take a step back and look at it from a more meta level, these sections (and let’s not forget about the post-conversion funnel too) are:

  • Top of funnel – first few touches on the site with the goal of a micro-conversion such as an email list subscribe or social media following
  • Middle of funnel – the next touches where you increasingly take them from outside interest to becoming an advocate and getting closer to buying
  • Bottom of funnel – where the conversion happens.

Medium sits at the top of the funnel for me. I don’t cross-promote (often) my Medium content on my other sites. I’ll promote them via social media, for sure, and I always want the existing audience to be interested in what has been written. That doesn’t happen, though, which is fine. You learn and you change for the next time.

A Few Medium Strategies

Medium is an interesting platform in that it has two dynamics:

  • Logged-out users see the most popular content on the homepage
  • Logged-in users see content curated by them based on categories they follow

You see, Medium is organized into categories. Some of my favorites are Architecting A Life, What I Learned Building, and Today I Learned. I’ve followed these signed in, so when I go to Medium I see this:


But when I’m signed out (or incognito), this is what I would see:


There are two main strategies to get your content found directly on Medium (meaning, outside of social media and external promotion):

  • Get enough people to recommend it that it hits the homepage for logged out visitors (honestly, it only takes 4-5 to make this happen right now)
  • Put it in the most relevant popular categories (I believe you can do 3 yourself) and get others to include it in other categories as well

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you how to find the most popular categories, though. Here is a living chart of the most popular categories on Medium as of time of publishing. If someone wants to help me write a script that updates daily, I’d love your help and will gladly link to you!

Why I Write On Medium

I write on Medium because I get to experiment with new content, build links back to my sites, drive targeted traffic to side projects like HireGun, and increase my portfolio of writing. I’m widening the top of the HireGun, and this site’s, conversion funnel and playing the long game.

Medium is a platform. Others have talked about why you shouldn’t put all of your content onto someone else’s platform, which I agree with. Don’t do it with Google+, don’t do it with Myspace or Facebook, and don’t do it with Medium. We can, however, learn how to use these platforms to connect with our potential audience and build our businesses that way.

I’d love your thoughts. Or if you want to start the conversation on Twitter, tweet me at @dohertyjf.

Many of you don’t know this, but I’ve burnt myself out a few times. I hustle really hard for a long amount of time, then I hit a point where I cannot go any further. I’ve recently come across some awesome quotes that I want to share to encourage you to take time and space as you need it, and your work will be better for it. Personally, I plan to do this more in San Francisco by riding my bike, going skiing in Tahoe and climbing in Yosemite, and being outside as much as possible and off the Internet on weekends. Continue Reading…

A month and a half ago I took a new job as the Online Marketing Manager for Hotpads.com, the nationwide apartment and condo rentals subsidiary website of leading real estate website Zillow. I gave my notice at Distilled and finished out three and a half weeks there. I start my new job Monday.

In between though, I’ve had two weeks off. Originally, I took those two weeks off to potentially travel. I was hoping to go to Ireland to visit an old friend from my 2006 Switzerland days, but flights were prohibitively expensive. Instead, I decided to stay around New York (though I’m writing this on a plane to Colorado before heading to Seattle and San Francisco) in order to see the city some more. To be honest, I didn’t do much of that though I did take an afternoon to go to the American Museum of Natural History (true fact: Theodore Roosevelt’s family opened it).

Instead, I worked on my side project HireGun. Here’s what I learned.

Entrepreneurship is a mindset

I was an entrepreneur full time for these two weeks. You might be thinking “Dude, you still have no idea about entrepreneurship then.” And you might be right. I have no idea about the legalities of entrepreneurship, I’m just learning about book-keeping and invoicing (I do recommend Freshbooks though), and I haven’t built a full product yet. I have a website and a business model that I’m in the process of testing.

However, this isn’t all entrepreneurship is. Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Entrepreneurship is a dedication to identifying problems or opportunities, trying to fix them, and changing the world for the better. If you’ve made one person’s life better, you’ve been successful. If you’ve made some money great. But that’s not all entrepreneurship is. Entrepreneurship is identifying challenges and dedicating yourself to shipping things to try to make them work.

I didn’t realize that until this week. And honestly, I think the entrepreneurship mindset is closer to a creative mindset than a business mindset. You can learn business strategies, processes, and models. You can’t really learn creativity. And this is why I claim “Entrepreneur” in my Twitter profile.

Entrepreneurship is hard and scary

If I didn’t have a new job that I was heading into, and one that I am very excited about and where I see a lot of opportunity, I might have been a nervous mess these past two weeks. Having to think about budgets, prioritizing features and tasks based on what you think will bring in ROI, and then making deals – this is hard and heady stuff.

If I had a family, I would’ve been even more nervous. I have an apartment to pay for, food to buy, and a girlfriend to treat to things, but that’s very very different from your venture being your sole source of income.

I don’t know how a lot of you do it. I plan to do it someday still, but I’ve definitely had a reality check. At the end of the two weeks though, I was Ramen profitable. I consider that a win.

Test your business models

Business models are tricky. It’s tough to realize that the model you’ve been working off of has flaws and you need to put in more work to figure out if it’s a completely viable option or if you need to tweak or even completely change your model. Early on is the time to test your business model, because without a solid revenue model in a bootstrapped business you will quickly run out of runway and will not be able to scale.

The past two weeks I’ve been testing my model. I’m not convinced I have it figured out, and if the one that I think will really work is to succeed it’s going to involve a lot of time and effort. We’ll see what that turns into.

Lesson – even if you’re making money, you don’t necessarily have your business model figured out. Test other ways and do the math to figure out what will be long term profitable and sustainable.

Talk to your customers and ask for help

Your customers are your greatest asset. In HireGun’s case, the greatest asset is the strong lineup of consultants on board that I refer business to. When I realized one of the roadblocks to my business model, I could have gone one of two routes. I could have immediately started executing on what I *thought* would be part of the answer, or I could ask consultants if that would be valuable to them.

I chose to do the second. I sent an email with the subject line “Do you have 15 minutes to chat?” I explained that I had an idea that I needed to run by them and asked for just a few minutes of their time. This is the email that I sent – simple and straight forward with a call to action at the end:


I set up the calls through Clarity.fm (see my interview with Dan Martell, the founder, here). They handled all the logistics and I was able to do all the calls for free through their offering. And as you’ll see in the next section, I gave specific parameters for when I would do the call so that I could have blocks of time to do other things (like exercise).

Lesson: read The Lean Startup. You’ll learn how to test ideas.

Vary your day and batch your work

I get bored easily. If I keep at one task for too long, especially while sitting (which I’m convinced is slowly killing us), I get bored and antsy. So, I tried to schedule out my day so that I could reach peak efficiency – sleep in a bit, do some writing in the morning while I’m fresh and drinking coffee and eating a healthy breakfast, check for new leads and contact them while still drinking coffee, eat some lunch, go on a bike ride for at least an hour around Prospect Park, come back and answer more emails, do some outreach or publish content, check for new leads with a beer, then unplug for the evening.

On days where I was doing calls, whether with consultants or paid gigs through Clarity (my profile here), I set parameters for myself for when I would be available. Then, I stuck to those. I marked off the afternoons on Wednesday and Thursday of the first week for consultant calls, then I scheduled paid consulting calls on the next Wednesday. In between, and other times those days, I had time to either have to myself (to read or write) or choose to not work at all if I wanted/needed to refresh myself.

This approach to work is often called “batch working” or “time boxing”. Basically it’s a way to guarantee that certain tasks won’t take over your life and not allow you sufficient time to do focus and do anything well. It’s a strategy I employed as a consultant (no calls before 10am, etc) and one that I plan to employ at Hotpads too in order to allow for maximum productivity.

Get some exercise

It’s counter-intuitive, but scientific, that exercising gives you more energy rather than less. Sure, you’re spent afterwards but your adrenaline is flowing, and I’ve found that it’s often these times after exercising that I am the most creative. I used to ride my bike into work, from Park Slope in Brooklyn to Union Square in Manhattan, and it was these days that I was most awake (needed less coffee) and also the most productive.

I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of exercising in the middle of the day. I have friends in finance who are barely able to leave their seats in order to go use the bathroom because they may get a call to make a trade where every second matters.

If you are not in the habit of exercising, start slowly. One reason that so many people do not succeed in their New Years Resolutions is because they set them too high and go too strong. Commit to going for a walk two times a week. Soon you can take that to three, then four, and soon you’ll crave going for a walk to clear your head.

Final Thoughts

This was a great two weeks. In fact, it’s two of the most enjoyable I’ve had in a while (definitely since my trip to Alaska back in June). I’ll take these lessons into Hotpads and beyond. If any of you have experimented like this and written about it, I’d love to read your stories too.

The past week in search marketing has given everyone a lot to talk about. 100% (not provided) for keywords. Hummingbird, the rewrite of the algorithm. It seems like it’s cool to talk about Hummingbird, Google’s latest name for their algorithm.

Here’s the unfortunate truth about Hummingbird and (not provided): none of us really know what is in Hummingbird, or what the motivations behind 100% secure search are. It could be to fight spam. It could be the NSA snooping on $GOOG’s data. It could be a seemingly evil (but smart) way to get people to buy more ads, which will probably work.

As Joel said in his post on the iAcquire blog this week, you can complain or you can get to work.

Allow me to input my perspective.

Hummingbird isn’t the end of SEO. Neither is secure search. Both of these change the game, but they don’t change what search marketers should be doing anyway – focusing on the channels that bring the most revenue to the business at the best cost.

Let’s not jump and scream about how Hummingbird will kill SEO. From my perspective, the effect is relatively small.

Hummingbird Affects Answer Sites

To start, let’s calm down for a minute and think about how people use the internet. They use it in many different ways -

  • To find basic information
  • To find real time information
  • To learn
  • To go indepth into a topic
  • To buy stuff

Hummingbird affects the first two. It means that sites like Yahoo Answers (already not a great resource), Wikihow and eHow (whatever traffic they have left), crappy sites like the cellphone number sites, and even Quora (which I once heard referenced as Yahoo Answers plus 50 IQ points) are going to see traffic drops.

When you think about it, though, this is an extremely small number of sites on the Internet. These sites, and a few others like ESPN (for real time scores) and weather.com (for weather) will have to come up with new ways to generate traffic and make their sites stickier and more useful to keep users coming back. This is a natural progression of business, and not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. The Internet gets more useful and google users are happier because they find their information faster.

(Not provided) Focuses Us On Pages

Let’s talk about secure search now. The marketing community has been all abuzz about this for the last week since someone noticed that Google is redirecting all search traffic through HTTPS, which means that organic search marketers now do not get any of the keywords driving traffic to their site through Google. Truth is, (not provided) has been spiking for weeks, since the Friday before Labor Day weekend. We’ve steadily been losing organic traffic and at a higher rate than usual in the past few weeks. Did people seriously not notice? I sure did.

Rand Fishkin, who I love and respect, did a wonderful emergency Whiteboard Tuesday on Moz with some awesome strategies for dealing with (not provided). I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself:

I take issue with the view that has been espoused recently by the industry, though, that this is an existential crisis for SEO/marketing and that this will ultimately hurt SEO budgets.

I was an SEO consultant for almost three years, until last week actually. From my experience, the simplified version of how execs/CMOs/lead marketers think about SEO is flawed.

Most execs don’t care which keywords are driving traffic and converting best. They’re too busy to care about that. I know exactly one CEO of a company with > $10m in annual revenue who looks at individual keywords.

Most execs care about overall revenue coming from the organic, or any other, channel. They also care about their pet keywords, for better or for worse. Many of you reading this are probably very familiar with the frequent “Why are we not #1 for [keyword] yet?” question, even though that keyword may not drive great traffic or conversions.

We’ve lost keyword data. So how do we move forward? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m going back inhouse. Here is my current thinking about how I would report if I was still consulting, which is similar to how i would ideally report inhouse:

  • Pages driving conversions and the channel driving them, as opposed to individual keywords;
  • Buckets of pages driving traffic (ie category or product page) and that trended over time;
  • Efforts made and the direct effects of those actions (traffic and conversions, maybe even movements in specific rankings if that is needed for more buy in from above);
  • Biggest areas of potential to focus on next;
  • Plans for the future.

Not much has changed there. Marketers can still get data (which is the same data we’ve always had, albeit a source that we don’t really trust aka Google) we’ve always had upfront. Measuring it will be a bit harder, but now we can focus on the pages that traffic and come up with new ways to direct traffic there.

The Future is Bright

Hummingbird and secure search are here. There’s nothing to do about that. Google may give us organic keyword data back through GA premium, but I’m not holding my breath.

Hummingbird has bigger consequences than we know, that’s for sure. It incorporates the Knowledge Graph more than ever before and is starting to move search towards “things not strings” as many have said. Secure search hides important data, but we’re able to now report on other things that may even be better tied to business objectives than before.