Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Experience Participating in the Seattle Angel Conference XI

I am the founder of Be My Local, a tourist-to-local matching service. Whether they want to have a unique, local, “my story” travel experience or just need someone to help them get their bearings and discover how best to spend their vacation time, locals rely on Be My Local to get matched with a personally-vetted local who will help them make the most out of their time abroad.

Over the past two months, I participated in Seattle Angel Conference XI. Per its website, Seattle Angle Conference (“SAC”) is “a recurring Seattle Angel-driven event where the angel investors create a group LLC together, learn how to and engage in the due diligence of the applying startup companies, and ultimately pool funds to invest in one of the presenting finalists.”

Startup companies of various sizes that are still in their seed-funding growth stage are encouraged to participate in SAC to give the participating angel investors a chance to practice what they’ve been learning about due diligence, as well as hone their own skills in formal investor pitching and grow their own investor contact list.

In the first part of this blog, I will share with you what I got out of the experience and why you, as an entrepreneur still in the seed-funding growth stage, should join an upcoming SAC. For those interested in learning about what it’s like to participate in SAC, the second part will give a summary timeline of my own experiences and actions during in SAC XI.

How I benefited from participating in SAC


For the modest registration fee of $100 and the time and effort I put into preparing my application and pitch, I received a lot of value in return.

  • SAC forced me to take a critical, thorough, and holistic look at my business plan and growth strategies. Based on the feedback I received from the angel investors judging SAC XI, I learned that both our market analysis and our current approach were valid and viable. Our primary barriers that kept us from progressing to the semifinal pitch was our youth (we just established in January), our team (I’m currently the only one driving strategy and business growth), and our execution (we need to demonstrate previous experience executing on plans).
  • SAC gave me a first-hand understanding of the angel investing process from the prospective of a startup company making the ask. Thanks to the coaching I received throughout the process, the questions I received after my pitch, and the feedback I received after the quarterfinals, I had a much clearer comprehension of what investors look for when evaluating companies for potential investment.
  • SAC helped me grow my list of angel investor contacts. I started this process not knowing any angel investors, and now I have a short list of angel investors who know about my business in intimate detail, have provided me with guidance and mentorship, and are willing to stay in touch for updates and maybe even potential investment or introductions to other angels were I to demonstrate increased viability through execution and traction.
  • SAC gave me the platform and venue to practice and deliver my pitch in front of a critical audience with actual stakes involved. Just a few months ago, I would’ve never considered pitching to a room of investors; it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. Within the span of several weeks, I learned what angel investors look for in a pitch, ran my pitch deck by angel investor mentors, and then delivered it successfully to a room of people curious enough to hear about my business for investment consideration.

How I participated in SAC


If you’re considering joining a SAC event in the near future, then read below for a summary of what I did up until the quarterfinals. This may give you an idea on what you can expect when you participate.

  • Early January — John Sechrest, founder of the Seattle Angel Conference, mentor to startups, and leader of the Lean Startup Seattle Meetup group, recommended that I attended the “Pitch Review for SAC XI” event as a way to network and get helpful feedback about my business idea. I took his advice for those benefits, not really giving much attention to the SAC part. I didn’t think that I or Be My Local were ready to pitch to actual angel investors.
  • Mid January — I prepped my three-minute pitch largely based off of this Medium blog post: Perfecting the 3 Minute Startup Pitch.
  • January 24 — I attended the Pitch Review for SAC XI and gave a three-minute pitch about Be My Local. John invited two angel investors to attend and critique the pitches. After each person pitched, the two investors gave feedback on what the founder could to do improve. After all the pitches were delivered, the two angel investors then encouraged the room of entrepreneurs to consider participating in SAC XI for even more guidance and feedback, plus additional mentorship opportunities, networking opportunities with angels, and the chance to put their business idea through more rigorous vetting. They emphasized that winning SAC and the prize money (in the form of a $200,000 angel investment) weren’t as important as all of the networking and professional growth opportunities that would come from participating. When I got home, I researched a bit more about SAC, decided it was worth my time, paid the $100 registration fee, and signed up for SAC XI.
  • January 25 to February 27 — I prepared my SAC formal application, which was my pitch deck and profile on gust.com. In order to submit a quality application, I sought additional mentorship and guidance from Javier Soto and Richard von Hagel, two other angel investors involved in SAC and John Sechrest’s Meetup events. Javier and Richard helped me refine my pitch deck a great deal. Both also explained that the SAC angel investor judges would go through each of the 50 Gust profiles and pick the top 25 that they wanted to see give a three-minute pitch in the quarterfinals. As such, they gave helpful advice on how to craft my deck and stand out as a business worthy of the angels’ votes. I was told to give myself ample amount of time to create my Gust profile — At minimum 2–3 hours. While preparing my application, I was also focused on growing Be My Local and getting customer traction.
  • February 28 — I submitted my pitch deck and Gust profile to SAC XI for first-round evaluation. I received an email from one of the SAC volunteers that my application was received and that I would hear back in a week about the results. Fortunately, I had gained some customer traction during the two weeks I was crafting my application, so I made sure to included that progress in my application. I wanted to signal to the angel investor judges that my business idea was in fact viable.
  • February 29 to March 6 — The angel investor judges were tasked with reviewing all 50 of the applications through their respective Gust profiles and picking 25 companies to invite to the quarterfinals for a three-minute pitch.
  • March 7 — I received an email informing that Be My Local was selected to participate in the quarterfinals, and that two angel investor judges would be contacting me to schedule an in-person meeting to review my company and provide guidance and feedback for me to use in preparing for the quarterfinal three-minute pitch.
  • March 15 — I met with Allen one of the angel investor judges. We talked for nearly two hours. The first half of the conversation was getting acquainted and learning about each other’s backgrounds and motivations. Having no experience talking to formal investors before, I didn’t know what to expect. Were they only interested in talking about the business and ROI? Were they hard-nosed and biting like the investors on Shark Tank? This first hour of getting to know each other was very helpful. Once we were better acquainted, I felt much more relaxed and comfortable with diving into the details and nuances of my businesses, speaking candidly about my blind spots, and receiving their constructive feedback. After the meeting finished, he invited me to stay in touch after SAC.
  • March 18 — I met with Sam, another angel investor judge. We talked for about an hour. Similar to my conversation with Allen, we spent the first half of the meeting getting to know each other, and then the second half reviewing my pitch deck, answering her questions and addressing her concerns, and learning about what she looks for in a company. She also invited me to stay in touch after SAC.
  • March 19 to March 20 — Now that my three-minute pitch deck has been reviewed and revised based on the feedback I received, I practiced delivering my pitch. I must have practiced this pitch at least 50 times by myself, actually standing up from my chair and going through the motions as if I was on stage. My previous experience in Toastmasters made me feel comfortable with this kind of aggressive practice.
  • March 21 — I attended the SAC quarterfinals event. There were 12 presenters giving their pitch — I was the fourth presenter; each presenter would have no more than three minutes to give their pitch, and then another intense three minutes for Q&A with the angel investor judges who were seated all throughout the room. Once all of the pitches were given, all of the judges and entrepreneurs were invited to stay in the room and network with each other. The purpose of this 60–90 minute networking session was to encourage the entrepreneurs to solicit feedback directly from the judges, follow up on judges’ questions that were perhaps inadequately answered during the Q&A, exchange business cards, and dive into greater details about business plans and how investor funding would be used. I was given specific instructions by one of the judges already familiar with Be My Local to stay for the entirety of the networking session and not leave until I’ve introduced myself to every single judge. I heeded that advice and networked hard, almost to the point where I had a dry mouth and raspy voice. I’m glad I did, because I 1) received a plethora of helpful feedback, critical questions, and healthy skepticism about our business plan and current traction, and 2) noticed that the same kinds of questions around scale and competition kept coming up. This feedback showed that I failed miserably at addressing those two points in my presentation, and it also gave me a great opportunity to follow up with a few judges afterwards with a few more slides that clarify my position on scale and competition.
  • March 22 — I created several additional slides that explained in greater details how we planned to scale, who our competition were, and how we planned to mitigate competitive threats, which included the emerging Airbnb Experiences service offering.
  • March 23 — I sent those additional slides along with a thank you note to a few of the judges whose contact information I was able to collect during the networking session. After that, I got right back to work servicing some of our customers meeting with our locals in Vietnam.
  • March 28 — I received an email informing me that I didn’t make it to semifinals. What little disappointment I had in the outcome was immediately washed away by a wave of gratitude for having even made it to the quarterfinals and receive that critical feedback, and of respect for all of the other competitors who did make it to the semifinals. There were a lot of talent and great ideas in the room, and there were many businesses that were much farther along in their development process to properly warrant a $200,000 angel investment. Be My Local was still too young and immature; we still had a lot left to prove before we could earn a spot in the semifinals.
  • April 4 — I reconnected with Javier and Richard, the two angel investors who helped me prepare my application back in February, to review the feedback that the angel investor judges gave about Be My Local. Javier and Richard explained that the judges understood the market opportunity and how we planned on capturing a piece of that opportunity, which meant that I communicated those two important points clearly and to their satisfaction in my presentation, Q&A, and networking session. The judges main concerns that kept us from earning their votes were that our company was still too young, we didn’t have enough traction to warrant the kind of investment that was on the line, our team was still limited in size and skill, and we didn’t clearly explain how we planned on mitigating the threat of Airbnb Experiences. To my delight, none of these concerns were a surprise. Rather, they charted a clear course for what Be My Local would need to do over the next 6–12 months to grow our business and set ourselves up for a successful seed fundraising round, especially if we decided to pursue another SAC event.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What I Learned From Participating In The 2017 Startup Weekend EuroSeattle

This past weekend, I participated in the 2017 Startup Weekend EuroSeattle event.

The concept of these Startup Weekend events is simple. You and a team of six to eight other event participants have 54 hours to turn a startup idea — usually something involving technology — into a minimal viable product (MVP), complete with market data and a go-to-market strategy. At the end of the 54 hours, you present to a panel of judges and your fellow competitors. The top three teams win prizes and a heightened sense of validation about their idea.

I paid the $100 without a particular technological solution in mind. I was more interested in joining a team for the purpose of professional development, networking, and — oddly enough — entertainment.

Most of all, I wanted to learn from this experience. I can say with confidence that I did just that. Below are a few useful insights I collected from these 54 hours.

Not everyone is equipped to talk to customers


It sounds intuitive that one should talk to prospective customers and intimately understand what their problems are before building anything so as to save time and money — often limited resources for entrepreneurs. It turns out that not everyone has the skill, intuition, or even willingness to have these kinds of conversations.

Observing the room, there were technical and non-technical people alike who were either keen on philosophizing about which target markets would be best to approach, or, if the team was stacked with engineers, focusing on the building a solution to a preconceived problem sans actual data.

The act of approaching someone else in the room, asking for a minute of their time, and having a thoughtful conversation about their problems appeared at first to be few and far between. Gradually, momentum for conducting customer interviews picked up, but that was only after the midway point of the event, and it seemed as though many were conducting interviews solely to justify and validate what they had already created. One engineer I spoke to said that he had never conducted a customer interview prior to this event — He openly admitted that interviewing customers was harder than he had expected and that he had initially found himself biasing some of his questions.

Voice-of-the-customer research is indeed both an art and a skill. However, throughout this Startup Weekend I got the impression that VOC research was undervalued, and that teams were more focused on having engineers build something cool and innovative, something that would captivate the audience and wow potential investors.

Engineers aren’t the only culprits forgetting the importance of VOC research. Among the non-technical folks at the event, and especially those who claimed to be in marketing or business development, there were some who honestly believed that they knew how to talk to customers, but for whatever reason just couldn’t do it when called upon by the team. I noticed more time being spent on creating prioritized lists of potential target markets, brainstorming how to pivot the product to sell to those potential target markets, and drafting communication strategies and general marketing campaigns, instead of collecting data by talking to other people in and out of the building.

It really is possible to go from idea to MVP within weekend, and more entrepreneurs should be doing it


The act of turning an idea into an MVP that you can present to other people, getting them interested in your MVP, and even getting them to pay you a single dollar — heck, maybe even five dollars — as a signal that they place some level of monetary value on your MVP, is an exciting, inspiring, and very doable activity.

However, the idea of presenting a subpar or unfinished product to someone else with the intent of soliciting their feedback and even a potential early sale can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing. I gather that this may be especially true for those aspiring entrepreneurs who have already achieved some level of career success at larger companies with more structure and a well-established system for selling a product to customers only after it’s 100% complete. That said, for anyone who puts their heart, soul, and money into their creation, they may understandably believe that their product is a reflection of who they are, their skills, their experience, and even their intellect.

How demoralizing and utterly futile must it be to present something subpar, only to have other people quickly deride it…right?

Turns out, not demoralizing or utterly futile at all. Quite the opposite, presenting a subpar MVP gave us highly useful insights into what future iterations of our product should and shouldn’t include and helped us identify more appropriate target markets to approach.

Furthermore, Startup Weekend provided us with a low impact training ground to experience creating and using an MVP (based on the customer insights collected) to generate a list of potential customers and even close a few initial sales — something I never expected to happen. At the end of the 54 hours, I wound up with a list of potential customers with whom to send updates and even invitations to test prototypes. Not bad for anyone trying to build their customer database and improve their product development process through customer feedback.

The Lean Startup methodology is very useful for these kinds of sprint projects, but not everyone may on board


If you haven’t read Lean Startup by Eric Reis yet, then I highly recommend that you check out a copy at your local library. His methodology of creating a hypothesis about the customers and their potential problems, conducting low-cost (time, money) experiments to test the hypothesis (in our case, short problem/solution interviews), and then using those learnings to hone in on the real problem that should be solved is tremendously useful, especially when working under short timelines like Startup Weekend.

As you might imagine, I’m a fan of the book. However, much to my own surprise, I learned that the Lean Startup methodology can be a very foreign, disruptive, and uncomfortable concept to others, especially to some who come from large corporations entrenched in bureaucracy and politics, or from siloed teams where everyone follows the same traditional work philosophy of planning big before doing anything else.

I remember one particularly terse conversation within our group that occurred just past the midway point of the 54 hours.

During a group check in, one member had insisted on identifying the key decision-maker within the group. A couple of us who had been applying the Lean Startup methodology since the start of the event tried to explain that there wasn’t a decision maker in the traditional sense, but rather that we were going to let the data from our customer interviews make the decision for us.

Unsatisfied with that answer, the questions kept coming: “How are team decisions made?” “Well, who is making what decision?” “So, when we get results from the surveys, then who will make the decision on what we do with it and which direction we go?”

Based on the tone of their line of questioning, this teammate wanted a leader to make decisions, and she wanted to have a say in who that person was. Relying on some intangible entity (data) to guide the team’s trajectory wasn’t exactly a comfortable or agreeable concept to her.

At the onset of the project, agree on behavior, communication, and performance norms


In hindsight, the exchange with the above-mentioned teammate represents a lesson often learned from previous projects yet just as quickly forgotten or easily overlooked, especially in the heat of sprint projects: Get agreement early on how the team will make decisions, how information will be exchanged, and who does what and at what level of quality.

Had our team invested its first thirty minutes into figuring out these norms, then we would’ve spent less time debating strategy and questioning decisions, and more time actually getting things done. As such, it would’ve behooved those members who wanted to apply the Lead Startup methodology to educate the rest of the team on how the methodology works and why it would be the most effective way to approach the next 53.5 hours.

All said, I invested $100 and 54 hectic hours, and I returned home with more practice and experience talking to customers, relaying customer insights to the development team towards the creation of an MVP, and applying the Lean Startup methodology — all of which I’m excited to apply towards my own startup company.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Great Facebook "Boost": How Click Farms Make Facebook's Paid Promotion a Scam


I'm going to offer my own proof that targeting advertising on Facebook towards E/SE Asia has mainly been a waste of my money, and that it may be a waste of yours if you're not careful. Naturally, your results may vary.

Also, note that I'm creating wordy and borderline awkward sentences so as to not make any hard-and-fast judgements. These are observations leading me to a conclusion that something may not be 100% legit when it comes to advertising on Facebook.

Context


Before reading further, please watch the following two videos by Veritasium. If you've already seen these videos, then please skip to the next section, Background.

The Problem with Facebook (Published on Jan 14, 2014)



Facebook Fraud (Published on Feb 10, 2014)



Background


Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a podcast project that aims to help people improve their English conversation listening skills.

For the short term, I've decided to target English language learners in Japan and Vietnam, given that I speak those two languages, lived there for a short period of time, and overall have a fair sense of how those two societies operate. I also included Korea as a stretch goal, considering just how many people there study English.

Since I currently live in the States and not in any of those three countries, I figured that the easiest way for me to create awareness and subsequently listenership via my website and iTunes would be to advertise on Facebook.

I did a bit of research and gained a fundamental understanding of how their advertising system works. Facebook naturally makes it very easy for people like me to do things like "advertise your page" or "boost your post" by spending $5.00 and $10.00 there; they essentially nickel-and-dime you to get likes and hopefully some action on whatever call-to-action you create.

Admittedly, I was going to be OK with that. I wanted to create awareness, and, as advertising goes, I'd have to pay for it. Plus, I'm very much a learn-by-doing individual. I have the spare cash (beats whatever else I was going to spend my money on), so I wanted to see how it all works.

After about three weeks worth of advertising on Facebook, which included reviewing and applying Facebook's Blueprint guide, as well as multiple email correspondences and an actual conversation with a Facebook advertising specialist on how best to improve my targeting, I've come to the conclusion that 1) click/like farms help Facebook siphon money away from unsuspecting Facebook page owners who are lured into pressing one of Facebook's "Boost Today" or "Promote your Page" buttons thinking that they can easily promote their page or post to their target audience, but instead have their ad money misappropriated towards ad placements on fake or garbage accounts that won't yield any further action or engagement, and 2) Facebook doesn't want to do anything about it.

Primary Evidence


Mind you, the following example was the straw that broke the camel's back, prompting me to write this post. I have other evidence stored in my advertising account, but this particular instance provided me with the clearest example of potential click/like farming in Vietnam.

I recently published a post to my Facebook podcast page to announce a new podcast episode. The topic of the podcast was about strong women in movies and television. I figured that this post and podcast episode would be a good chance for me to target a particular demographic--specifically women in Japan, Vietnam, and Korean--and really observe how targeted advertising through Facebook could help me increase visibility and future engagement among those studying English.

In order to get this increased awareness through Facebook, naturally I'd have to pay a few bucks to "boost" my post. Fair enough, let's give it a go.

Applying what I read on Facebook's Blueprint (aka advertising guidebook) and the advice I received from a phone call with a representative of Facebook's Global Marketing Solution team, I crafted a new audience group as follows.

Click to enlarge

Audience Name: JP, KR, VN Women Studying English
Location - Living In: Japan, South Korea, Vietnam
Age: 18 - 35
Gender: Female
Language: Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese (China), Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong), Traditional Chinese (Taiwan), English (UK), Vietnamese, Thai, English (US) or Japanese (Kansai)
People Who Match: Interests: American English, Business English, International English Language Testing System, English as a second or foreign language, TOEFL, Learn English, Learn English Online, Test of English as a Foreign Language, TOEIC or Học tiếng Anh

After a few days of letting this ad run targeting the above audience, here are the results.


Wow! 340 total actions, with 307 of them being "likes" to my boosted post! That sounds pretty cool, right?

Let's take a look at where all of this action is coming from, shall we?


Wait...all 340 of the actions to my boosted post came from Vietnam? That doesn't really make much sense.

If I assume even some level of distribution across all three countries, then it should stand to reason that I'd see some action from Japan or Korea? Surely there are women between the age of 18-35 in Japan and Korean who study English and use Facebook, right? (Of course there are...)

Speaking of age, for funzies, let's take a look at the age breakdown of these actions.


Wait...all of the people who took action on my boosted post were between 18-24 years old? Again, assuming some level of distribution, if I included 25-35, then why didn't I see any action there? Surely there are women between the ages of 25-35 who study English and use Facebook, right? (...of-...of course there are...)

So, just who exactly are these young women in Vietnam who are liking my boosted post?

Let's take a look. (Note, these profiles were made public by their owners. I did not friend them in order to access this information.)


I'll start with the first person on the list.


Huh, from Simi Valley, California, and now lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. Plausible...


3,504 friends?! Alright, that's odd. Let's take a look at another person.


Okay, this young woman is from a smaller province in Vietnam.


2,360 friends?! Even my most popular of friends here in my metropolitan city aren't anywhere close to that number. Am I completely misunderstanding how young women between 18-25 years old in Vietnam are using Facebook? Are they spending all of their time on Facebook adding tons of random strangers?

Look, maybe these two young women are just that popular. I'm willing to accept that as a possibility. However, having lived in Vietnam and based on what I know of Vietnam's socioeconomics, I find this extremely hard to believe.

I raised the issue of 'excessive number of friends being a red flag for click/like farming in Vietnam' with "M," a representative of Facebook's Global Marketing Solution team, who I spoke to prior to boosting this post.

Here's M's response sent to me earlier today (June 8, 2016)

"If a profile does look fake it could be because of there user privacy settings. Depending what there settings are on can make them look fake. The number of friends they have does not matter for example i have 6,000 because I have had mine for so long. We do annual sweeps of fake accounts so the profiles are not fake, Facebook goes in and does annual sweeps of fake accounts and accounts that are not being used anymore. The viewers can see your ad by there friends on Facebook who has like there page. There are many ways they can see your ad but we do annual sweeps to prevent fake accounts liking ads."

I've been an active member of Facebook since 2007...and I definitely don't have that many friends. Furthermore, when I brought this concern about potential click/like farming in Vietnam up to her a couple of weeks prior to this exchange, she gave me the same canned message about Facebook doing annual sweeps of fake accounts and accounts not being used anymore.

I sent another reply to M with the photo evidence above with a request to help me understand why my ad budget has skewed 100% Vietnamese women between the age of 18-25. I'll post a follow up response when I get it.

Likewise, as of around 10:00 PM June 8, 2016, I modified the audience of this same boosted post, this time creating a new target audience group: Japanese women with everything else (age, interests) held constant. I'll post a follow up to that, as well.

For the time being, I think that the above data plus the other pieces of data that I've collected prior to this particular incident is enough for me to determine that advertising on Facebook, at least when targeting E/SE Asian, leads to nothing but empty likes.

Updates


June 9, 2016, 7:00 AM

It's the morning after I wrote this blog post and adjusted my boosted post on my podcast's Facebook page to target specifically Japanese women, holding all other demographics the same to the previous target group that included Vietnamese and Korean women.

Before diving into this morning's data, it's worth mentioning that on the morning of June 6, 2016 (the day after I first boosted this particular podcast post) I received 314 impressions and 102 likes (listed in the below chart as "People Taking Action"), again all from young women in Vietnam.

Click to enlarge


However, this time around, after adjusting the boosted post to only target Japanese women, I only received 55 impressions and just two likes ("People Taking Action).


Just who are these two people?


"So Hen" and "Yume Dasmarinas." Let's take a closer look.


This is So Hen. The written language used in a few of her photos (seen lower left) is Khmer, which is from CAMBODIA. Nothing related to being Japanese or living in Japan on her page.


A few scrolls lower, and it's pretty much nothing else but pictures of rings and a few selfies.


This is Yume Dasmarinas. It says she works in Takamatsu city, Kagawa prefecture, Japan. However, it also says that she lives in Bansalan city, Davao del Sur province...in the PHILIPPINES. Nothing related to being Japanese or studying English on her page. In fact, many Filipino nationals already know how to speak English.

June 9, 2016, 7:40 AM

I received a reply from M, the Facebook Global Marketing Solution representative who I've been working with on these matters, regarding the stats you read above in the main section of this blog post.

"Hi Jesse,

Facebook optimizes your ad and spend it where it thinks it is going to get the most bang for your buck. You might be seeing more targeting from one place from another due to this. I assure you we do  annual sweep of fake accounts(this includes click farms) we do this and if we do see fake accounts we take matters into our own hands. 

Thanks"

M still doesn't address why all of the likes came from only one country (Vietnam) and only one age group (18-25).

I replied explaining that my most recent target group revision (Japanese women in Japan) yielded one like from a Cambodian, and one like from a Filipina. I also requested to connect with her manager to escalate the issue and to see about getting a refund for all of the ads I've created.

June 9, 2016, 9:00 AM

M, the Facebook Global Marketing Solution representative, replied:

"I can escalate you to a manager. But we are unable to submit for a refund. This goes against our polices. These were not accidental ads or budget confusion. Unfortunately we are unable to issue a refund."

After I've provided ample evidence of red flags that the engagements I've received are from questionable sources, my request for a refund was denied. I look forward to speaking with the manager to see what can come of this situation.

June 9, 2016, 9:23 AM


I submitted a question through the Facebook for Business - Get Help section.


I also submitted a similar request and question on the /r/Facebook subreddit.

Let's see how this plays out.

June 9, 2016, 10:18 AM

Holy smokes, got a new like for my revised targeted boosted post, and this time from an actual (hopefully?) Japanese woman!

Her account looks moderately legit, so I'll mark this as a win.

So, after revising my target audience to just Japanese woman, again, holding all other demographics constant, I went from having 100 likes (all from Vietnamese young women) in one day to just three likes in one day, and out of those likes, only come came from a Japanese woman.

June 9, 2016, Sometime in the afternoon PST

After requesting the FB Global Marketing Services rep to escalate my conversation up to a manager, I get a reply from someone else (we'll call him "J"). However, he didn't give his title, so I could've just been shifted to someone else.

I asked him to clarify his title to make sure that I'm speaking with someone a level or two higher.

He didn't read the thread that the previous rep included him in on, so I had to go through the situation again. Will summarize below.

----------

"I created the audience group focusing on my three target demos for a particular post: Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese women between the ages 18-35, all within those three countries. (see attached).

However, after a few days of running the ad...all 340 likes were 100% from Vietnam. (see attached) All things held equal, if there was even some modicum of distribution among the three countries, then wouldn't it stand to reason that I would've received some likes from Korea or Japan?

Further more, 100% of those likes were between the ages of 18-25 (see attached). Again, all things held equal, if there was even some modicum of distribution among the 18-24 and 25-34 age brackets, then wouldn't it stand to reason that I would've received some likes from the 25-34 age bracket?

2000-4000 friends for girls in Vietnam who are still most likely just exiting high school? I know this country well. Due to socioeconomic reasons, there's no way that that's possible without them actively being on FB all the time friending as many people as possible. I've also been on FB for a long time, and I'm a rather socially active person and engaged in my community. I'm only at 1500 friends. None of this makes sense.

Fake accounts can be more than accounts not being used. That's what click farms are. They're active accounts of people going in and liking everything in sight, thereby diverting ad budgets towards them and away from ideal target audiences.

Can you help me better understand what's happening here? After a few weeks of doing this, I feel like I've collected enough evidence to come to the conclusion that my ad budgets aren't being allocated in manners most valuable to me as the ad purchaser."

June 9, 2016, 10:18 AM

I received a few responses to my post on the Facebook subreddit regarding this situation. I want to screenshot them in the event that Facebook finds a reason to delete them.

Click each image to enlarge.




Long story short, other people seem to be aware that click/like farms exist, and two out of the three expressed their own frustrations getting unusable or useless actions from seemingly bogus accounts.

Update on likes after retargeting to just Japanese women: No new likes. At least as far as the first 24 hours goes, there's a dramatic difference between including and excluding Vietnam, and even after targeting Japan, I'm receive no engagement at all.

June 10, 2016, 8:25 AM

It's been nearly 36 hours since I retargeted my boosted post from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam to just Japan.

Overnight (day time in Asia), no new likes at all. This is, of course, different from when Vietnam was in the mix, as overnight I'd receive 100 likes, all from Vietnamese young women.

I sent a similarly-worded follow up email to J at Facebook Global Marketing Solutions

----------

"Update. It's been nearly 36hrs since I retargeted my boosted post from Japan, Korean, and Vietnam to just Japan, again, holding all other demographics constant.

I went from having 100 likes in one day (all from Vietnamese young women) targeting JP, KR, and VN to just three likes in one day just targeting JP, and out of those likes, only come came from a Japanese woman. The other two were Cambodian and Filipino.

Can you please help me understand this??

'M' said that it's against your policy to give refunds for ads. I gather because it'll set a negative precedent and also validate that FB indeed does have a problem with click/like farms.

However, the above update and entire situation is inexcusable. The ad money I've wasted on FB trying to target audiences in Asian have resulted in either likes from bogus or worthless profiles, or nothing at all."

June 10, 2016, Sometime in the afternoon PST

I received another response from J.

----------

"Thanks for your quick response. I am M's manager, and I would hope, none of the other representatives are providing you with canned responses. 

When you are targeting different countries, I recommend using different ad sets. This way each ad will delivery evenly to each specific country. Instead of focusing on the one getting the best results. We don't currently have a feature to evenly rotate all of the ads within an ad set. Our system is designed to select the best ad to show based on the ad's bid and performance history. Thus, an ad that performs well will be shown more often than an ad that doesn't perform well, and some of your ads may receive more impressions than other ads in the same ad set.

If you'd like your ads to have a more equal opportunity to run off of a budget, we recommend placing a single ad in each ad set. This way, each ad will have a better chance of being delivered without being outperformed by another ad in the same ad set. However, each ad's performance will affect its own bid range and ads will still compete against one another in the bid auction for delivery if they target the same audience. If you notice your ad's suggested bid range increasing, it may be that the ad hasn't performed well on the site so far. We recommend making sure your ad is targeted to the most relevant audience, and using informative ad text with an eye-catching image for the best results.

You can review more information on troubleshooting for ads, and how the algorithm works here:
https://www.facebook.com/business/help/959149814117605
https://developers.facebook.com/docs/marketing-api/pacing

As M mentioned, this type of situation doesn't apply for a refund, however, we can request a coupon for the confusion. Would that suffice? Please let me know and I will pass this request to our Billing team to approve."

----------

Let's analyze this line by line, shall we? This will help us more effectively call out the nonsense that comes from FB regarding advertising, click/like farms, and garbage accounts.

"When you are targeting different countries, I recommend using different ad sets. This way each ad will delivery evenly to each specific country. Instead of focusing on the one getting the best results."

I did, and I explained this to M and J already. My first ad was targeted to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and then I revised it to just Japan.

"We don't currently have a feature to evenly rotate all of the ads within an ad set. Our system is designed to select the best ad to show based on the ad's bid and performance history."

This, then, gets to one of the main points of this article: Facebook lures people to "Boost A Post" with the preset budget of $5.00 per day for two days with the understanding that those Facebook page owners who click on this preset option with the intent of getting their post in front of their target audience won't actually realize that desired visibility because they aren't actually paying as much as other entities (e.g. large corporations with large marketing budgets).

Now, at this point, anyone familiar with online ad bidding systems are probably screaming, "no doy, you dimwit!" Yes, I'm familiar with the ad bidding system: The more money your bid, the greater the visibility you will receive.

The conclusion I'm drawing from all of this is that Facebook is potentially allowing these click/like farms to exist ("Annual sweeps"? Come on...) with the idea that a Facebook page owner who is unfamiliar with this advertising process will see all sorts of attractive buttons like "Promote Website" or "Boost Post" on their page, think that $5.00 per day for two days will actually increase the visibility of their post, and receive 100 likes overnight is going to believe that their money is actually being well spent, that they're actually getting the visibility that Facebook claims it can deliver on money spent to advertise or boost a post.





However, if they drill into those accounts of those who liked their page or post, then they'll quickly learn--much like I did and the three redditors who replied to my comment on the Facebook subreddit--that those accounts are actually either fake or garbage.

Sure, Facebook doesn't pay these click/like farms to go about liking random pages, but they certainly don't hurt, either, because these farms make it seem as though small-time advertisers who are just trying to get some visibility are actually getting what their small-time budget's paid for.

"Thus, an ad that performs well will be shown more often than an ad that doesn't perform well, and some of your ads may receive more impressions than other ads in the same ad set."

I interpret "ad that performs well" to mean "ad whose owner paid more money to have it placed on Facebook."

"If you'd like your ads to have a more equal opportunity to run off of a budget, we recommend placing a single ad in each ad set. This way, each ad will have a better chance of being delivered without being outperformed by another ad in the same ad set."

Again, 1) I already tried this; I didn't get any traction from focusing my ads on Japan--mainly because I probably didn't pay enough money to compete against other bidders, and 2) if this were the case, then why allow us to select more than one geography if you know that it's not going to be effective?

"However, each ad's performance will affect its own bid range and ads will still compete against one another in the bid auction for delivery if they target the same audience. If you notice your ad's suggested bid range increasing, it may be that the ad hasn't performed well on the site so far."

This is the general nature of complex ad bidding systems; I can accept this. That said, I want to make it clear for every new Facebook page owner who has ever seen one of above mentioned ad/boost displayed on their own page that they shouldn't even bother trying to promote their ad, page, or post if they're not willing to pay lots of money to compete against other pages of larger companies who have way more budget to spend targeting that same audience.

Furthermore, if an unsuspecting new Facebook page owner did decide to spend $5.00 here or $10.00 there to advertise on Facebook, then don't trust the likes that come in, because chances are that they're from click/like farms as opposed to being from more quality audiences.

"We recommend making sure your ad is targeted to the most relevant audience, and using informative ad text with an eye-catching image for the best results."

As I explained to J in my previous email, I already did all of this. This sentence is business speak for, "stop being bad, and then you'll be good."

"As M mentioned, this type of situation doesn't apply for a refund, however, we can request a coupon for the confusion. Would that suffice? Please let me know and I will pass this request to our Billing team to approve."

"Coupon?" This is the equivalent of a casino giving me a voucher for free credits at a slot machine.

June 10, 2016, 8:57 PM PST

I replied to J's email to iterate that

  1. He did not address the matter that I had 100 garbage likes from Vietnamese young women when I included Vietnam and Korean, and only three likes when I only targeted Japan, and only one of those three were actually from someone from Japan,
  2. I already read the Blueprint, and included both Blueprint's guidance and M's advice in my recent ads, but only got the outcome mentioned in point 1, and
  3. Making Facebook page owners believe that they can pay $5.00 a day for a couple days and get visibility from quality audiences is misleading.

Will update when he responds.

One among the many key takeaway I've gained so far from this experience is that while Facebook doesn't support click/like farms, they certainly seem to condone them as they can provide misleading results to people who think that they can follow Facebook's suggested payment of $5.00 per day to get the visibility they desire from their audience, no matter how targeted the ad buyer makes their ad.

Also, worth noting that I received no new likes since targeting just the Japan audience. That ad campaign ended today.



Thursday, June 2, 2016

How to Make a Website Using Name.com and Squarespace

If you listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos, chances are that you will have come across and advertisement for Squarespace.

Simply put, Squarespace is an all-in-one service that allows you to create your own website. One look at Squarespace's template page and you'll quickly recognize the layout and feel from other websites you might've visited in recent past.

Through my recent personal projects, I find myself creating and managing a few Squarespace pages, so, I wanted to relay these experiences to you in the event you need to create your own website through Squarespace.

Before I continue, although Squarespace offers the option to purchase your domain through them, it's worth noting that I purchased my domains through name.com. These instructions will show you how I purchased my domain through name.com, purchased a website through Squarespace, and then connected the two.

Step 1) Secure your Domain Name


Think of a good domain name for your website, and then check to see if it's already taken and what other options are available.



For example, I typed in "Ballerstatus." It turns out that ballerstatus.com is already taken, so name.com gives you other options to consider.

There's a lot of .xyz domains for you to consider, so use this as a chance to be creative. For one of my companies, we decided to go with a .tech domain.




Find a coupon for name.com. Doesn't hurt to save a few dollars, now, does it? Apply the coupon code at checkout.



Also, make sure you sign up for the Whois Privacy, as this helps protect your personal information associated with your website registration.


After you confirm your purchase, you will be asked to enter the verification code that comes with the email confirmation of your purchase. You only have to do this one time.


Congratulations! You just bought your own domain name. Now, onto making your website.

Step 2) Secure Your Website on Squarespace


Create a new account on Squarespace. DON'T WORRY: You don't have to pay anything at this point. You'll be allowed to try a website for free for a limited amount of time.



Browse their templates to find the style that best suits your needs.



Once you find something you like, then proceed to purchase. For all three websites, we've selected the "Personal" option, since those are the only features we need for the time being. We can always upgrade when needed.



You can pay monthly or get a slight discount by paying one full year in one lump sum. You can get an additional discount with an offer code. I'd recommend using the offer code "HELLO" in support of one of my favorite podcasts, Hello Internet.



Make sure you indicate how you heard about Squarespace. Again, I heard about it through Hello Internet, so I want to make sure that they get the credit.


Step 3) Connect the website domain you purchased through name.com with your new Squarespace website.


On your new website, go to "Settings."


Then go to "Domains."


Then click on "Connect a Third-Party Domain."


Under the list of domain providers, select "name.com." This will populate the DNS settings for your website based on what name.com needs to point your website domain to Squarespace.

Again, don't worry. This will all make sense in a bit.



Observer the first row of information in your DNS Settings. In the third column labeled "Required Data," the cell should read "verify.squarespace.com." Now, look two columns to the left (under "Host"), and you should see a mix of letters and numbers.

Copy (Ctrl+C) that entire string of letters and numbers.

For the purpose of my own privacy, I greyed out the verification string that was provided to me.



With that verification string copied, go back to your name.com account. Under "My Domains," you should see your newly purchased domain name.

Click into it your domain name.



Look to the left-hand navigation menu. Select "DNS Records."



On the dropdown menu that reads "DNS Templates," select "DNS Templates."



And then, select "Squarespace.com."



You will be prompted for a verification key.

Do you remember the verification string mix of letters and numbers that you copied from Squarespace a moment ago? Paste that exact string into the Verification Key field.


And then click "Confirm."


The name.com and Squarespace systems will talk to each other, and, after a couple of minutes, your name.com domain name will be linked to Squarespace. 


Go back to your Squarespace website and find your DNS Settings. You know you will have succeeded in connecting your name.com domain to Squarespace when the fourth column "Current Data" goes from red text "Record not Found"... 




To green text "Correct."

If you're not seeing all greens yet, then you can click on "Refresh" to see if Squarespace accepted the name.com domain. One of my websites took a few minutes. After one refresh, I achieved all greens. as shown below.



Test out your new domain! Open up a new tab and type in your domain name, and you'll be taken to your new website.


In Squarespace, when you go to "Settings" and "Domains," you should see the below confirmation screen that your domain is being managed by name.com, and that your DNS Settings are all connected.


Congratulations! Now go forth and build an awesome website.