##Thinking Of Strategies For Fun

I am a very curious individual, and from time to time I funnel that curiosity into asking myself what I might do if I were responsible for X at Y company. Recently, this curiosity realized itself as:

  • “What new strategy would I pursue if I was responsible for customer acquisition at TalkTo?”

TalkTo is a great mobile app that allows you to text any business. You can text the local wine store to see if they have a certain wine, restaurant to book a table, or your hotel to see if your room is available for early check-in. Basically, anything you might call a business for, TalkTo allows you to text them for instead.

Like any consumer focused application I am fairly confident the team needs to continue acquiring users - both businesses and customers (defined here as anyone that isn’t the owner of a business). So how might I go about it? I wouldn’t usually write out my answer, but in this case I thought I came to an interesting idea and wanted to push myself to more fully develop it.

##What’s The Landscape

When thinking about what I might do, the first thing to get clear on is:

  1. What is the goal?
  2. What are the parameters within which the strategy should be designed to achieve that goal?

The goal is: expose the TalkTo app to as many people as possible, and offer them a compelling value proposition such that they use the platform and ultimately become a regular user.

I see the parameters as the following:

  • TalkTo is focused on the consumer-to-businesss relationship. That is where any strategy should target acquiring users.

  • The best time to target a potential user (customer) is when the individual has an immediate intention to contact a business.

  • The user acquisition strategy should maximize leverage. That is to say, for each acquisition the strategy should optimize for the largest possible present value of the future stream of users that one acquisition will achieve. If I have a viral app - one that naturally encourages sharing with others - I would want to maximize my viral coefficient (for each user I acquire, how many people on average do they share the app with, what percentage of those use it, and finally what percentage of those that use it share it with others starting the cycle again). I would then want to optimize each of those variables. However…

  • TalkTo is not a very viral app. My experience of the app doesn’t improve when I share it with others. There are few use cases where I would want to share the app with others.

So what strategy would get the most leverage?

Given these conditions, I think a user acquisition strategy should focus on acquiring business users rather than customer users. A strategy focused on acquiring business users would want to optimize:

  • The initial value add and call to action so that the business engages
  • Exposure to the business’s customers through the business using TalkTo

Specifically, I want to achieve maximum leverage as I defined it earlier. For each business that starts using TalkTo, I want to optimize for the largest stream of new customer users in perpetuity; I acquire a business and by acquiring them they expose TalkTo to x customers per month on average in perpetuity, of which y% start using the app each month.

##Hypothetical Customer Flow

Let’s take one of the many possible use cases of TalkTo and think about how to add value to the business and get TalkTo infront of their current and potential customers (also potential TakTo users). Let’s use an example of a college student trying to find a certain wine that we shall call ‘Rose ABC.’ What does the student do?

  1. Open up Google and search for ‘Wine Store’.
  2. The first result for me in New Haven is Wine Thief. I click through to their site.
  3. Open their ‘Contact’ page to find their number.
  4. Call them.

The last step is when TalkTo can enter the customer-business interaction by offering an alternative medium to communicate (text). However, this student doesn’t know about TalkTo, so wouldn’t think to open up the TalkTo app and text them instead of calling.

The strategy then should be to provide the student with a way to text the business right there in the browser when the student is looking for Wine Thief’s contact information.

##The TalkTo Button

TalkTo should develop a TalkTo button that any small business can easily add onto their website and which allows anyone to send a text to them online and the customer to receive an answer via text.

The inspiration for this idea came in part from the Stripe Button. The Stripe Button is a very simple way for a business to start accepting credit cards online via Stripe’s payment system. I came upon the Stripe Button because a good friend, Jesse, was admiring the simplicity of the button and thinking about replicating it for a different project.

If TalkTo developed an even simpler nugget of code that any small business could add to their contact or home pages, I think it would be a great strategy to acquire customers with maximum leverage.

This could be a great ‘step’ when a business goes to claim their business on TalkTo. Having something like this - a call to action - would better engage the business when they go through that process.

##The New Customer Flow

Picking up from when the student found Wine Thief’s contact information:

  1. Text them using the TalkTo button on Wine Thief’s contact page (better if it was on the homepage!)

    img img

  2. Receive a text message from TalkTo to authenticate the student’s cell phone number.
  3. Get the answer to whether Wine Thief has Rose ABC via text.
  4. Hopefully, click through to download the mobile app!



There is a lot I don’t know about the TalkTo technology stack, customer-to-business texting workflow, etc. As such, there are potential issues that could make this a bad idea. Some of the challenges / objections I could foresee include:

  • Building the technology and processes to support this could require a significant amount of time from the team. That time is precious, and it is unclear how many users this would acquire, and as such could be too risky to implement at this stage. I have been through cell phone verification for Uber and Zipcar recently though so I know it is achievable.

  • Small businesses rarely build their own websites and have to pay for every change. They would be unlikely to pay for this to get added even if we built it.

  • Small businesses do manage their own websites but this couldn’t be implemented with one line of code. They would have to add other files to their site. As such, we would need to create a business support team to answer calls etc when they attempt to install it and break their sites. No money to hire people for this now.

Another potential objection is that people are using their desktops less and less for finding businesses. Instead they are using apps like Yelp, Foursquare etc (TalkTo though should ultimately serve as the best app directory for small businesses). As such, it wouldn’t be worth it to acquire users on the desktop browser. However, a quick look at the wine use case and it doesn’t look like search for ‘Wine Store’ is notably down over the past 8 years.

Search for ‘American Food Restaurant’ also isn’t down

That is not a scientific or legitimate answer, but to me it says that the idea is worth exploring further, and that it could still be very valuable to enter the customer-to-business relationship on the desktop browser.

##The TalkTo Button Already Exists!

When beginning to write this up I went to TalkTo’s site and saw that on their contact page they already had a ‘TalkTo Button’ (That is where I got the mockups from). Awesome! Let’s make it ubiquitous.

####Note: This idea and these views are mine, not TalkTo’s. TalkTo did not approve them and it is unknown if they agree or disagree. I am not employed, nor have I been employed, by TalkTo. This post was for fun.

Over the summer I was fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks in Kenya with Penda Health. Penda Health is a startup social enterprise offering general outpatient healthcare to low & middle income Kenyans. The three ambitious and tenacious founders took the leap in January, 2012 to set up their first clinic and have big plans to expand to a chain of outpatient health clinics across Kenya. Their first clinic, as of October, is now seeing almost 600 patients per month.

I got to join them as part of a full year class I am taking on Social Enterprises. This spring semester was dedicated to learning about entrepreneurship in developing countries from case studies and guest speakers, as well as beginning to understand the field of impact investing. Over the summer we got grant funding to spend time on the ground with a social enterprise of our choice. My team and I ended up reaching out to and joining Penda Health. This semester we are writing a full multi-media case study on Penda.

While in Kenya we tried to add value to the team, so as not to just be a net drain of time and energy. We helped them think about their plans for scaling up to a chain, and pulled a ton of demographic, health and wealth data on 100+ towns in Kenya that we combined into a formula to rank and prioritize the attractiveness of various other towns for future clinics.

I also spent time interviewing the founders and put together a short video pitch for them. This short video also enabled me to try out several firsts:

  • My first time filming
  • My first time filming on my new Canon DSLR
  • My first time using Final Cut Pro

I am thankful for the inspiration and dedication that founders like Nick, Steph and Beatrice demonstrate in their commitment to valuable missions beyond themselves and in service of others. You can watch the video below and if you are interested in learning more or supporting them head over to their website. Any critical feedback regarding the video production is welcome so I can improve!

In an english class last spring I was assigned to write a ‘humorous’ essay. I decided that instead of writing a conventional Word Doc, I would instead use the assignment as an excuse to learn the basics of Illustrator. Given those two parameters - humorous essay and illustrator - the idea I came up with was to create a fake Facebook news feed with stereotypical characters.

I spent quite a while brainstorming and storyboarding general Facebook personas before settling on:

  • A relationship between a boy & a girl
  • A college student
  • A social media addict
  • A philosophizer
  • A clicktivist (someone who is an activist online)

I then wrote out the interweaving narratives and posts for each character and designed them into a fake Facebok feed. The goal of the essay was to create humor by highlighting the funny quirks of this ubiquitous medium. The result is below for your judgement.

Note: the timeline should be read from bottom to top if you want to read it in chronological order.