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Stack Speaker Series: 5 Lessons from Omaze Co-Founder and Co-CEO Matt Pohlson

Stack Speaker Series: 5 Lessons from Omaze Co-Founder and Co-CEO Matt Pohlson

What would you give to be an extra in Star Wars: Episode VII or “blow sh*t up” with Arnold Schwarzenegger? These once in a lifetime experiences are how local LA startup Omaze raises funds and awareness for the world’s best nonprofit organizations – and we were lucky enough to spend an hour with Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Matt Pohlson.

The Stack Speaker Series is a quarterly event here at StackCommerce, during which the team has the opportunity to pick the brains of amazing leaders, innovators, and angel investors in the Silicon Beach area. Read on for the the top 5 lessons we learned while lunching with Omaze Co-CEO, Matt Pohlson:

  1. Experiment with multiple platforms

    Like many startups, Omaze didn’t find its success right out of the gate. Their first campaign with the show “Cupcake Wars” didn’t yield the proceeds they had expected. So what turned the corner? Getting the word out in the right places. Facebook, radio, video, PR: all of these platforms proved essential for growth from that point forward.

  2. Don’t underestimate the power of humor

    Infusing humor into content, whether it be campaign videos or blog posts, is a great way to increase shareability and the chances of virality. The key: make consumers want to engage with your content – it goes a long way.

  3. Don’t assume each audience is the same

    At Omaze, each campaign beckons a distinct audience and strategy. For example: if you’re running a campaign targeted at gamers, try gamifying the entry process. Running a campaign with a TV show? Put resources into video content. Know your audience and speak their language.

  4. Hire mindfully

    If even a small part of you doesn’t feel a hire is right, chances are it won’t be. When it comes to the formative years of a startup, the team is everything.

  5. Keep Learning 

    Cultivate a growth mindset. Surround yourself with advisors and continue to learn and evolve with every challenge.

5 Ways to Win This Black Friday On Email

5 Ways to Win This Black Friday On Email

Thanks to the rise of e-commerce, epic, crack-of-dawn Black Friday lines are becoming a distant memory future generations may joke about. Today, email is king on the biggest shopping day of the year and as a retailer, it’s your most efficient way to target masses of deal-hungry customers.

At StackCommerce, we execute Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns for over 100 publisher shops, and have learned invaluable lessons from reaching out to a wide variety of audience types. Last year, Black Friday marked our biggest shopping day of the year but upon reflection and after diving into the data, it is clear that we can deliver even better results for our publisher and brand partners this time around. How? Check out 5 rules we live by while preparing our Black Friday email marketing strategy.

Be prepared and plan early

Everyone knows the saying, “the early bird gets the worm,” and it rings especially true in email marketing. There is nothing worse than preparing to leave the office on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving only to realize that you didn’t plan a promotion for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Let the scrambling begin.  

That’s why it’s essential to start planning your calendar, promotions, and merchandising in advance. This allows for plenty of time to coordinate with all necessary teams, analyze previous promotions, set up campaigns, and ensure seamless execution.

Stand out from the crowd

E-commerce companies and retailers are all fighting to gain customer attention on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season. Remember, there’s a lot of noise in each and every customer inbox, and it’s your job to stand out from the crowd.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make your promotion pop, but keep your strategy simple and easy for customers to understand
  • Be aware of the competition, but don’t discount beyond what makes sense for your company
  • Create unique subject lines that won’t be overlooked by your lapsed or less-engaged customers
  • Target your customers when they’re most likely to open an email in order to hit the top of their inbox with personalized send time optimization

Grow your email list in advance

As you ramp up for the holiday season, you should also be thinking of unique ways to grow your email list. For example, try promoting a special giveaway to new audiences or partner with another company on a giveaway to expand your reach. Engaging in paid advertising across social channels like Facebook is another great way to beef up your list. Once Black Friday promotion begins, you’ll have a new, engaged audience to target.

Re-engage lapsed customers

Now is the time to win back segments of customers that have lost enthusiasm for your brand! In the months prior to Black Friday, start slowly integrating these customers back into email communications with a “win-back” series and weekly sends. This will help to protect your IP and unsubscribe rates during the holiday season.  

If you continue to see a lack of engagement from these groups leading up to Black Friday, restrict the number of sends to just major Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The key is to not forget about this group, but keep in mind that less is more!

Recommend products your customers will love

Black Friday is the perfect time to guide customers with targeted product recommendations and shopping guides. Integrate with a product recommendation tool like Jetlore or segment your customers based on purchase history to market relevant products. In addition, we suggest you  set up an automated cart abandonment email with included product recommendations to double down on this strategy.

There’s so much detail that goes into each and every one of these tips, but the key is to keep them all in mind when launching your Black Friday strategy. Above all, be authentic to your brand and customers will continue to choose your emails and your site for their holiday shopping needs.

4 Leadership Lessons for Founders After Running a Startup for 5 Years

4 Leadership Lessons for Founders After Running a Startup for 5 Years

This time five years ago, I founded StackSocial, what is now StackCommerce. Each year for the past four years I’ve shared a few lessons (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4) for other founders who are on the same arduous path. It’s been humbling, it’s been exhilarating, and I’ve grown in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. This year I’m back with 4 more leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past 12 months … perhaps the most important ones thus far.

Before I get to that, I want to give you a few highlights (#humblebrag) of my team over the past year.

StackCommerce Turns 5!

5th Year Highlights:

  • Grew the team to 60+ people while remaining profitable (on just $800k of capital raised in 2012)
  • Built out an incredible management team with experience from companies including Google, Gilt, Fab, Headspace, and Pivotal Labs
  • Expanded into our 4th Vertical: 1. Tech, 2. Men’s Lifestyle, 3. Education, 4. Women’s Lifestyle … with plans for 5th.
  • Grew our user community by nearly 50% to over 3.5 million registered members
  • Adopted five insanely rad office dogs: Bill Murray, Kiley, Cowboy, Zooey, and Uni

But, beyond all of that, the biggest highlight over the past five years is that we’ve not only created a successful company, but also a culture, a family, and a movement. I couldn’t be more proud of the blood, sweat, and tears that this team has put forth to help better the lives of our vendors, publishers, and customers.

Now, as promised, here are 4 lessons learned over the past year:

1. Empathy is the most underrated virtue of leadership

Like many entrepreneurs, growing up in my 20’s I revered Steve Jobs. I admired his take no bullshit, take no excuses, accept nothing but the best, and demand perfection, slant on life. I expect it of myself and so, why shouldn’t I expect it of my team? Shoot for the moon and worst case you end up in the clouds, right? But, with people, that’s not always the case.

Perfection is a tough standard to meet.

Putting that standard on yourself is your right. It’s probably not a smart one in the long run, but if you want to live with high bouts of anxiety, tension, and stress in pursuit of your ultimate satisfaction — that’s your right. But to project that onto others in pursuit of perfection often times causes us to remove all sense of “understanding” of someone else’s circumstances. That lack of empathy can hurt. It can really alienate people in a way that you may not foresee.

I’ve had some major setbacks in my life and as painful as they were — they have been a great asset to me. They taught me how fragile the human spirit is and in those moments how much we all need comfort, understanding, and encouragement … not a hard-ass with unreasonable expectations. Finding an acceptable balance in the pursuit of greatness and empathy with yourself and your team will help you endure because, frankly, you are nowhere near as good as Steve Jobs, so stop trying to mimic something you are not.

StackCommerce Full-team Offsite in Topanga, CA

2. Communication is the antidote to almost every problem

Setting up formal feedback loops should be a top priority. When you are smaller, informal 1:1’s, happy hours, and one-off meetings can be enough to get a sense of people’s thoughts and give them the opportunities to let you know their thoughts. As you grow, implementing consistent channels for frank and/or anonymous feedback is vital to staying aligned with your team. Some of the things we have done this year include:

  • Management OKR Process — Quarterly Objectives and Key Results help align the entire organization behind the top metrics and KPIs. You’d be surprised how misaligned folks are until you get everyone in the same room. This also allows lower level managers to gather feedback from the bottom-up to help build consensus on what’s important to them.
  • 360 Degree Reviews — Everyone in our org gets anonymous 360 degree reviews from peers, their direct reports, and the layer above them. We’ve found that this can surface incredibly insightful feedback that helps the individual to understand how their actions are helping or hurting not only those that they report to, but everyone in the org.
  • Team Off-sites — Last November, we took the entire team on a 3-day cruise to Mexico. (WTF…I know, right?!) But, the investment paid for itself and then some. There’s something magical that happens when you get everyone out of the office. People relax…they let their hair down a bit and they get honest. And there is gold in those moments of honest, direct feedback. I’ve probably learned more about what my team thinks about the leadership of our company in those few moments then all my 1:1’s combined. Do not underestimate the importance of spending time away from the office as a team.

3. Have a non-business mentor

I have a team of awesome advisors and investors who are phenomenal when it comes to startups and tech. And when I have a business question….they are who I turn to. But, often times, the issues I have as a founder can’t be resolved in an excel spreadsheet. They are matters of the soul.

This job will rip you apart. It will bring you to your knees. I don’t care if you are Elon Musk or Marissa Mayer or Mark Zuckerberg … you feel pain… you have low days, low weeks, and, yes, even low months. The highs are higher than you can imagine and the lows are pretty low.

If you don’t have a personal, non-tech confident you can turn to — make it a priority to get one. Today, my wife and my dad are the two people I turn to when I’m at my lowest. And, everytime, without fail, they are there for me with doses of reality, empathy, and love.

Before I was married, when we were first starting launching Stack, I was really up and down based on the momentum of each day.I took every single day personally, and when you’re in that state, you need someone to vent and to let go. In those early days, I saw a therapist and it was the best thing I could have ever done. It helped so much that the therapist knew nothing about tech, because at the end of the day, my problems weren’t about tech, they were about emotions and feelings. Many of our problems are internal and not external as we might think. I encourage you to find someone, anyone, outside your tech circle to talk to and just let go.

4. Cash is King

Every startup has a different track. Ours is what I’ve coined as being “Seed-Strapped”. We raised a small Seed round of $800k back in 2012, but we’ve been profitable ever since so we haven’t needed to raise more funding. We’re not a completely “bootstrapped” startup, yet we also haven’t raised large rounds of institutional capital. Those two facts make a very unique creature in the startup world, but it’s a path that I would personally recommend.

Raising a Seed round gave us access to new potential partners, press, hires, and social capital that we needed to grow the business and it was well worth the dilution. But, instead of going the traditional route of raising more capital and further diluting my ownership and that of my team’s, we focused on staying cash flow positive.

Some may say it was a mistake and we could have grown much faster with capital, but I also know many hooks that come with that money. Hooks that I didn’t believe were a worthwhile trade-off. Easy capital does not equate to success and, in fact, can lead you to your demise by allowing you to go too fast too early before you figure out product-market fit. We’ve seen this all too often. Founders think that raising capital is like putting training wheels on a bicycle, but It’s akin to slapping a rocket on a tricycle.

Raising some capital gave us the connections and PR without the baggage and dilution that comes with raising large rounds of institutional money. The downside of this is that you have to be more disciplined in your spending. While your competition is moving into that shiny new office at $6.50 sqft/mo…you may find yourself subletting from their neighbor.

Regardless, the ability to stay independent, make your own decisions, and have your own path is invaluable. Take on capital wisely, even if you can raise more. I would advise you to take what you need and, if you can, get to profitability ahead of growing a few percentage points faster. Maybe that’s heresy in the startup world, but I’m a bit cynical after seeing too many startups grow quickly and fade even faster.

Here’s to the next 5 years. Good luck and Godspeed.

5 Commerce Tips for Making the Most of This Holiday Season

5 Commerce Tips for Making the Most of This Holiday Season

The holiday season is approaching quickly, and having a strong digital commerce strategy is essential. At StackCommerce, we’ve helped hundreds of publisher-owned online shops flourish during the holiday season through our native commerce platform. From preparing unique and exciting inventory to organizing specialized gift shops, we’ve had our hands in it all. Check out our top 5 tips for generating more revenue all winter long, and spreading cheer while you’re at it.

Plan Ahead 

For most online shops, the holiday season is the busiest time of year. On days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, site traffic can quadruple, coupons and promotions can go viral, and inventory can deplete within seconds. It’s critical to plan ahead in order to set your company up for success. Below are three steps to prioritize:

    • Build out the promotional calendar as early as possible, even if that means starting to plan for the holidays in the spring or summer.
    • Review all inventory pricing, needs, and caps before your sales go live. Once you drop a price or issue a site-wide sale, you can’t go back.
    • Schedule promotions with proper cadence to ensure that you and your team are prepared to handle increased volume and heightened sales. Preparing for this influx will provide your customers with a positive experience.

Set Up a Gift Shop

One major shift occurs during the holiday season: consumers buy gifts for others, not themselves. Therefore, the tactics you use to convert consumers during the rest of the year may not be effective during the holiday season. Launching a gift shop, which functions differently than your normal store, allows customers to shop your existing inventory in a new way. Gift Shops also guide customers through a purchase decision that can be overwhelming. Here are some tips for launching a can’t-miss gift shop:

    • Showcase your catalogue with buckets and themes that relate to gifting. Some examples that have worked for us include:
      • Gifts Under $50
      • Gifts for the Trendsetter
      • Gifts for the Jetsetter
      • Gifts for the Techie
    • Don’t assume that customers think your products are giftable. Be sure to communicate the launch of your gift shop to existing customers and explain why the products within are great for gifting.

Call Out Shipping Times  

There’s nothing more embarrassing than showing up to a holiday celebration or party without a gift. So don’t put your customers in a position to fail! Be upfront with your shipping times and let the customers decide if your timeline makes sense for their purchase. Sometimes it’s okay if a gift ships after a holiday, sometimes it’s not.

Don’t Over-Discount

Discounting is a great way to entice customers, but often it’s overused. Consider the reasons why your products are special and communicate this to your customers. Don’t overlook the appeal of your own products! Ask yourself these questions to uncover why your products are unique:

    • Why do my products make for perfect gifts?
    • What features stand out about my products aside from their price points?
    • Are any products exclusive? What products can’t be found anywhere else on the web?

Review Past Holiday Seasons

We’ve all dealt with analysis paralysis, but a healthy amount of analysis can be incredibly effective. Take a good look at what happened last holiday season. What were your biggest sales? Which emails had the highest open rates? What deals sold out? Which promotions converted the most users? How can you replicate what worked and improve what didn’t?

One of the benefits of working with StackCommerce’s native commerce platform is that we deliver a full holiday marketing strategy to each publisher shop across our network! StackCommerce-powered shops will benefit from curated gift shops, full email marketing cycles and sales, and incredible logistics and customer service from Black Friday through the holiday season.

Inventory issues, shipping times, discounts, analysis – we consider it all and make sure our publisher partners’ branded storefronts are prepped for success. Whether you work with us or are implementing your own marketing strategy, we hope these tips will inspire success this holiday season!

 

Special Edition: StackCommerce September Product Update

Special Edition: StackCommerce September Product Update

You asked, we listened. We’re thrilled to introduce our new JavaScript Dealfeed Widget! With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holidays around the corner, it’s the perfect time to double down on your commerce strategy. This easy-to-install widget will add an additional incremental revenue stream to your earnings, and deliver benefits that your traditional display ad cannot offer. Read on to explore the perks of adding this tool to your commerce strategy today:

Bypass Ad Blockers

While traditional display ads are often times rendered obsolete by the increasing use of ad blockers, our JS widget is not affected.

Get a Custom Look & Feel

We are committed to upholding the integrity of your brand, and this widget is no exception. Adjust the image and font size, color, choose specific product categories, and more. Even choose whether to display the percent discount or the price. Commerce is not one-size-fit all, and we’re here to help you optimize your widget to fit your audience. Try it out here!

Quickly Set Up & View a Live Preview

Installation is as easy as copy and paste with the provided JavaScript snippet. You’ll also always have the ability to preview your widget before it goes live. Make sure you’ve customized it to match your site, and make any last minute adjustments before pressing go!

Choose a Custom Placement

With the JS widget, you’re not locked into any specific placement on your page. The widget supports both horizontal and vertical layouts, and offers three different vertical view types: large, medium, and grid. Play around with placement to make it work with your site and audience.

Offer Relevant Products & Increase Earnings

Most importantly, the JS widget is one more way that we are working to help you monetize in a way that makes you proud. You’ll have the ability to offer unique, relevant products to your readers. No filling your site with products and images that are out of your control – grow your earnings with meaningful commerce.

Contact your Account Manager today to sign up!

More Exciting Updates (Yes, There’s More!)

New Redemption Flow: Freebies

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-11-12-38-am

Free products are an amazing way for partners to gain new users, and we’re continually optimizing the process to make it even more effective. This month, we transformed a 5-step process into a 2 step process! Redeeming a freebie is easier than ever, and our amazing freebies including BarkBox, Audible, and a 10-app Mac bundle, are sure to bring in new users.

 

Just Launched: Wishlist Email Campaign

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Customers are loving and using the Wishlist, and our brand new Wishlist Email Campaign will allow you to capitalize on this feature even further. We will now send triggered emails alerting customers when an item on their Wishlist is selling out or ending soon. Start turning one-time customers into loyal customers with this new feature.

 

New Look: Sold Out Deals

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-11-15-33-am

Customers may land on a sold out deal from time-to-time, but that shouldn’t signal the end of their shopping experience. A “View Similar Items” button will now allow customers to redirect to exciting, relevant deals.