Tomorrow Venus stations retrograde in Gemini. Actually, Venus has been slowing down for a bit now, called a station, meaning her footprint is heavy in the sky. Likely, you've already been acquainted with the pitter pattering of themes you can expect during this period. Venus retrograde corresponds to general themes such as: relationship reviews, rewinds, renewals and reversals--evaluating how you relate to your own self-worth and esteem--retooling what you actually value/need--budgeting, getting serious about finances--hiccups with beauty related tools, industries, purchases and decisions. submitted by
But Venus RX means more when you account for the house it will be drudging stuff up in. My general take on Venus RX is: detouring into the ugly and resurfacing with a new appreciation of beauty. Kind of like the plot of Shrek. Where are the ogres in your life? And can you just decide to marry them and live happily ever after in a swamp with your donkey dragon friends? I digress...
This RX will be decidedly less brutal than the 2018 one in Scorpio. Those were some dire, uggo times. Venus in Gemini is peregrine, and to me, far more effervescent. Like a La Croix. Some gross flavors. But mostly ok. The reviews and themes will have more to do with ideas, thoughts, beliefs, etc. Very much juggling many dissonant thoughts and being okay with not settling on a conclusion. This will be a mentally exhausting time for some.
Gemini occupies a house in everyone's chart. Welcome to the circus:
First House: a time to reconsider what makes you feel beautiful, to redefine what beauty has to mean and look like. a time of enhanced social awareness (from a distance) and learning how you bring a distinct value to people--but first settling on how you wish to value yourself. being comfortable with your many faces, but also eliminating the faces, the out-grown personalities, that do not suit you anymore
Second House: a time to reevaluate how material possessions add beauty, add value, add ease-- or completely distract you from the assets that matter the most. a renewed version of self-care, a hard and honest look at your bank account and closet and cabinets, a purging to make room for new beautiful things to bloom. divine dividends
Third House: a time to reconsider what needs to be said. holding space for new ideas to take the place of old ones. learning to value your unique perspective, whilst also respecting the perspectives of others. work that neuro plasticity, pave new grooves into your gray matter. a time to stop and smell the roses as you are out and about. rekindling bonds with siblings and teammates.
Fourth House: a time to spackle, paint, hang and rearrange. where has the beauty in your home become stagnant, and how can you insert new pathways of inspiration into your halls? retooling your roots, beautifying your sanctuaries, finding Aphrodite in your ancestry. this can be a time to reacquaint yourself with the value a tribe, a home, a family, and a foundation gives you. that's how beauty can blossom.
Fifth House: a time to make friends with that blinking cursor on a blank page, the dried paint brush, the stack of half-finished poetry in the corner of your room, and the project that makes your heart sing--but that you've been too afraid to sing along with. retool your relationship with your inner child, that spark in the dark. your authentic self could use some authenticating
Sixth House: a time to throw out ugly habits, dead-end jobs, and the futile and self-deprecating sense of duty and responsibility you hold. time for new rituals. time put your worth and value ahead of the needs of others. you are more than a cog in a machine. you are the machine. an extraordinary one. and an extraordinary one needs all the tonics, tinctures, remedies and herbs. beautiful insides make for a beautiful outside, so celebrate your vitality, and appreciate all that your body does--in sickness and in health
Seventh House: a time to throw out ugly people! where are your relationships failing to live up to the happiness, joy, and wonder that you deserve? time for the talks, time to press send on an apology, time to ask for help, time to delete the dating profile and jump into the vulnerability of committed partnership, or time to unwed yourself from the security of singledom and start to mingle your heart out. also a good time to take inventory of the people you've invited into your hopes and dreams, the business affiliates that either help you sink or swim. choose people who bring beauty and warmth into your life. unbreak your heart. time for new patterns.
Eighth House: a time to get a handle on your debt, obligations, on your portfolios and investments. where are you over-sharing, where are you under-sharing, where can you give more, and where can you divest? immaterially, your heart, your humanness, your deeply disowned ugliness--they all deserve some TLC. those ogres aren't so scary or ugly when you get to know them. nothing to fear but fear itself. a time for magic and mysticism to inform your path forward.
Ninth House: a time to reevaluate your schooling, your education, what you have accepting as TRUTH actually has more to it. become more nimble with your personal dogma and ideology. challenges to your way of seeing the world don't have to be challenging, but rather, give you a wider array of intellectual and cultural beauty to sample from and enjoy. though not a good time for travel, certainly still a good time to plan. that faraway corner of the world is calling out for you. and that faraway corner of your mind could use a refresh. where are your gurus and mentors failing to inspire you? ditch the old paradigms. there's a yellow brick road with your name on it.
Tenth House: a time to reevaluate your career, your place in the world, the value that you bring to the world, and your unique set of talents. where are you asking to be respected yet still bumping up against gatekeepers? where can your creativity be better suited? you are your own boss, and your manager can't manage you. time to step up into a firmer sense of self and confidence. take up space. be loud. this is your world and we are living in it.
Eleventh House: a time to reevaluate your social networks, your friend groups, your hopes, accomplishments and your communities at large. unfriend the group think. jettison the crusty cliques. deactivate the profiles. consider where society has perhaps let you down, and recommit to creating environments worthy of the cause that is you. there is beauty to be shared. humanity has cracks but that is where light enters. be the light, even if you need to go dark for now.
Twelfth House: a time to reconsider where you self-sabotage, where you isolate, where you needlessly alienate yourself and others. this can be a deeply creative time when you burrow in the right direction, where unconscious gifts lay, where spirituality sparkles, where the undulations of life at large are within your grasp. beautify your alone time, make it work for you. give your mental hardships some love and tenderness. play around with the unknown, remold your trauma and psychic entanglements, find the beauty in necessary endings and loss. for that is how you begin again.
Here is the summary of the book Traction:
How any startup can achieve explosive growth.
I hope that you find it useful!
Traction is a sign that your startup is taking off. If you charge, it means customers are buying. If your product is free, it means your user base is growing.
If you have traction, all your technical, market, and team risks become easier to handle. It becomes easier to fund-raise, hire, do press, partnerships, and acquisitions.
Traction trumps everything.
Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have is enough customers.
You should spend your time in parallel
, both constructing your product and testing traction channels.
This is what we call the 50 percent rule
: spend 50 percent of your time on product and 50% on traction. This rule seems simple but it’s hard to follow because the pull to spend all your attention on the product is strong. You’re probably making a startup because you want to build a particular product. You have a vision, but a lot of traction activities are unknown and outside your vision and comfort zone. So you try to avoid them. Don’t.
Doing product and traction in parallel has these benefits:
- You get knowledge from traction efforts, so you’ll build the right product for your customers.
- You get to experiment and test different traction channels before you launch anything. This means when your product is ready, you can grow rapidly.
Before trying to get traction, you’ll need to define what traction means for your company. You need to set a traction goal. Maybe your current startup goal is to raise funding or become profitable. How many customers do you need and at what rate? You should then focus on marketing activities that result in a significant impact on your traction goal. It should move the needle.
Your startup has 3 phases:
Phase I: Make something people want
In phase 1, your product has the most leaks, it really doesn’t hold water. You shouldn’t scale up your efforts now, but it’s important to send a small amount of water through the bucket so you can see where the holes are and plug them. \ Your goal in phase 1 is to get your first customers and prove your product can get traction. You focus on building your initial product and getting traction in ways that don’t scale: giving talks, writing guest posts, emailing people you know, attending conferences, and doing whatever you can to get in front of customers.
Some founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off!
– Paul Graham
Phase II: Market something people want
Once you hone your product, you have product-market fit and customers are sticking around. Now is the time to scale up your traction efforts. You fine-tune your positioning and marketing messages.
Phase III: Scale your business
As your company grows, smaller traction strategies stop moving the needle, so you’ll start to scale.
In phase 3 you have an established business model and significant position in the market, and you’re focused on scaling to further dominate the market and to profit.
Traction for funding
When pursuing funding, first contact individuals who understand what you’re working on. The better your investors understand what you’re doing, the less traction they’ll need to see before they invest. Also, try friends and family who may not need to see any traction before investing as they’re investing in you personally.
To pivot or not to pivot
Many startups give up way too early. The first thing to look for is evidence of real product engagement, even if it’s only a few dedicated customers. If you have such an engagement, you might be giving up too soon. Look for the bright spots in your customer base and see if you can expand from that base.
The Bullseye framework
helps you find the channel that will get you traction. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished.
You’re aiming for bullseye: the one channel at the center of the target that will unlock your next growth stage. Here are the 3 Bullseye framework steps:
Find what’s possible: The outer-ring
The first step in Bullseye is brainstorming every single traction channel. It’s important not to dismiss any channel in this step. Think of at least one idea for each channel. For example, social ads is a traction channel. Running ads on Facebook or Twitter is a channel strategy within social ads. You could research what marketing strategies worked in your industry as well as the history of companies in your space.
Find what’s probable: The middle-ring
Go around your outer-ring and promote your best and most exciting ideas to your middle-ring. For each traction channel in your middle ring, now construct a cheap traction test you can run to find if the idea is good or not. These tests need to answer the following questions:
- What’s the cost of acquiring customers?
- How many customers are available?
- Are they the right type of customers for you now?
You want to design small scale tests that don’t require much up-front cost or effort. For example, run 4 Facebook ads instead of 40.
Find what’s working: The inner-ring
The final step in Bullseye is to only focus on one channel that will move the needle for your startup: your core channel. At any stage of your startup, you should have one traction channel that you’re focusing on and optimizing.
Most founders mess this up by keeping around distracting marketing efforts in other channels.
If search engine marketing is significantly better for you than other channels, you should focus all your efforts on this core channel and uncover additional strategies and tactics within it.
If no channel seems promising after testing, the whole process should be repeated. If you tried several times with no success, then your product may require more tweaking and your bucket might be still leaky. Middle-ring tests:
You should be running several cheap tests that give you an indication of how successful a given channel strategy could be. Inner ring tests:
You’re doing two things:
- Optimize your chosen channel strategy to make it the best it can be.
- Discover better channel strategies within this traction channel.
There is always a set of things you can tweak. For targeting blogs, you can tweak which blogs to target, type of content, call to action, etc. For search engine marketing, you can tweak keywords, ad-copy, demographics, and landing pages.
A common approach is to use A/B testing, where A is the control group and B is the experimental group. The purpose of it is to measure the effectiveness of change in a button color, an ad image, or a different message on a web page. If the experimental group performs significantly better, you can apply the change, get the benefits, and run another test.
You can use tools such as Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, and Unbounce.
Over time, all marketing channels become saturated. To combat this, you should always be trying to discover new strategies and tactics within your channel and conduct small experiments. Also, experiment with new marketing platforms while they’re still in their infancy.
To track your tests you could start with a simple spreadsheet or use an analytics tool with cohort analysis. You’ll need to answer these questions:
- How many people landed on the website?
- What are the demographics of my best and worst customers?
- Are customers who interact with my support team more likely to stay?
A basic analytics tool like Clicky, Mixpanel, or Chartbeat can help you with these questions. You can use a spreadsheet as the tool to rank and prioritize traction channel strategies. You should include columns like how many customers are available
, conversion rate
, the cost to acquire a customer
, lifetime value of a customer
for every given strategy.
Define your traction goal
You should always have an explicit traction goal you’re working towards. This could be 1,000 paying customers or 100 new daily customers, or 10% of your market. You want a goal where hitting the mark would change things significantly for your company’s outcome.
Once that is defined, you can work backward and set clear time-based subgoals. Such as reaching 1,000 customers by next quarter.
The key is to follow the critical path towards that goal and exclude all features and marketing activities that don’t help you reach your goal. Everything you decide to do should be assessed against your critical path.
Avoid traction biases
Your competitive advantage may be acquiring customers in ways your competition isn’t. That’s why it’s critical to avoid have traction biases. Stop your urge to refuse channels like speaking engagements, sales or affiliate marketing, business development, or trade shows just because you hate talking on the phone or you find the channel annoying or time-consuming.
Targeting blogs that your prospective customers read is one of the best ways to get your first wave customers.
Mint’s initial series of tests revealed that targeting blogs should be its core channel. They asked users to embed an “I want mint” badge on their personal blogs and rewarded them with a VIP access before other invitations were sent out. They also directly sponsored blogs. They sent bloggers a message with “Can I send you $500” as the subject and told them a bit about the product.
To find smaller blogs in your niche:
- Google “top blogs for x” or “best x blogs.”
- Search for your product keywords on YouTube.
- Use tools like FollowerWonk and Klout to find top twitter accounts in your industry.
- Use social mention to find sites with the most frequent mentions for your keywords.
- Talk to people to figure out what your target audience is really reading online.
You can also target link-sharing communities like Reddit, Product Hunt, and Hacker News.
Dropbox, Codecademy, Quora, and Gumroad all got their first customers by sharing their products on HackerNews because their products were a good fit for users on that site.
Starting out, an article in TechCrunch or The Huffington Post can boost your startup in the eyes of potential customers, investors, or partners. If you have a fascinating story with broad appeal, media outlets will want
to hear from you.
It’s easier to start smaller when targeting big media outlets. Sites like TechCrunch and Lifehacker often pick up stories from smaller forums like Hacker News and subreddits. Instead of approaching TechCrunch, try blogs that TechCrunch reads and get story ideas from. It’s easier to get a smaller blog’s attention. Then you might get featured on TechCrunch and then The New York Times which reads TechCrunch!
What gets a reporter’s attention?
- Milestones like raising money, launching a new product, breaking a usage barrier.
- A PR stunt.
- A big partnership.
- A special industry report.
A good press angle makes people react emotionally. If it’s not interesting enough to elicit emotion, you don’t have a story worth pitching.
A good first step is using a service like Help A Reporter Out (HARO), where reporters request sources for articles they’re working on. It could get you a mention in the piece and help establish your credibility. Also, you could offer reporters commentary on stories related to your industries.
You can use Twitter to reach reporters online; almost all of them have Twitter accounts and you’d be surprised how few followers many of them have, but they can be highly influential with their content.
Once you have a solid story, you want to draw as much attention to it as you can:
- Submit the story to link-sharing sites like Reddit and HackerNews
- Share it on social networks
- Email it to influencers in your industry for comment.
- Ping blogs in your space and tell them you have a story that’s getting buzz.
Once your story has been established as a popular news item, try to drag it out as long as you can. Offer interviews that add to the story. Start “How We Did This” follow-up interviews.
As your startup grows you may consider hiring a PR firm or consultant.
Nearly every company attempts traditional publicity, but only a few focus on stunts and other unconventional ways to get buzz.
The publicity stunt
- Half.com renamed (Halfway, Oregon) to Half.com and launched it on the Today show with the mayor of Halfway, Oregon.
- Richard Branson made his press conferences as outlandish as possible (dressing like a woman, driving a tank through the streets) to get the media talking about whatever Virgin was launching.
- WePay (a PayPal competitor) placed a 600-pound block of ice at PayPal’s conference entrance.
- DuckDuckGo bought a billboard in Google’s backyard highlighting its privacy focus.
- Blendtec created a series of videos called “Will It Blend?” where they blended items like a rake, golf balls, and even an iPhone.
- When Grasshopper did a rebrand, they sent chocolate-covered grasshoppers to 5,000 influential people.
Be awesome to your customers. Shortly after Alexis Ohanian launched Hipmunk, he sent out luggage tags and a handwritten note to the first several hundred people who mentioned the site on Twitter.
Holding a contest is also a great repeatable way to generate publicity and get word of mouth. Shopify has an annual Build a Business competition.
Great customer support is so rare that, if you make your customers happy, they’re likely to spread the news of your awesome product. Zappos is one of the best-known examples of a company with incredible customer service and they classify support as a marketing investment.
SEM is placing ads on search engines like Google. It’s sometimes called “pay-per-click” because you only pay when a user clicks on an ad.
SEM works well for companies looking to sell directly to their target customer. You’re capturing people who are actively searching for solutions. Click-Through Rate (CTR)
The percentage of ad impressions that result in clicks to your site. Cost per Click (CPC)
The amount it costs to buy a click on an ad. Cost per Acquisition (CPA)
How much it costs you to acquire a customer, not just a click. If you buy clicks at $1 and 10% of people who hit your site make a purchase. This makes your CPA at $10.
CPA = CPC / conversion percentage
SEM to get early customer data
You can use SEM as a way to get early customer data in a controlled and predictable way. Even if you don’t expect to be profitable, you can decide to spend a certain amount of money to get an early base of customers and users to inform you about important metrics such as landing page conversion rates, average cost per customer, and lifetime value.
Archives.com used AdWords to drive traffic to their landing pages, even before they built a product, to test interest in a specific product approach. By measuring the CTR for each ad and conversions, they determined which product aspects were the most compelling to potential customers and what those people would actually pay for. When they finally built their product, they built something they knew
the market would want.
Find high-potential keywords, group them into ad groups, and test different ad copy and landing pages within each ad group. As data flows in, remove underperforming ads and landing pages and make tweaks to keep improving results.
Use tools like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer to run A/B tests on your landing pages.
Use Google’s keyword planner to discover top keywords your target customers use to find products like yours. You could also use tools such as KeywordSpy, SEMrush, and SpyFu to discover keywords your competition is using.
You can refine your keyword list by adding more terms to the end of each base term to create long-tail keywords
. They’re less competitive and have lower search volumes which makes them ideal for testing on smaller groups of customers.
SEM is more expensive for more competitive keywords, so you’ll need to limit yourself to keywords with profitable conversion rates.
You shouldn’t expect your campaigns to be profitable right away, but if you can run a campaign that breaks even after a short period of time, then SEM could be an excellent channel for you to focus on.
Write ads with titles that are catchy, memorable, and relevant to the keywords you’ve paired with it. Include the keyword at least once in the body of your ad and conclude with a prominent call to action like “Check out discounted Nike sneakers!”
Each of your ads and ad groups will have a quality score associated with it. A high-quality score will get you better ad placements and better ad pricing. Click-through rate has the biggest influence on quality score, so you should tailor your ads to the keywords. Google assigns a low-quality score to ads with CTRs below 1.5%
- Consider expanding your ads to the content network of non-Google sites.
- Consider luring people back to your site by retargeting through Google AdWords or other sites like AdRoll or Perfect Audience. These ads often convert better as they’re aimed at prospects who have already visited your site. (Be warned that it may feel creepy to certain people)
- Consider using Google’s Conversion Optimizer to automatically adjust your ads to perform better.
- Use negative keywords to prevent ads from showing for certain keywords you don’t want to target.
- Consider using programming scripts to manage your ads.
Display ads are banner ads you see on websites. Social ads are ads you see on social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Large display campaigns are often used for branding and awareness, much like offline ads. They can also elicit a direct response such as signing up for an email newsletter or buying a product.
Social ads perform exceptionally well is when they’re used to build an audience and engage with them over time, and eventually convert them to customers.
The largest display ad networks are Google Display Network, BuySellAds, Advertising.com, Tribal Fusion, Conversant, and Adblade. Niche ad networks focus on smaller sites that fit certain audience demographics, such as dog lovers or Apple fanatics.
To get started in display advertising, you could start to find out types of ads that work in your industry. You could use tools like MixRank and Adbeat to show you ads your competitors are running and where they place them. Alexa and Quantcast can help you determine who visits the sites that feature your competitors’ ads.
Social ads work well for creating interest among potential new customers. The goal is often awareness oriented, not conversion oriented. A purchase takes place further down the line. People visit social media sites for entertainment and interaction, not to see ads.
An effective social ad strategy takes advantage of this reality. Use ads to start conversations about your products by creating compelling content. Instead of directing people to a conversion page, direct them to a piece of content that explains why you developed your product or has other purposes than immediately completing a sale. If you have a piece of content that has high organic reach, when you put paid ads behind that piece, magic happens. Paid is only as good as the content you put behind it. You should employ social ads when you know that a fire is starting around your message and you want to put more oil on it.
Major social sites you may consider are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Foursquare, Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube, and many others.
Even today, advertisers spend more on offline ads than they do online. When buying offline ads, You should try to advertise to demographics that match up with your target audience. Ask for an audience prospectus or ad kit.
Not sure if magazine ads are a good channel for you? Buy a small ad in a niche publication and give it a test. Want to see if newspapers would be good? Buy a few ads in a local paper. You can also try radio ads and billboards.
- You can save money by signing longer ad contracts.
- Look for remnant ads which are ad space that’s unused; publications accept almost any price when selling empty ads near print deadlines.
- You could track ad effectiveness by using unique web addresses and promo codes. You could also try adding “How did you hear about us” to your sign up process.
A compelling magazine or newspaper ad will have an attention-grabbing header, an eye-catching graphic, and a description of the product’s benefits. Also, you should have a strong call to action, like an offer to get a free book.
You could also try direct mail by searching for “direct mail lists” and find companies selling such information. (Beware that it can be perceived as spammy)
- Provide a self-addressed envelope.
- Use handwritten envelopes and cards.
- Have a clear call to action.
- Investigate bulk mail to get reduced pricing.
You could also try local print ads like local fliers, directories, calendars, church bulletins, community newsletters, coupon booklets, or yellow pages. These work really well for cheap if you want to get early traction for your company in a specific area.
If you want to buy space on a billboard, you could contact companies like Lamar, Clear Channel, or Outfront Media. Billboards aren’t effective for people to take immediate action, but it’s extremely effective for raising awareness around events, like concerts and conferences.
DuckDuckGo bought a billboard in Google’s backyard and it got big attention and press coverage.
Transit ads can be effective as a direct response tool. You can contact Blue Line Media to help you with Transit ads.
Radio and TV
Radio ads are priced on a cost per point (CPP) basis, where each point represents what it will cost to reach 1% of the station’s listeners. It also depends on your market, when the commercial runs and how many ads you’ve bought.
TV ads are often used as branding mechanisms. Quality is critical for it and production costs can run to tens of thousands. Higher-end ones can cost $200K to make. You’ll also need an average of $350,000 for actual airtime. For smaller startups, you could try local TV spots which is much cheaper.
Infomercials work really well for products in categories like Workout equipment, household products, health products, and work-from-home businesses. They can cost between $50,000 and $500,000, and they’re always direct-response.
SEO is improving your ranking in search engines in order to get more people to your site.
The most important thing to know about SEO is that the more high-quality links you have to a given site or page, the higher it will rank. You should also make sure you’re using the keywords you want to target appropriately on your pages, like in your page titles and headings.
There are 2 strategies to choose from: fat-head
These are one and two-word searches like “Dishwashers,” and “Facebook.” They are searched a lot and make about 30% of searches and are called. Long-tail:
These are longer searches that don’t get searched as much but add up to the majority of searches made. They make up 70% of searches.
- “Wooden toys” is fat-head.
- “Wood puzzles for 3-year-olds” is long-tail.
When determining which strategy to use, you should keep in mind that the percentage of clicks drops off dramatically as you rank lower. Only 10% of clicks occur beyond the first page.
To find out if fat-head is worthwhile, research what terms people use to find products in your industry, and then see if search volumes are large enough to move the needle. You can use the keyword planner tool for that. You want to find terms that have enough volume such that if you captured 10% for a given term, it would be meaningful.
The next step is determining the difficulty of ranking high for each term. Use tools like Open Site Explorer. If a competitor has thousands of links for a term, it will likely take a lot of focus on building links and optimizing to rank above them.
Next, narrow your list of targeted keywords to just a handful. Go to Google Trends to see how your keywords have been doing. Are they searched more or less often in the last year? You can further test keywords by buying SEM ads against them. If they convert well, then you have an indication that these keywords could get you strong growth.
Next, orient your site around the terms you’ve chosen. Include phrases you are targeting in your page titles and homepage. Get other sites to link to your site. Links with exact phrase matching from high-quality sites will give you a significant boost.
Because it’s difficult to rank high for competitive fat-head terms, a popular SEO strategy for early-stage startups is to focus on long-tail. If you bundle a lot of long-term keywords together you can reach a meaningful number of customers.
Find out what are search volumes for a bunch of long-tail keywords in your industry? Do they add up to meaningful amounts? Also, take a look at the analytics software you use on your site or google search console to find some of the search terms people are already using to get to your site. If you’re naturally getting a significant amount of traffic from long-tail keywords, then the strategy might be a good fit. Also, check if competitors use this strategy. If they have a lot of landing pages (search for site:domain.com in google), then it’s a sign that this strategy works for your market. Also, check Alexa search rankings and look at the percentage of visitors your competitors are receiving from search.
If you proceed with a long-tail SEO strategy, you’ll need to produce significant amounts of quality content. If you can’t invest time in that, you can pay a freelancer from Upwork to write an article for every search phrase you want to target.
Another way is to use content that naturally flows from your business. Ask yourself: what data do we naturally collect or generate that other people may find useful. Large businesses like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Wikipedia all gained most of their traffic by producing automated long-tail content. Sometimes the data is hidden behind a login screen and all you need to do is expose it to search engines, or aggregate it in a useful manner.
How to get links?
Don’t buy links, you’ll be penalized by search engines for it. Instead, you can do:
- Publicity - Get covered by a publication.
- Product - Produce shareable web pages.
- Content marketing - Create strong shareable content. Content that’s highly shareable include infographics, slideshows, images, and original research.
- Widgets - Give site owners useful things to add to their sites which link back to yours.
Companies like Moz and Unbounce have well-known company blogs that are their biggest source of customer acquisition.
Unbounce started a blog and an email list from day one. They used social media to drive readers to your blog. They pinged twitter influencers to ask for feedback, gave away free infographics, and e-books. These actions don’t scale but they push them to a point where their content will spread on its own.
OkCupid is a free online dating site. They intentionally wrote controversial posts like “How your race affects the messages you get” to generate traffic and conversation.
- Overcome writer’s block by writing about the problems facing your target customers.
- Use infographics because they are shared 20x more.
- Show your readers that they have a problem they didn’t know about.
- Engage in online forums where your target customers are, and try to contribute.
- Do guest posting on other popular blogs.
- Keep a regular content schedule.
Email marketing is a personal channel. Messages from your company sit next to emails from friends and family. That’s why email marketing works best when personalized. It can be used to build familiarity with prospects, acquire customers, and retain customers you already have.
Email marketing to Find customers
- Build an email list of prospective customers through your other marketing efforts.
- At the bottom of your blog posts and landing pages, simply ask for an email address.
- Create a short free course related to your area.
- Consider advertising on email newsletters.
Email marketing to Engage customers
If a customer never gets the value of your product, how can you expect them to pay for it or recommend it to others?
- Determine the steps necessary for customers to get value from your product
- Create targeted emails to make sure people complete these steps.
- You can use tools like Vero and Customer.io to automate these messages.
- Send an automated personal email 30 minutes after they signup to ask they if they need help.
Email marketing to Retain customers
Email marketing can be the most effective channel to bring people back to your site. Twitter sends you an email with a weekly digest of popular tweets and your new notifications.
More business-oriented products usually focus on reminders, reports, and information about how you’re getting value from the product. Mint sends a weekly financial summary to show your expenses and income over the previous week.
You can also use it to surprise and delight your customers. Planscope sends a weekly email to customers telling them how much they made that week. Photo apps will send you pictures you took a year ago.
Email marketing to Drive revenue
You can send a series of emails aimed at upselling customers.
WP Engine sends prospects an email course about Wordpress, and near the end of the email, they make a pitch to signup for its premium Wordpress hosting service.
If one of your customers abandoned a shopping cart, send her a targeted email a day or two later with a special offer for whatever item is left in the cart.
You can use email to explain a premium feature a customer is missing out on and how it can help them in a big way.
Email marketing to get referrals
Groupon generates referrals by incentivizing people to tell their friends about discounts.
- Use an email marketing provider that helps ensure deliverability like MailChimp.
- Use A/B tests for every aspect including subjects, formats, images, timing, and more.
- Send emails between 9 AM and 12 PM in your customers’ time zone or schedule them at the time they registered for your email list.
- Learn copywriting techniques by checking resources like copy hackers.
Viral marketing is getting your existing customers to refer others to your product. It was the driving force behind the explosive growth of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.
It’s so powerful that even if you can’t achieve exponential growth with it, you can still get meaningful growth. If your customer refers a new customer within the first week, you’ll go from ten customers to twenty and double every week without any additional marketing.
The oldest form of virality occurs when your product is so remarkable that people naturally tell others about it — pure word of mouth.
Inherent virality occurs when you can get value from a product only by inviting other customers, like Skype, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.
Others grow by encouraging collaboration like Google Docs.
Some embed virality like adding “Get a free email account with Hotmail” or “Sent from iPhone” to default signatures. Mailchimp and other email marketing products add branding to free customers’ emails.
Some incentivize customers to move through a viral loop, like Dropbox giving you more space if you invite friends to sign up. Airbnb, Uber, and PayPal give you account credits for referring friends.
Some add embedded buttons and widgets to grow virally, like Reddit and YouTube.
Some broadcast users activities on their social networks, like Spotify posting on Facebook when you play a song, or Pinterest when you pin content.
The viral coefficient K
is the number of additional customers you can get for each customer you bring in. It depends on i, the number of invites sent per user, and conversion percentage (who will actually sign up after receiving an invite)
K = i * conversion percentage
Any viral coefficient above 1 will result in exponential growth. Any viral coefficient over 0.5 helps your efforts to grow considerably.
You can increase the number of invites per user i by including features that encourage sharing, such as posting to social networks. You can increase the conversion percentage by testing different signup flows. Try cutting out pages or signup fields.
Viral cycle time is how long it takes a user to go through your viral loop. Shortening your cycle time drastically increases the rate at which you go viral. You can do it by creating urgency or incentivizing customers to move through the loops.
- Measure your viral coefficient and cycle time from the start
- Run as many A/B tests as you can. Focus on big changes that would result in a 5-10x improvement in a key metric, like a new email autoresponder or website design or onboarding flow. Then optimize smaller stuff.
- You need a constant stream of new customers entering the viral loop. This is called “seeding.” You could use SEO and online ads for that.
- Copy those who have done it before.
You can build tools like calculators, widgets, and educational microsites to get your company in front of potential customers.
HubSpot has Marketing Grade, a free marketing review tool. It’s free, gives you valuable information, and provides HubSpot with the information they use to qualify you as a potential prospect.
Moz has two free SEO tools, Followerwong and Open Site Explorer. They’ve driven tens of thousands of leads for Moz.
WP Engine has a speed testing tool that asks only for an email address in exchange for a detailed report on your site’s speed.
- Provide something of true value.
- Make the offering extremely relevant to your core business.
- Put microsites and tools on their own domains. It makes it easier to share and does well with SEO when people search for your tool.
With business development, you’re partnering to reach customers in a way that benefits both parties.
Google got most of its initial traction from a partnership with Netscape to be the default search engine and an agreement with Yahoo to power its online searches.
Business development can take the form of:
- Standard partnership, like Apple and Nike producing Nike+ shoe that communicates with the iPhone.
- Joint ventures: Two companies working together to produce a new product. Like bottled Starbucks Frappuccino produced by Pepsi.
- Licencing: Spotify licensing music from record labels.
- Distribution deals: Groupon works with a restaurant to offer a discount to Groupon’s mailing list.
- Supply partnership: Deals between suppliers and Walmart.
You should have already defined your traction goal and milestones, and you shouldn’t accept any partnership that doesn’t align with it. Many startups waste resources because it’s tempting to make deals with bigger companies.
- Create an exhaustive list of all your possible partners.
- Send it to your investors and friends for warm introductions.
- Approach potential customers with a value-focused proposition that outlines why they should work with you.
- Make sure to find out who is in charge of the metric you’ve targeted, and contact them directly.
- Make the negotiation and term sheet as simple as possible
Sales is the process of generating leads, qualifying them, and converting them into paying customers. It’s particularly useful for expensive and enterprise products.
Structuring the sales conversation Situation questions.
Ask one or two questions per conversation. The more you ask situation questions, the less likely they’re going to close.
- How many employees do you have?
- How is your organization structured
- Are you happy with your current solution?
- What problems do you face with it?
Meant to make a prospect aware of the large implications that stem from the problem.
- Does this problem hurt your productivity?
- How many people does it impact?
- What customer or employee turnover are you experiencing because of it?
Focus attention on your solution and get buyers to think about the benefits of solving the problem.
- How do you feel this solution would help you?
Be judicious about the people you contact. You want someone who is one-two levels up in the organization. They have enough perspective on the problem and some authority for decision making. Avoid starting at the top unless you’re calling a very small business.
Try to get answers about:
- Process: How does the company buy a solution like this?
- Need: How badly does the company need a solution for this?
- Authority: Which individuals can make the purchase happen?
- Money: Do they have the funds? How much not solving the problem cost them?
- Timing: What are budget and decision timelines for purchase?
It’s better to gain traction through a marketing channel first, then use sales as a conversion tool to close leads. The next stage is lead qualification: determine how ready a prospect is to buy. Once you’ve qualified the leads, you should lay out exactly what are you going to do for the customer. Set up a timetable for it and get them to commit with a yes or no whether they’re going to buy. Closing leads can be done by a sales team who does a webinar or product demo and has an ongoing email sequence that ends with a purchase request. In other cases, you may need a field sales team that actually visits prospective customers for some part of the process.
A checklist that can help you with sales:
- Remove the need for IT installs
- Free trials
- Channel partners
- Demo videos or Webinars
- Testimonials or case studies
- Email campaigns
- Low introductory price (less than $250/mo for SMB, $10,000 for enterprises)
I removed the last sections because of the post character limit. Here are two:
Good morning from the UK. I am late today but with good reason, my wife has had a really tough time this weekend with mental health (she is on meds for OCD, anxiety and Bipolar Type 2). Lockdown is tough for us all, but believe me it’s harder still for those with pre-existing mental difficulties. It could be worse, one of her friends (who has been sectioned before for mental breakdowns) is having to manage her mental health whilst fulfilling her duties as an A&E (ER) doctor in Wales. How my wife’s friend does it I have no idea, the stories coming out of UK hospitals are deeply disturbing
(this link is 2 weeks old).
Anyway, onto supply chain; this morning I read an article from Forbes about the problems supply chain disruptions can cause. Here’s a lengthy quote:
“Our firm recently polled executives at major corporations around the world to ask them about the operational risks they perceived to their supply chains, and the response strategies they had in place. The results were enlightening. Executives identified a broad range of risks (see chart below), from volatile commodity prices (which 43% considered a major challenge), to protectionism (31%), to piracy (just 7%). That executives identified such a broad range of risks told us that global supply disruption is indeed a top-of-mind issue for managers of global corporations.
When we asked a subsequent question about the strategies in place to mitigate these risks (see chart below), we found no favorites. Rather executives were across the board, choosing a number of different approaches, but not necessarily those best suited to the operational risks they were facing: 33% of respondents indicated that they would make no changes to their supply chains, 20% intended to decrease the number of production locations, and 15% planned to increase the same; and a range of other options as well.
Given the nature of the modern, global corporation and the complex supply network that has developed around it, it is unsurprising that executives have not aligned on a unified strategy to mitigate supply chain risk. No longer does a supply chain consist of a simple process from factory to warehouse to delivery (if indeed it ever did). Rather, as new sources of supply have arisen, new markets have opened, and companies have sought greater scale and specialization. Supply chains have evolved into a network of hundreds of suppliers, sub-contractors and distribution centers, adding tremendous complexity…
...I was recently at a conference of supply chain executives in the United States who told me that planning is dead – the best they could hope to do was respond to risks as they arose. Who has the time, and what is the benefit, of planning in a world of continuous change, demand-driven marketing, and intense pressure for instantaneous responses?...
...In an environment where changes in global supply chain can be as sudden as they are unscripted, companies have to arm themselves with both foresight and peripheral vision, an understanding of the long-term, and agility to deal with the short-term. More than ever, companies have to provision for multiple scenarios and they can only do that by engaging in a dynamic and multi-dimensional scenario-based strategic planning process.”
I like the last two paragraphs of the article in particular. In case anyone wants to read the rest of the article, it’s dated May 2010 and written in reaction to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the chaos it caused to supply chains around the world. Plus ça change; it seems some boardrooms didn’t adjust their supply chains after that black swan event (maybe due to the cost and the resulting negative shareholder pushback). Link to the story.
Virus news in depth Our Pandemic Summer: The fight against the coronavirus won’t be over when the U.S. reopens. Here’s how the nation must prepare itself.
- The Atlantic has written a lengthy article
about what the mid-long term looks like for the US in relation to getting back to normal after Covid-19. “I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “This is about the next two years.” The article goes on to look at the pharmaceutical supply chain; “According to a University of Minnesota analysis, about 40 percent of the 156 drugs that are essential parts of critical care are becoming limited. Many of these depend on supply chains that involve China (where the pandemic began), Italy (the hardest-hit region in Europe), or India (which halted several exports)” … “Albuterol, the drug used in asthma inhalers, is scarce. Antibiotics, which control the secondary bacterial infections that afflict COVID-19 patients, are being depleted. Basic painkillers and sedatives, which are needed to keep patients on ventilators, are being exhausted. Hydroxychloroquine, the drug that Trump has repeatedly touted as a COVID-19 treatment despite a lack of good evidence, is running out, to the detriment of people with lupus and arthritis who depend on it. “It’s like everything we give to patients, we’re in short supply of,” said Esther Choo, an emergency physician at Oregon Health and Science University. “We’re now scrambling to find the backup medications, and we’ll run out of those too.””
(cont’d) If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.” The article is lengthy and also discusses options for reopening the economy and society in the USA.
Virus news in brief
My usual sources are as normal The Guardian
live blogs unless otherwise specified.
- The price of US crude oil plunged almost 20%, to below $15, in early trading on Monday – its lowest point since 1999 – as stockpiles continued to build owing to a crash in demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- In Australia, three of Sydney’s beaches were cautiously reopened on Monday but only for exercise. “Activities such as sitting on the sand, sun-baking or gathering in groups will not be permitted,” said the local mayor Danny Said.
- Video: the centre of Adelaide city in Australia (population circa 1.3m) is so deserted that this Kangaroo was spotted hopping through the heart of the business district: South Australia Police tweet
- Problems building in Japan - an infections disease expert at Kyoto hospital has warned that Japan’s hospitals were struggling to deal with Covid-19 patients, adding that the government’s response to the recent rise in infections had been too slow. He said Japan’s initial approach – to identify and contain infection clusters – had worked well until major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka started reporting significant rises in cases from the second half of March. “Japan’s government should have changed strategy earlier,” Iwata said, referring to the shift to wider testing combined with social distancing. “There was a tremendous delay and that has caused huge problems,” he said. Hospitals initially designated to treat patients with the illness had become unable to deal with the growing number of cases, leaving other hospitals unprepared to fill the treatment gap. “If you aren’t prepared and your staff aren’t trained, you can’t just admit Covid-19 patients,” Iwata said. “Many hospitals are not ready to fight against Covid-19. That’s why there have been reports of ambulances going from one hospital to another” in Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and other cities. He added: “We needed to change strategy immediately, but traditionally, Japan isn’t good at doing that. When we have a plan A we are poor at converting it into a plan B. Bureaucrats don’t like admitting that their original plan failed – that was the main shortcoming.”
- The same infections disease expert is also querying whether holding the Olympics next year is realistic. “I don’t think the Olympics are likely to be held next year. People will be coming from hundreds of nations ... and although Japan might have the disease under control by next summer, I don’t think that will be the case everywhere.” Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at the University of Edinburgh, said last week that hosting the event in just over a year’s time would be “very unrealistic” unless a vaccine became available. “If we do get a vaccine within the next year then actually I think that (the Olympics) is realistic,” Sridhar said, according to the BBC website. “The vaccine will be the game changer - an effective, affordable, available vaccine. If we don’t get a scientific breakthrough then I think that looks very unrealistic.” John Coates, the head of the IOC’s coordination commission, told reporters last week that it was still “too early to say” if the outbreak could further impact the Olympics, including forcing another delay or banning spectators.
- Hong Kong authorities have reported zero new cases of Covid-19 today. The last time Hong Kong had no new cases was on 5 March. The city is currently under strict - but sometimes complicated- social distancing rules, including no more than four people gathering together. Bars, pubs and clubs, as well as gyms, game halls, and beauty parlours are closed.
- Singapore has confirmed an additional 1,426 cases of Covid-19 infection, a record daily jump that took the city-state’s tally to 8,014. Its health ministry said the vast majority of the new cases were among migrant workers living in dormitories. As many as 90% of infections have reportedly been linked to these workers. Singapore’s number of deaths currently stands at 11. The latest rise means the city-state, which has a population of 5.6 million, has seen its total confirmed cases soar from 2,800 to more than 8,000 in the past seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
- India has recorded its biggest single-day rise in coronavirus cases, the Associated Press reports. as the government eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. An additional 1,553 cases were reported over the past 24 hours, raising the total past 17,000. At least 543 people have died and epidemiologists forecast the peak may not be reached before June.
- In Iran, where the outbreak has killed at least 5,000 people, some social distancing rules were relaxed last week and on Monday some major shopping centres and inner-city highways were reopened. Stores from high-end malls to the meandering alleyways of Tehran’s historic Grand Bazaar opened their doors, the Associated Press reports, though the government limited their working hours until 6 pm. Restaurants, gyms and other locations remain closed.
- Spain has reported 399 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, lower than Sunday’s figure of 410 and confirming the downward trend. A total of 20,852 people have died of the disease in Spain, with over 200,000 infected and more than 80,000 cured. Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez is expected to ask parliament tomorrow to extend the lockdown until 11 May.
- French schools will begin to open next month at the planned end to the strict lockdown but the return to classes will be gradual, the prime minister Édouard Philippe has said. In an address last week, Emmanuel Macron announced nurseries, primary and secondary schools would open again on 11 May. The lockdown had led to fewer contacts bringing the contamination rate down to one contaminated person spreading the disease to 0.6 others. When the lockdown is lifted the authorities will be looking at keeping the rate at one person contaminating at the most one other, the PM added.
- UK: There’s increasing anger at the (right wing) UK government in major newspapers at a lack of PPE for UK medical staff. Headlines include Guardian (left wing broadsheet): “Hospital leaders attack government as anger grows over PPE shortage”, Daily Mail (right wing tabloid): “Betrayal of our bravest: Hospitals run out of protective gowns TODAY a airlift of 400,000 replacements grounded. Now doctors face stark choice: save patients or themselves.”, Mirror (left wing tabloid) “Now lifesaving kit for NHS heroes doesn’t turn up”. The usually strongly supportive Daily Telegraph (right wing broadsheet) goes with “Two thirds of children fail to log on for lessons” but has a large picture of a protesting medical worker holding a sign “Protect healthcare workers”. Officials admitted on Sunday that PM Boris Johnson missed five emergency meetings in the early stages of the pandemic.
- Violence and looting point to food crisis in S.Africa lockdown. France 24 has an article warning that with poor people running out of food due to no income as a result of the lockdown in South Africa, hundreds of angry people have fought running battles with the police, hurling rocks and setting up street barricades with burning tyres in Mitchells Plain over undelivered food parcels on Tuesday. Police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse them. Social commentators fear such violent episodes could escalate. "There's a bunch of us at home getting fat and there's a bunch of people who really have nothing," said Julian May, director of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, at the University of the Western Cape. "And it speaks a lot about the inequalities in South Africa (that) are likely to come out," said May. "As people are not getting food parcels or hear of other people getting parcels they are starting to react. And I don't think that's going to ease unless there's more rapid delivery of food to people in poor areas."South Africa is ranked one of the most unequal countries in the world.
- US: Multiple governors have accused Donald Trump of making “delusional” and “dangerous” statements amid mounting tensions between the president and state leaders over coronavirus testing and pressure to roll back stay-at-home measures. The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 730,000 infections and over 39,600 deaths. Many state leaders have said they cannot embark on Trump’s recommended three-phrase programme to ease stay-at-home restrictions without a robust and widespread system of testing in place. The Guardian has more here or you can see Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan being interviewed about it here.
- US: The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be an active one according to researchers at North Carolina State University, says a local CNBC affiliate. This continues a trend for many organizations who have issued tropical forecasts for the upcoming season. The NC State University team forecast calls for 18-22 named storms, 8-11 hurricanes, 3-5 majors (i.e. cat 3 or higher) with the Gulf of Mexico identified as particularly at risk. Colorado State University, Accuweather, the university of Arizona have all issued an above average forecasts for above average hurricane season. (
Personal note: If you are on the Eastern seaboard of the US and in a hurricane prone area, it would be a good idea to review your hurricane plans and supplies now, e.g do you have a generator and does it work, spare fuel, batteries, candles, do you have enough long life food already stored + cleaning products, do you have an alternative method of cooking food, what’s your evacuation plan, etc etc. See https://www.weather.gov/safety/hurricane-plan
for help with this and note FEMA is already under a lot of strain due to the virus and would thus likely struggle with a major hurricane impact on the US seaboard - see also this USA Today article
dated 6th April this year on that topic).
- Anti lockdown protestors and medical staff have faced off in Denver (link).
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro joined a rally in the country's capital on Sunday, where protesters called for an end to quarantine measures and some urged military intervention to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court. Congress and the Supreme Court have supported social isolation measures imposed by governors. The President didn’t wear a mask and coughed several times while speaking to the crowd of a couple of hundred supporters in Brasilia. “(Everyone must) do whatever is necessary for the country to have the prominent place it deserves,” he said. “We will not negotiate anything.”
Supply chain news in depth
Susceptibilities of Solar Energy Supply Chains -
The Global policy journal has written a detailed review of the supply chain disruption faced by the solar panel industry here
. Whilst manufacturing was significantly reduced from January to March in China (down 13.5%) and is now almost fully recovered, its reliance on materials from around the world mean the supply chain is exposed in other parts. China has the majority market share in the mining or processing of most minerals used in solar panels, such as: silicon, aluminum, selenium, tellurium, arsenic, cadmium, and gallium. However, China still depends on many other countries to complete their solar panels, such as Peru for copper, Saudi Arabian oil for energy, and Japan for silicon wafers. In mid-March, Chinese owned mining company MMG Ltd reduced operations at its Peruvian copper mine after Peru declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus. Due to the damaged mining link in the supply chain, an initial spike in solar module price is expected due to shortages of materials for solar wafers and module glass, affecting the solar industry for months to come. Kangping Chen, the CEO of the top solar module supplier in the world, JinkoSolar, stated that around 400-500MW of Q1 2020 shipments are likely to be postponed to Q2 2020. The 500 MW postponement is approximately 14% of JinkoSolar’s 3.6GW quarterly solar panels production last year. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) stated that “before the pandemic hit, the solar industry was poised to set a record for deployment in 2020,” with solar installers being America’s fastest growing profession. A new SEIA survey now suggests cancellation rates for residential solar systems in the US are now at 19%, with postponement rates hitting upwards of 50% in some areas.
Illinois adjusts on the fly to meet medical supply needs in a coronavirus ‘Wild West’ -
The Chicago Sun Times details a story
from about two weeks ago where Illinois officials tracked down a supply of 1.5 million potentially life-saving N95 respirator masks in China through a middleman in the Chicago area and negotiated a deal to buy them. One day before they were expecting to complete the purchase, they got a call in the morning from the supplier informing them he had to get a check to the bank by 2 p.m. that day, or the deal was off. Other bidders had surfaced. Realizing there was no way the supplier could get to Springfield and back by the deadline, Illinois assistant comptroller Ellen Andres jumped in her car and raced north on I-55 with a check for $3,469,600. That’s just a taste of the “Wild West” world of emergency procurement taking place over the past several weeks as the state fights for equipment and supplies to protect frontline workers and patients in the battle against COVID-19. Most of that work is being performed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration through a rapid-procurement strike team, pulling together procurement specialists from around state government under the auspices of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. As Pritzker has made clear at his daily briefings, it’s an effort made all the more difficult by the absence of a strong, coordinated White House response. That’s left Illinois competing against other states, foreign nations and even our own federal government for the same materials. They’re all looking for what we have come to know as PPE or personal protective equipment — masks, gloves, gowns and face shields — plus coronavirus testing kits and swabs and, most prized of all, ventilators to help those most seriously ill keep breathing.
SWABS, STAT! Inside the Maine factory racing to supply America with virus test swabs. -
If you’ve ever used a home DNA kit, opened wide and said “ahh,” or measured the depth of a knife wound in a stabbing victim, chances are you’ve used a device made by Puritan Medical Products Co, says Bloomberg
. And if you’re tested for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, it’s quite likely that the swab used to collect a sample from inside your nose will have been made by Puritan, too. Located in Guilford, Maine (population 1,521), Puritan is one of two companies that make essentially all of the swabs used for coronavirus testing. (The other, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is in Italy, an epicenter of the deadly virus.)
(Cont’d) “Swabs could be a weak link in broadening testing,” former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted on March 16. That was four days after Puritan first started getting calls from the U.S. government, according to Timothy Templet, executive vice president for global sales, who entered the conversations himself shortly thereafter. “I’ve been on the phone since Saturday with many government organizations—Health and Human Services, FDA, working groups—just trying to provide accurate information regarding the ability to produce as many swabs for the country as we possibly can,” he says. The federal government, however, doesn’t buy directly from Puritan. Instead it helps coordinate with Puritan and other medical suppliers and distributors to get the swabs where they need to go. “We are ramping up to produce and wrap a million swabs a week that we need to put into the supply chain across the U.S.,” Templet says. His problem? Not enough machines or labour to meet demand.
**In Pursuit of PPE (**Or if you prefer, “how I managed to buy some PPE on the American black market for my hospital”) -
The New England Journal of Medicine is not something I often read (Actually I’ve never read it before in my life
) but this article caught my eye
: As a chief physician executive, I rarely get involved in my health system’s supply-chain activities. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. Protecting our caregivers is essential so that these talented professionals can safely provide compassionate care to our patients. Yet we continue to be stymied by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the cavalry does not appear to be coming. Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government. Then we got lucky, but getting the supplies was not easy.
(Cont’d) A lead came from an acquaintance of a friend of a team member. After several hours of vetting, we grew confident of the broker’s professional pedigree and the potential to secure a large shipment of three-ply face masks and N95 respirators. The latter were KN95 respirators, N95s that were made in China. We received samples to confirm that they could be successfully fit-tested. Despite having cleared this hurdle, we remained concerned that the samples might not be representative of the bulk of the products that we would be buying. Having acquired the requisite funds — more than five times the amount we would normally pay for a similar shipment, but still less than what was being requested by other brokers — we set the plan in motion. Three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester were flown to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.
(Cont’d) Hours before our planned departure, we were told to expect only a quarter of our original order. We went anyway, since we desperately needed any supplies we could get. Upon arrival, we were jubilant to see pallets of KN95 respirators and face masks being unloaded. We opened several boxes, examined their contents, and hoped that this random sample would be representative of the entire shipment. Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.
Supply chain news in brief
- Some people have been querying why farmers are being forced to dump food whilst at the same time there’s difficulty elsewhere in supplying food banks or supermarkets fast enough. The reason is that b2b (business to business) supply chains are set up very differently to b2c (Business to consumer) supply chains and it’s harder than you’d initially think to rapidly switch from one to the other; effectively they’re having to adjust on the fly on a day by day basis. Civileats.com has a good explanation of why it’s hard to change things around quickly and what firms are doing to try to reroute food to where it’s most needed.
- The UN states in a press release (here) that cereal supplies are plentiful at the moment and prices remain low - at least for now. Given the highly globalized nature of food production and supply, commodities need to move from the world’s ‘breadbaskets’ to where they are consumed – and COVID-19-related containment measures are starting to make this more challenging. “Disruptions are so far minimal; food supply is adequate, and markets are relatively stable,” said WFP Senior Spokesperson, Elizabeth Byrs, noting that global cereal stocks are at comfortable levels and the outlook for wheat and other staple crops is positive for the rest of this year. “But we may soon expect to see disruptions in food supply chains”, she said, explaining that if big importers lose confidence in the reliable flow of basic food commodities, panic buying could ensue, driving prices up. For low-income countries, the consequences could be devastating, with long-term repercussions, with coping strategies coming at the expense of such essential services as health and education.
- Honeywell has announced that its Rhode Island facility is starting to produce masks. Normally it would take 9 months to set up a production line; they managed it in 5 weeks. See here for a PR from them.
- UK government stockpiles containing protective equipment for healthcare workers in the event of a pandemic fell in value by almost 40% over the past six years, the Guardian has found. Analysis of official financial data suggests £325m was wiped off the value of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) emergency stockpile, reducing it from £831m in 2013 under the Conservative-led coalition government to £506m by March last year. The finding is likely to raise further questions for the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who faced criticism over the weekend after urging healthcare workers not to “overuse” personal protective equipment (PPE). More on that here.
- Amazon is tweaking its algorithms to get you to buy less not more; Business Standard reports that Amazon is trying to get you to reduce your purchase of non essential products to help it keep up with shipping of the more essential products. Normal promotions have been stopped, prime day is postponed, it doesn’t tell you any more what other people have bought. The article goes on to point out that it isn’t just Amazon doing this; Expedia expects its advertising spend to drop by more than 80% this year.
- Budget airline Indigo (fabulous name for an airline) is the latest to start doing cargo only flights with its passenger airlines (Stat Times link)
Good news section
Deserted Thai beaches lure rare turtles to build most nests in 20 years -
Thailand has found the largest number of nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades on beaches bereft of tourists because of the coronavirus pandemic, environmentalists say. In Thailand, with 2,765 infections and 47 deaths, travel curbs ranging from a ban on international flights to an appeal to citizens to stay home have brought a collapse in tourist numbers, but freed up the beaches for wildlife. The 11 turtle nests authorities have found since last November were the highest number in 20 years, said Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center. “This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans,” he told Reuters. No such nests had been found for the previous five years. Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtles. They are considered endangered in Thailand, and listed as a vulnerable species globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They lay their eggs in dark and quiet areas, scarce when tourists thronged the beaches. People have also been known to dig into their nests and steal eggs. (link
Minnesota trooper's roadside gesture during traffic stop brings doctor to tears -
A state trooper pulled over a doctor for speeding on an east-central Minnesota interstate, told her she should know better and sent her on her way grateful for receiving only a warning and not a ticket. The trooper also gave her a fistful of coveted N95 medical masks that were issued for his protection from the deadly coronavirus pandemic. “I burst into tears,” Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua, a Boston native and cardiologist, wrote in a detailed Facebook account of the traffic stop on March 21 along Interstate 35 in North Branch as she traveled from work in Duluth for a break in Minneapolis. “I think he teared up a little as well before wishing me well and walking away.” Janjua also saw the masks handed to her as having value beyond their role in stemming the virus’ spread. “This complete stranger, who owed me nothing and is more on the front lines than I am, shared his precious masks with me, without my even asking,” she wrote. “The veil of civilization may be thin, but not all that lies behind it is savage. We are going to be OK.” (Star Tribune link
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