Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lo, my 5 subscribers, who are you?

It's not always fun being small. When you have an infinitesimal number of customers, it can be embarrassing. Some might look at my tiny "5 readers" badge and laugh. But as long as your ego can take it, there are huge advantages to having a small number of customers.

Most importantly, you can get to know those few customers in a way that people with zillions of customers can't. You can talk to them on the phone. You can provide personalized support. You can find out what it would take for them to adopt your product, and then follow up a week later and see if they did. Same with finding out what it would take to get them to recommend your product to a friend. You can even meet the friend.

For companies in the early-adopter phase, you can play "the earlyvangelist game" whenever a customer turns out to be too mainstream for your product. Pick a similar product that they do use, and ask them "who was the first person you know who started using [social networking, mobile phones, plasma TV, instant messaging...]? can I talk to them?" If your subject is willing to answer, you can keep going, following the chain of early-adoption back to someone who is likely to want to early-adopt you.

That level of depth can help you build a strong mental picture of the people behind the numbers. It's enourmously helpful when you need to generate new ideas about what to do, or when you face a product problem you don't know how to solve.

(For example, we used to be baffled at IMVU by the significant minority of people who would download the software but never chat with anyone. It wasn't until we met a few of them in person that we realized that they were having plenty of fun dressing up their avatar and modeling clothes. They wanted to get their look just right before they showed it to anyone else - they would even pay money to do it. But all of our messaging and "helpful tutorials" were pushing them to chat way before they were ready. How annoying!)

And since I have a blog, I have a way to ask questions directly to you. If you have a minute, post your answers in a comment, or email me. Here's what I want to know:
  1. First of all, the NPS question: On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is most likely), how likely is it that you you would recommend this blog to a friend or colleague?
  2. How did you hear about it?
  3. What led you to become a subscriber, versus just reading an article and leaving like everybody else? (or, if you're not a subscriber, what would it take to convince you?)
  4. What do you hope to see here in the future?
Thanks, you loyal few. I am grateful for your time and feedback.


  1. 1. 0, but see below.
    2. Hacker News
    3. I'm not a subscriber. In order to convince me, I'd to see another link to an article here somewhere that I enjoyed. Chances increase if there seems to be a philosophical bent to the content. Chances also increase if there seems to be a Ruby bent to the content. That's just me, though. I'd also like to see a bit more about, well, who the heck are you?
    4. Oh, uh... right. See above.

    I'm sort of surprised you have no comments. Even from people popping by. I see now that you're up to 8 readers now. That's significant growth! Congrats.

  2. 1. very unlikely.
    2. No idea, to long ago
    3. I usually subscribe on the first time I find something useful, I track a lot of feeds.
    4. More of the same, you're doing great.

  3. Thanks, Ben, for the feedback. I'm still learning how to solicit comments and feedback, so your thoughts are helpful. I'll try and post some more biographical info soon. Thanks again, Eric

  4. @gmlk, what would it take for you to recommend this blog to an entrepreneur who was a friend of yours?

  5. @Eric: It would take that I have friends which are entrepreneurs... In the Netherlands being a entrepreneur very unusual.

  6. Btw, just adding a picture often seems to do wonders for many.

  7. I took a look back over your blog, there isn't an about page or a blog post where you introduce yourself. You might offer some background on yourself just to help readers get better oriented. Another thought would be to outline who the intended audience for your blog is and the topic areas you will focus on.

  8. 1. 3
    2. Hacker News
    3. Read some articles, liked what I saw.
    4. More of the same :)

  9. 1. 6-7
    2. Posted item in Facebook news feed.
    3. Like gmlk, I usually subscribe the first time I find something useful. I originally thought I might get some development process tips (I manage developers), but I find that I'm really enjoying your business tips (SEM, listening to customers, etc.). Your posts are well-written with a good overview as well as concrete tips.
    4. More of the same.
    I agree with the other comments, more information on yourself and what topics you'll focus on would be helpful. I happen to know you, so I trust you and know you have very credible experience.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. 1. Don't know yet. Still new.
    2. Facebook
    3. Worked under you at IMVU. I'm Joe Mathes
    4. I want to get an idea of how startup guys think. It's fascinating.

    I think I bring the number to 6. I subscribed after this post.

  12. Eric,

    great blog. As a shoestring entrepreneur with a SaaS (well, not really, but sort of) offering that we present to very large companies (think 10K+), I love your common sense suggestions about metrics and testing.

    My background isn't metrics, but we came to it as a matter of practicality. (i.e. a customer asking why he was paying us so much money [colorful expletives removed]).

    So your blog has helped me refine things I say and sometimes even sound intelligent - you should be very proud.

    Answers to your questions:
    1. 0 - I don't recommend blogs to people unless I know they read blogs, and the people I work with don't read blogs. One advantage to me!

    2. I found it when I was looking for something else.

    3. I subscribe to many blogs when I see something interesting. I sit on quite a few conference calls and read old posts (as I'm doing now) and then weed out things which bore me. I'm keeping your blog.

    4. What would I like to see? Well, I'm selfish, so there are a couple things I'd love to know your thoughts on:

    a) When you're adding features to a product used by an existing user base, do you still do split testing to determine usage patterns?

    b) If your product has areas where people read and then different areas where people interact, are there ways to do metrics to determine where people spend their time? Could this be done on mouse focus, commenting amounts, answer percentages, download percentages, etc?

    c) Where people have used internal economies to drive usage, what are the comparables they use? Think of a simple computer game where one can do many different things to accumulate points and then possible invest those points.

    d) You could check out my blog Inquiries Into Alignment (

    Of course, you'd probably tell me to shut-up and quit commenting on your blog...

    Very wise of you,


  13. 1) I share posts all the time. I'll share yours if they seem particularly applicable. I have no idea how likely I am to do that.
    2) A link on Andrew Chen's blog.
    3) When I find a post I like on a blog I don't read, I usually add the feed to Google Reader and keep an eye on the blog for a while. I think everybody using Google Reader counts as one subscriber on your metric, though, so you might have more than you think. If the blog is a) not too spammy, and b) often useful, it will stay in the fairly long list of feeds.
    4) More posts about metrics, scaling, and online games.

  14. 1. 9 - Retweeted "2." below
    2. Lean Start-up SlideShare prez at Web 2.0 Expo posted on O'Reilly Radar
    3. I don't subscribe, but follow on Twitter
    4. Keep up what you are doing, well done.


  15. 1) 10
    2) can't remember...somebody I subscribe to recommended it
    3) You're writing about one of my biggest concerns...agility keeps me up at night more than any other issue. Specifically, how do we: (a) shorten our release cycles, b) prioritize requirements effectively and inexpensively, and (c) measure the things that matter.
    4) Real-world examples/case studies (you may already have this and I just haven't gotten to this content yet). For example, when talking about using a/b testing to prioritize requirements, it would be incredibly helpful to see actual examples of this (e.g., at IMVU, we expected feature A to be high value, ran split testing, results were X, showing that...).

    Paul | twitter: @paulmay

  16. 1. First time here so this question doesnt apply as I havnt read any other posts of yours (yet!).
    2. From TechCrunch so congratulations! (guest post)
    3. Like the first questions, I need to continue reading to find more value so that you can spam my inbox :)
    4. "Lessons learned" is an interesting tittle, so i would like to see and read about start-up success and failures.

  17. 1) 8, already have recommended content and links to a friend/colleague.
    2) Watched O'Reilly video which lead me here. Heard about O'Reilly video from "So you want to be an entrepreneur" blog
    3)I subscribed in spite of the fact that I just pruned my email , twitter and Google reader feeds down to the bone. This is a good sign for you! :) I subscribed because I was inspired by the O'Reilly video, and feel I want to go deeper into the customer development field. So why you? Because you are good at communicating: long posts, thorough, good content, well explained.
    4) I would like to see more of what I've seen. Examples, theory, practical advice, links to books, counter-intuitive thinking.

  18. 1. 10, if they are involved in a SaaS start-up
    2. I saw you on youtube with Steve Blank then googled you
    3. The fascinating content, and all the time I could save by reading the posts
    4. More of the same, it’s awesome!

  19. 1. 10, I have recommended it to others.
    2. I don't recall, but I think it had something to do with, which is also a fantastic blog.
    3. The excellent content
    4. "" more of the same :)