How to Start a Two-Bit Operation: Small Business Tips

From start to small business. Learn and live vicariously.

Some Background

In the past few months, I’ve received emails from both AddThis and ShareThis to use their respective sharing widgets on our site Menuism.com.  Since we were already using AddThis, the first email came from ShareThis, asking us to try out their widget.  Not having a great reason not, we gave it a try since it looked like they had some nice financial backing and might be evolving the product a bit more.  A couple weeks after switching to ShareThis, I got an email from AddThis asking why we switched away from them.  I gave him some of the reasons the ShareThis representative gave me about why they were better (newer faster widget, more personalization, etc.) and he countered with their focus on performance and providing an experience that is improved in a measured way.  I decided to give AddThis another try with their updated widget.  Soon after this switch I got yet another email from ShareThis asking why we took them off.

Man, these guys are good at keeping track of who’s using them.   Time to decide, which is going to be?   Both seem to have similar traffic levels and if you look at different websites and blogs the usage seems to be pretty split 50/50.  I read a bunch of articles on “addthis vs. sharethis” and didn’t find anything overwhelmingly in favor of one over the other.  So here’s my crude and unscientific approach to coming to an answer (you may not be convinced after reading this, but, hey, I tried and it’s good enough for me).

The Comparison

Criteria AddThis ShareThis Verdict
The Buttons addthis sharethis AddThis. While they’re both customizable, I find the AddThis button slightly more appealing since it uses the “+” sign instead of the weird boomerang and the small icons of recognizable sharing services makes it clear what the link is for.
The Widgets sharethis widget sharethis widget AddThis. I like the simplicity of AddThis and I like the categorization of ShareThis. This was going to be a toss up, but I think the clean list of links on the AddThis widget is just easier to scan and use.
Integration Simple. Post a HTML javascript snippet where you want the button to appear. More complex.  While you can also just put the HTML javascript snippet in the place you want the javascript to appear, you get faster performance when you put some Javascript in the HEAD of the page first then make javascript calls when you want the button. AddThis. It takes zero though and 5 minutes to integrate AddThis, while it took me some time to figure out a way to get ShareThis to load without much impact to page load times.

Also, the AddThis widget auto-sense where the widget is in relation to the page edges so it’ll either open to the right, left, top or bottom of the button depending on what shows up best.  For ShareThis, you have to be explicit about telling it how much offset to use left or right – that’s not fun.

Lastly, when you do the complex javascript integration sometimes the widget doesn’t load if your page isn’t fully finished loading which means clicking the link won’t do anything.

Performance .0176 shares per page view .00782 shares per page AddThis.
Reporting Each site you want to track needs a separate account.  Tracks activity by type of sharing (bookmark, email, etc.) and also by content, sharing service and continent. Can track activity for multiple domains with a single account.  Tracks not only widget activity, but also number of button views, times a widget was opened and also the ratio of both of those to page views. Also tracks top content and sharing services. ShareThis. It’s really nice being able to track multiple domains with a single account and the information about widget serves/page view is pretty interesting.
PickFu Survey Comparison of which button people would click on. Comparison of which button people would click on. AddThis. Feel free to conduct your own PickFu Market Research Survey.

Final Verdict: AddThis

I found that AddThis had the best combination of ease of integration, ease of use from a customer perspective, best performance and least impact on the web page loading times.  It’s a bit annoying to have an account to track reporting for each website you have, but it’s not that bad nor something I check that frequently.

Just my 2 cents for the whole addthis vs. sharethis comparison.  Feel free to come to your own conclusions!

What do you prefer as a user?  What do you prefer as a website owner?

Justin

May 24th, 2009

Posted In: Analytics, Decision Making

Tags: , , ,

FF logo 2They always say the adult industry pushes the Internet forward so I thought I’d take a look at the Friend Finder Networks (you know the Adult Friend Finder ads) SEC filing to see if there’s anything we can learn from their business, which did $243 million in revenue in 9 months in 2008.  You can also read Andrew Chen’s take on it.

Their Users:

  • Visitors (59 million/month)
    • Anyone who visits, even if they don’t register.  
    • Referred through affiliates, search, word of mouth
    • They believe they have large numbers because of their focus on continually enhancing the user experience and expanding the breadth of services.
  • Members (4 million new registered users/month!)
    • Those that have registered for free and given an email address
  • Subscribers (1 million paid subscribers/month)
    • 77.2% of revenue from subscriptions
    • $19.06 revenue per subscriber
    • 18% churn (# that cancel each month)
  • Paid Users 
    • Users that pay for products/services on a usage basis.
    • 19.6% of revenue

Their Foundations

  • Content and services people want (sex sells): Face it, it’s true – there’s money in adult content. They also have “General Audience” sites (i.e. BigChurch.com, SeniorFriendFinder.com), and while they account for a small fraction of the traffic, these “General Audience/Non-Adult” sites account for 8% of the paid subscribers at $16.28/subscriber.  
    FF traffic
  • Reliable revenue through paid subscribers: It’s nice when you’re users pay you for a service and you’re not reliant on advertising in come. Will we see more premium membership social networking sites in the future? What kinds of things would you be willing to pay for on a social networking website?
  • Strong affiliate network: You’re in a strong position when you can enable other businesses to exist.  Google Adsense is a great example of this.  Their success is your success. 
  • Scalable Website Platform and Model: Apparently they can launch their “friend finder” network in any niche as demonstrated by the church and seniors segment.  Even if each new niche doesn’t become a large percentage of total revenue, as long as each segment is profitable then can continue to roll out new niches and incrementally grow the business.  In essence, creating a long tail 1 site at a time. 

The Name of the Game: Conversions

The key for them to make money is to continually increase their conversion rates of free members to paid subscribers.  Pretty much every business comes down to conversions – you just need to figure out what the right metrics are and maniacally improve them. 

Some Interesting Risks They Note

  • Decreased content contribution from users: This is a risk for many of the consumer-focused social networking sites today that rely on the uncompensated contributions of users.  Since the value of the sites comes this free content any decrease would be an obvious blow.  If financial compensation is needed to continue the contributions that’ll have a negative impact on the bottom line.
  • Inability to diversify and innovate products & services: There’s always new competitors adding the latest bells and whistles and if your site doesn’t keep up then users may leave.  That doesn’t mean you have to implement everything under the sun, but you need to at least make sure the majority of users have their needs met – and those needs do change and grow.

Notable Social Networking Features

  • Loyalty Program: Give points to users for participating on the site and allow users to redeem them for things like upgraded memberships or more prominence in searches.  This sounds like a great way to incentivize users to contribute content.
  • Cupid Reports: Automatic notifications of potential matches when the member joins the site. This sounds like a great way to push interaction amongst members. 

Interesting Metrics

  • # of customer service requests
  • # of user actions (images/videos uploaded, messages sent, etc)
  • referring link/domain, traffic source
  • e-mail domain

That’s all for now.  It’s always neat to peek under the hood of another business to see what they’re focused on and what they’re worried about.  I found the couple of risks I noted to be particularly interesting.  

Any thoughts? What risks are you worried about?  Are you tracking the right metrics?

Justin

January 6th, 2009

Posted In: Business Plan, Learning

I can’t believe it’s been 3 years of entrepreneurship.  It continues to be an experience I cherish and whole-heartedly recommend.  Being your own boss and having the flexibility to work on what you want, when you want and from where you want really is priceless.  

2008 brought some great new milestones for us:

  • Redesigned Menuism and got it to a nice level of profitability.
  • Got The Wedding Lens up and running with a professional design after soft-launching in 2007. Did you know what we’ve stored over 50,000 photos for wedding couples with some couples hitting almost 2,000 photos for their wedding!
  • 1st full year of pay from our revenue-generating properties (no consulting necessary – yay!).
  • Launched PickFu in less than 2 weeks.
  • Launched the Greener Good blog.
  • Joined forces with Chuck Templeton to form Delta Beans, LLC, the new holding company for all our properties. 

All in all a great year!  While our properties are now owned by Delta Beans, the two-bit blog will stick around as way to continue to document the experience.  Each day always brings more learnings as we try to grow and juggle an increasing number of projects.  

Personally, here are some goals I have for 2009:

  • Document the startup/entrepreneur experience better.  I’m tossing around the idea of doing this in a wiki/e-book format. 
  • Be much greener.  Greener Good helps with this.
  • Eat less meat and be healthier. 
  • Read more.  Books, not blogs.

I’m not even going to try to promise blogging more since I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep, but you can always connect with me on Twitter and I’ll try to do better about blogging :). 

Have a great year!

Justin

January 5th, 2009

Posted In: Entrepreneur, Startup

As an entrepreneur, there are many times when you want to get some feedback on something you’re working on or planning to work on.  It might be the name of your new company, the strategic direction of your products, or even just different versions of ad copy or images.  Sure you can annoy your friends with emails or go to a coffee shop and ask people, but in either scenario you’ll be getting a pretty skewed sampling and wasting your time.  

What if I told you that you could get 50 answers to your question in a matter of a couple hours, complete with explanations and demographic info?  All for just 5 bucks. Would that interest you? 

If it does, then PickFu is for you!

PickFu Logo

PickFu is our latest little project.  It’s a simple service that gives you cheap & instant market research into the general Internet-using population.

If you want to learn more, check out the website. the suggested uses, or the demographic info of our users. 

You can also leave a comment if you want be considered for our Beta program.  Beta users get 5 free questions – that’s a $25 value!

We’d love to hear any feedback you have on the service!

Justin

PickFu Yahoo Example

An example of doing a simple A/B test

December 23rd, 2008

Posted In: Announcement

Tags:

Working in an office is so passé.  If you haven’t heard yet, all the cool kids are working virtually now.  Whether that be working from home, cafes (John’s pushing the limits in China), on the beach, or even “co-working” together at cafes or homes.  And now that I think about it, I’ve been working in virtual teams my entire full-time career – how odd.  

John on a video conference

On my first day of work at HP back in August of 2001 I met my boss over the phone.  My boss, Mike, worked and lived in Atlanta, GA.  We did weekly team meetings on the phone and used web cams that streamed our live pictures to an internal “hollywood squares” webpage so that we could all see each other.   Over the course of my HP career, I worked with teammates in half a dozen states and numerous countries in Europe and Asia.  The cool thing about the organization I came into was that they were sort of the virtual team collaboration pioneers in HP so we experimented with all kinds of tools and techniques, with one of the most memorable being a virtual party we had where there were break out rooms on the conference lines and games like virtual pictionary using the NetMeeting whiteboard.  Fun times. 

Anyways, this trip down memory lane was spurred when I heard that a former HP colleague of mine, Loyal Mealer, recently put together a nice repository of telecommuting information called CommuteZero.  

In Loyal’s own words:

We created it to share the techniques and tools that make telecommuting and other forms of virtual work productive, easier and even fun. We want to encourage the use of virtual work as a way to improve business effectiveness and productivity, save on fuel, reduce pollution, and improve the quality of our lives. What better way to be green than to leave the car in the garage or avoid that next flight? Plus, you’ll lower your stress and have more time for family and friends.

Looking through the site I see many of the great tips and best practices that we used at HP so I recommend checking it out (blog) if you’re already working virtually or just thinking about it.  

Once you can get in your own virtual working groove, you’ll never want to go back. 

Justin

October 28th, 2008

Posted In: Productivity, Working Virtually

Tags:

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