Fresh off our seventh company-wide Hack Day (pictured above), the team here at StackCommerce has never been hungrier for what’s to come. We played hooky from our normal tasks and spent the day indulging in company-sponsored meals — well that and thinking up out-of-the-box ideas to push StackCommerce to the next level. From a content showcase website for our in-house brand studio (the winning project!) to Slack hacks for coffee-making instructions, the day was a bona fide success.
Now is the time to get in the native commerce game — with virtually every online publisher and media company working commerce into their revenue strategy. In fact, Digiday recently reported that commerce programs account for a third or more of total revenue for some of the world’s largest publishers.
If you’re ready to dive in and help brands and publishers monetize via amazing products and content — take a look at our job openings below. From sales to creative to engineering, there’s a wide range of opportunity and we can’t wait to hear from you. Check out a recent piece on the StackCommerce story — and read more about our job openings on Built in LA or on the StackCommerce career site.
Six years. The tweet below from Jason M. Lemkin pretty much sums it up. You start, you hustle, you make progress, you grow, the market shifts, you start all over again albeit on a new level within the same game.
What makes the start-up game the greatest game on earth is that the chess board recreates itself every day in new unanticipated ways. Nothing stands still — there are new entrants below you, bigger companies above you who now see the opportunities you’ve unearthed, and all the while you must change the tire on a moving car.
Given those challenges, I document a few lessons learned (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5) for other entrepreneurs on the same arduous path. There is nothing that can fully prepare you for the journey that lies ahead, but this is some of what I’ve learned and I hope it helps you in your endeavors.
Why listen to me? I’ve been in the thick of launching, running, and growing a start-up for the past six years as the Founder and CEO of StackCommerce. In that time, we’ve grown from $0 to $40m in annual revenues, profitably, on less than $1m of venture capital raised. In 2017, we acquired one of our competitors, Joyus.com, who raised over $65m in venture capital.
1. Cannibalize Your Current Business
Given how fast technology evolves today, you must shift before the market does. This seems like an obvious point, but while you’re in it…you get caught up. There are countless examples of “temporary” business models or hacks that work for a while, but then that trend or technology gets passed by in what feels like a blink of an eye. Think about historically top performing companies like Zynga (fb apps), Groupon (daily deals), and Blockbuster (dvd’s) — they dominated until the game changed and were caught focusing on the “old way”.
The only real shot you have of overcoming this is to cannibalize your current business with a new product/feature that leapfrogs your current offering. There will be a lot of pushback from your team because most of them would rather improve “what’s working” in lieu of the challenge of losing focus on the core business. It’s a valid argument and takes a lot of trust on both sides to get through.
One thing we do to flush out these types of “moonshot” ideas is running bi-annual “Hack Days”. People get a chance step away from the day-to-day and work on side projects / features / culture hacks that they don’t typically have time for. This year, our hackday resulted in one of the most important features we’ve every released!
2. Life Will Happen to You
When I started Stack, I was single and could spend 100% of my time however I wanted. I dedicated almost my entire thought process 24/7 to my start-up — happily. A few years later, I got engaged. Then I got married. Then we had our first child. Then we a second kid. All within three years! Talk about life happening.
For me, the transition to fatherhood initially felt like an attack on my identity as an entrepreneur. I simply couldn’t juggle everything. But in time, I saw how the challenges of constraining my time and energy forced me to be more purposeful and hire more talented leaders to push forward.
Whether your life event is the birth of a child, the loss of someone important to you, a health scare, etc … realize that you are not a robot. You are not immune to life outside your start-up. When life does happen to you (and it will), the important thing is that you’ve built a team that can carry your vision forward with or without you. For many years, I made our business dependent on me and manifested that in my team. I’m still untangling that mess. But, now I have other life priorities that outweigh what I believed was my only priority for so many years.
3. Concentrate Your Resources
When building your initial MVP, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re building for a large, growing market. For instance, when we first built StackSocial it was purely for desktop Mac software apps. I didn’t know it at the time, but that market would get eviscerated by the shift from desktop to mobile app adoption. We quickly expanded into other categories such as online learning, games, gadgets, etc…but instead of going deep in one area, we went wide across categories. This is incredibly tough to do.
Starting in a niche is smart, but if the market you are in is “too small”, then you constantly have to chase new buckets of revenue. Going deep in one category enables you to “do less, better”. So, while that new field looks like greener pastures, it will be much harder once you get there than simply improving upon and expanding within your current market.
4. Better, Faster, & Cheaper?
Not a chance. You’ll be lucky to be one of those and if you are great, you will likely be two of the three. Know which ones you are and own it. Your company values and mission should align to your priorities and will ensure that everyone in the company knows which ones you’ve chosen.
For us, this involves taking the team for a full day off-site where we take a look back and see how we’ve evolved as a team and how our mission, vision, and values need to evolve as well. This year we hired an Executive Coaching Firm, Novus Global, to run a workshop on the topic with us.
It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth the investment.
People who are inspired with a deeper mission will continue to fight long after those who are only focused on the tactics. If you notice your team zoning out, it’s likely because they aren’t connecting the dots of their “daily grind” to a more meaningful reason to do the work. Connect your personal reason for being to a shared goal and you will see a different response.
Last piece of advice, own your trade-offs just as much as you do the traits you are claiming and pursuing. The more you attempt to be everything to everyone, the less people will know who you are and it will dilute your brand and your mission.
To wrap things up, here are a few #humblebrags on my team and some accomplishments over the past year:
The sugar high of Halloween has not yet begun, let alone dissipated, and yet the holiday season is upon us ladies and gentlemen. Black Friday articles are up earlier than ever and holiday gift guides in October don’t so much as raise an eyebrow. This is our reality and it’s time to make the most of it. As you scramble to throw together the gift guide of the century, check out 5 ridiculously cool gift guides that graced our presence in 2016—and what we loved about them— picked by your very own StackCommerce Content Team.
Apart from the fact that this guide is freaking amazing to look at, The Verge delivered a welcome departure from the typical persona-driven gift guide formula. Rather than breaking up gifts according to the usual suspects (e.g. Gifts for Soccer Moms, Gifts for the Man Cave, Gifts for Besties, etc.), they focused in on where and when a gift might actually be used. Interesting, right?
Friends with a bunch of homebodies? Buy them something to use at home. Shopping for coworkers? You might (choose to) know absolutely nothing about them, but you’re positive they come to work every day. Buy them something to use at work!
By taking the road less followed, The Verge’s guide becomes not just another gift guide, but a totally fresh resource for shopping the season.
There are two universal truths we can all agree on: holiday shopping sucks and people don’t read. Agreed? Great. Refinery29 took that to heart and made a unique gift guide experience that renders both those things insignificant.
Firstly, their interactive gift guide handholds you through the gifting process like a “Which Friends Character Are You” Buzzfeed quiz. It’s pleasant, engaging, and best of all, easy. Once you graduate from the questionnaire phase, you’ll land on a clear list of gifting options, curated specifically for your shopping list. The large, clear on-white imagery and single sentence descriptions are just simple enough to work. Thank you Refinery29, for the gift of easy gifting.
They say content is king, and CNET takes that idiom to heart with this gift guide. Their content-driven guide adds one more wall before getting a customer on an actual sale page, but it also invites them to browse a much larger inventory, while still catering to their personal preferences. Better yet, if you really do just want to scan products rather than read a full post, CNET provides a “Gifts” button that opens the article’s featured deals in a slideshow format for you to preview without leaving the main Buyer’s Guide page.
You could very easily fall down the shopping rabbit hole in the CNET Buyer’s Guide, and that’s exactly how you want a gift guide to be.
Unlike CNET, CR opts for a far more basic design which befits their no-frills style throughout the rest of the year. While it’s a basic guide, it makes a lot of sense. They have a smart, quick intro to the Gift Guide that reminds the reader that their entire M.O. is to “buy and test all year long, so we can tell you which excel in performance, safety, efficiency, and value.” In a hot second, they’ve reaffirmed why you want to look at this guide—they’re true authorities.
Their categories are exceedingly general and don’t always lead to productive commerce articles (See: the entire Food & Drink section) but it’s easy to peruse and maintains a friendly tone that doesn’t try to force sales down your gullet.
Why I Loved It There are things to love and things to hate about this gift guide. On the one hand, I can’t stop clicking refresh to see the gorgeous multimedia page descend from the snowy heavens into an interactive urban cityscape of clickable gift buckets. It’s an undeniable attractive main page, and while the animations on some of the headings draw your eye, there are too many “Where’s Waldo” elements. If you can find the “Tech” bucket in less than six seconds I applaud you. “Experience” is even cut off at the bottom in such a blatant QA whiff that it cheapens the whole page just a tad.
However, click into any of these buckets and you’ve got a beautiful outlay of just straight PRODUCTS. Each page is extremely friendly to browsing—especially on mobile—with simple product images on white and quick 1-2 sentence descriptions of the product with a subtle, yet still unmissable CTA.
It’s mildly irritating to have to go through the special animation each time you want to review the buckets again, but at least it keeps you in the holiday spirit. The main page may suffer slightly from over-design, but each bucket is practically and purposefully put together for easy browsing, with smart, curated picks leading the lists.
Introducing Brand Studio: Native Commerce Content Creation at Scale
We’re proud to announce the launch of our in-house Brand Studio, the only fully-outsourced commerce content creation service on the market! We’ve worked with hundreds of publishers and media companies over the years, and found one universal challenge across the board: lack of editorial resources.
Yes, great writers and editors don’t grow on trees (and aren’t free). And while more and more publishers are finding groundbreaking success with native commerce, they continue to struggle when it comes to devoting editorial resources to commerce-related content creation. That’s where Brand Studio comes in.
Scalability Meets Versatility
Established to create quality editorial and video content at scale, Brand Studio delivers an average 5x return and has already helped publisher partners double their number of revenue generating commerce posts per week.
To date, Brand Studio has developed more than 6,000 original pieces of written and video content for over 40 partners including The Next Web, Popular Science and Gothamist. In order to support the growing demand, we’ve added a total of 20 talented writers, editors, and video specialists to the team. This passionate team of content creators has produced a wide array of content ranging from timely, snackable pieces to SEO-friendly evergreen content.
The Continued Rise of Commerce Content
BI Intelligence predicts that native content will be the fastest growing segment of the native ad market over the next 5 years. Yet despite this growth, many publishers lack the in-house resources to develop new native content on a daily basis. We’re thrilled to be able to address this gap by offering quality, engaging and fully-native articles and videos in a cost-efficient manner — and at scale.
We’ve seen first-hand the success of native content, which converts 50% better across our network than other distribution channels. We’ve also seen that partners that post commerce articles five to seven times per week earn on average 2.5x more revenue than those that post only infrequently or not at all. There’s huge opportunity here, and we’re committed to providing our partners with the required resources.
Native Content & Digg
For example, popular news aggregator, Digg, partnered with us for over a year before incorporating native content into their commerce strategy. The addition of engaging, topical commerce content via the Brand Studio resulted in a 40% boost in Digg’s conversion rate without leveraging internal editorial resources for content production.
“StackCommerce provides us with a seamless and scalable solution for producing commerce-focused editorial pieces with its Brand Studio. We’re happy to see Digg’s audience responding positively to the content.” noted Avery Driggers, Content Strategist and Commerce Lead at Digg.
Our own VP of Business Development, Ben Gafni, considers the launch of Brand Studio as a sign of maturation in the rapidly expanding commerce market, serving as a differentiator for StackCommerce moving forward.
“With the development of the Brand Studio, we’ve enabled a never-before tapped source of commerce for our publishers,” said Gafni. “Our content team is able to creatively tell a brand story in a voice that is unique to each publisher, seamlessly adding value to their unique reader’s experience. While options like Skimlinks and Amazon Affiliates can be time-consuming, we are making commerce easy for publishers.”
Read the full press release here and reach out to your Account Manager for more information.
How to Create Compelling Commerce Content for Mother’s Day (No Matter Your Audience)
Mother’s Day is around the corner, which means shoppers are scrambling to not disappoint come May 14th. Whether you write commerce content for a tech publication or a female lifestyle blog, you should be using the holiday as an opportunity to cash in with native commerce.
Afterall, tech enthusiasts need to shop for Mother’s Day, too. So why not shop on the sites they read every day? Plus, Mother’s Day is the third largest retail holiday in the US, and also seemingly comes out of nowhere (wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day?). Help your readers out and share some awesome gift deals with these four tips:
Stress the Discount
Prices on everything from flowers to chocolate are notoriously inflated for Mother’s Day, and consumers are not ignorant to this fact. Write about amazing discounts (like this one) and help your readers get through the month without getting ripped off.
Practically every mother enjoys fresh cut flowers, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy a GoPro or new headphones more. It’s 2017 – let’s not pretend that every mother has the same taste. Help your readers come up with some truly unique gifts that his or her mom will actually enjoy. As they say “it’s the thought that counts, but great gifts count for a whole lot more”. Nobody actually says that, but you get the point.
Target (Or Help Out, Rather) Procrastinators
Mother’s Day tends to sneak up on us, and this leaves many people scouring the grocery store for the last bouquet of flowers. Help your readers out with some great last minute gift options for moms near or far. Ideas likes wine subscription boxes, local flower delivery or a subscription to a service like Audible can be great, last-minute options.
Stay Mindful with Your Commerce Content
Rule number one for creating commerce content for Mother’s Day is remembering that every family is different. Don’t be quick to make assumptions about the reader. Chances are there is a mother, whether it be a wife, sister, friend, etc., in the reader’s life, but it may not be in the traditional sense. Holidays bring up emotions – so be sensitive with your language.
Case Story: Rosetta Stone Tackles A New Market with Native Commerce
Native commerce offers brands of all sizes an amazing opportunity to grow revenues, enter new markets, and of course, gain invaluable brand equity. Although we often tout the success of niche brands working with our platform, we’ve also seen first-hand the significant role native commerce can play for large national brands like Rosetta Stone. Today, we’re here to share that story.
You’re most likely no stranger to the fact that Rosetta Stone is a household name when it comes to learning new languages in the digital age. But long before the mobile revolution, Rosetta Stone got its start selling CD-ROM software. Eager wanderlusts and budding linguists alike dove into hours of innovative learning lessons that looked unlike any high school Spanish class, and Rosetta Stone quickly became America’s leading language learning software.
The Digital Age Challenge
As technology quickly evolved, once cutting-edge CD-ROMs became less and less relevant and Rosetta Stone adapted by offering its digital experience via the cloud. As with any drastic product change, this posed the massive challenge of getting their message out to a totally new, younger, and mobile-centric audience. And with shipping challenges eliminated, there was a fantastic opportunity to break into the international market.
Rosetta Stone partnered with StackCommerce with hopes of tackling these challenges through exposure across our vast publisher network. The first step was constructing a robust marketing strategy that spoke to both Rosetta Stone’s core brand message and the wide array of publisher audiences that would be engaging with the content.
By taking into account demographic, interests, and price point, StackCommerce targeted readers who would connect to the Rosetta Stone story, but may not have fit the profile of the typical Rosetta Stone customer.
The Power of Native Commerce Distribution
From Boing Boing to The Daily Dot to Gothamist, publishers from across the network posted a total of over 65 pieces of written native content based around Rosetta Stone, allowing them to successfully reach their targeted demographics in a natural way. Apart from the obvious brand exposure element, the campaign resulted in over 1,200 units sold and 96,000 sessions on their deal page across over 175 white-labeled publisher shops.
“We are delighted to be partnering with StackCommerce as they’ve been able to successfully help us reach a totally different customer, one who might not have looked for us in our traditional channels. The opportunities with StackCommerce not only helped us enter new markets, but enter new markets faster,” noted Mike Fishaw, North American Director of Sales.
For national brands like Rosetta Stone, the native commerce model aligns perfectly with lofty expansion goals and product launches — proving that sometimes impressive gains come from looking outside the comfort zone of traditional marketing channels. Sharing authentic, engaging brand content across publishers that people know and trust is a great place to start.