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Anatomy of a Perfect Business April Fool’s Joke

Who doesn’t love April 1st?

The perfect April Fool’s joke needs to do two things:
1. Be Funny and/or Clever
2. Highlight Why You Are Awesome

Seth Godin’s April Fool’s post today about Tuber was awesome.

I’m definitely a big Seth Godin fan. My three year old asked me once if I’ve ever seen a blue monster with three ears and no eyes. When I said no, he said he’d draw me one and started laughing. It was the best joke ever. Whenever I turn the tables, I always ask him if he’s seen a purple cow.

We did an April’s Fool’s joke on $5 Meal Plan – we just sent out this “kid-friendly” plan.

Why is this funny or clever? Other than the obvious that it’s chicken nuggets and a bellini, it’s also about as unexpected as you can be on 4/1. We frame it as a kid-friendly plan, which is something lots of people have asked for, and it actually is kid-friend. It’s chicken nuggets, can’t really get more kid friendly than that.

How does this highlight why we are awesome? We use humor in a lot of what we do in our service, we try to make the service as entertaining as possible. We put food trivia in our emails, we tell jokes, and we otherwise try to make each email delightful. You look forward to the email for the trivia and jokes as well as the plan.

In addition to showing you we have a sense of humor, it shows you what a plan looks like. You can see we use icons to identify recipes, our directions are easy to understand, and the plan is simple to execute.

My personal favorite from this year, CERN researchers confirm the existence of the Force. My favorite result from an April Fool’s Joke is this one from Tesla.

So, what did you do for April Fools’ this year?

be first!

Why I Started $5 Meal Plan

$5 Meal Plan Logo$5 Meal Plan was one of the reasons why Microblogger was in hibernation mode.

In a previous post, I wrote that I’d be sharing what I learned building these other projects and this is the first part of a multi-part series about one of those businesses – $5 Meal Plan.

$5 Meal Plan is a meal plan service that emails you a weekly meal plan and shopping list every Friday. The service has a free trial and then it costs $5 a month, less if you pay for six or twelve months up front after the trial.

My co-founder, Erin Chase, is someone you may be familiar with because she was on the podcast on episode 12, when we talked about her selling 150,000+ copies of her books.

We’ll discuss the origins of the idea, why I chose to do it, how I found Erin, as well as what’s next in the series.

The idea

Let’s be honest – meal plans are not new.

A meal plan based on affordable meals is not new.

The inspiration to start a meal plan service was another meal plan service. Jason, semi-formerly of Paleo Plan, told me about his experience (episode 5) building a meal plan service and I thought it sounded like fun.

The big difference? Jason had the benefit of building a plan around a diet that was brand new, Paleo. Jason’s also a smart guy, which is why he thought of such a great idea, so he was able to quickly build it to be the market leader.

What was going to be $5 Meal Plan’s competitive advantage? There was no clear leader when it came to a meal plan focused on inexpensive, easy-to-make meals that was an affordable as ours. Emeals is the market leader and their budget-friendly plan is priced at $5 – $10, depending on the length of the payment plan.

Also, I believe that a singular idea is great but it cannot win without strong execution. I don’t consider $5 Meal Plan to be a novel idea, but I feel that it’s a good business that can excel if executed well and it solves a problem that lacks a perfect solution.

Why I chose to do $5 Meal Plan

I’ve always wanted to start a membership site and I thought that by starting a business with a low membership fee, $5 a month, I’d cut my teeth on something “easy” while learning skills I could apply to something “harder” (more expensive).

Somewhere, my surrogate Asian father Ramit Sethi is shaking his head right now.

I also thought the business would be easier because I wouldn’t have to worry about the core product – meal plans. It was technologically very straightforward and I could find a partner who had demonstrated years of proficiency.

When I approached Erin about it, I didn’t know she was already giving away meal plans each week. They weren’t formatted as nicely as $5 Meal Plan is today but they cost nothing. That meant there was an audience out there who was used to using her meal plans and we could convert some of them to the paid service.

How I found a co-founder

Speaking of Erin, I only did $5 Meal Plan because I knew Erin ahead of time. I like to work with folks with whom I get along with but they must also possess a set of applicable and complementary skills.

From an execution standpoint, I knew that Erin had the recipe database to support a weekly meal plan service, the meals were on $5 Dinners. I knew that she had the audience that was receptive to meal plans, since she’d been giving them away weekly and selling Costco plans on her site, and she had always wanted to do something like this. All the pieces were there.

If I didn’t know Erin, I wouldn’t have been as bullish on the idea in the first place. Meal plan services are a dime a dozen and the moat is small.

The appeal of $5 Meal Plan is that it’s affordable, both the plan and the cost of the meals, but it’s also because of Erin. When you sell 150,000 books, at least a couple of them are going to be fans of you. 🙂

What I think I bring

In addition to looking for a co-founder with complementary skills, I felt like I needed to understand what I brought to the table. I knew I’d be learning a lot but my strength is conversion optimization testing, copywriting, and handling all the technology behind the scenes gave me confidence I could be a good partner in the business.

I think what’s key to a good partnership is when all partners are doing what they’re good at and when the two skillsets cover the whole range of tasks. Erin’s role is to get folks to the site, then I get them in the door, settled, and using the plans she creates every single week by hand. Then I make sure the technology is as friction-less as possible.

And the process isn’t like handing off a baton. It’s more like hiking a trail when sometimes I’m in the front and sometimes Erin is the front in terms of guiding responsibility.

Throughout the hike, we’re communicating from our own perspectives and experiences so we’re most likely to succeed. We may have complementary skills but we also complementary and often overlapping domain expertise that’s invaluable.

A prime example of this domain expertise example was in our payment systems. I knew we would set up Stripe, which effectively takes every single credit and debit card out there. I wasn’t sure if we wanted Paypal because you hear tons of horror stories about Paypal and integration was going to be a minor annoyance..

Erin insisted that we have Paypal, I deferred to her judgment and set it up. The result shocked me.

32.7% of our payments have been through Paypal.

While we could’ve gotten some of those sales if we only offered Stripe, 32.7% is a much bigger number than I would’ve guessed. (my guess was ~10%, but that’s not based on any data which is about as useful as a fistful of snow in the Arctic)

(Incidentally, Erin’s domain expertise from selling Costco plans told her that a significant number of sales comes from Paypal – data always wins)

What’s next?

If you’re interested in how we launched the membership site, stay tuned because next up I’ll share how we beta launched the service to 300+ beta testers. How we convinced them to try us out and how they would have a major impact on how the service looked on Day 1.


What Have I Been Up To?

If you’ve been a long time reader of Microblogger, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t produced a podcast or written a blog post (regularly) in quite some time.

What gives?

Like a lot of blogs, the answer is – “other projects.”

Blogging, and any business, is a matter of opportunity cost. When I started Bargaineering, the opportunity cost was television time. Instead of watching TV at night after dinner, I’d write blog posts and network with other bloggers. For me, that’s not a difficult trade at all.

Nowadays, blogging comes at a cost to other priorities. In my case, I co-founded two new businesses with two separate but equally fantastic co-founders. The businesses are doing well, they’re challenging me in new ways that help me grow, and they’re a lot of fun.

I’m sharing this with you for two reasons:

  • I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I’ve learned a lot as a result of starting these new businesses and working with other people in building these businesses. What I’ve learned I hope to share with you in the future.
  • I miss writing. I did copywriting and other types of writing in support of those businesses, but I wasn’t writing blog posts. I wasn’t putting ideas on paper, as it were, and working my writing muscles in a way that kept them strong. I used to write three blog posts a day for Bargaineering and while it was great to write zero blog posts a day, I felt like I had an itch I just couldn’t scratch.

When I started Microblogger, it was to give myself a year to build up a business and investigate new technologies that became popular in the last few years. I produced a short email course, 50 Days to a Better Blog, and a podcast that made it to 36 episodes.

The mindset that Microblogger was to be a business made me evaluate Microblogger as business and as a business, it wasn’t doing well. Microblogger earned a few hundred dollars a month through hosting referrals and course sales. If Bargaineering made a few hundred dollars in the first year, I’d be ecstatic. But Bargaineering was a hobby and something I did for fun, I didn’t approach it as a business so I didn’t let the numbers tell me it wasn’t a business yet after a year. Microblogger wasn’t cutting it financially so I put it on hold while I pursued other more promising projects.

But I realized I enjoyed Microblogger because it gave me the opportunity to share ideas, have conversations, and it helped me express myself creatively. I missed all of that. It’s my way of saying I missed you.

So I’m going to rekindle Microblogger and this time I’m going to approach it like I approached Bargaineering – this is a hobby, let’s learn from each other, have fun, and I’m not going to think about whether the ROI on my time makes business sense. 🙂

What’s on tap? I’ll share the ins and outs of how I started the first of the two new ventures, $5 Meal Plan, including why I approached Erin Chase to start it, how we launched our beta, how we launched for real, and a lot of the learnings along the way. There’s a tremendous amount involved in a membership site, in billing folks on a regular basis, and I’ll share it with you.


What World War 2 British Bombers Can Teach You About Competitive Research

Photo: D. Biller - B17 Flying Fortress & B24 Liberator at Airventure 2006

Photo: D. Biller – B17 Flying Fortress & B24 Liberator at Airventure 2006

During World War 2, the prevailing military strategies believed that the key to victory would be sustained bombing of industrial and political infrastructure, as well as military targets. Bombers would play a huge role in the war as they were one of the most effective units in causing massive damage to this infrastructure.

Throughout the German advance in Europe, air power played a huge role as sustained bombings pushed many governments to surrender. The Luftwaffe would eventually turns their sights towards Britian and heavily bomb British towns and cities during July and August of 1940, in advance of Operation Sea Lion and The Blitz.

The British RAF Bomber Command would bomb Berlin in response and Berlin was just within range of British bombers. These bombing raids would go frequently between 1940 and 1945 and dropped an estimated 46,000 tons of bombs, about twice the tonnage of the United States Air Force, in Berlin alone.

As one would expect, the British were suffering losses of their bombers from German anti-air defenses. So, they commissioned a study of their surviving bombers to decide where they could reinforce their bombers to increase survivability.

The British RAF Bomber Command recommended that they increase the amount of armor on the places that were being hit, not a bad conclusion, right?

In fact, it’s illustrates a common logical error – survivorship bias.

What is Survivorship Bias?

Survivorship bias is a simple logical error where you concentrate too much on what you can see with people, businesses, or things that “survived” a process. You miss what you can’t see because it’s not immediately in front of you or was excluded because it no longer exists.

In blogging, it’s easy to see the successful bloggers in a niche and look for a commonality among them. While that’s good to start with, it’s dangerous to finish there. You need to consider who was popular four or five years ago (or longer, depending on the niche) and if they no longer exist, investigate why. Research what made them peak 5 years ago but a shadow of their former glory today. Compare that with what works today with current successful bloggers in that niche and do your comparisons with the “dead” included.

I don’t want to name names but some of the most popular frugal blogs from five years ago are a shell of what they once were. A blog that used to get 50+ comments on each post (sometimes hundreds) now get less than five or ten. I don’t know about its traffic numbers but I know the community that used to exist on that site is gone (and it’s kind of sad).

If you sit it next to arguably the most popular “frugal lifestyle” blog today, Mr Money Mustache, there are plenty of similarities. Both talk about a simpler lifestyle, both give actionable advice on how to save money and live a life of wanting less, and both have a clearly articulated mission.

What does MMM do better? Among many other things, it has way more personality. Pete is far more interesting and he’s more up front than the other site’s author. The other site had more personality five years ago but over time it went away. It became diluted, with staff writers, and people lost that connection. Readers don’t build relationships with staff writers, they build relationships with people whose faces they see over and over again.

MMM is also far more focused. It’s perfect for a smaller number of people than the other site, but that “smaller number” of people is still a very large number. It is still the internet after all.

Why is this significant? Because blogging strategies have changed the last 5 years. Five years ago, it was about producing high quality SEO-optimized content so that Google and other search engines would rank you higher and send you traffic.

It’s different today. You still need high quality but it’s about being specific, about having a personality and making a connection. Your biggest traffic wins will come from social media and word of mouth. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are the cake… and Google is the icing.

People share shareable content, they don’t share encyclopedias.

If you were to study just the popular blogs of today, you may not notice the change in trends because very few of the older blogs survived it (or are a fraction of what they used to be, and you just don’t notice). You would see what makes MMM popular but you might not see what’s missing in the other other blogs.

Regardless of the conclusion, it’s crucial to study them all, not just the ones that are still around. That’s the point of understanding survivorship bias.

In 1943, Abraham Wald, a Jewish mathematician from Romania, published a series of memoranda while working for the National Defense Research Committee in the United States (I learned of this via Douglas_Reay on the site LessWrong).

In it, he recommended that the planes be reinforced in the areas not hit in the surviving planes. The returning planes survived the hits they sustained, so they are less critical than the areas that weren’t hit, and it’s presumed that the ones that were lost were hit in critical areas. You can read Wald’s memoranda here.

Also, neither of the two beautiful aircraft in the photo are British. They’re the B17 Flying Fortress and the B24 Liberator and awesomely American.


MBP #38 – How to Dominate Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing with Steve Scott

steve-scott-finalDo you know that there are folks out there making five figures a month publishing books directly via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing? There are and today we talk to Steve Scott, who makes anywhere from $15,000 to $60,000 a month from his publishing empire and all of it is through Amazon’s KDP program.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro in publishing and internet marketing, you’ll learn something from this conversation. Steve shares some of the beginner strategies he used, such as giving away copies of the book for early reviews, to how he structures each book to drive email signups on his blog so he could continue to reach those customers. He also explains his publishing strategy to increase overall sales including ideas he’s borrowed from fiction writers, some of which will surprise you.

There is a lot of “behind the scenes” information in this one and I suggest you get a notepad.

How to subscribe

There are two main ways – Stitcher and iTunes.

Download on iTunesSimply click on this link and you’ll be taken to the page where you can subscribe.

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