Please Help Support Camp Oochigeas


Thus far, 2010 has been a year of self-awareness for me. First, I kicked-off the year by deciding to track my workouts, number of books read, hours of sleep and how I’m feeling each day. So far it’s been a very rewarding and enlightening experience (let me know if you want a copy of my Google Doc I’m using to track everything). However, as Q1 is wrapping-up, I have already seen my workout pacing decrease as my day-to-day responsibilities increase. I didn’t like this one bit. To re-prioritize exercise within my lifestyle, I have committed to running a 10km race in 41 days. I have neither ran 10k nor raced in any event previously. Wish me luck.

Sporting Life 10k For Kids with Cancer
The Sporting Life 10k is scheduled for May 2, 2010 and is supporting Camp Oochigeas, a camp for children with cancer. With no government funding, Camp Oochigeas relies on the generosity of volunteers, donors, community participants and the Hospital for Sick Children to provide year-round programs for children affected by childhood cancer at their campsite in Muskoka and at no cost to their families. I am personally raising at least $250 (update: at least $500) for this charity — please support me in my fundraising efforts.

Gearing-up: Nike + iPod
To get in-gear for the 10k, I joined Nikeplus.com (my profile page) and consulted their “coach”. Unfortunately, Nikeplus only offers a 12-week program — not 42 days (as at yesterday) — so I figure I’ll follow the first 5.5 weeks of the program to get in-shape for the big run. Yesterday, I was assigned my first run from coach — I had to run 4.82km! Talk about being thrown into the deep-end. So, I ventured to the University of Toronto gym to run the indoor track with my Nike + iPod sensor and iPhone to track my progress.

Although I had to walk for a few periods of time, here are my net results for run #1:

  • Distance: 4.82km
  • Duration: 30:42
  • Pace: 6’22” /km
  • Fastest Kilometer: 5’42”
  • Calories Burned: 371

If you join Nikeplus, add me as a friend (username: jsookman).

More Details on the 10k Race
It is Canada’s easiest and one of the fastest downhill 10k’s (a good starter, I think…), and it runs right down the middle of Canada’s most famous street—Yonge Street! The start line is four blocks south of Sporting Life (at Yonge & Roselawn). From there, the course heads south on Yonge Street all the way to Richmond Street. It then turns west on Richmond, south on Peter/Blue Jays Way past Gretzky’s to Front St. The course then goes west along Front, south on Bathurst, west on Fort York Blvd. to finish! See the map below.

Course Map/Overview

Once again, please consider contributing to Camp Oochigeas. It is performing miracles for these children.

Social Media Revolution


Socialnomics put together a great video that demonstrates the growing marketing power for companies that use and learn to master social media tools, social networks and content optimized for mobile devices.

The video has a ton of very powerful stats on targeting and communicating effectively and honestly with consumers and show consumer trends that have only continued to accelerate in the direction indicated by the video.

“Over 96% of Generation Y-ers have joined a social network.”

“Social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web.”

“1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media.”

“Facebook added over 100 million users in less than 9 months”

“iPod application downloads hit 1 billion in 9 months”

“If Facebook were a country, it would be the 4th largest.”

“80% of companies use LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.”

“The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females.”

“>80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices — people update anytime, anywhere.”

“YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.”

“Wikipedia has over 13 million articles – studies show it’s more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica.”

“There are over 200,000,000 blogs. 54% of bloggers post content or Tweet daily.”

“25% of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.”

“34% of bloggers post opinions of products & brands.”

“People care more about how their social graph ranks products and services than how Google ranks them.”

“78% of consumers trust peer recommendations. Only 14% trust advertisements.”

“Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI.”

“25% of Americans in the past month said they watched a short video … on their phone.”

“35% of book sales on Amazon are for the Kindle.”

“24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation.”

“More than 1.5 million pieces of content are shared on Facebook daily.”

Still think social media is a fad?

Toronto Startup Digest


I am proud to announce that I’ve recently become a co-curator of the Toronto [Startup Digest], joining Will Lam in curating a weekly list of the highest quality tech/startup events in Toronto. [Startup Digest] has spread like wildfire from Silicon Valley to locations around the world and I’m excited to be joining the team.

As a long-standing recipient of the Silicon Valley [Startup Digest], I was always pleased with the quality of events that were mentioned in the curated list emailed once each week. The Toronto [Startup Digest] will maintain this quality and will include and highlight the top tech and entrepreneurship events in the Greater Toronto Area (and Waterloo). We won’t cover all of the events, only the best ones!

Here are 5 things that [Startup Digest] will accomplish:

1. We want to promote the entrepreneurial lifestyle and the culture of DOING, to help change the world into a better place.

2. We want to strengthen the pre-existing entrepreneurial communities no matter how small or large they currently are

3. We want to create stronger bonds between entrepreneurs through relevant events where the startup community physically meets each other.

4. We want to promote the cross-pollination of ideas and people that would not otherwise interact.

5. We want to empower the leaders in these startup communities and give them the tools and inspiration to create a huge difference.

(view source)

If you would like to subscribe to the weekly [Startup Digest], please register online.

Otherwise, if you are running an event in Toronto (GTA) or Waterloo, please leave the details in a comment below, email me or contact me on twitter. If the event is targeting rock stars, it’ll get on the list!

ngmoco’s “We Rule” Gamername Exchange


ngmoco:) recently launched a new mobile social game for iPhone called “We Rule”. It relies on a freemium revenue model allowing users the option to accelerate their in-game success purchasing “mojo”. Mojo is We Rule’s in-game virtual currency that allows users to instantly perform actions – rather than waiting a specified period of time – that result in gaining coins, a secondary form of in-game currency that is used to purchase new items. ngmoco used a similar revenue model (centered around saving time) in their last game, Eliminate Pro.

We Rule has a built-in social layer, which is actually pretty good for users that have already found their friends. However, finding friends and other gamers isn’t easy. As Canadians join the “We Rule” beta, many gamers are left looking to find other users and have turned to forum sites and paid sites to exchange data (gamernames, current levels, businesses owned and open) on becoming in-game friends to help one another outperform the competition.

Better than turning to forums, which require signing up (and sometimes associated fees), feel free to use the comments section below to list your information to exchange with others.

This is the preferred format for exchange:
Plus+ ID: sook
Level: 14
Open Businesses: 16

Gamers: Please feel free to check back in and leave a new comment (or exchange request) as you find your number of customers decreasing.

Update: Disqus Replaces IntenseDebate for Comments


Apologies to all my readers for being unable to post comments over the last couple weeks. I tried to get the IntenseDebate system online (customer service was helpful and easily reached via Twitter/email); however, although it seemed that comments were being accepted by the commenting system, they were mysterious vanishing into the Internet abyss.

I made the switch to Disqus and I couldn’t be happier. Not only does it have a much easier integration process, but it also has a richer set of tools and options for commenting, sharing/social and UI/UX elements.

Once again, if you had tried to post a comment in the past (but were unable to do so), please take this opportunity. You can now easily sign-in through Facebook Connect, Twitter, OpenID, Yahoo!, Disqus or as a Guest.

Product Management for Mobile Gaming


As an aspiring tech CEO, I have been told numerous times that being an “A+” Product Manager will provide the experience, understanding and discipline to become a great CEO and to lead an accomplished company.

I often provide strategy and product development guidance to some of our portfolio companies; however, I wanted a more immersive experience and to be part of the excitement of startup life. So over the last several months, I increased my assistance to a particular portfolio company in the Toronto area, which I believe is well positioned in the marketplace. Strategy discussions with management of this company led to a conversation to bring me on-board as Product Manager of a new mobile social game at the idea stage. Eager to help the company succeed and to gain additional experience, I undertook a more formal responsibility on evenings and weekends as Product Manager. It was a perfect fit for both the company (lacked product management capabilities) and my career ambitions.

As part of the team, I faced my first challenge: Figure out the best way to manage the development team and the product. I evaluated several methods of product development and eventually settled on SCRUM since it is ideal for agile development with rapid iterations and incremental updates — perfect for an iPhone game.

ScrumLargeLabelled

For product managers that are new to SCRUM, be sure to check out the SCRUM Reference Card (great overview) and beginners SCRUM Guide (fairly basic). These were helpful resources in my quest to better understand this product development process.

It was my next goal to conceive of a process to coordinate everyone’s collective efforts on the team to come up with ideas and potential features for the game and to convert that list into the Initial Release Plan and Product Backlog for the game. I created a spreadsheet in Google Docs and shared it with the team. I wanted to be a very transparent Product Manager and show the team everything that I saw — idea list, resource planning, timeline estimates, business value associations to product features, etc… I did this because I believe that transparency will help the team better understand my points of view and decision-making rationale.

Since I am continuing to learn, I invite you to have a look at the Initial Release and Version planning spreadsheets that I created to manage the product development process. Naturally, I stripped out any game-specific information, removed the names of people involved and altered values so that it would no longer represent our plan in any fashion. Other small changes to this public version include:

  • For the idea list tab, each item should be a minimum of 4 hours to a maximum of 16 hours only; tasks less than 4 hours should be placed on each developers Scratch Pad and aggregated into an item on the list; tasks greater than 16 hours should be broken down into components (if possible) to fit within the 4 – 16 hours window for ideal planning purposes.
  • Each developer would have his or her own “Scratch Pad” (the demo version only shows 2).
  • The only tab that was completely removed was the method by which we determine business value for each product feature.
  • The “Product Backlog” tab is dynamically driven from the “Idea List” tab and broken-down into version and sprint for each assessment; a tip for collecting the unique “Groups” is to export the long list of Groups from the “Idea List” into Excel and create a Pivot Table, then select the grouping and extract the unique elements to import back into Google Docs.
  • In the “Product Backlog” tab, you should determine your own complexity factor for the project  (a guide to determining this factor can be found in the SCRUM Guide linked above).

I would love to hear your questions, comments and (hopefully) suggestions to further improve what I have already created in hopes of making this effort more successful. If you would like a copy of my example spreadsheet, please let me know and leave me your email address in the comments section below; I’ll make sure to get you a copy either on Google Docs or as an export to MS Excel.

My next post will discuss putting this plan into action.

Reward Systems that Drive Engagement (via Amy Jo Kim)


Amy Jo Kim, CEO of Shufflebrain, gave a talk at Game Developers Conference 2010 and focused on the web-meets-gaming world (called metagame design). This is the practice of applying game-like reward and feedback systems to non-game applications for the purpose of driving loyalty and engagement. This slide deck (embedded below) focuses on three levels of metagame design: points tables, feedback and rewards, and viral outreach. She also reviews the pros and cons of metagame reward systems like levels, badges, leaderboards, spotlights, and quality ratings. AJK was kind enough to post those slides online for the community — thank you!

Metagame Design – Presentation Transcript

  1. MetaGame Design Reward Systems that Drive Engagement Amy Jo Kim CEO, Shufflebrian
  2. What is a Metagame?
  3. Using out-of-game info or resources to affect in-game decisions Gaming definition
  4. Layering an rewards system onto an existing activity
  5. Metagames are Everywhere
  6. Collecting Complete Collections — Gain Status, Access, $$
  7. Behavior Chart Collect Stickers — Earn Privilege or Prize
  8. Karate Develop Skill — Earn Rank, Prestige, Powers
  9. Scouting Complete Tasks — Earn Badges, Rank, Prestige, Powers
  10. Frequent Flyer Programs Spend Money — Earn Points — Redeem for Flights
  11. Arcade Spend Money — Earn Points — Redeem for Items
  12. Text RPG Complete Missions — Earn Points — Redeem for Items
  13. Contest/Raffle Take Action — MAYBE Win Item
  14. Contest/Raffle Take Action — Maybe Win Item
  15. Tournament Play Sport — Enter Tournaments — Earn Ranking/Trophies Leagues & Teams are part of this
  16. Tournament Play Sport — Enter Tournaments — Earn Ranking/Trophies
  17. So how do you design a Metagame?
  18. Metagame Design Framework Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  19. Metagame Engagement Loop Post updates, give gifts, send taunts Get feedback, earn rewards Take actions, earn points
  20. Act React Customize Create Earn Spend Step 1: Assign points to actions Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  21. Which ACTIONS earn points?
  22. Which REACTIONS earn points?
  23. 3 Types of points
    • Experience Points (XP) – earned directly via players’ actions – track & reward socially/economically useful player actions
    • Skill Points (Score, Rank) – earned via interacting with the system – based on mastery of the activity or game
    • Influence Points (Rating, Reputation) – earned via the actions of other players – proxy for quality/reputation/influence – track & reward socially valuable contributions & actions
  24. Is your points system tracking skill, experience, or both?
  25. Is your points system assigning ratings to people or objects?
  26. Can you Spend your points?
  27. Levels Leaderboards Roles Reputation Missions Challenges Achievements Collections Step 2: Add Feedback & Rewards Viral Outreach Feedback & Rewards Points
  28. Levels are shorthand for participation and achievement
  29. Leaderboards identify, motivate and reward your most devoted players
  30. Social Leaderboards drive competition and enable missions
  31. Leaderboards can cause problems – don’t be afraid to remove/hide/change
  32. Missions tell players what to do next
  33. Mission-driven engagement loop Post updates, give gifts, send taunts Get feedback, earn rewards Accept Mission Update Mission List Take actions, earn points
  34. Reputation and Ratings track quality/skill + motivate contributions
  35. Achievements provide short-term goals + sense of progression
  36. Motivate newbies with easy-to-earn rewards
  37. Motivate power-users with scarce resources
  38. Motivate contributors with a rating system
  39. Updates Gifts Sharing Invites Step 3: Grow through Viral Outreach Viral Outreach Points Feedback & Rewards
  40. What are the ‘social moments’ in your game?
  41. Competition Bragging, Taunting, Challenging
  42. Cooperation Sharing, Helping, Gifting
  43. Self-Expression Check out my character/outfit/farm/page
  44. Case Study: Farmville
  45. XP + coins earned by completing tasks
  46. Customize your character
  47. purchase seeds
  48. Plant & Harvest Crops
  49. Help Neighbors
  50. Design & Develop Your Farm
  51. Buy exclusive items with $$$
  52. Tutorial introduces pts, levels, rewards
  53. Earn coins, level up, buy more stuff
  54. Leaderboards facilitate social interactions
  55. Achievements come early & often
  56. Achievements displayed as collections
  57. Achievements displayed as collections
  58. Help your neighbors, then brag about it
  59. Many opportunities for self-expression
  60. Gifting pulls people into the game
  61. Case Study: Stack Overflow Technical Q&A site w/crowd-sourced moderation
  62. Ask/answer good questions to build Reputation
  63. Leaderboards for Reputation score
  64. Earn badges by performing basic site tasks
  65. Question: why no viral outreach?
  66. 5 Tips for Designing a Compelling Metagame:
    • Create a coherent experience that unfolds over time
    • Define a points system (XP, social pts, redeemable pts) that supports your purpose and audience
    • Introduce feedback and rewards that motivate newbies, enthusiasts, and contributors
    • Design rewards that players will be eager to share
    • Use “game pacing” to grant rewards over time

See Amy Jo Kim’s profile on GDC 2010.

Understanding Social Game Player Dynamics


Understanding the behavior of players of social games has been an expensive lesson to learn by many companies, often picking up bite-sided pieces of insight through extensive A/B testing and internal metrics over time. Many companies have also tried to better understand the viral invitation process and successful virality of social games both on and off the Facebook platform. An academic paper entitled “Diffusion Dynamics of Games on Online Social Networks” was recently written by Xiao Wei and Jiang Yang from the University of Michigan, Ricardo Matsumura de Araújo from the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil and Manu Rekhi, VP of strategy, marketing, business and corporate development for Lolapps.

The paper analyses the viral spread of an application and how/why are these processes occurring. SocialTimes.com did a great post that summarizes the academic paper. Alternatively, you can view the entire paper here.

Some of the key findings are summarized below:

  • On average, each inviter has invited 26 friends while the median number is 10
  • Just 10% of users account for 50% of successful invites
  • Around 90% of users share their locale information
  • Around 40% of users share their friend list
  • Only 1% of users share their relationship status
  • Invited users remain in the game longer: over 50% kept on playing for more than a day and 20% of all invited users were still playing 80 days later.
  • Around 80% of non-invited players leave the game within the first day
  • Overall, they find that invitation strategy is more important than demographics in determining invitation success rate

To determine how to create a profitable social game, please explore my previous blog post on the importance of Customer Acquisition Costs for startups.

The Importance of Customer Acquisition Costs for Startups


I recently came across the blog of David Skok of Matrix Partners and was inspired to write this post by an article on customer acquisition costs. If you have not yet read through his blog’s vast resources for entrepreneurs, I suggest you do so – particularly if you plan to pitch your startup to VCs anytime soon.

After being pitched countless times by startups, as a VC I’d like to identify a common misconception that web-based startups often have about their own growth potential and the costs associated with their plans. Management of web services companies, SaaS companies and mobile (web-based) applications commonly believe that because they are situated online, customers will come across their service, submit a purchase order (or subscribe) and notify friends or other companies to use the service as well. Although this may happen from time to time, it is very rare for any company to experience sustained viral growth.

Many companies don’t understand the difference between viral marketing and viral growth. Viral marketing is essentially “word of mouth” or “person-to-person distribution” and is the latest buzzword. Viral growth implies a K-factor greater than 1 (i.e. for each new person who tries a product/service, they will each invite more than 1 registered user of the product on average). Since true viral growth is so hard to achieve in practice, many companies miscalculate the actual costs it will incur to acquire customers. As David points out in his article, the majority of startup pitches lack detail/emphasis on how much it will cost to acquire customers. I second this statement entirely.

Business Model Viability
For a business to be profitable on each new customer, startups must balance two variables: (1) Cost to Acquire Customers (CAC); and (2) Lifetime Value of a Customer (LTV).

CAC can be calculated by taking the business’s entire cost of sales and marketing over a given period (including salaries and other employee expenses) and divide it by the number of customers that the business acquired in that period.

LTV can be calculated by looking at the Average Revenue Per User/Customer (ARPU) over the lifetime of a business’s relationship with a customer.

As Steve Blank mentioned in his recent post, an early indication that a business has found the right business model is when the cost of acquiring customers becomes less than the revenues generated from the customer. “For web startups, this is when the cost of customer acquisition is less than the lifetime value of that customer. For biotech startups, it’s when the cost of the R&D required to find and clinically test a drug is less than the market demand for that drug.”


Credit: David Skok.

Zynga is a great example of a company that has managed to decipher the business model of online social gaming. After thousands of A/B tests and experiments, Zynga finally found a business model where CAC was less than LTV. Once they cracked the nut, the company spent so much on customer acquisition that it was rumored that they accounted for upwards of 30% of Facebook’s revenue in 2009 though its aggressive social ad buying strategies. Similar business models and opportunities exist in virtual worlds, massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and many other online businesses. Many social games, such as those created by Zynga, leverage virtual currency, micro-transactions, emotional response mechanisms and social influence to promote the sale of decorative and functional virtual goods.

Before investing in a web-centric startup, good VCs will look deep into a company’s business model and know to look for CAC and LTV metrics. In fact, Trident Capital recently held a meeting with their online advertising and ecommerce companies to help exchange best practices for customer acquisition and improving LTV. My advice to startups: prove out your business model and you will have a much better shot at raising VC dollars. Skok suggests that two key equations be followed by web startups:

  • CAC < LTV (3x appears to be a rough minimum for SaaS businesses)
  • CAC should be recovered in < 12 months (for subscription businesses)

Startups, if you’ve already figured out your business model and how to make CAC < LTV, stay very quiet and add as much fuel to the fire as you can afford. Your competitors will likely try to hone-in on your tactics and fight back for their share of the market.


Credit: Steve Blank.

Leverage Startup Metrics
Startups are different from larger companies and therefore need different metrics than larger companies. Metrics will give startups a lens into how well the search for the business model is going and help to identify when to scale the company. Besides CAC and LTV, some essential metrics that startups should be familiar with include Viral Coefficient (K-factor)  and Customer Lifecycle. Dave McClure from Founders Fund recently updated his Startup Metrics for Pirates presentation for web sales pipelines. Take a look!

Questions to my Readers
Please consider the following questions and share your perspectives with my other readers and the tech community at large.

  1. What metrics do you consider the most valuable?
  2. Do you use any tools to help measure specific metrics for your business?
  3. What mistakes have you made (and corrected) that can help others succeed?

Leaving Comments Just Got Easier!


For as long as I have had this blog online, one of my strongest concerns was the friction (caused by WordPress and anti-spam tools) preventing my readers from easily leaving comments on my blog.

Now, thanks to an excellent plug-in called IntenseDebate, anybody can now leave comments by signing in through Facebook, Twitter, OpenID, WordPress or IntenseDebate. The plug-in also has some great sidebar tools that dynamically generate a list of the most popular blog posts (ranked by number of comments received) and recent comments received.

If there had been a comment that you wanted to make in response to a previous article, but were turned off by the process involved, I now invite you to participate in those discussions.

To my readers: Thank you all for subscribing and I’m looking forward to the additional conversations that result from these changes. Have a great weekend!