The Science of Going Viral: Story #5 in the Techstars “Bend the Curve” blog series

Welcome back to our final installment of the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to share with you the newest book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the past several weeks, we have been releasing short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Emerson Spartz, who began his entrepreneurial journey at age 12. We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the lives of startup founders. To order the book, visit: http://bendthecurve.co/

Bend the Curve
Chapter 12: The Science of Going Viral

The words projected on the screen behind him set the tone for what’s to come. Hi! I’m Emerson Spartz. I want to change the world. Emerson Spartz speaks with the cadence of a man on a mission. He talks fast—really fast—as if his tongue is in a race to catch up with his brain. His tongue has no chance. Spartz wastes no time, knows what works, and is generous in sharing it. He—along with his team at Spartz, Inc.—has turned the art of virality into a science, a science he began studying at a very early age.

At 12 years old, Emerson Spartz convinced his parents to let him drop out of school to homeschool himself. A month later, he created a website called MuggleNet, a Harry Potter fan site that quickly drew over 50 million page views per month. “I had to grow up really fast,” Spartz recalls. “Through MuggleNet, I was managing a part-paid, part-volunteer staff of 120 people. I learned how to code, how to write, how to lead, how to edit, and how to design. We published three books, one of which became a New York Times bestseller. The success of MuggleNet allowed me to represent the fans at a press conference with J.K. Rowling. It went extremely viral because she rarely does interviews.

Spartz combined his early success with an insatiable appetite for the study of influence, which became the foundation of his company. Spartz, now 27, is co-founder of Spartz, Inc. along with his wife Gaby, she too a once-precocious 12-year- old founder. Her site, Daily Cute, is a website of images of baby animals. As Emerson recalls from when he met her as classmates at Notre Dame, “I hit the jackpot!

Both MuggleNet and Daily Cute are now two of what is a growing portfolio of Spartz Media websites and apps that collectively draw over 17 million readers and over 25 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Spartz now launches a new property once every six weeks. Among the properties he’s launched over the years are GivesMeHope, Memestache, OMG Facts, Unfriendable, As Failed on TV, SmartphOWNED, Dose, in addition to new mobile apps in gaming (Blanks) and dating (Twirl). Spartz now has nearly forty people working for him full-time including data scientists, web developers, and editors. Together, Spartz, Inc. media properties educate, inspire, and entertain over 100 million people every month.

Spartz is in the business of virality. Using predictive science to measure viral potential, Spartz can predict the likelihood of a piece of content going viral or not. Thus far, Spartz Media has a 90 percent success rate. Spartz refers to his proprietary algorithm as an “awesomeness meter.”

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • The science of virality
  • Making stuff go viral
  • Really useful techniques you should use

I liked that. Give me more. To order the book: http://bendthecurve.co/

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddlewas chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








Getting Customers to Care: Story #4 in the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome back to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to share with you the newest book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the past few weeks, we have been releasing short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about John Kenny of FCB, a Chicago ad agency. Check it out and come back next week for the final installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter 6: Getting Customers to Care

“Many people say advertising is dead,” observes John Kenny. “But, storytelling is still alive and kicking. We’re living in a world where big data means we’re constantly bombarded with information; we’re over-targeted but underengaged. It’s all about getting people’s attention, and then harnessing that attention toward behavior change.”

Kenny heads up strategy at FCB, a leading ad agency in Chicago. FCB provides brand expertise and marketing campaigns for everyone from blue chip companies to the Fortune 500 to startups. Key to their success is the relentless focus on creating behavior change in customers.

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

    • The difference between getting customers’ attention vs. getting them to act
    • How to get people to change behavior (and buy your products)
    • Five proven techniques to encourage behavioral change

It’s All About Behavior Change
It’s one thing to get a customer’s attention. It’s another thing to get them to buy and yet another thing to keep coming back. Many customers are perfectly happy with the status quo (even though they may complain about it now and then) and habits are hard to break.

As Kenny advises, “Research tells us that 40% of our behavior every day is done by habit. Therefore, if you’re doing anything worthwhile with marketing, you’ve got to be working on trying to change people’s habits. If you can get them to change their habits in favor of your product or service, you’ve struck gold. The question is how do you get people to change behavior? How do you get customers to care?

Among the possible tactics, Kenny suggests, “Short form video is and has always been one of the best way to motivate behavior change. We’ve seen it with the 30-second ad, and now we are seeing it with online videos that have sparked viral marketing campaigns. We see short form video as a persuasive technology, but that is not the only way to create behavior change. These principles can be incorporated into any of your marketing tactics. The more effective you are at acquiring attention and turning it into habit change, the more profitable you will be as a company.”

According to Kenny, sparking behavior change is the only way that you can sustain a return on your marketing activities.

But, you can’t just decide one day to create behavior change. It requires intentional effort, creativity, and a discipline to achieve the desired result. Beyond the creative use of media, Kenny outlines five core components that they focus on at FCB to drive behavior change in customers…

I liked that. Give me more. To order the book: http://bendthecurve.co/

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








Creating and Hiring for Culture: Post #3 in our “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to share with you the newest book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will continue to release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Creating and Hiring for Culture and the story of Giveforward. Check it out and come back next week for the next post!

Bend the Curve
Chapter Three excerpt: Creating and Hiring for Culture

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • Where company cultures comes from.
  • How to create a culture of innovation.
  • How to hire for the culture you want to create.
  • How to sustain that culture as you grow.

In the early days, when you are cash-strapped and unable to pay competitive salaries, you really have only two tools to attract the best talent: equity and culture. People join start- ups for different reasons, but among them is a very personal feeling that they “fit in.” They believe in the mission that the company is on, the product the company sells, and perhaps most importantly the culture that the company has created. As a founder, you are not only competing with the competitors in your category, you are competing for talent. Don’t wait to work on culture. It’s never too early to start thinking about it and, more importantly, to start living it.

Several years ago, when I first met Desiree Vargas-Wrigley and Ethan Austin, co-founders of the crowdfunding platform Giveforward (a Techstars company), I was taken aback by their commitment to culture. They had come to my office to pitch me as investor in their seed round. I loved the problem they were out to solve and I loved their business model, but what struck me most was a comment Ethan made after their pitch.

He said they were really serious about their culture and went on to explain their values. As much as he was engaged during the pitch, he physically lit up when he spoke about culture and leadership. This typically would come as no surprise. Culture is a big deal. Many companies talk about culture. Founders believe in it. People know it is important. But what struck me about Ethan’s enthusiasm for culture was the simple fact that, at that time and in that moment, Giveforward had one employee. One. And she had just recently become a salaried employee after working for 18 months as an unpaid intern. Ethan spoke about culture not as if they had one employee but as if they had one thousand employees. I invested.

Today, Giveforward is the leading crowdfunding site for medical expenses. They employ 29 people and have a Net Promoter Score (NPS) that rivals Amazon, Apple, Harley- Davidson, and Zappos. NPS, a measure of customer loyalty, is a direct reflection of a company’s culture. Essentially, a company’s NPS is the difference between those customers who enthusiastically recommend the company (promoters) and those unhappy customers who enthusiastically detest the company (detractors). The average company has a Net Promoter Score in the 5 to 10 percent range (meaning they’re barely breaking even, on a net basis, between the customers that love them and those that hate them). Many firms (and entire industries for that matter) have negative Net Promoter Scores (you know who they are).

In contrast, Giveforward’s Net Promoter Score is 80! Eighty! Based on analysis by Bain, companies that achieve long-term profitable growth have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company and grow at twice the rate of their competitors. All those who poke fun at culture as a flavor-of-the-month initiative, do so at your own peril. Culture matters, a lot.

I liked that. Give me more. To order the book: http://bendthecurve.co/ 

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








Extreme Bootstrapping: Story #2 in the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to announce the hottest new book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the next few weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Jeremy Smith and Extreme Bootstrapping. Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter Two excerpt: Extreme Bootstrapping

Everyone is familiar with the image of the bootstrapper. Duct tape in one hand. Ramen noodles in the other. Jeremy Smith, co-founder & COO of the popular on-demand parking app, SpotHero, defines bootstrapping as: “Financially hacking your life to allow yourself a desired lifestyle while you grind day in and day out in search of Ramen Profitability.

Few have mastered the art of the lifehack more than Smith.

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • Bootstrapping as a lifestyle
  • Checking your ego at the door
  • Inspiration happens when you least expect it
  • Crowdsourcing (the new way and the old way)
  • Never taking your eye off your bank account
  • Abundant and cheap forms of startup capital
  • The importance of a technical co-founder

“After leaving corporate,” recalls Smith, “I took five months off to enjoy life and find direction. At some point in that time I got into online sales and tried some pretty crazy things. One time I went to the bank and pulled out 75 $2 bills that I ended up selling on an eBay auction for $185! I even received positive feedback from the buyer, WTF? I pushed the envelope even further by going into baby bottles, steel canisters, textbooks, electronics, designer dresses and belts, and dog clothes. I didn’t care because it was a ton of fun and I started to learn the opportunities in running my own small business.”

His personal life started changing as well. “Mark got me into hosting couchsurfing guests. In any given week I would wake up to a crew of travelers sleeping in my main room.

These guests became my built-in group of friends to explore the city with while I lived on funemployment. Most of them were bootstrapping poor so I got used to doing all the fun free things to do around the city. I got into salsa dancing, biking the Lakefront Trail, hitting the beach, going to museums, cheap stand up shows, and a whole bunch more. I got pretty into all the free hacks this city had to offer. I moved into free drinks and food all over the city by checking out websites like brokehipster.com. You would think this would get old, but those were some of the best days of my life. I could get everywhere, explore, and eat at most places for free.

“The free movement occurring in my life was an important factor in shaping my social consciousness and my beginning in giving back to everyone else. I hosted, cooked, and acted as a tour guide for all of my couch surfers. When I moved out of that apartment, I posted all my old stuff, food, and clothes for free pickup on Craigslist. In general I would offer a helping hand in any situation I could. I love working out and so I would help all my buddies move out of their apartments too. They loved the help and always had things leftover that I would then take to my place. That helped me outfit an entire apartment with furniture and electronics for two years. Now that I was a world-class vagabond, I was ready to enter the world as a bootstrapping entrepreneur.”

Want more? To order the book visit: http://bendthecurve.co/

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.


He is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.