Entrepreneur, traveler, public speaker
Kevin Bracken
Sign up for content about startups, travel, entrepreneurship and more.
Entrepreneurship

How to Rapidly Scale Your Marketplace With Bribery and More

bribery_3124470b

At Gymsurfing, we were huge fans of Paul Graham’s do things that don’t scale” essay. The lesson is, in short: when you are a young startup, you will have to do things that you could not reproduce on a larger level, namely: personally recruiting customers, or building features by request. As we were building a two-sided marketplace that involved small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), we also faced the common challenge of how to scale supply before demand, which should honestly be your primary focus as an early-stage marketplace startup.

I am routinely contacted by fledgling fitness apps who have the same basic question: “How did you grow to 200 gyms in 5 months? Most of them won’t return my calls.” We had this problem, too. We built our product, did a great job, and hit the phones, hard. The cheapest thing was my time, I thought, and my only real limit is how many phone calls I could make in a single day, or how many gyms I could visit. Without other gyms on the platform for social proof, however, nobody wanted to say yes, and managers would also frequently block me from meeting with the owners. We overcame this, though, and here’s how.

Step 1: Bribe The Manager

One of the many jobs of a manager at a gym is to prevent you from pitching the owner on random fitness services and equipment. Fortunately, most of these people do not make much more than the average salesperson at a gym, and would like to eat steak for dinner once in a while. Give them money, straight up. This will get you a meeting with the owner.

There are two ways to couch this: one is a “pre-payment for gym passes.” This is obviously a less shady, more sound way of growing your business and is basically predicated on a bet: the negotiated price will bring benefit to both your company and the gym, and you think you can move X passes. We’d typically buy 100 passes for $5-10, which cost us $500-1000 to get a gym online.

The other way is just handing them an envelope of cash in exchange for signing the contract, aka a “signing bonus” aka a bribe.

You may ask yourself, is this really the smartest way to spend my startup’s scarce cash? The answer in our case was absolutely. For two solid months, I pitched gyms, hard, and got very little out of it. During that time, our cash burn was greater than the cost of bribing 7 gyms. We ultimately chose 7 strategic gyms to be our “first on the platform,” gyms that were well-respected in the local area, and the pitch became dramatically more effective with that social proof.

2. Make a Self-Serve Signup Tool

I can’t count the number of SMB marketplaces that do not have a self-serve signup tool, and basically require the business to be called, or fill out a Docusign, or e-mail the startup if they are interested in joining the marketplace. No. You want your signup process to be as simple as Airbnb: able to filled out by somebody who is not tech-savvy in as few clicks as possible. My cofounder Dustin deserves massive respect for his focus on Apple-like simplicity when he was building this tool, and everything else he does.

3. Scrape Yelp

This next step I outsourced on Upwork, but depending on what you’re doing you might be able to automate it fully. I had an Upworker go on Yelp and find the gyms in the first 10 cities we wanted to be in, put the relevant info in a Google Spreadsheet, and call them to ask how much a 1-day drop-in pass was to the gym. This was a very important data point for our product, which allowed people to buy day passes to gyms. The other thing I would have them do is look for e-mail addresses and manager names on the website, and put this in the spreadsheet as well.

4. Mail Merge

A full Mail Merge Howto is beyond the scope of this blog post, but once you have a spreadsheet with names, e-mails and gym names, you are well-positioned to send a bunch of e-mails to small businesses. The call-to-action is for them to sign up to your marketplace via the self-serve tool, so the link to get there should be obvious. You should also include a phone number, and let them know they can call you with questions.

5. Close

Some businesses cannot be closed this way, but it should be enough to get some desperately-needed social proof to close bigger businesses. The best use of your time is closing deals that will yield multiple locations, but do not waste your time going after fish that are so big that they will be too slow-moving to say yes to you in a short period of time. Good luck out there, and if you are building a fitness day pass, I salute you.

 

Read More
Events

6 cities announced for May Light Battle Tour

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 6.55.20 PM

We are pleased to announce the first 6 confirmed dates of our May tour! April 30 – San Jose (Register/Facebook), May 4 – Sacramento (Register/Facebook), May 6 – San Diego (Register/Facebook), May 14 – Salt Lake City (Register/Facebook), May 20 – Grand Rapids (Register/Facebook), and May 28 – Boston (Register/Facebook).

Make-A-Wish

In December, some proceeds of our sales were donated to Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area, and unclaimed items were donated to Toys For Tots in San Diego and Seattle. We are excited to be donating a portion of all of our sales to charity this year. All our events directly benefit local Make-A-Wish Foundation chapters, including Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area, Northeastern California and Northern Nevada, Michigan and more. To find out more about Make-A-Wish and the incredible work they do, visit their website.

Half off for a limited time only!

All packages are 50% off for a limited time only! Click the Register link above on the city of your choice, or check out the Marketplace.

Want us to come to your city?

Would you like us to come to your city on the May tour? E-mail hello@thelightbattle.com and let us know!

Read More
Tech

Yup, Another Stupid Apple Petition

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1.06.01 PM

167,814 idiots have signed this petition… and counting

The sun rises, the sun sets, the tide ebbs and flows. Apple continues to improve the design of its products, people continue to get mad about it. The “anger of the week” regards rumors that Apple is going to remove the the 1/8″ headphone jack from the iPhone 7, you know, the technology that was invented for transistor radios. This particular petition seems to know its audience well, and brings up the specter of “environmental waste” to stoke further anger, and even reminds the reader of the last “outrageous” thing Apple did: replace the monstrous 30-pin connector with the petite Lightning port.

This petition is just the latest in a very long line of stupid petitions addressed to Apple. The first one I can remember is Apple’s removal of the floppy drive from the iMac – people were pissed. “Apple is trying to force us to buy SuperDrives, what a bunch of profiteering gluttons!” Next Apple removed the SuperDrive from the MacBook – people were pissed, but their MacBooks were mysteriously thinner and lighter. Next, Apple changed its MagSafe power adapter because the MacBook Air is literally thinner than the original MagSafe adapter, but still, people were pissed. The newest MacBook only has one USB-C port. If you’ve ever picked one up you’ll see why – there is physically no room for anything else, and that thing weighs less than books I’ve read.

This newest fury seems to be coupled with the bizarre notion that Apple “only did this to sell us $30 Lightning headphone adapters.” For one thing, nobody knows how much the adapters will cost, if this rumor is even true. Secondly, whomever thinks this is Apple’s “evil plan” knows literally nothing about business. The profit margin on an iPhone 6 is 69%. Sixty-nine-goddamn-percent, and Apple has already sold 100 million of them. How much could you really make on a Lightning headphone adapter? How many of them could you really sell?

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1.26.40 PM

Apple must be raking it in with these USB SuperDrives – they’re 100 bucks!

Apple doesn’t want to sell you a $30 Lightning adapter – they want to sell you a $700 phone. Millions of them. Partly by making them thinner than the next Samsung phone, which can never be thinner than 3.5mm until they ditch the headphone jack too. (Spoiler alert: they will.) Making a phone the thinnest and lightest it can possibly be means removing physical barriers. Now, it is time for the iPhone to become thinner than the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Sure, Apple owns a headphones company, but you don’t have to buy any from them. You can use literally any Bluetooth headphones you want. If you remember the fury about the iPhone never supporting flash apps, Steve Jobs had a classic response: make an iPhone app, or use HTML5.

In the future, cables will not exist, not even for charging. For those of you who can’t let go, there is the adapter. For the rest of us, the future is here.

 

Read More
Entrepreneurship Personal

On the Occasion of my 29th Birthday

Today I am turning 29. Here in Canada it is almost Thanksgiving, so I thought I would take a moment to give thanks for the incredible year that was my 28th.

Love

I am incredibly blessed to have shared a fourth year with my wife and the love of my life, Marie. This summer we bought our first RV, painted it like a giant zebra and had an incredible road trip from California to Burning Man to Idaho and back. Marie is my favorite travel partner in the whole world and before the year is over, we still have Dubai, Thailand, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco to hit up :) We are now in the planning stages of our wedding celebration and we are having the dress made in Thailand.

Work and Play

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 8.48.41 PM

Earlier this year, the company I co-founded, Gymsurfing, was acquired by fitmob. A few months later, fitmob was acquired by ClassPass, thus bringing to an amazing conclusion a journey I began in 2012, with all the insane ups and downs in between. There were times we were certain of failure, and those surprising moments where we turned it all around. I owe our amazing team, especially Dustin, a huge debt of gratitude for this.

Newmindspace also continues to see its biggest numbers yet, 10 years after we started this crazy mission of turning the city into a giant playground. This year we had our biggest pillow fight ever (and donated the most amount of pillows to homeless shelters ever!) our biggest bubble battle, and our biggest lightsaber battle, ever!

Marie and I are planning a new small business that we couldn’t be more excited for. I’ll keep the details scarce for now, but think “Palm Springs by the Bay.”

Happiness

I also consider myself incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the most amazing bunch of friends and family I could ask for in New York, Toronto, and San Francisco. Every night out is an adventure, every party is next level, and every moment is so surprisingly good. The standard by which I measure my life: If the afterlife were real, and I got to look back at each day I’ve lived, would I consider it an excellent life? The answer, for my 28th year, is “absolutely” – and the reason is the people who make up this crazy tri-coastal life of mine. Thank you, and for you, my friends, I am eternally grateful.

I will not take this moment to offer any trite advice, although if you are interested in stories of life hacking, travel and entrepreneurship, watch this space: I hope to blog more often. And if you really do want some trite advice, do yourself a huge favor and read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. No book has taught me more about how to think and how to live in order to maximize my personal happiness.

I’ve gotten here partly by working hard, partly by working smart, and in a huge way, a lot of dumb luck. 29, here I come.

Read More
Events

Remember the time Burning Man let Tesla advertise under the Man?

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 4.34.16 PM

Paul Addis sets the man on fire early Tuesday morning during a lunar eclipse in 2007 – Photo by Tristan Savatier

Beyond the usual kvetching about Burning Man being “better last year,” or the timeless tale of being taken over by elites, it seems like there is actually a growing fear that Burning Man is, once and for all, being irreparably infiltrated by Silicon Valley. The latest to jump on the pile is person whom I admire a great deal, Breaking Open the Head author Daniel Pinchbeck, who wrote this post about why he is skipping Burning Man. This has particular significance to me as it was his book that cemented my desire to go to Burning Man; this year will be my tenth.

The Time Burning Man Allowed Tesla to Advertise for One Day  

The concerns mostly seem to focus on Silicon Valley infiltrating Burning Man and “ruining” it from the outside, but let’s rewind to 2007 when Burning Man almost allowed itself to be “ruined” by Silicon Valley from the inside, until it was ironically saved by an arsonist vandal who later committed suicide. The theme of 2007 was The Green Man, a response to what a decent faction of Burners said was unconscionable consumption and a huge carbon footprint for an event with radical roots.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 4.32.46 PM

 

To make The Green Man theme not completely hollow, Burning Man came up with a novel idea to finally allow brands in: the Green Man pavilion would be a “World’s Fair” type demonstration of world-changing technology. From the Burning Man website:

The Burning Man stood atop a structure that resembled green mountain peaks. Nestled at its base was the Green Man Pavilion, 30,000 square feet of shaded exhibition space for the display of interactive artistic, scientific and educational models, a trade show-type display of emerging technologies. This pavilion was surrounded by the Mangrove, made from simulated trees fashioned from recycled industrial materials.

Beneath the pavilion were a number of green technologies, some from very large brands; including a prototype of the now-famous Tesla Roadster. Elon Musk is a well-known burner and I can understand why this seemed like a good idea at the time; on the website, the project’s “artist” was listed as Aaron Platshon, a former Tesla product manager.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 4.42.56 PM

The one condition these brands had to agree to was that they would strip the logos from their products, and simply provide them as “white labeled” objects, much as the closer you are to Center Camp, the less you will see corporate logos on rental vehicles like Budget trucks and U-Hauls. The effect was the creation of a de facto “corporate pavilion” of Burning Man-approved companies allowed to display directly under what is supposed to be the very symbol of decommodification. Even the loosest reading of the Ten Principles makes this decision a head scratcher.

The Corporate Pavilion Goes Down in Flames

Burning Man faced a tremendous amount of criticism that year, both from within the community and without, including a scathing Business 2.0 article that made it sound like Larry Harvey himself had orchestrated Burning Man’s big cashing-out. People screamed on ePlaya, Tribe and elsewhere that Burning Man had finally jumped the shark, sold out, and that they were livid.

That year, the gate opened at midnight on Monday. Monday afternoon was extremely dusty, with a several hours-long whiteout that deterred most people from going to the corporate pavilion. Monday night was clear, but the dust storm had delayed many people’s camp setup, so very few people were outside their camps. Around 2 AM, a total lunar eclipse overtook the moon. While everybody was looking at the moon, Paul Addis climbed the man and set it on fire with a blowtorch. An amplified voice at Opulent Temple, the only sound camp that was up and running, shouted, “Oh my god, the man’s on fire!”

Sure enough, the man was on fire. Personally I thought this was awesome – it was the chaos that older burners always lamented the loss of, the unpredictability, the makings of  a Cacaphony Society prank. Other people were not amused.

Conspiracy Theories 

Was the 2007 Early Burn an inside job? Obviously not, but it had the makings of a good conspiracy theory. Did Larry Harvey want to deflect the criticism of the corporate pavilion? Did he want people to focus on the enemy without instead of the enemy within, like George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden? Was Paul Addis just a fall guy to preserve the empire? While these are all absurd ideas, one fact is extremely lucky for Burning Man: After the Early Burn, literally nobody ever mentioned the corporate pavilion ever again. The people who actually saw it must number a few hundred at most, many of whom have probably stopped going to Burning Man.

A Lesson for Today

So before you start shaking your fist at the cloud and saying, “Damn Silicon Valley bros! Stop infiltrating our event!” don’t forget “your event” once invited Silicon Valley in all by itself, and that nothing is new under the sun.

Read More
Personal

The Time Adam Vaughan Pressured Me To Change a Torontoist Post

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.28.28 AM

In September of 2007, Toronto’s most interesting temporary nightclub, CiRCA, was about to open. Exiled New York City club king Peter Gatien of Party Monster fame granted me an interview about the entertainment facility; I was thrilled. The club had faced years of delays, mostly regulatory, led by an alliance between the AGCO and Adam Vaughan. Vaughan was the local councillor in the ward, and one of his raison d’êtres was putting a cap on the number of nightclubs in Toronto’s Entertainment District, something about which we frequently sparred in public forums.

I faithfully transcribed my interview with Peter Gatien in the Torontoist post and I was very happy with it. It gave a glimpse into an amazing project many people thought was going to be just another mega-club on Richmond Street, when it was so much more. Not everybody was happy with the post, though.

A day after I posted it, my phone rang. It was Adam Vaughan and he was pissed. Apoplectic even. His objection was the following line in the post, specifically the second clause:

My guess is it’s probably some special interest like real estate developers, my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area. -Peter Gatien

He yelled at me for roughly twenty minutes, saying the post was libelous. I objected, saying I had only transcribed another person’s words, and he said I knew nothing of the laws of Canada because I was a “foreigner.” He said that Torontoist could be sued, I could be sued, and I should know better than to insinuate that he took money from developers and that they were affecting his judgment on the local nightlife issue. He brought up his decades-long journalism credentials, as well as his campaign promise not to accept developer money. He was furious.

What I did next was definitely the wrong move: I changed the post without asking my editor David Topping. Adam had given 20 year-old me a good scare, and he convinced me that I was somehow guilty of libel. I removed the line that says, “my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area,” and replaced it with a line I had edited out for brevity: “To the condo developers, this area is still pretty cheap.”

For the record, I know Adam Vaughan never accepted developer money for his campaigns. He made a point of this and published a list of his contributors; no developers were on the list.

This story is one of three times Adam and I publicly faced off; the other notable one was when he called me “a tough little 20 year-old” for challenging his infamous “mess of drugs and graffiti” video that he eventually pulled from his first campaign website.

Read More
1 2 3 4