Teaching People About Lean Startup Using Comic Books

Yesterday I posted a Dropbox link to the Liberty mini-comic. You can check out the comic, and a couple of fun extras, here.


This is what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) should look like. Everything the audience needs to know / needs to have to interact with the product is here, even if the product isn’t perfected yet.


There’s some controversy over this in the tech world.



Some people have taken an MVP to mean, basically, releasing shit and “seeing what happens”. Products are released but not functional. They’re filled with bugs or gaps that may or may not be fixed later. This is a good way to piss off potential customers.


Others will tell you that an MVP should be the completed product, but in its most basic form. So for example an app that does everything it’s going to do, and does it well, but leaves a lot of room for upgrades based on customer feedback.



The customer knows the thing isn’t finished, but it’s sort of irrelevant because they can do whatever it is they need to do in a quick and enjoyable way.


See the difference?


There may be a bug or two in the latter example, but it’s nothing serious or nothing that’ll keep people from enjoying themselves while using the product. Which, by the way, is fucking excellent, because if they KNOW the product isn’t finished, and they enjoy using what you have, they’ll be willing to give you feedback and suggestions on how to improve it or what to do next.


In other words, they won’t be pissed by you wasting their time with something that doesn’t work or solve the problem they need solved.


In my case, Liberty is the latter. The comic is not perfect. I could have used another page to fill in some action panels. And my own style of not having caption boxes or thought bubbles could be confusing to some.


For example, Lady Claw’s mood seems to change wildly, but if you look at her closely, you’ll realize by her actions that she behaves the way a cat would. (Page 6 is the best example of this. Look at her body language and reaction to when she’s told they’re going to take a dive into the Chicago River.)


Despite those issues, the comic as a product tells you everything a new reader would want to know in order to enjoy it and want to see more. So, it has a bug or two, but nothing that keeps someone from enjoying the product, understanding it, and (hopefully) liking it.


As far as Liberty goes, I’m not quite sure what to do next with it.


It sounds like the thing to do is to do one full issue. That’s 20 pages, which averages out to $4,000 assuming $200 per page for the Artist with me forgoing any payment. Which if you’re a founder, you absolutely should not be paying yourself anything until you see that the thing you’re working on is viable as a product and has a business model. Then there’s the cost to print about 1,000 of them and, on top of that, going to conventions to give them away.


Some people go to cons and sell their books, but I don’t think that’s a smart choice.


For starters, the odds are terrible you’ll make any money back. For another, people go to those things with a limited amount of cash. So you’re asking them to part with that cash already set aside for something else in order to buy an entirely new product. That’s a really difficult sales proposition.


Instead, the goal really shouldn’t be to make the money back (yet), it should be to build the audience and get as much info as you can from them. The same way you would by releasing the functional product out on the Web or on mobile.


Thinking about it from an MVP point of view, once you’ve tweaked things from that initial customer interaction, you then want as many people as possible to get the damn thing so you can: 1) Collect their info (like emails) and 2) Collect feedback.


This way when you have the actual product you want to sell them, they’re invested in it (because their feedback helped shape things) and you have a way to reach them in order to sell them the actual product.) THEN you make your money back.



Until I figure things out, enjoy what’s done and let me know what you think by sending me an email. It’s on the contact page.



How To (Actually) Market Your Podcast And Gain Listeners


Ok. Sorry. Let me start over.

I think at this point most of you know how I feel about most professional marketing bloggers / authors. (Exhibit A, if you don’t.)

You know the ones I’m talking about. Those that pump out these posts filled with vague platitudes that barely were true before the bottom fell out on the American economy, and empty / vague / generic advice that’s been said thousands of times before. Hundreds of times probably in the same day.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Go over to Digg’s RSS reader, drop in all your favorite marketing blogs, and just wait a while. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. No need to take my word for it because shit, you should take everything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. That includes the stuff you may read here.)

Of course the big joke is, they look like they’re talking to “You”, but they’re not. They’re talking to people who work for brands and advertising agencies capable of hiring them and giving them a lot of money to do virtually nothing. Except …. except produce (maybe even falsify) dumb metrics that brands, who often don’t know any better, think mean something. That’s how this whole marketing world works now.

And it’s not something you should shrug your shoulders at and be like, “I don’t care” because if you’re an American, marketing and advertising IS our culture. There’s no escaping it. So if you want the world to suck just a little bit less, you should get your head in the game and understand why we’re bombarded with bad messaging, worse ads, and crappy offers during the hours we spend when we’re not in bed.

Want a great example? An advertising agency convinced McDonalds to spend millions on focusing on “love” in order to get Millennials like myself through the door to buy their disgusting garbage food. Guess how well that worked out for them? The only way that kind of thing happens is when you live in a world where nobody on the agency end gives a crap and they (and possibly the brand) also employs people who think watching presentations from the likes of a Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuk, on the clock counts as career development.

(Say, do you remember that time Chris Brogan wrote an entire book about how businesses should be using Google+? Man, what a visionary he must be. Oh, and if you see that 300 Million Google+ user number in that article, remember that they were counting YouTube users and Gmail users as Google+ users in their accounting. It also was never clear how they were counting an “active” Google+ user. I’m not the kind of guy to say I told you so, but yeah, fuck that guy.)

So when those people start talking about podcasting, my ears perk up. Especially when they start talking about “you” and your podcast because man, here comes some serious bullshit …

Allow me to put a stop to that now.


Want To Actually Market Your Podcast? Do This Instead

1. Understand that 500-2,000 downloads an episode is not a bad number at all. Marc Maron, when I was interviewing him for Social Media Is Bullshit, told me that at that point in time, he was hitting maybe 250,000 downloads for his best episodes of WTF, and that was when his podcast was at its peak. Serial may have done better, but Serial had the full weight and force of NPR behind it, specifically This American Life. Unless you have an NPR behind you, you’re not going to see those kind of numbers. You will be lucky if you see the numbers Maron was pulling at that time.

Manage your expectations. Podcasting is not going to be your moonshot.

2. Podcasting is great. It’s growing (we think, or maybe we’re just talking about it more because of Serial’s success), but just know there’s a commonality among listeners of Podcasts. They tend to mostly be dudes in their cars or commuting some other way in their 20’s and 30’s. The total age range for male podcast listeners between 12 and 44. That’s not to say that’s the only people who listen because that’s not true, even my Mom knows what a podcast is, but there does seem to be some commonality among the core audience of podcast listeners, i.e. the people who will download your episodes and listen to them first before others do.

I’m not saying make content for men, because that’s dumb fucking advice. I am saying, “Understand the person who is listening to your show, or will be listening to your show, and figure out what their needs are.” Make the content you want to make, unless you’re looking to sell something (then it should be very specific for that target audience), but realize that if people are listening to you while they’re commuting, then you should take that a step further and learn how they’re commuting. In the car? Great, go long on the talking segments. On and off the subway? Ok, maybe break things up into segments and games to give them good places to stop.

In fact, what I tell anyone with a podcast to do is to just copy This American Life in terms of structure. They have three acts, there are clear stopping points at the end of each act giving the listener a place to pause and do other things, and that’s what you should follow too.

Here’s the real lesson: Today’s commercial radio is awful. Few would disagree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from what they’re doing and what is working for them. That also means that if you’re going to do a podcast, for whatever reason, the production quality should be really good, as good as you can get it, with the goal of making it better as you have the money to do so.

I saw a ton of podcasters complaining about Serial because they couldn’t match the production value. Nobody is asking you to do that out of the gate, but if that’s not your goal, and your podcasting for any other reason other than “Hey, this is fun”, fuck you get out. Seriously. Don’t waste people’s time like that. Make it good, plan to make it better, otherwise don’t do it at all.

Fuck you, get out.

3. Here’s a fun tip: If you’re launching your stuff on iTunes, then the thing you need to focus on most is how quickly people download and listen to your show when it’s available. People have abused this (because it’s not just true for podcasts …), but if you’re looking to “get noticed” by Apple, short of emailing them at podcasts@apple.com and telling them about your hopefully awesome new show, this is how you do it.

This takes time, organization, and conditioning the audience. It won’t happen overnight unless you’re already established in some way (either through the media or you’re a celebrity or have an army of bots at your disposal). But. That should be your goal with every episode. Train your fans, get them to know exactly when the podcast comes out, tell them to download it, and then yeah, do the thing everyone else says where listeners should leave reviews and comments. They don’t even have to be good reviews, although that’s obviously what you want. Activity and the velocity of that activity is what matters most, unless all of a sudden you’re getting hit with a ton of one-star reviews. (There’s always an exception to the velocity rule, and that’s the one here. Lots of reviews are great, even if they’re not all five stars, but lots of one-star reviews is death.)

You can train and condition your audience. It’s easy because they’re willing to be trained if they like you and like what you’re giving them. Just don’t be a douche and not do this part because you assume people will do it on their own. No. NO! People will not just do shit to do shit. That is the dumbest thing I hear all the time about social media marketing or other forms of online marketing. You need to be a leader and guide them, and that’s true with what you produce as well. Use the show to tell your audience what you need from them and how they can help.

4. Advertise. Yes. I know. Some of you might be going, “But Seth Godin / Guy Kawasaki / Gary Vaynerchuk / Chris Brogan / and all their dumb friends told me advertising is dead and / or for suckers.” In the immortal words of Bill Hicks, “Fuck them, they’re wrong. Fuck them, you’re right.” You need to advertise. The good news is that advertising can be cheap if you’re not an idiot about it. An idiot meaning you just go and throw money at Google Adwords and then get crazy when it doesn’t work or it’s too effective and starts costing you a ton of money. Don’t do that. Test each thing out first. With “thing” being replaced by whatever platform you think or you know your audience uses. Then see which one costs you the least and gives you the most. It sounds easy because it is, but it sadly sounds counterintuitive because we’ve all been brainwashed by those guys into thinking that advertising is somehow admitting failure because their “genius” marketing advice should do that all for you. Nope. Advertise, advertise, advertise. Yes it will cost you money, but again if you’re doing this for any other reason other than “I want to make cool shit”, then you’re in the wrong business my friend and you better get out of it.

(Pro Tip: Facebook advertising is always cheaper than Google Adwords advertising until it’s not. In other words, you can test stuff out on Facebook’s ad platform, and then use what works in a Google Adwords campaign, but if you get greedy and think you can keep doing stuff on Facebook, they WILL throttle your advertisements over time and make them more expensive to run because they’re not stupid people.)

5. Finally, after you’ve lowered your expectations, agreed to up your game in terms of production, shape your content to how your audience listens to it (and who that audience is), and run some ads, you should have a nice baseline in terms of listeners. That means more opportunity to better figure them out and serve them (because without your listeners, you’re nothing.) Once you’ve started to know them better, I always tell people to get to know at least three of their listeners a week, more usually with time permitting, and then figure out how, where, and from whom they get their news from. And then I work like a motherfucker until I can figure out where THOSE people get their information from, and go all the way down the food chain to the source, and that’s where I start trying to promote the podcast (or really, any product these days because the media now is just a giant food chain anyway that’s constantly swallowing each other’s news items up in order to capture page views).

Pitch the story, get it placed, then take that placement and go up the food chain and say, “Hey so and so ran my thing, thought I’d pass it along.” Rinse. Repeat. Better still, if you have listeners you email with, have them do that for you so it’s less sleazy. (All self-promotion is inherently sleazy. Sorry. There’s no way to make you or anyone feel better about that. That’s just how it is and if you play this game you need to be able to just deal with that.)

How do you guarantee placement? LOL.

No, for serious. LOL.

Unless you’re paying someone for placement (more common than you think, and also really fucking shady), there are no guarantees.


Nothing. You can only hope to increase the probability of success. Got it? The probability of success.  Remember that because I say it a lot in the new book. 

How do you increase the probability for your podcast to get written about it? First, it can’t suck, but you know that. That one is a gimme. Or should be anyway. Second, the pitch has to be tailored for the specific readership of the person you’re pitching. At the end of the pitch, the person it’s being sent to should feel like, “Why am I not covering this?”. That’s vague, but your goal is to create that feeling, and that requires research and work on your end. Nothing I can tell you beyond that will help you on that front. Third, and finally, nobody will cover a dead fish. No momentum, no coverage in other words. So you should do as much as you possibly can on all the things I mentioned before this first. Then, when you think you’ve come as far as you can and you see your numbers going up and people passing your links around, that’s when you strike on the press front because (assuming that most of the people you’re pitching need page views) they will assume correctly that you can deliver on that front for them.

Cool? Cool. Don’t read anything else on this. Or do. I don’t really care.

Ok, I totally do, but seriously, aside from getting into really specific shit like landing pages and a/b testing and using Google Adwords to drive people to those pages and then seeing what they do and capturing their emails, I’ve told you 99.9% of what you need to know. The rest gets really expensive, technical, and subjective.

P.S. You should have every email address for every listener that you have. Don’t abuse that, but that should be a goal because it’ll help you with getting the downloads and reviews you need as fast as you can, and it’s also a valuable asset in terms of approaching advertisers. Not that you’re going to sell anyone’s email, but in that you have this email list that you can send a newsletter too and place ads on that.

I know. How old school, but you know what? Email marketing works. Only idiots who are so brainwashed by the social media marketing mutants don’t believe that, and you’re not one of those mutants are you?