Marketing Out of the Building

Limulus-Systems-Icon-200x200Now that our Funnelcake app is in the App Store, marketing is King. Long live the King! Unfortunately, our recent marketing efforts have not achieved the robust results that we wanted (see recent blog posts). We’ve done some good work, but it hasn’t substantially moved the needle, as measured by new signups. Sponsored posts on blogs did not work well, and while other online reviews may be successful in the long run, they have not appeared yet and may or may not work. Our efforts weren’t wasted – they were just an experiment that didn’t fully pan out.

Therefore, we have to try a different tack in marketing Funnelcake. But what? We know from studying other products and their development that word of mouth will likely be important to sharing the news about Funnelcake. Those personal recommendations from one person to another are going to be critical to an application that has a social sharing aspect. We want people talking about Funnelcake.

But how to accomplish this? We have to go back to first principles, namely, our initial market group, parents with small children who own iPhones. That’s who we are trying to reach. Where are the parents? In what settings can we reach them to demonstrate the benefits of Funnelcake? They are online of course, but it’s difficult to reach them and influence them there without spending a lot of money. Our online presence will be important, but to get people talking about Funnelcake, we need to reach people one at a time, in person.

Thinking this through further, we find that parents are often in: kid’s birthday parties, daycares, schools, playgroups, churches, and child-related stores (and probably other places we haven’t thought of). Of these, schools seemed like the most manageable place to reach parents in the sort of numbers we need. Birthday parties and playgroups are too scattered, daycares often too small to have the reach we want, churches and stores are problematic for several reasons (unless we can think of ways to use Funnelcake to increase engagement in them).

How to get into the schools? I confess that I don’t really know, but I know how to find out. Rather than try to brainstorm this problem, I decided to go to the source and ask what would work. To that end, I’ve been interviewing school teachers and administrators on this topic. My goal is to find a way to get into schools that provides a mutual benefit to schools, parents, and of course, to us. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Funnelcake Marketing Progress – Reviews

Limulus-Systems-Icon-200x200In the last post, I described the beginning of our marketing effort, creating a presence on social media. The second thrust of our marketing plan has been to get some reviews on the web. Everybody else seems to be getting these great reviews, so why can’t we? We don’t need to be reviewed everywhere to start, just in enough places that we can claim a few good reviews in our App Store writeup. I figured that we would start small, get ourselves into some lesser sites, until we got noticed by the big guys, like Techcrunch or MacWorld. It’s a matter of building up momentum, slowly (but not too slowly!) creating an air of “I’ve heard of that” for potential users.

One media outlet that had been recommended in some books is bloggers in the same space as your target market. For us who are interested in the parent market, that would be Mommy bloggers, of which there are quite a few. Mommy blogs are big business these days, with some of them having large and active readership. Of particular interest to us was the fact that most of them do sponsored posts, meaning that they would review our app favorably, for a fee.

The Mommy blogs we researched charged from $75 to $250, depending on the blog and on the service you wanted from them. We wanted the bloggers to write the reviews themselves, rather than have us do it (more $$, but better consistency with the rest of the blog) and we wanted blogs with a good reach/cost ratio. The information on reach was easily obtained through Google Analytics, so we narrowed down the blogs of interest to about two dozen of them, checked their reach/cost, and chose three to work with.

The three blogs we worked with are First Time Mom & Dad, Larger Family Life, and There’s Just One Mommy. All three did very nice reviews, and they were fine to work with, so I have no complaints about having done the reviews with them. However, as far as return-on-investment goes, they were a bust. None of the three blogs moved the signup needle in the least, despite tweeting the blog, putting it on Facebook, and so forth. Were these the wrong blogs? Was the idea wrong for our target market? Did we present the app the wrong way? I don’t know those answers, but I knew I wasn’t doing any more sponsored posts. They cost too much money to no effect.

OK, what’s next? Why not try some free reviews, on sites that regularly review apps like Funnelcake? I began by submitting Funnelcake information to a few app review sites by hand, which guaranteed that the sites had the information I wanted them to see, but was time-consuming and somewhat hit-or-miss, given that there were a lot of app review sites out there and the chances of getting a review from any one of them was a crap shoot. What to do to increase our chances?

I discovered, somewhat by accident, that there exist services that would submit your information to app review sites for you, and that they would do it for not ten, not twenty or thirty, but for a couple hundred sites, and would do it affordably. Eureka! I’m all in. So, I hired to submit our information to 255 different app review sites. Will it work at all of them? No, of course not, but so what as long as we get some reviews? The only problem is that many of these sites have a lead time of weeks or even months, so it will be a while before we can measure how effective our effort has been.

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Funnelcake Marketing Progress – Social Media 1

Limulus-Systems-Icon-200x200It’s been quite a while since the last post, and a lot has happened since then. The biggest thing is that Funnelcake is released to the App Store and is functioning well enough that further development is on hold. All of our efforts have been on marketing the app. Since I am Marketing Central for Funnelcake, I have been busier than usual.

What does marketing Funnelcake look like? Well, all the business advice we’ve received suggests that we should focus on a small target market and expand from there. One such model is Facebook, which started as a social network for Harvard University, then expanded to other colleges and outward to the world-wide product we know today.

We considered several different markets to focus on, undergraduate parties, weddings, travelers, spring break, etc, but settled on iPhone-using parents with young children. Many of the other markets, like weddings and undergraduates, are already hard-hit with apps vying for their attention, so we wanted to try something different. Parents may not be specific enough either, and we may ultimately have to focus more narrowly, but we’ll try it and see.

So how to get to our target market? How do you reach people? We approached the problem in several ways.

First, get some social media exposure. The only way to be found is if Funnelcake is out there, so to that end we set up Funnelcake Facebook and Google+ pages, a Funnelcake Twitter account (@funnelcakeapp), a Tumblr blog, and a blog on the Funnelcake website. These are constants in our marketing effort, requiring regular monitoring to be effective. Blog posts are only once per week, but we provide a daily feed of content from outside sources to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. The content is of relevance to parents with young children and iPhone photographers, articles that our target audience would presumably be interested in.

At the start, we had no Facebook or Google+ “Likes” and no Twitter followers, so to fix that embarrassing fact, we bought some of each. In Facebook we did a paid promotion of our main Funnelcake page for about a week, which gave us 300 LIkes. That brought us from a painfully embarrassing number (1!) to a number that, while not impressive, was at least non-embarrassing. Google+ remains something of a problem with not many viewers, but that may be a problem for another day.

To gain Twitter followers, we employed for one month. GoodAudience is a service that helps companies engage with other Twitter users and in so doing, gain followers. It works by allowing the user to search tweets for keywords of interest (for example, we searched for “parenting”, “iphoneography”, and a couple others) and then engage with Twitter users who used those keywords in a tweet. In addition, the service suggests content that fellow Twitter users may be interested in, enhancing further engagement.

Our efforts with GoodAudience worked well, taking us from zero to about 1400 followers in a month, which was pretty good. The problem is that GoodAudience was costing us $200/month that we didn’t have, and the followers were not all high-quality followers who found us organically; that is, they did not come to us because they were particularly interested in Funnelcake, but because we followed them. An inordinate number of our Twitter followers seemed to be authors selling their e-book on Twitter, for some reason.

It’s too soon to tell if our social marketing is effective. Certainly, our efforts have not moved the needle much as measured by new user signups, but it has to be seen a long-term strategy, rather than something that will produce immediate results. Hurry up and wait is our watchword.

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How is Funnelcake?

Limulus-Systems-IconNow that Funnelcake for iPhone is out, we want to know what people think about it. What do you like best about it? What is the worst thing about it? How will you use it? We’ll be doing formal usability testing in the near future, but in the meantime we’ re interested in any first impressions you may have. Let us know, good, bad, or indifferent!

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Funnelcake Released!

Limulus-Systems-IconFunnelcake has been released from its’ bondage and is in the App Store! Here at Limulus Systems, we couldn’t be more excited that the app is finally available for iPhone. Now you can create your location-based photo and message albums, or “funnels”, to share with the people around you. The app is dead easy and fun to use.

We’re very proud of what we’ve done to develop Funnelcake. However, this isn’t the end of our work – it’s just the beginning. We have lots of ideas for Funnelcake, but we want to know yours. Therefore, we’d love it if you would use it and abuse it, shake it and bake it, and tell us what you think. What does Funnelcake need? What features would make it perfect? Let us know!

Well, what are you still reading for? Download Funnelcake:

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Unavoidable Delays

Limulus-Systems-IconDarn! The release of Funnelcake to the App Store is going to be delayed. The problem is that the introduction of iOS 8 by Apple caused some parts of our app to break and the breaks are bad enough to substantially affect the user experience. We can’t release until it is fixed.

See, what happened was that the interjabber would no longer communicate with the flibbertigibbet technorotor and… No, it’s not that complicated to explain. Basically, some of the plug-ins that we are using to provide app function stopped working in iOS 8 and we need to wait for them to be fixed before the app can be released. This included location services, which is vital to Funnelcake, since the app uses location services to create location-based photo and message albums. The plug-ins are free and open-source, which makes them very affordable to use, but it also means that we can’t just throw money at the problem to make it go away, we have to wait until the plug-in creators get time to fix them.

It all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, and etc., but in the meantime we are champing at the bit until Funnelcake is released. It’s a lesson in patience. Oh well, it gives me time to work on my media campaign and usability testing plans.

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Funnelcake Submitted to Apple

Limulus-Systems-IconGood news – our Funnelcake app has been submitted to Apple for review! As you know if you’ve followed this blog, it’s been a long road to get to this point, so it’s very exciting to think that we might soon have an app in the Store. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will take to be reviewed by Apple, so we’ll cross our fingers and hope it’s released quickly.

Of course, releasing the app to the App Store is only the beginning. There will be a lot to do once the app is available – these things don’t sell themselves! We have many ideas for how to proceed, but the marketing plan begins with announcements of the app submission to Apple. We’ll do the announcements on the Funnelcake Facebook and Google+ pages, on Tumblr, on Twitter, Pinterest… You get the idea.

Keep tuned in – the fun is just beginning!

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A New Beginning

Limulus-Systems-IconYou, the readers of this blog (both of you!), have come to know these pages as the story of my travails in starting a new business. I’ve presented the ups and downs of startup life from the first glimmers of a crazy idea for an iPhone app, to the days when I was learning programming so that I could create my DIY project, on through a variety of app ideas as I was testing out to see what idea would stick. I’ve shared most everything that has happened, in the hopes that my story would be useful to other entrepreneurs who were experiencing the same frustrations and triumphs. In addition, it was my hope that this blog would generate some initial enthusiasm for my project ahead of the official release; perhaps create some anticipation of what was to come.

In both of those goals, I have failed. Or rather, while my approach has been useful to friends and family who want to know what the heck I do with my time, this blog has not gained the traction that I would like. My readers, while loyal, are not numerous. I don’t get many viewers in a typical week, and the comments I get are from either familiar voices or people trying to sell me snake oil. It’s clear that I am not reaching my intended target audience.

In and of itself, my failure to attract readers is not the end of the world. I’ve enjoyed writing these posts and I’m glad to keep people informed of my doings. The writing has been good practice and has helped keep me sane by forcing me to think outside myself. However, I fear that I have not gotten far enough outside myself. My blog is too personal, too inwardly focussed, to attract a more general readership. Of course friends are interested in my story, because they already know me, and while I’m glad to write for them, I would like a larger readership.

I think part of the problem with my blog as it currently stands is that there is not enough utility for the average reader. A blogger needs to give people something they need to keep them coming back on a regular basis. The story of my startup, while vaguely interesting, is not something most readers need – it is apparently not sufficiently informative, enlightening, or entertaining to hold their interest. That’s OK, my feelings aren’t hurt, it just means that I should try something different.

So what would other people be interested in? How do I get people fired up about what we are doing? What type of blog can I write that will be exciting to other people and at the same time support our efforts to promote Funnelcake? That’s what I have been pondering lately. I don’t yet have a firm idea of what I will do, but ideally the new and improved blog should:

  • promote Funnelcake;
  • support Funnelcake users;
  • provide useful information promoting mobile phone photography in general;
  • continue to chronicle the making of Funnelcake.

Whether I will continue this blog or start a whole new one remains to be seen, but either way there are some changes coming. What would you like to see? What sort of information surrounding Funnelcake and mobile phone photography in general would be useful to you? Let me know.

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Me And the Boys

Limulus-Systems-IconRecently I’ve been participating in Sprint planning with the guys at my Funnelcake development team, Project Ricochet. The Sprint planning meetings are weekly video conferences in which we go over the list of tasks that need to be accomplished to develop Funnelcake further. We prioritize tasks and assign the tasks to the participants to be done that week as a way of managing the complex job of software development. I’m glad to be included in the conferences, not because I can contribute much to the details of software development, but we often end up making decisions about the functioning of the app, and it’s important to be able to participate in that.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

What I want to talk about is a revelation of sorts that I had during Sprint planning; namely, that the Funnelcake development team is all guys. Half of our partnership, Limulus Systems LLC, consists of myself and Tom Norton, Creative Director Extraordinaire, while the other half, the programming team, consists of Project Ricochet. Project Ricochet, reflecting much of the tech world, is also all men.

It was certainly not intentional to have only men working on Funnelcake. I would prefer to have women involved in Funnelcake development, as they are likely users of the app and would provide a valuable perspective on the app and how it might be used. In fact my initial app idea of digital scrapbooking would have been used almost exclusively by women, so I have all along supposed that I would require a female perspective on my app. That being the case, how did we get this way?

My excuse is a sort of go-with-what-you-know-and-trust laziness. When I formed Limulus Systems, I needed graphic design help to carry my project forward, partly for creating advertising and partly because my original app idea was the design-heavy digital scrapbooking app. In addition, I needed another person just to bounce ideas off, to make sure that I wasn’t coming up with some crazy unachievable plan. Somebody sensible who is also good with graphic design? As it turned out, I had the right person immediately within reach, my brother-in-law Tom Norton, who is everything I wanted in a partner – but he’s a guy. I decided not to hold that against him and thus a great partnership was born.

Could I have found that female design partner if I had put my mind to it? Of course, but it would have taken a lot longer, first to find such a person, and second to build up the trust that already existed between Tom and I. Tom was perfect for the partnership and was immediately at hand, so why would I look further?

Much the same dynamic existed between Limulus Systems and Project Ricochet when it came time to think of taking on a partner. We had been working together for a few months and found each other to be reliable and committed to the successful launch of our app. Why should I have gone looking for another partner when I had a great partner right in front of me? Project Ricochet was everything I needed in a development partner – except they were all guys. Once again, I decided not to hold that against them.

It’s not as if women have been completely absent from the process. It was a female web designer that pointed me towards Project Ricochet in the first place, and we’ve conducted many one-on-one concept testing sessions with women, in addition to doing some beta testing with women as participants. The information we’ve gleaned from them has been invaluable in coming up with our current version of the app, but somehow it’s not the same as having women on staff during development. What would the app look like with a woman on the team?

It’s not as if there is a lot of male-specific behavior going on in our meetings that might turn off a female partner. We don’t spend our time spitting, cussing, and drinking rotgut whiskey, and I like to think that our partnership would be a friendly and supportive place for a woman to work. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to test that assumption, however. I can’t do much at this point to change the current gender bias in our partnership, but you can be sure that when the time comes to expand our little group, adding women to the team will definitely be a priority.

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Anybody Wanna Trade(mark)?

Limulus-Systems-IconOne aspect of protecting your intellectual property is making sure that nobody can copy your work and claim it for your own. The main ways of doing that is via patents, copyright, and trademarks. Patents will protect your inventions, copyright covers your creative work, but what about your brand? What covers your good name, developed through hard work and good will towards your customers (or clients or whatever)? Or your cleverly-thought-out logo, developed at no little time and expense? For that, you need to be trademarked.

So when the partners decided that we need to protect the Funnelcake name, that meant trademarking it. I naturally volunteered to take care of the problem. I know what you’re thinking – what in his past career would lead him to think he knows anything about trademarks? The correct answer, of course, is Nothing. That’s right, I don’t know a thing about trademarks.

Truth is, I was ready to barge into filing for a trademark without doing any research. I mean, how hard can it be? You just go to the USPTO (that’s the US Patent and Trademark Office to you), fill out a form and send it in, done. That was until I found this on the USPTO website,

“Filing a trademark application at the USPTO starts a legal proceeding. Most applicants hire an attorney who specializes in trademark matters to represent them in the application process and provide legal advice. While a USPTO trademark examining attorney will try to help you through the process even if you do not hire a lawyer, no USPTO attorney may give you legal advice.”

Hmm…most applicants hire a lawyer? Do they know something that I don’t? I’d better do a little research before I blunder into a big mistake. As I said, I don’t know much about this stuff.

I don’t know much about trademarks, but I do know how to find the answers I need, and so I picked up the Nolo Press book, Trademarks: Legal Care for Your Business and Product Name, by Stephen Elias and Richard Stim. After going through the book it turns out that, yes, while the basic process of filing for a trademark is as simple as filling out an online form and being charged $275 for the privilege, the background information you need is a bit tricky to figure out the first time around. It definitely matters how you do it because you (a) don’t want to waste money on your non-refundable application fee, and (b) certainly don’t want to infringe on somebody else’s trademark, with all the waste of time and money that would involve.

The most time-consuming task in filing a trademark application is the search process for previous trademarks, performed on the USPTO website. You ideally want to make sure that there are no other companies in your business space using your name. For Funnelcake, it was no surprise to find that there were several food purveyors using the word “Funnelcake” in their name, including the Funnelcake King, whose business model was apparently helping other people set up their own funnelcake operations. Despite the fact that some companies were using the exact same name as us, it shouldn’t prevent us using the name. We operate in a different business space as those companies and we wouldn’t be infringing on their trademark. The closest competitor I could find for our name was FunnelCloud, a web design company (they have a cool little tornado for a logo).

In addition to doing a search, you have to pick the proper “product code” from the myriad of possible products that can be made, and as you might imagine, that ranges very widely, from edible funnelcake to plastic funnels to mobile software applications like Funnelcake. Even in the software realm, there are a lot of possible codes to pick from, and woe be unto him who picks the wrong one and gets their trademark rejected as a result.

The galling part is that after all this research and effort, it may still be the case that your trademark will not be allowed (and good-bye to your $275, thanks for nothing!) You can’t know until the examiner looks it over and approves it, and the process can take twelve to eighteen months. I rather suspect that ours will be allowed, as I couldn’t find any close competitors, but you never know…. The USPTO website also makes a point of telling you that the applicant must check in with them periodically in case additional information is required – the USPTO does not inform you of the progress of your application (so what am I getting for my $275?), you have to check on progress yourself.

In any case, the application is done, and I’ve learned something new about an important business practice. At some point, we’ll trademark the Funnelcake logos, the color, the jingle, and the official scent, and I’ll know how.

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