Game of Thrones wants YOU to join a startup

I spent the first year of the Great Recession stuck in a corporate cubicle farm.

As I wrapped up my MBA and eagerly awaited my career’s liftoff, my employer shed one-quarter of its work force and saw its stock price plummet from $28 to $2.

Needless to say, opportunity was limited in such a resource-starved environment. Most of us were just hoping to survive the next round of layoffs.

Rather than wait, I plotted my escape from the cube farm …

And landed at my first software startup.

I was Bulbstorm’s sixth employee overall and its first in sales and marketing.

After a week, my supervisor left. Soon, I received a promotion and a raise and had my stock options doubled. Six months later, I made my first hire. Within two years, I was a key leader in a 25-person company that would soon be acquired.

It was a messy chaotic startup environment and, in the chaos, talented motivated employees climbed quickly. Like working in most startups or running one’s own business, it was a true meritocracy.

Chaos isn’t a Pit. Chaos is a Ladder.

I love me some Game of Thrones. One of my favorite scenes has the king’s advisors Lord Varys and Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish debating what would happen without the structural pillars of society – the faith and the crown.

Varys describes the resulting chaos as: “A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”

Littlefinger counters: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

In other words, chaos presents an opportunity to climb.

This logic doesn’t only apply to Westerosi power struggles. It applies to startups right here on Earth.

For example: For centuries, the established order has been that travelers stay in hotels. Wanna work in hotels? Go hit the Marriott careers page – or cause a little chaos.

If you build your own hotel chain, you won’t receive a ladder from Hilton or Marriott. But, if you build an app that enables homeowners to rent out spare bedrooms, you can disrupt the order of things.

And, in the ensuing chaos, you can climb the ladder to a $30 billion valuation.

Startup Chaos is a Career Ladder.

Mature companies are about order. You can climb. Gradually. With patience. Over time. Just pay your dues and wait your turn. Someday, the guy above you will retire or get promoted because the guy above him retires.

Startups are about chaos, and that makes them true meritocracies. There’s no time for patience or political bullshit. Demonstrate your value. Help the organization succeed and grow. Get rewarded.

You don’t even have to be a founder. I’m not. Just join a team and get things done.

Sales needs leads? Learn how to run PPC campaigns. Coworkers missing deadlines? Implement a project management system.

Now that I’m a solopreneur with my own marketing consultancy, I’ve learned that the same never say die mentality is required of small business owners.

Don’t know business development? Or finance? Or IT? You better figure it out or get your ass back to the cubicle farm fast.

But Chaos is Scary!

The chaos of a startup creates opportunity. It also creates risk. And that’s a scary thing.

In my first year at Bulbstorm, there were no health benefits or a vacation policy. Mis-hires were corrected quickly under a hire slow fire fast mentality. Some tried again with other startups. Others returned to their cube farms.

To quote Littlefinger: “Many who try to climb the ladder fail and never try again. The fall breaks them. Some are given a chance to climb and they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

If you prefer order to risk, call the mature company down the road. They’re offering bagels, benefits, and the illusion of job security.

I was hungry, I believed in my talent, and I got things done.

If that sounds like you, startups are the only place to be. Because startup chaos is not a pit. Startup chaos is a career ladder.

Here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders

Here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders and their teams.

I respect the hell out of you. I don’t envy you in the least.

I’ve been there. I was employee six at a software startup that grew to two dozen before we were acquired in 2013. I did the 12-hour days, the six-day weeks. I rode the rollercoaster of product launches, customer contracts, and investor checks.

I’ve been an independent marketing consultant for almost three years now. I used to think I’d go back to “do another one” someday. I even had an opportunity a few months ago to join one of our most promising startups.

It took me about 30 minutes to turn down the offer.

It’s just not for me anymore. You people kray.

So, here’s to the crazy ones. startup founders meme

In the last few months, I’ve sat at a table with a startup founder who just couldn’t find a way out of her biggest challenge. She was stuck. She threw her hands up. She didn’t know what to do next.

Unfortunately, neither did I. All I could say was I’m sorry. I feel ya. I wish it wasn’t the way it is.

Then, the moment passed and it was back to business, grinding to find the answer.

I’ve watched as another founder signed her first few customers, graduated from her MVP, and closed real funding. After two years of consulting with her, I felt pride in the success. But it wasn’t my baby. In fact, the funding meant hiring and the hiring meant the consultant was replaced.

Good luck to you! I’m on to the next gig.

The lows are low. The highs are high.

For me? No thanks.

So, here’s to the crazy ones.

When you’re part of a founding team, there are no two-week’s notices. No quitting when things get tough. No leaving early when someone else is working late. In a startup, nobody sits until everyone hits.

Besides, I’m not a visionary. I’m a builder. I don’t have a dream. I want to help you reach yours.

So, here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders and their teams.

May you find the grinders, the customers, and the funding you need to reach for your dream. And, when you do, I’d love to help you reach for it. Part-time. From the outside. No strings attached.

Here’s to the founders. Y’all are crazy. But that’s my offer. So call me maybe. 🙂


** This post originally appeared on the PHX Startup Week blog. Join us every February! #yesphx **


I caught my limit aboard the good ship Bulbstorm

“When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish, or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of him standing next to 14 trout? No, he’s holding a 3,000-pound marlin.” ~ The Social Network

Bulbman: Saving startups in a single bound.When I joined Bulbstorm in October 2009, I thought it was a short-term gig. I didn’t think I’d be there for over three years. And I certainly didn’t think I’d see the company acquired.

I was wrong on both accounts. Bulbstorm has been acquired by ePrize, itself a recent addition to private equity firm Catterton Partners’ $2.5 billion empire. For me, the fishing trip is over. I think we hauled in a nice catch. I’m ready to sail new waters.

I like to think I played a key leadership role as Bulbstorm grew from six employees to over two dozen and grabbed the attention of MarketingProfs, MarketingSherpa, Mashable, PR Week, Social Media Examiner, and more. (See my resume for a formal overview of my contributions.)

It was a whirlwind. At times, it was hard to keep up. I sat in 10 different desks in three different buildings. Although we weren’t really into titles (the sign on my office door read “social media douchebag”), I did cycle between four different email signatures.

I’m most proud of my contribution to the predictability and scalability of the business side of our company. At our holiday party in 2011, I received the Velcro Award for “leveraging a prickly side and a soft side to hold things together.” I was immensely proud.

I can’t reflect on my time at Bulbstorm without acknowledging my CEO Bart Steiner’s tremendous impact on my professional growth. He’s the most strategic, visionary, and practically brilliant person I’ve ever met. Serving at his side for 3 years was like earning a PHD in business.

For most of the last 3+ years, I’ve bled Bulbstorm orange. I wore it too. I rocked an orange hoodie at the office. I presented in an orange suit and faux alligator shoes. I served beers at BOLO in a cape, rollerblades, and knee-high orange socks.

Alas, it’s time to find a new color. I’m grateful that I bled orange long enough to haul in our catch. Bulbstorm may not have been a 3,000-pound marlin. But it was enough trout to fuel my next voyage.

The bulbstorm team

3 dos and 2 don’ts for settling the digital marketing frontier

Seth Bullock doesn't have your back on the digital marketing frontier.

Seth Bullock doesn’t have your back on the digital marketing frontier.

I previously posted about the importance of a dedicated R&D budget for digital marketing innovation. Of course, a budget is useless if it’s squandered. And in digital marketing, there are plenty of opportunities to burn cash.

Digital marketing is an unsettled frontier, populated by self-proclaimed gurus, snake oil salesmen, and iffy startups. You can strike it rich in the Wild West, but you must remember that no one’s looking out for you but you.

Here are a few tips for thriving on the digital marketing frontier.

    • Do follow the top companies. There are innovative companies doing innovative things right now. Don’t wait for them to speak at the next digital marketing conference. Learn from the best today by benchmarking leaders like Intel, HBO, and American Express. (Be sure to follow your competitors too.)


    • Don’t just read Mashable. Mashable is the popcorn flick of tech journalism. Hey, even a chump like me can get covered. Dig deeper, and make sure your agency digs deeper too. I prefer Altimeter Group, the Inside Network, All Things D, and boring non-sponsored whitepapers.


    • Do go beyond the logos on a startup’s website. It’s easy for a startup to slap a Fortune 500 logo on a PowerPoint slide. Did the client actually use the tech, or was it simply a short consulting gig? Ask vendors how deeply engaged they were with clients. And ask for references.


    • Don’t just look at install base. Just because an app gets installed doesn’t mean it gets used. How many free apps do you have lingering away in dark corners of your iPhone? Demand to see monthly active user figures before investing in startup platforms.


  • Do ask how previous clients tracked ROI. Shady entrepreneurs pay their bills thanks to suckers who don’t ask about measurement. You may not be able to track all the way to a purchase. Just be sure to measure something. If a startup has no means of measurement, walk away.

How do you stay safe on the unsettled frontier of digital marketing? Let me know in the comments!

Facebook advertising for the single-and-looking

Facebook interest-based PPC advertising campaign for a bachelor with flair.

This ad image is performing best, perhaps because my face is partially-hidden.

I’m a single guy with specific taste. I’m only interested in women with the potential to become my intellectual and spiritual partner over the long term.

On any given night, these women may be in bars. Or coffee shops. Or yoga classes. Or laundromats. In the unlikely case that I’m in the same place at the same time, the only filter I’d manage to apply is physical. At first meeting, a woman is like a Facebook profile with her privacy settings too high.

But, interest-based pay-per-click ads remove the privacy shroud and deliver insight into her intellectual and spiritual nature at 75 cents per click. That’s about 10 clicks for the price of a cocktail that may or may not end up splashed in my face!

Facebook marketing for the eligible single

On April 2, I launched a Facebook ad campaign designed to find me a date. As a true marketing dork, I built 9 distinct ad versions for testing purposes – 3 creative variants and 3 interest-based targeting variants.

Demographically, ads targeted single women ages 28 to 34 within 25 miles of Tempe. Interest groupings were:

  • Yoga, Bikram Yoga, etc. (max reach: 940 users)
  • Buddhism, meditation, metaphysic, etc. (max reach: 580)
  • Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, etc. (max reach: 420)

For a landing experience, I created a Facebook fan page with free contact form and welcome tab apps. (Thanks to Mari Smith’s Big List of Apps!) Yes, it’s ghetto. My html skills are weak and Facebook’s iFrame bug is weaker.

Why not drive to a WordPress page or dating site profile? Well, Facebook grants a lower cost-per-click to advertisers keeping traffic on site.

Plus, users maintain grip on their Facebook security blanket when: A) an ad doesn’t include a fishy third-party URL, and B) the landing page keeps the Facebook URL and header.

Why Facebook instead of Match?

I know what you’re thinking. Why not just use Match, eHarmony, or some other dating site? Three reasons:

    • Match is too competitive. The economy of Match favors women. As a man on Match, I’m a buyer in a seller’s market. One female friend received 86 messages in 3 weeks on the site! Personally, I’d rather attract a woman before she hits Match’s meet market.


    • Match’s interest-based targeting sucks. On Match, I can filter by any number of physical fetishes from hair color to ethnicity. But filtering by spirituality or intellectualism is relegated to clunky keyword searches. (Sorry, but spiritual not religious is too vague to be meaningful.)


  • Match is too labor-intensive. To be effective, Match simply requires too much active attention. Facebook ads are set-and-forget. At this point, I have more money than time … especially at 75 cents per click.

OK, let’s see some ad data

Facebook interest-based PPC advertising campaign for a bachelor in a hat.

My Twitter avatar is performing worst of the bunch. Time for a change?

Let’s cut to the chase. In five days, my campaign drove 30 clicks and 5 leads via contact form for $19.39. By comparison, a Match membership costs $34.99 per month (with no guarantee of traffic or leads). The upfront labor costs are roughly the same.

Here’s a breakdown of my Facebook ads by interest:


Interest Imps Clicks Leads Spent
Yoga 8,592 5 ? $3.75
Buddhism 10,630 15 ? $9.43
New Age 8,523 10 ? $6.21
TOTAL 27,745 30 5 $19.39
Yoga 0.06% $0.44 $0.75 ?
Buddhism 0.14% $0.89 $0.63 ?
New Age 0.12% $0.73 $0.62 ?
TOTAL 0.11% $0.70 $0.65 $3.88

Yes, I’m a tad disappointed that I cannot track leads by interest group. If only Salesforce had a free contact form plug-in …

But Facebook ads are just creepy …

What are the ethical ramifications of the campaign? Is it creepy to target women with PPC ads? Are there privacy implications of interest-based targeting? What about eyes romantically locking from across a crowded room?

I don’t know. Thanks to Match, eHarmony, and others, America has come to accept attraction-based singles marketing. It’s modern day serendipity when your match stumbles across your dating profile.

Facebook interest-based PPC advertising campaign for a bachelor on a hike.

Women who dig yoga also seem to dig this picture of my on a hike.

Promotion-based singles marketing is a whole new ballgame. On Match, there’s no amount of money one can invest in order to boost profile traffic.

(For about $10, you can add a “guarantee” to a six-month commitment that adds a green highlight to your profile in search results.)

The times may be a-changing. Chas McFeely is offering a $10,000 bounty to whoever introduces him to his future wife. My cost structure is more modest, but I’m essentially paying Facebook to set me up.

So, is this campaign weird? Maybe. As one respondent to my ad said, “My opinion: creepy, invasive AND cool!”

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!