Launching a Product on FaceBook: The Bacon Salt Story

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This is the story of Bacon Salt or J&D’s Down Home Enterprises – the most successful Seattle start-up that you have never heard of.  Or maybe you have.  In 2007, Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow developed a zero calorie, vegetarian, kosher certified bacon flavor seasoning and decided to start selling it on the Internet.   Within months, they had a significant business making hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2007 revenue.  Today they are at a run rate of millions of dollars in revenue.  How did they do it?  Social media, particularly Facebook.

I met with Bacontrepreneur Justin Esch several weeks back where we talked about their strategy and how they developed a grassroots following for Bacon Salt through online guerrilla, Seth Godin-style Purple Cow marketing.  Here is Justin’s recipe in launching a physical product on Facebook:

  1. Create a Group on FaceBook:  Check out the Bacon Salt group on FaceBook.   Before broadly opening up the group to the public, Justin and Dave went and made sure that there was plenty of content, pictures and videos to keep people busy and make it a fun experience.
  2. Invite 100 or so Friends and Let the Newsfeed Do It’s Magic:They then invited 100 or so friends to start populating the room leaving comments on the wall, etc.    Make sure you invite the popular people who have lots of friends on FaceBook.  As everyone knows,  FaceBook users can watch what their friends are doing on the newsfeed.  When friends see other friends join the Bacon Salt group, they get curious, check out the Bacon Salt group, and join the group.
  3. Make Sure There Is Lots of Fresh Content:  Just like good blogs or communities, groups on Facebook need lots of care and tending.  Justin and Dave made sure that there was a constant stream of interesting Bacon Salt related content and encouraged the community to place or promote Bacon Salt in interesting places.  The result was hundreds of pictures and videos of Bacon Salt all around the world.  There are some amazing pictures and videos in the group.   They also filled the group with Bacon Salt recipes and random bacon musings.
  4. Target the Rabid Fans: Justin and Dave then used the interest tagging on FaceBook to target every Bacon Fan and every group that was about Bacon.  They reached out to all these individuals to make sure they are aware of Bacon Salt.  They sent them free samples to get the early adopters to talk about Bacon Salt, tell their friends, or wrote a blog post on Bacon Salt.  The ground swell started.  Here is hilarious video that someone put together.
  5. Do Some Good & Sell Some Bacon Salt – OPERATION BACON SALT:  Justin and Dave encouraged rabid fans of Bacon Salt to take pictures and post them on FaceBook and around the Internet.  J&D came up with the brilliant idea of sending free samples of Bacon Salt to soldiers in Iraq.  Iraq, being a Muslim country, does not have any pork products, let alone bacon.  The soldiers in Iraq were incredibly appreciative of the generosity of J&D and loved the taste of Bacon Salt.  They took TONS of pictures of Bacon Salt in military vehicles across Iraq and the world.  Word got back to the States of their good deeds resulting in more and more press coverage of the Bacontrepreneurs.Operation Bacon Salt

They have basically replicated this strategy on MySpace as well.  Their business is doing extremely well.  Bacon Salt is knocking on the door of distribution through major grocery retailers and they are slated to appear on QVC at some point in the near future.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that they have bootstrapped it 100% to date.  Now that’s what I call a story of two Seattle boys done good.

Would you like some Bacon Salt with that?

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To Refi or Not? – That Is the Question

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Since I have a decent amount of experience in the real estate and mortgage industries, a number of friends have been asking me if it is time to refinance their ARM or fixed rate mortgage or if they should lock-in a rate on a house they are purchasing today.    Summary thoughts: Rates seem pretty good right now.  There is a chance that they will fall further by the end of the year, but the likelihood is 50/50.  Most experts seem to think that rates will actually rise due to tightening lending standards and a deteriorating US housing market / financial system.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Further cuts likely:  Based on Bernake’s commentary today, further rate cuts are likely before the end of the year due to a slowing US economy.  My sense is that these rate cuts are on the mid-term horizon (maybe three mos or more).  If you are thinking that you want to refinance sooner, my sense is that rates are pretty compelling today.

2) Experts Feel Like Rates Will Rise:  I generally check out the BankRate mortgage expert index to get a sense of where the market is.  Since there was a sense that the Fed was going to cut rates, mortgage rates dropped pretty dramatically and experts have felt that rates were going to rise.  Since I have been watching this index, the experts have been right in that rates have gone up slightly over the past month or so.

3) Watch the Fees:  Terri Cullen of the Wall Street Journal has a good article this week here in Fiscally Fit – WSJ.com saying that banks and lenders are increasing their fees in light of financial weakness.  It’s worth shopping around and then negotiating the fees with the bank or broker.   Pay closest attention to the lender fees as they are the ones that are most negotiable.

4) Personal Financial Decision:  Here is a good post from Active Rain on when you should think about refinancing your mortgage.  Lee Zacharczyk of Atlantic Home Loans in Freehold, NJ says that you should think about 1) How long do you expect to own your home? 2) Where are interest rates from an historical perspective? 3) How long do you expect to be in this mortgage, i.e. will you be able to pay it off early?   

Just like the stock market, experts have long said that it is impossible to time the market.  Home mortgages are the same way.  I would make sure you are comfortable with the long-term rates and the fees you will need to pay to refinance.  If you are getting a good rate with reasonable fees, locking in a lower rate for peace of mind is a worthy trade.  As always, it is important to shop around. 

If have questions or are interested in a recommendation, feel free to email me at nparekh00 `at` gmail

Amazon Opening Retail Locations?

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I came across this at the intersection of Main Street and Bellevue Way in Bellevue, WA.  Seems like Amazon is making a big push with its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service.  Interesting to see that they actually have a retail presence encouraging consumers to stop by and subscribe/use the service.  I would have expected to see Amazon completely focused on driving adoption via the web and using an old school warehouse to fulfill. 

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On my way into work today, I actually got stuck behind an AmazonFresh truck.  Looks like they are making some headway with adoption…  at least in Bellevue.

Kayak for Real Estate? – Roost Launches Real Estate Metasearch, an anti-social network

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More innovation in the online real estate business.  A team from TotalMove and VacationSpot (acquired by Expedia) have partnered with the General Catalyst’s Joel Cutler, the venture capitalist behind Kayak.com, to create a new twist on real estate search.  Roost.com which publicly announced today is enabling consumers to get all the listings in a market from the MLS and use Kayak-like refinement and tool bars to search and sort the listings.  They get paid by real estate agents and real estate brokers when a consumer clicks on the link to get more information on a listing.  Great UI and smart business model that should be very scalable with relatively low incremental cost.  CEO Alex Chang is really smart about the real estate industry and how they are approaching partnerships with the MLS and brokers.

What’s Roost’s competitive advantage: NO BS!  Roost provides consumers with all the listings and is all about getting consumers to the listings they want as fast as possible.  Incredible!  Rather than using community and content like Zillow and Trulia to get people to browse to increase pagviews, the Roost model is the opposite – give homebuyers and sellers what they want as fast as possible and try to monetize that relationship.  Brilliant!

Roost launched today in a number of markets – Seattle, San Francisco and New York were not among the launch markets.  They will be challenged from a public perception basis of not being “nationwide”, but that is manageable.  Website is a bit slow today, but that could be due to traffic or the fact that they are still working out some of the kinks. 

Two thumbs up on the whole!

Will Local Advertising Suffer in Recessionary ‘08? Print vs Online?

Interesting article from Greg Sterling on the dynamics of print versus online local advertising in a recessionary environment.  Two interesting data points:

1) The early 2000’s saw job classifieds shift dramatically from offline to online in the recession.  Employers liked the accountability, ease of use and better ROI of their online spend.  Companies like Monster and Hotjobs rode this wave, destroying the jobs section of the local newspaper. 

 2) Recently, we have seen a major pullback in the real estate and mortgage markets.  Ironically, in real estate, ALL of the online real estate advertisers have been punished.   In real estate, agents and brokers have actually returned to print advertising – newspaper and rack publications, at least in the short term. 

Why? 

1) Demographics: The average real estate agent is 51 years old.  In the real estate downturn, as many younger agents are leaving the market, the established veterans are maintaining their current media mix, in which online may be a smaller portion.

2) More Listings: As the real estate market cools, there are more listings on the market that need to be advertised.  Though a number of firms have developed online products to market listings (pay per click listings, enhanced listings etc), my sense is that most of them are ineffective.  The most effective online marketing system for listings is simply the MLS, Craig’s List, and a host of free sites which aggregate listings.

3) What’s Familiar: At the end of the day, with so many alternatives to advertise, in the real estate free fall, I believe agents and brokers are going back to what is familiar …  at least in the short term.  I think over the next three years online advertising will overtake print in real estate.  I think it will require the real estate market to get back on its legs first, or at least show that it is back on the upward curve.

Here is a link to the article: Will Print YP Suffer in Recessionary ‘08? « Screenwerk

Recruiting the New Marketing Team

As described in this article, HouseValues went through multiple evolutions of its media mix to get to where it is today resulting in a 10x reduction in cost per acquisition over the past five years.  Over the past five years, it was critical to evolve the marketing team to react the new skills required.  Five years ago, the HouseValues consumer marketing team was largely a buying organization where the core skill set was identifying media opportunities, negotiating with television stations, and monitoring execution.  The Internet, the nationwide expansion of the HouseValues business, and introduction of multiple products (seller leads, buyer leads, mortgage leads, portal impressions) required an evolution and expansion of the skill sets on the team.  See the below table for the evolution of the HouseValues Media Team:

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Below are six characteristics that you should look to develop or recruit on your marketing team;

1)     Strong Quant Skills: As your team is balancing multiple media – offline and online –  strong quantitative skills are critical in terms of balancing the media mix and determining the effectiveness of your media buys.  Historically, an individual attracted to media buying was not a naturally mathematically inclined.  Today’s media buyers and media managers must be able to make the trade-offs between different media based on quantitative metrics and results.  Trade-offs need to made on cost per acquisition versus volume of acquisition, local versus national media spend, brand exposure between pure direct response.  Balancing all these demands can be challenging.  Managers must be able to give media buyers clear direction and goals.  Media buyers need to be able to analyze results and communicate to managers why they are choosing the media mix they have.

2)     Balance:  Advanced media teams have always had to purchase multiple media – maybe print, TV, radio and maybe outdoor display/billboards.  The Internet has multiplied the number of places that a marketing team can advertise – search, banners, pop-unders, roll-overs, sponsorships, and more.  Every media team needs to be cross-trained in negotiating, purchasing, and managing traditional media types as well as the new media, particularly search.  I find most online advertising to be far simpler to implement and manage than the traditional media due to transparent pricing and limited creative options.  A the same time, marketing teams that are able to efficiently use print, TV, and radio will do well since the actual implementation of the campaigns is a barrier to entry for competition.

3)     Clear Communicators: With more media alternatives, it is critical for media managers and media buyers are able to clearly communicate WHY they have chosen to execute and test various campaigns and HOW those campaigns performed.  Media managers and media buyers also must communicate potential threats and opportunities to senior management – threats include increased competition or increased pricing from publishers; opportunities include new media or reduced pricing opportunities as well as buyer power in publisher relationships.

4)     Embracing Experimentation: The Internet has increased competition at every turn.  Media need to consistently experiment with new media and new creative to keep pushing the boundaries of what is known.  With every media business, costs increase to reach the marginal eyeball or consumer.  Thus, it is important to consistently increase the reach of your message.  Buyers must also embrace the “scientific method,” which we all learned in high school.  Media buyers must test new media (channels, times, days, segments, behaviors) and new creative implementations while holding as many constants as possible.  Then, test, measure, refine, and repeat. 

5)     Growth through Creative:  The creative implementation matters a lot.  Smart quantitative media buyers are very good at optimizing the buys.  Buying smartly with the same creative implementations will get you only so far.   Regularly testing and pushing your creative implementations is necessary for every media business.  You can be surprised at the results.     

6)     Familiarity with Product Management:  Search is becoming an important part of your media mix.  A strong marketer will understand the implementation of good natural search / search engine optimization strategies as well as the dynamics of social networking.  Though there are good consultants to help with search engine optimization and social media strategies, having a strong familiarity with search engine optimization and social media will help in identifying the right tactics to drive additional consumer awareness of your products.