The OMGosh Spreadsheet

Ok, I know I owe a lot of updates for my startup experiment. I promise I’ll get to that. For now, though, I’m compelled to share this, because it was massively eye-opening and valuable to me.

I run Facebook ads. A lot of them. Doing some rough math on just 2 of my accounts, in the past 6 months my ads have been seen by more than 15,000,000 people. About 4,9000,000 people have engaged with them in one form or another (like, share, comment, click). And people have clicked on my links just a tick under 1,500,000 times… in SIX months.

All if which makes it even more surprising that I’m just building the OMGosh Spreadsheet (aptly named after my immediate reaction to seeing the spreadsheet for the first time). I’m kicking myself for not doing this earlier. But, when things are working, I usually just let them work.

This is all a result of getting one of my primary Facebook ad accounts disabled a few weeks back. There’s a whole other story there. But, for now, it’s enough to know that it happened. And I was surprised. I don’t run the kind of business that leads to trouble with Facebook. But, again, that’s another story.

As strange as this may sound, there’s a part of me… a fairly prominent part, in fact… that enjoys getting kicked in the teeth and worked over a bit. If only because I almost always come back stronger and better in the ensuing rebuild. Some of the most painful experiences of my business life have been the direct catalysts to creating something even better in the aftermath.

So, after doing my fair share of pointless complaining about Facebook, I got to work doing better. And one of the things I wanted to focus on was getting to a really efficient ad spend. As a rule, the most granular level of profit/loss reporting I get is daily. And, as a rule, that tends to be ok.

But I wanted to see what kind of a difference there is between the various hours of the day. I know that I tend to do well in the early mornings until about 10:00. And I know I tend to do well in the evenings until about 10:00. But I’d never really quantified it.

My gut told me there was probably a 30-40% efficiency variance to be found throughout the day. Ummm… no. Only taking into account meaningful advertising hours, there’s a 9.5x difference in return on ad spend (ROAS). 9.5x! Can I just repeat that once more? 9 point 5 times!

Let me put it another way… $1,000 in ads running at the prime time of 8:00 PM would return about $1,260. Not bad. Not great. But not bad.

Now, take that exact same $1,000 on the exact same day and spend it between 8:00 and 9:00 AM. Guess what? You just made $2,480.

Just for effect, go back and read those last 2 paragraphs again and let that sink in. What if you could instantly improve your bottom line 3x? How about 5x? 10x? That’s massive, right?

So for months I’ve known there was something there. But I way (way, way) underestimated the sheer size of that something. Truth be told, I should have done this earlier just for the 30+% I thought there might be there. Why didn’t I? Because I naively assumed the difference would only be that big in the off hours. So I thought it would be 30% of the smallest numbers.

But look at that chart again. Many of my worst hours, from an earnings per visitor standpoint, are the highest volume hours! So I’m actually spending a disproportionate amount of my budget right at the time when I don’t want to. I spent about $55,000 in inefficient ads during prime time, but only about $39,000 on my most efficient ads during prime time.

Now, there’s a lot going on here. I don’t know how much more budget Facebook would even allow me to spend during my desired hours (about 6:00 AM – 11:00 AM). So it’s not necessarily valid to think I could re-purpose my entire ad spend to my preferred window (although I’m testing that as I write). And there are a handful of other scenarios here that add further depth and complexity to the equation.

But I still can’t believe it took me this long to do this. No matter how I look at it, this is incredibly actionable data… which makes it ridiculously valuable to me (and also the only kind you should be looking at in your business… everything else is vanity). Even if it just leads to splitting my campaigns into time ranges and treating them differently, I’m so much better off knowing this.

But what if there’s even more to it? Let’s assume my entire audience is demographically consistent (because Facebook says it is). But is it possible my morning and evening audiences are psychographically disparate? If that’s the case, I can treat it like a new audience and split test ads to the evening audience that are different from the morning audience. I might be able to transform BOTH audiences into premium audiences.

For example, what if my morning audience is looking BACK at an awful night and has a strong desire for a solution (I’m making stuff up to not reveal my audience). That view makes them great converters for my change-based ad and funnel.

But what if my night audience is a FORWARD-looking audience with hope for a bright future? That’s an entirely different message for them to optimize conversions. That simple difference would likely mean the evening audience never has the urgency of the morning audience. But it also implies I can present a different message to them and get better results than I’m currently getting.

I’m so incredibly stoked! This will certainly become a regular report in my arsenal. It’s fantastic data to know and ACT on.

What do you need to get the same? There are some gotchas here, so pay attention…

I first wanted to get this report months ago. But I had some non-obvious obstacles to get over before I could make it happen.

First, I routinely send visitors to video sales letters (VSLs). Those could take as long as an hour to watch and convert. Longer if they wait to watch the video later. But I need to correlate the hour in which I SPENT the money, with its effectiveness, not the hour in which I MADE the money. So my existing analytics weren’t helpful. I suppose I could have made a rough approximation of prior-hour attribution, but I don’t like to do those sorts of things (even though I would have been far better off having taken that action than waiting as long as I did for more accurate data). So I started recording the time of the original page view into my sales analytics. That took a little tech magic to make happen.

That created my next challenge. Facebook allows me to day-part my ad spend… but only based on the time zone where the VISITOR is. So all my timing info didn’t actually give me the data I needed to run the report I just ran. I needed everything (including my ad spend) time-shifted into the visitor time zone and hour. That was another piece of data I couldn’t recreate from past analytics, so I had to start tracking it and let it season before it was valuable.

Up to that point, I was hot on this report. But stuff happened, and I never got back to building the report once I started collecting all the data I needed.

Once I started putting the report together last week, I had all the revenue side of things, but no corresponding expense data. I assumed I would have to do some serious Facebook API gymnastics to get that side of things in the format I needed. But that ended up being, literally, the easiest part of the entire process. The final piece fell into place when Chris discovered I could get the exact Facebook data I wanted by clicking “Breakdown”, then “Time of Day (Impression Time Zone)”.

Voila! My OMGosh Spreadsheet is born. And cue the image of me falling out of my chair.

I don’t know how well I’ve explained this whole thing. But I’m pretty dang sure this is the most valuable spreadsheet I’ve ever built. Hit me up if you have questions regarding the how, what, and why. I can be slow getting to them… but I’ll try and get them answered as best I can.

P.S. DON’T take this to mean these patterns will in any way apply to you and your business. It would be a mistake to take my sales data and try and overlay it on top of your advertising strategy. This is simply meant to show the method, not the answer.

Murphy Strikes Fast

Of course.

This morning around 4:10 am, Facebook disabled my ad account.  This is a well-established account with $150k+ in ad spend this year.

To the best of my knowledge, nothing I’ve done violates their policies.  Sometimes I’ve had issues ramping spend on a fresh account (Facebook is one of the most skittish businesses around… right behind Amazon, in my book).  But that’s not the issue with this account.

I reached out to both Facebook compliance and my Facebook ad rep.  But, it’s Thanksgiving… so I’m not holding my breath for any resolution before next week.

I should also note that I don’t run the kind of businesses where I’m playing games with Facebook and constantly dealing with account churn.  So this is definitely a surprise to me.

In addition to throwing a wrench in my experiment, it wipes $3,000 / day in revenue from my affiliate business.  So… that’s fun.

I had a quick phone chat with C and J.  We’ve got a tentative plan for moving forward.  But since it’s Thanksgiving, none of us will actually get to implementing until this evening.

We’ll figure it out.

I wanted to get this half-post out, though, because this is exactly the kind of stuff that happens when you’re trying to do big things.  For all the problems you already know you’ll have to solve, there will invariably be others that pop up that you didn’t expect.  It’s why I have an aversion to getting involved in businesses where I have to prove true more than 3 things.  Because for the 3 I see, there are 10 I don’t.

But here’s the takeaway, imo… stuff happens.  Deal with it.  I gave myself 15 minutes this morning to be angry and upset and victimized (which is an important process for me… I’m a very emotional person).  Then I accepted the reality of the situation and moved on.

I’ll update tonight with where we end up.

6 Figures. 7 Days. Ready… Set… Go!

A couple months ago I made a commitment to “show my work” more frequently. After publicly asking what I could show, I received a lot of great feedback and questions.

And, of course, I promptly did nothing. Because… me.

But I really want to figure out this whole sharing thing. So here’s a small experiment for me…

I decided today to try and build a 6-figure / mo. business in just 7 days. From scratch. Doing something I’ve never done. And then share what I’m doing and why.

When I write, I tend to write a lot. So these will either be a handful of lengthy posts, or a lot of smaller posts. I don’t know how it will look… I’m making this up as I go (both with the business and these posts).

Be prepared to slog through a lot of stuff. Especially since, early on, I won’t know what’s important and what isn’t. Starting a business is messy. Writing about it is even messier.

Also, the most likely outcome is that I fail. I’m aware of that, and it is what it is. To me, that’s the scariest part of this. Statistically, it won’t work. I’ll learn a ton and be better for it… even as I fail publicly. So, be kind.

Alrighty… let’s go!

My Team

I did something similar earlier this year. I went from $0 to $102,892.21 in 4 weeks in June. But I did that with no team.

I don’t think I can do this on my own. So this time, I’ve got a team. If you know me, you know them. But I’d still like to keep them at least a little anonymous. So I’ll call them C, J, and H (my 18-year-old daughter).

The Method

I’ll be selling physical products (mostly arbitrage). I don’t know what. I don’t know the audience. I don’t know the price points.

I do know that Facebook will be heavily involved. Native advertising may be involved.

The Tools

Landing pages will start on ClickFunnels.

Merchant processing will be Stripe.

The Head Start

Even though I’m starting at $0, having never done this before, and with no existing creatives or assets, here’s what I have going for me…

  • Education: I spent a good chunk of change (probably somewhere in the $10k range) learning about physical product sales this year. From the $100k Factory, to Physical Product System, to Jon Mac, and others. I won’t be following any of them exactly, but they definitely help.
  • Facebook: My personal spend on Facebook advertising in 2016 is over $450,000. I’m very, very comfortable on the platform. My learning curve will be flat. To offset that somewhat, someone else on the team will be managing Facebook. That’s not to give myself a handicap, it’s because my job will be to experiment and remove obstacles. That will be full time+.
  • Experience: In the past 6 years, I’ve built (with great teams) 4 7-figure businesses. 2 of those were 8-figure businesses. As an added bonus, I also built 5 failed businesses in the same timeframe. 1 of them very painful and very personal. That’s a lot of ground covered in just a few years.
  • Timing: I can’t emphasize this enough, but if this experiment works, it will be heavily influenced by timing. I’m starting this 2 days before Black Friday, and 5 days before Cyber Monday. That’s HUGE. Of course, if this experiment fails, it will also be heavily influenced by timing. I’m starting this 2 days before Black Friday, for heaven’s sake!

Because I have some great things going for me, I selected an unreasonable goal. That’s what makes this fun. I have almost no idea how it’s going to happen… but I’m excited to find out.

Day 1

We started everything off with a 3-hour meeting after lunch to get clear on our outcomes and strategies.

We also picked a couple dozen products for our initial tests. We don’t want to overthink this part. The reality is, we don’t know which products, prices, audiences, etc. will work. It’s counter-productive to sit around and either pretend like we do or prognosticate about what will or won’t work and why.

At this stage, I simply want to expand my surface area and coverage as quickly as possible. I need to give myself the best chance of finding a winner by going broad and shallow, not narrow and deep.

I want a variety of products across several obvious audiences. I definitely want to have multiple products that can be sold to women over the age of 35 (best buying audience on the internet). I want a handful of men’s products. I’ll do some children’s toys. And I want some pet products.

I may experiment with some light electronics, but I’m concerned about the support requirements on the backend.

I also want products with a simple sales process. That means staying away from sizes, colors, and options. That said, I have a couple of these products waiting in the wings in case we get some free time to pursue some complications.

Past experience tells me that we’ll have plenty of unexpected challenges in the process of doing this. So my up-front requirement for the products we select is that only 1 thing needs to be proved true in order for it to be a success.

Note: This is one of the huge reasons that new businesses fail. Founders often don’t understand that uncertainties in a business plan are not additive. They are multiplicative. And if you ever start a business with 3 or more things which must prove true in order for you to succeed, it will be very difficult for you.

I also only want products which have mass appeal. That’s going to make my job harder. But it’s also going to make it faster. Given the unreasonable 7-day commitment, time is my scarce resource. I’m willing to trade difficulty for speed.

The reason it’s faster is that I don’t spend much time researching audiences and interests. For the sake of speed and scale, I need to paint with a broad brush. Tactically, this decision has a high likelihood of submarining the business. I’ll need to keep an eye on this as we move forward.

Since we’re going to be selling to holiday shoppers, and we’re primarily going to be arbitraging our products (i.e. I will not hold inventory, and I won’t buy a product until after I’ve sold it), I’m limiting myself to epacket shipping for products from China (until the first full week of December), and US-based products on eBay stores (not auctions).

(If it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, it’s only because of the previously mentioned trainings… not because I actually know what I’m talking about. But it seems reasonable.)

For the sake of speed, I will not sell any products on day 1. Sales pages take time. I don’t have time.

Instead, J launched 40 ad sets on Facebook. We came up with a standard image strategy for our ads. In the name of time, we’re looking for easy and obvious wins. We’ll certainly leave money on the table with our lack of subtlety and depth, but if we can get a couple early wins, we’ll more than make up for it with scale.

Note: If I were starting this on a shoestring budget (which wouldn’t work for a 7-day sprint), I would go the other way and niche down to start and scale up and out from there. That’s the smarter strategy, although it doesn’t work for my goals.

Each ad set has 1 templated product image. We pulled the image straight from our arbitrage listings on eBay and AliExpress. Although I wouldn’t normally do this, I’ve got all 40 ad sets in a single PPE (pay per engagement) campaign.

The thinking behind this is simple, but not necessarily intuitive. Contrary to popular belief, speed and scale virtually require inefficiency and mess. I’ll probably talk about that more in the coming days. But just know that speed doesn’t come through perfection or clarity or systems or automation. Instead, it comes through inefficient action, feedback loops, and quantum leaps.

Creating landing pages for all our selected products will take time. We don’t have time. And, statistically, I already know that most of the products will be losers. I just don’t know which is which. So I throw up a simple PPE ad asking for feedback and shares.

It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a reasonable proxy I can use to make decisions about where I’ll invest my time next. So the products with the highest engagement will earn landing pages and links.

From there, products with initial sales will earn upsells and funnels. But that’s another day.

Since I need data fast, I’ve done something odd with my ad budgets. I acknowledge that this will skew the data I receive, but I’ll live with that to accelerate my data flow.

I set each ad to a $50 budget, even though I have no intention of spending the entire $2,000 budget on PPE ads. Instead I let each ad spend $5 – $10 and then I disable them. So the $50 budget is only a data accelerant.

It’s 10:20PM right now. About 8 hours after I started my experiment. I spent $331.47 on my 40 PPE ads. Here are the initial results…

As you can see, we’ve got 1 ad that’s really cleaning up. In fact, all of the top 4 ads are targeting the same demo with similar products. It looks like, if we can pull off a decent ad, we’ll have plenty of options there for both landing pages and upsells.

I’m not entirely sure how I’ll use this data to make decisions, yet (this is the first time I’m seeing the data… I wrote this post while I was waiting for the ads to spend). But I assume I’ll choose a threshold for a few of the engagement types and graduate all products that cross the threshold.

I can tell you that, based on the bottom of the list, I’m going to chop a whole mess of jewelry.

Now I’ve got to go try and sell some stuff.

Post questions, comments, or feedback below or on Facebook. I’m obviously time-crunched right now, but I’ll respond when I can. I won’t talk specifics about any winners, but I’ll try to be as open as I can and answer as many questions as I can.

I will remove comments that don’t contribute to the conversation.

Random.ly hac.ki/ng doma.in nam.es

Recently I stumbled across a pretty cool site called domai.nr.  It’s a simple site that takes keywords and checks if the common domain names are registered for it… and also if there are any interesting domain hacks you can register.

What’s a domain hack?  It’s where the actual tld domain extension (and possibly the path) become part of the domain spelling.

For example, delicio.us is a domain hack.  So is flic.kr.  Almost all the url shortening services (goo.gl, anyone?) are domain hacks.  Every word I used in the post title could be a domain hack.

And, done right, they can be cool and feel like a premium domain… even though they tend to use (very) non-premium extensions.

I’m open to the possibility that I’m a bit on the OCD side when it comes to domain names.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve had projects come to a dead stop for days (even weeks) because I couldn’t find that just-right domain name for them.

It can be maddening.  Seriously.

How many times have you gone to register a domain name… only all the good ones are taken.  So you’re either left with i-cannot-believe-i-just-registered-this-sorry-domain-name.org, or some creative (read: wrong) spelling of what you really wanted.  Or worse.

For me, that’s happened hundreds of times.  Literally.

So I spend way too much time on thesaurus.com.  And justdropped.com.  And enom.com.  And nameboy.com.

(It’s made even worse when 90% of the domains I’d like to have are sitting registered, but unused, by some other opportunity chaser who had $11.00 to spend and a grand idea… that never amounted to jack squat.  Uggh.

So now I have a new tool to add to my belt.

For example, recently I decided it would be an interesting project to get into the car history business.  I got a reseller account with one of the major providers, and started looking for a good domain.

I wanted something simple.  Like vincheck.com.  Taken.  Nothing there.  Of course.

So I settled for 2 other names I didn’t really like.  But they were short and could be remembered.  I got vincop.com and squarevin.com.  Lame, I know.

Ahhh… but lookie what I found with a domain hack.  checkv.in.

I would still rather have a good .com.  But checv.in can actually be branded to appear premium.  It has to be done right.  But it can be done.  Quite easily, actually.

(btw, if you go to checkv.in, you’ll see that I’m also one of the irritating opportunity-seeker types who registers names and then doesn’t use them.  I even frustrate myself.  Uggh.)

Yesterday I was hanging out on flippa.com trolling for interesting websites to buy (a favorite pastime of mine), and I thought “I should create an auction site like flippa, only for apps.”

Of course, all of the good names were gone.  And not built.

But one that I liked was appbuy.com.  It’s taken.  And, amazingly, actually used in a real business.

But guess what wasn’t taken?  appb.uy.  Thank you, Uruguay.

If you’re interested in domain name hacks for your site, there are a few things you should know.

First, not all registrars will let you register them.  Including most of the big names.  I’ve been with enom for years (great API), but I couldn’t register through them.

There are a lot of options out there, but I use 101 Domain for my domain hack registrations.  I also have an account at United Domains… but I haven’t actually purchased any names from them yet.

Which leads me to the next thing you should know about these domain names.  They can be very expensive.  Much more expensive that standard domain names.

I have a United Domains account because I wanted to purchase a domain in a country that they supported.  I won’t tell you the name, because I still want to register it (it’s killer), but a new registration in the particular country I wanted was almost $1,500.  For a new registration!

I couldn’t pull the trigger on that.  Most of the names I buy are speculative.  I may do something.  I may not.  But locking up the name is usually a cheap way to guard against someone else grabbing it before me.  Not for $1,500.

But expect to pay up to a few hundred dollars for most domain hack names.  Many are cheaper.  But recognized ones like .ly are over $100 (I just paid $118 for a new .ly domain).

Also, many of them have ownership or registration restrictions.  For some countries you’ll need to present paperwork showing you are a real business operating in their country.  For others, you don’t need to do anything special.

For appb.uy, I had to have a registered presence in Uruguay.  Ummm… right.  But that’s one of the reasons I use 101domain.com.  They have a proxy agent service.  So my appb.uy domain was $65.00 for the name, and $18.96 for the .uy trustee service.  Done.

So go have some fun with domai.nr.  And next time you’re looking for a great domain name, don’t just limit yourself to the slim pickings of available .coms…

f.in/d you.r.se/lf a cool.ly na.med doma.in ha.ck.

Bringing Them Back for More…

My last few Android posts have focused on increasing your Google Play ranking.  Given Google’s recent changes in ad policy and content/reward gating, today I’d like to talk about what’s next… app engagement.

Here’s my rationale…

Currently (until next month), a low-engagement app is not a monetization problem on the Android platform.  There are a variety of ad networks that allow you to, essentially, make the entire device your app context by displaying some form of notification ads.  Which are, at their core, just external ads.

Notification ads mean your user doesn’t need to engage with your app to engage with your ads.  And, whether you agree with the model, or not, it’s a very effective way for things like utility apps to monetize through ads.  These are apps that could never monetize with banners because they just don’t get the eyeballs.

For example, on one of our lines of utility apps, we currently show just over 3,500,000 notification ads a day.  That’s pretty good.  But because the apps are utility apps, they aren’t designed to be used or opened regularly.  So, even though we also have banners in those apps, they only generate about 200,000 banner impressions daily.

That’s a huge difference.  And it’s compounded when you add the difference in engagement (tap-through) between banners and notifications.

So this line of apps is a perfect example of a market that will be devastated by the new Google changes.  In limiting advertising to the in-app context, they’ve essentially killed the current monetization engine and the associated motivation for developing these apps.

Since we can no longer use our preferred notification networks like TapContext or Leadbolt, what do we do now?

First, let me start by saying that I don’t know the whole answer to that question.  Or even close.  This is new for me, just like it’s new for most developers.  So part of this is experimentation based on reasonable hypotheses.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share what I discover and what I learn.  Some of it will work.  Much of it won’t.

I’m excited to see the kind of creativity this spawns in the Android ecosystem.  It will also be interesting to see how Google enforces some of the murkier provisions in their new developer policies.

I can say that I’ve had a peek behind the curtains at one of the large ad networks, and I’m intrigued.

But regardless of what the ads look like in the future, here’s something I know… Google wants developers to be rewarded for user engagement.  Being present on the device is no longer good enough.

So if the 3 rules of Google search are relevance, relevance, and relevance, I think it’s not far off to say the 3 rules of Android’s future will be engagement, engagement, and engagement.

And if you want to still make money distributing free apps, you’d better be able to keep bringing your users back for more.

The first thing I’m trying is to simply ask my users to come back.  The new rules clearly allow my app to pop first-person notifications to my users.  So let’s start there.

I don’t know which schedule will be most effective, but I’ll start by popping a notification when my user hasn’t used my app in more than 24 hours.  I’ll have some fun with it.  And try some different phrasing.  But the bottom line is that I’ll just invite the user to come back and use the app.

Beyond that, I’m working to create something along the lines of an in-app notification auto-responder.  If you’re from the IM world, that will make at least a little bit of sense.  Essentially, I want to create a directed, ongoing dialog with my users through a series of timed notifications.

Think of it like a tutorial or help system through short notifications.  One day it will tell them about feature A.  The next day it will show them tip B.  And so on.  It will walk them through the entire app 1 notification at a time.

This needs to be balanced with not bugging them so much that they remove the app.  But at some point I have to be aggressive enough to make sure they keep coming back and engaging with my app.

And what happens once I’ve got them back?

Well, I show them what I said I’d show them.  And then they’ll be funneled through an in-app interstitial.  I’m very interested in seeing how well this will work because in-app interstitials also happen to be my highest paying ad types on a per-impression basis.  Especially when I combine them with a high-paying, effective interstitial network (we currently use TapContext).

But the bottom line is, it’s now up to the developer (me and, presumably, you) to find new ways to drive user engagement.  Currently I can focus a significant portion of my energy and resources on user acquisition.  In a few weeks I’ll have to put at least as much effort into user engagement.

For some apps, that’s a natural side effect of the app, itself.  Games, for example, are already mostly engagement-driven apps.

But niche apps, utility apps, many business apps, and a lot of lifestyle apps will have to get better at engagement.  A lot better.  Essentially, if you’re not a social network or a game or a core app, you’ll have to figure this engagement thing out.

In the name of increased engagement, I’m even experimenting with bringing game mechanics to my utility apps.  That’s another story, but it certainly highlights my current focus on bringing users back into my app.

We’ll see how it goes.  And how much of a hit ad revenue takes once the notifications go dark.  In the meantime, I know where my focus will be…

Engagement.  Engagement.  And engagement.