Web Lessons 1: No Battle Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy – Fallibility

One of the most important things we can learn about ourselves is fallibility. George Soros, the billionaire investor, talks about fallibility and reflexivity and his theories on how they made him a billionaire.

Fallibility is a big word, and we should be careful of big words in all things web, because the average reading age in the USA is 14 years old. 

Fallibility describes the measure of how full of shit our view of the world is in comparison to the reality at large. If someone is fallible, then their understanding of the world is very flawed.

When you’re building a venture, your conception of the world and the market is almost always flawed. There’s very few people who have clarity of mind in thinking about a market. It’s hard. A market for anything is monstrously big and complex.

The great products and companies do quite a bit of iteration, because understanding a market is challenging.

Apple didn’t get all its products right, neither did Bose. The list goes on and on for that matter.

In web venture building, one of the simplest ways to counter our own fallibility is to do 4 things iteratively:

  1. Gather a list of potential customers and their emails + phone numbers.
  2. Put up a landing page of your idea.
  3. Send it out to as many people who are relevant customers as possible.
  4. Hear their feedback and iterate.

I cannot think of a single web business that the above isn’t relevant for. There’s a lot of technology that goes into each of the previous items.

Gathering List of Leads
There are over 1000 sales and marketing automation technology companies and an entire industry of people who have the sole job of gathering lead lists.

Landing Pages
There’s hundreds of different tools and workflows you can do to build a website.

Hitting up customers

The process of hitting up customers properly is a whole art and science. A simple browsing of GrowthHackers will show you this.

Listening to Feedback

Being a good listener is impossibly difficult. The average human attention span is about 7-12 seconds. Hawthorne effect pervades makes the truth elusive. Hawthorne effect the alteration of behavior by the subjects of a study due to their awareness of being observed. This confounds our search for truth when we look for a problem.


How to Be the Pablo Escobar of Leads And Get 500M+ Emails

I’m going to periodically keep adding items to this list. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s pretty good.

I’ve always agreed with Rommel: “The battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters, long before the shooting begins.”

I think this is true of web as well. The internet is a gangster’s paradise, I’ve always believed you should be a mobster to grow your business. 

If I was building a company like ClearBit, FullContact, or any one of these other companies that’s trying to get all the world’s contact information, here’s some of the things I would do:

  1. Hire a skilled backend developer and make sure they know how to scrape/crawl, use rotating IPs, and get around anything thrown their way. You basically want to remain undetectable…obfuscate your existence as a company that is scraping.
  2. Use commoncrawl.org to find publicly available email addresses in a massive body of text.
  3. Go to the dark web and buy the full linkedin hacked database of 2012 for $500-$5,000. I don’t know what the current market price is. Talk to your Eastern European or Russian digital marketers, and I’m sure they’ll know how to acquire it.
  4. Scan twitter every 5 seconds for email addresses formatted. Zapier allows you to do this. Strings like “email me @” etc… will take some complex scripting to do it all, but alas, it is doable. If you need to scale, switch off Zapier to another platform or code it from scratch.
  5. Issue FOIA requests in all 50 states to find the publicly available Secretary of State data on all businesses/non-profits in the state or scrape it and parse it with other databases.
  6. Use bing search query API and query tons of @nameofcompany.com iteratively across linkedin. Bing has extreme over-seo-indexing of LinkedIn.
  7. You do all of the above, and you should be able to build a 1k-20K/month company within 3-12 months.
  8. Platforms – Look at every marketplace application. For example Doximity. Doximity is illegal to scrape, but I guarantee you that any European or Russian scraping shop has been asked to scrape the site of all MDs and doctors. I won’t go down a list of all the platforms that enable you to do this, but it’s not hard.
  9. Find every about.me or multi-grouping page of twitter/linkedin profiles.
  10. Scrape Secretary of State listings in the USA and auto-deduce/ guess at permutations of emails. (firstname.lastname@) etc… Validate against SMTP
  11. Find companies that are dead, and ask them for their email databases.
  12. Make an app that deduplicates contact information for consumers and take the data.
  13. NLP Email Chatbots – I’d make application specific NLP chat bots that ask the price of an item, a good email address to reach someone, just off of craiglslist postings. Plenty of ways to do this at scale. You can get their phone number and email address.

I think there’s going to be some sort of implosion of sales automation/lead marketing companies as the data becomes more publicized during or after hacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these leads companies are buying leads from hackers in other countries.

Buy the data and don’t ask where it came from. If you’re building this type of company, ask yourself “What Would Pablo Do?”

It’s not hard to imagine.

Step 1: A hacker gets into a gmail account and clicks export contacts.
Step 2: Rinse and Repeat

If you have a sales/leads automation company, one of your best bets isn’t to raise, but to opportunistically sell the venture, lest you love extreme competition.

The number of companies in this space is astounding. If you’re going to fund companies in this space, it’s extremely advisable to fund overqualified eastern European developer teams, not overpriced SV teams.

This is commoditized code wrangling, nothing unique here. If the founders can clearly delineate how they will crush, kill, and destroy their competition by scraping at low cost, or selling at scale quickly, then they can win in a monopolized way. 

Make no mistake though, this space gets harder as you get further into it, not easier. The network graph’s size of the database only marginally increases its value.

Godspeed to you all. If you want to nerd on it, tweet me or email me. .

18 Marketing and Distribution Tactics for Documentary Film Makers

I decided to write this post after meeting a documentary film maker. I was learning from her how the film industry works. I know very little about it, but one thing I do know about is online distribution and marketing tactics, so I decided to put together a compilation of growth tactics that curates the best of Silicon Valley growth workflows for documentary film makers. Here, I assume you have a decent budget in the $10K-$100K area, but even then, some of these tactics are free and can be run for as little as $300.

  1. Choose a Viable Name for your Movie.
  2. Secure the brand – do it manually by hiring an outsourcer or pay KnowEm.
  3. Get everyone who supports the film, starred in the film, and funded the film to join a crewfire campaign before you launch. This increases the total reach on the day of launch and even otherwise. Thunderclap is also a great alternative.
  4. Make sure to have subtitles on all your content and especially for your trailers on facebook. Most videos on facebook are played without audio.
  5. Post your trailers to all the video networks with full descriptions.
    1. vimeo
    2. youtube
    3. dailymotion
    4. etc….
  6. Include plenty of contextual information and links to your site with bit.ly that will enable you to track everything in a clear way. If you observe Vice.com they actually include a really good structuring of links and descriptions in their content.
  7. Cut many different versions of your trailer. The more you cut, the more you can test the content on different social channels. I recommend using SocialChamp and their feature of recurring posts that will periodically repost the same content multiple times.
  8. Facebook Group Marketing
    1. Find all the relevant facebook groups for your niche of documentary video.
    2. Join them.
    3. Have a discussion, don’t be spammy, and ask questions.
      1. Example Text: “How many of you make trips to Lebanon? For the past year, I’ve been making a documentary film about it. I don’t want to spam this group so I’m including a link in the comments to the trailer. I’d love your feedback on it. Happy to be a member of this group. I’m a film-maker, if you think I can help you, please message me or comment here. 🙂 “
  9. Find Relevant People on Twitter to Engage
    1. Use ElectoralHQ.com to search lists on twitter of people who might find your film relevant. Use them to get feedback on your landing page and trailer.
  10. Facebook Page Marketing
    1. Make a list of all the facebook pages that you think your audience of customers like.
    2. Message those facebook pages and ask if you can cross promote their content to your following and vice versa.
    3. You can also message them with your content after it has a few thousand views so that way they’ll be more likely to share it with their audience.
    4. Note: You may want to obfuscate the fact that you’re the creator, cause then they’ll want to charge you for promoting it, whereas if it seems like an organic suggestion, they may just share it automatically.
  11. Recycle Audio into Sound Bytes
    1. Use OmnyStudio.com to cut the audio
    2. Put up the sound bytes and publish them and share them on twitter and facebook.
      1. twitter has rules about playable clips.
  12. Good Artwork
    1. Have good artwork on your facebook and twitter page.
    2. If you have no design background, you can outsource the logo and design to logojoy or Logoshi. 
  13. Good Social Content
    1. You should be pushing 1-2 pieces of content/clips/day for your facebook page. Have a different introduction each day with text. You can queue it all using SocialChamp
    2. On twitter, you should have a pinned post.
    3. Make sure your facebook page profile is completely filled out.
    4. After you publish your movie and it gets featured on different film festivals and more, you should apply to get a verified check from twitter for both your movie and yourself.
    5. You should also apply for the verified check with facebook too.
  14. Press and Content Promotion
    1. Promote any press articles about your documentary to http://quuu.co for cheap.
  15. Message twitter influencers
    1. You can create a free account on ElectoralHQ and find lists of twitter influencers by category/topic just by using the “find twitter lists” functionality.
    2. I recommend coming up with a list of 30-60 tweets that engage influencers and ask if they’d watch the beta, for their opinion on the trailer, or tell them about what you’re doing and ask if their audience might be relevant. … Build a relationship with influencers.
  16. Website Analytics
    1. Get your website analytics configured properly http://bit.ly/fullreferralurl 
    2. The most important thing is to know where customers are visiting from and how much time they’re spending on the site.
  17. Blog Fodder
    1. This one is really important and will save you time. Every new filmmaker has the same conversation over and over again with different people about their film. Write about these conversations and turn them into blog posts.
    2. You don’t have to become a content engine, but there’s probably 5-10 cornerstone foundational key points to your documentary that you want to spread the message about.
  18. Design
    1. As much as people think design matters, it doesn’t for film-making. You can have a barebones design as long as it’s functional. The story you capture is likely 100x more important than the aesthetic quality of the font. You should use Canva to design your facebook and twitter cover photo.

If you need to premarket your film in a kickstarter style fashion, it costs about $15K-$25K to do it properly depending on your needs. If you want to talk about that email me at kumar@engineersf.com or book a time with me at pick.co/kumar.

My background is mostly in running marketing blitzkriegs for Silicon Valley technology companies, but I find creative people refreshing. 🙂

Focus May Be Your Worst Enemy in Biotech R&D Investing

My Fascination With Mega Research Initiatives
I like reading biotech research and how the industry brings products to market. I discovered something unusual about the mega-initiatives that try to tackle some of humanity’s biggest diseases.

Some Recent Mega Initiatives by Powerful Billionaires

I was thinking about this a lot lately as the news has seen rise of Mega Research initiatives. I’m referring to the new Chan Zuckerberg initiative, Microsoft’s claims about curing Cancer with AI, and Bill Gates’s initiatives in neurogenerative disease areas.

Gates says a lot in his blog post.

“Because we are at a pivotal moment when the conditions are ripe for transformative innovations, there are many important things this new group of national leaders—including whoever is elected in the U.S. in November—can accomplish over the next decade. There are four objectives I think we should prioritize:

  1. Provide everyone on earth with affordable energy without contributing to climate change.

  2. Develop a vaccine for HIV and a cure for neurodegenerative diseases.

  3. Protect the world from future health epidemics, which might be more infectious than Ebola and more deadly than Zika.

  4. Give every student and teacher new tools so all students get a world-class education.”

The Counterintuitive Solution to Finding Neurodegenerative Drug Targets

I think finding a cure for neurodegenerative diseases is a hunt for the Black Swan.

A lot of what I’ve found suggests that humanity’s best bet against Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases might even consist of not focusing research dollars on these areas.

Meta-research suggests that pseudorandom basic science research has had mega yields on biotech, far greater reaching than top-down initiatives.

If you look at the meta research closely, you will easily come to the conclusion that basic science funding is mission critical to the advancement of humanity.

Focus is a Scientist’s Best Friend
The evidence suggests we should get out of the way of scientists and pump them full of cash and reduce their context switching costs. (Paperwork can be exhausting – grant applications are no joke).

The Groundbreaking Innovations Come Without Warning and Without Attention, Unexpectedly. 

CRISPR-9 was discovered by accident while trying to understand how bacteria fight the flu. (CRISPR-9 is the acronym for gene editing brouhaha).

Penicillin was discovered via Alexander Fleming’s random mold observation.

Roentgen discovered X-ray tech by accident when he shot electric current through a special gass in a glass tube. Roentgen found out that he’d made a ray that passed through light elements, but interacted with heavy ones; the X-ray.

Vaccines were accidental too. (Edward Jenner – cowpox)

In reference to Nixon’s war on cancer:

“Despite the Herculean effort and enormous expense, only a few drugs for the treatment of cancer were found through NCI’s centrally directed, targeted program. Over a twenty-year period of screening more than 144,000 plant extracts, representing about 15,000 species, not a single plant-based anticancer drug reached approved status. This failure stands in stark contrast to the discovery in the late 1950s of a major group of plant-derived cancer drugs, the Vinca Alcaloids -a discovery that came about by chance, not through directed research.” – Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs.

Every Few Years, Someone is Peddling an Initiative. They rarely work out. 

Edit: -10-26-2016 –
The exception case here is the Human Genome Project as so prodigiously/graciously pointed out to me by Keith Robison of the OmicsOmics blog, which anyone who is trying to learn more about life sciences and drug discovery SHOULD read.


Keith even wrote a response blog post a few days later. I think the main point I was trying to make here is not that genome sequencing wasn’t useful, but that high expectations on it are probably not warranted. http://omicsomics.blogspot.com/2016/10/how-genomes-enabled-proteomics.html. I feel honored to be covered by Keith. 🙂

Vaccines Need Constant Supervision, But For Everything Else, Let’s Back the Scientists on Basic Science

I still think Vaccine research is absolutely mission critical, anytime a politician says they want to attack a disease, we should probably rethink the efficacy of statements like these.

A Worthy Books On The Topic of Accidental Scientific Discovery:

Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs