Join me while I talk with Gabriel Weinberg, Founder of search engine DuckDuck Go. Gabriel got into the startup world right after college and his company The Names Database was acquired by United Online in 2006 for a reported $10 million. After selling, Gabriel spent some time tweaking new business ideas before merging them to create DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track its users. He currently blogs at GabrielWeinberg.com and his book, “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers” was released in August, 2014.
Competing in the uncrackable search engine industry
When starting DuckDuckGo, Gabriel decided to focus on things that frustrated him about about his biggest competition. Google may be the industry leader, but also tracks and consequently spams its users. Gabriel also took cues from Yelp and Wikipedia to feature instant answers, and offered complete search privacy. Differentiating from the competition helps DuckDuckGo stand-out in a saturated market while offering its users an alternative.
It doesn’t bother Gabriel that he has no idea how many people use DuckDuckGo on any given month. But what he does track is how many explicit searches by humans are done each month, and makes it all public at DuckDuckGo.com. After their launch, Gabriel estimates they got at most 10,000 searches a month. Today they do more than 170 million searches each month.
Gabriel focuses on core metrics you can move, and skips over all the other data distractions. But he advises you still need a goal of some kind that’s meaningful. In DuckDuckGo’s case, that’s getting to 1% of the search market—or about 300 million searches a month.
Moving the growth needle
The company focuses on channels that can move the needle for growth. A big write-up in the New York Times may have been ideal during DuckDuckGo’s launch, but doesn’t do much for their traffic now. Instead they’re just finishing up tapping mainstream TV advertising. But Gabriel already sees that medium as saturated and is gearing up for new channels.
Constantly evolving your marketing and advertising channels is key to unlock new stages of growth. Gabriel says the company has been through 5 different mediums starting with SEO on Google. They moved onto social display ads on Reddit back when almost no one else was doing it. DuckDuckGo then moved along to microsights, blogging, hacker news, print ads, and TV ads. Gabriel says each one moved the growth needle, but wouldn’t have worked for its previous stage.
Traction trumps everything
Gabriel shares his philosophy, “Traction trumps everything.” But what does that actually mean? Gabriel thinks companies don’t focus on traction early enough. Too many entrepreneurs follow lean startup methodology and rush to market with a product, but don’t have measurable hockey stick growth. Without that, it’s nearly impossible to raise money and the product dies, even if it was a great idea. As an angel investor, Gabriel sees this happen over and over again with even the best ideas.
Instead, entrepreneurs should take a structured approach to finding traction, just like you do with developing a product. Gabriel says he gained traction early by switching gears as growth tapped out at each medium. He saw that SEO maxed out quickly, but was biased by it. It was the world he came from. DuckDuckGo systematically brainstormed their way through each available marketing and advertising channel to figure out how it could be used for their business. That included ideas like speaking engagements.
Like growth hacking, building traction takes constant testing. Gabriel discusses those first initial tests, finding ads that might sort of work and tweaking it until it saturates. “Why is it sucking?” Gabriel instructs entrepreneurs to ask themselves and move on to investigating a new channel like Facebook ads or advertising on podcasts.
While most entrepreneurs focus on lean startup methodology, Gabriel says its limited. Focusing on going lean only gets your product to market for some customers. But it doesn’t tell you which marketing and advertising channel or messaging should be used and how to make it resonate. Instead, focus on traction early when you launch.
Gabriel explains taking action early will actually save you time on product development. Focusing on traction and running ads enables feedback to tweak the model and speed up its development. Set your goal and do anything to move the needle. Brainstorming is key.
Think big to attract a big audience
It’s just as difficult to grow a business whether you’re starting something niche or trying to take over the world. Gabriel takes a step back from that stance to argue it’s probably easier to start a big idea than a small one. Big thinkers are prone to attracting customers, money, press and employees.
Gabriel shares something with us that could be controversial in the search engine world. It’s simply a myth that you need to track users to monetize. All you really need are keywords in order to sell ads. Instead, engines like Google track users to help serve its various other properties it runs.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below about why you liked the podcast for a chance to win Gabriel’s new book, “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.”
“Hard Things About Hard Things” – Ben Horowitz, the Co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, offers essential advice on building and running a successful startup that business school doesn’t cover.
Sane Box – Get control over your inbox and filter out the stuff you don’t need to read.
Fancy Hands – Outsource your time sucks and annoying tasks with Gabriel’s recommended virtual assistant business.
Eric: Hi everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. Today we have Gabriel Weinberg from Duck Duck Go. Duck Duck Go is a search engine and I’m going to let Gabriel talk a little bit about that and also his book as well. Gabriel, how are you today?
Gabriel: Great. Hi everyone.
Eric: Good to have you on the show. Why don’t you start off with a little bit of your background and we’ll go from there.
Gabriel: Sure. I’ve been doing startups right out of college since 2000. I had a few unsuccessful attempts and then had a somewhat successful attempt in the mid-2000s and sold that and then started Duck Duck Go search engine, like you mentioned, about seven years ago. I’ve been through many stages of growth with this. I also started Angel Investing in 2009 and so I’ve seen a lot of stages of growth over those investments. Both of those experiences really led me to write this book that you mentioned, around how to get traction.
Eric: Okay. Got it. Why don’t we start off with Duck Duck Go first. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times. What makes Duck Duck Go different from Google?
Gabriel: Originally I was focusing on things that were frustrating to me about Google back in 2007 and in particular that was spam. I’ve seen a lot of spam, some really aggressive spam. I found myself going to sites with good instant answers like Yelp and Wikipedia, and found if you had those answers above the links you could just have a much better search experience. And that led me to the thesis of let’s focus on things that the big companies won’t do because of their business model.
We still do an open approach to instant answers and aggressively remove spam. In addition to that we have adopted a ‘no traction’ policy. We don’t track users at all. We call it ‘real privacy’ which is completely different than Google. The fourth thing is design. There’s different designs people are using in their web browsers and we think our design just has a lot less clutter. It’s just nicer to search with.
Eric: Got it. Okay. No tracking at all means you don’t know how many active users you guys have today?
Gabriel: You’re absolutely right. We have no idea. Our core metric we track is number of explicit searches by humans as the best we can tell, so we can get rid of all the bot traffic and things like that.
Eric: Got it. Off the top of your head what are the number of explicit searches in 2014 versus the same time period in 2013? Anything you can share like that?
Gabriel: Actually our traffic is completely public at www.DuckDuckGo/traffic and we’re, in general, a very transparent company. It’s just we don’t have a lot of tracking by definition. But we did over a billion searches last year and or probably more than that this year because we’re also getting included in Safari, and that’s turned into an IOSA and OSX which are coming out soon. To compare that from where we started with went through many orders of magnitude of growth. When we first started literally even after launch we were getting at most 10,000 searches a month and now we do about 170 million. That’s just like many orders of magnitude.
We’re still small in the search engine market, probably a .5% or something like that, but were growing obviously, but you can go through so many stages of growth in the search engine market, which made this whole traction concept so interesting to me. We had to reset how we think about growth by the time we get to the next level.
Eric: Interesting. You don’t track a lot of user data so how do you, and this is a question off the top of my head, how does someone go about, if you don’t have this data to find out what people are doing and want to do about it, how do you get over that, I’ll call it a handicap, how do you get over that handicap?
Gabriel: You can call it a handicap. I do think that there is too much data in the world to some degree and it can be distracting so finding core metrics to focus on that you can actually move, is useful so you’re not distracted. So, that level of focus actually does help for us. Let me answer this a little more directly, one of the things we note in the book as a starting point is; you need a goal, you need a traction goal of some kind and you need to co-create this for you company. For us, at the moment, it’s getting to 1% of the search market, which is about 300 million searches a month. A little less of the goal than where we are now.
Eric: Got it.
Gabriel: To work backwards from that we only what to concentrate on things, and this would be true for anyone, which is really going to move the needle to that number. Off the bat, given our volume, unfortunate for us, most things are ruled out. Even a bit press write up in the New York Times for is ideal for a new startup, which would have worked great for us two years ago, would not move the needle for our numbers now. We need to focus on channels that would move that and then if we do focus on that and we do get something that works, for instance, recently we had been focused on mainstream TV as a growth channel. We can literally see it. Even though we don’t track so much data it’s a very significant common pattern per week. Any deviation is very clear and given no other campaigns are going on that are used, you could easily tell what the impact was.
Eric: Okay. Got it. Something that’s really interesting to me, on this show I always ask how’d you get your first 100 customers and I think in this case the question might be, how did you get your first 10,000 searches in a month. The reason I say this is interesting because typically when you talk about marketing channels you think about; there’s SEO and you have SEM and it’s all built into the search engine, but then you have a search engine and so it’s like how do you grow that?
Gabriel: Yes, it’s a good question and to put out a point about all these different stages it’s generally the case that when you unlock a marketing channel and you grow, it eventually saturates like any channel, and then what generally worked for you in the past you have to reset and find something new to unlock the next stage of growth, like a step up function. That’s exactly what happened to us at Duck Duck Go. We’ve literally been through five of these step functions and each one of those ended up being a different track to trail to unlock. At the very first thing was SEO actually, using SEO on Google to get users to Duck Duck Go.
That kind of unlocks another tip that I can come back to. But we ended up getting the first 10,000 and they equipped it for the others, then we moved to social display ads on Reddit. I was one of the first Reddit advertisers. And that unlocked another stage. Then we moved to content marketing, we put out micro sites, and I personally do a lot of blogging, I pressed to the next level that included some hacker newsie type stuff from those communities for the blog posts that were being submitted, and a little more Reddit. Then we did print advertising. Then we did this TV advertising I mentioned, and at the last stage, which is right now, is we’re [cramming our throats 00:08:11] on the development like this Apple deal that I mentioned earlier. So each one of those move the needle for that stage of business, but wouldn’t have worked for the previous stage. That’s what makes it so interesting.
Eric: Okay. There’s different levers at each stage. Got it. Let’s switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about “Traction”. What is “Traction” exactly?
Gabriel: I define it as sustainable customer growth. It really impacts everything about your business. That’s my starting point with traction, it call it “traction trumps everything”. It makes raising money easier. It makes selling your business easier. Basically if you don’t have traction your company’s going to die. My main thesis or my main learning from all this has been that people do not focus on traction early enough.
The most common story I see in Angel Investing is; you follow good product development, methodology, lead startups, whatever you want; come out with your product, some people like it, but you don’t have a hockey stick growth in the first few month, can’t raise money, and then die. What’s saddest about that is it was a good product. You actually made a good product that customers wanted, but you couldn’t get enough traction. The main takeaway we have is you’ve got to start earlier, you’ve got to do a parallel product development, and you need a structured approach to finding the traction. Just like you have a structured approach to doing your product.
Eric: Got it. Okay. Can you kind of elaborate on this structured approach a little bit and perhaps give an example?
Gabriel: There are multiple ways to do this. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of good frameworks so we came out with our own called “bull’s-eye” which we present in the book. Two of the thesis that it’s based on are — you remember earlier how I was saying we grew through SEO in the beginning? That was not a good choice to grow on. It maxed out fairly quickly. The only reason I was using that is because I had previous experience with it.
Essentially I was biased to use SEO initially. And that’s generally what I see people doing to pursue traction. Their own structured approach is, “I’m just going to try some channels I’ve heard about. Maybe I’ll put some blog posts, submit some hacker news, and maybe put some search engine ads.” That generally does not end well.
A structured approach, which is what we have identified is; there are nineteen different channels that we saw people succeeded over and over again. It’s hard to predict which one was going to be successful and in many cases because of your bias or not knowing anything about them you, if you were taking an unstructured approach you don’t even think about half of these channels, like off-line ads or speaking engagements, or affiliate marketing. You may have been negatively predisposed to some of them, like sales.
So, what we advocate is you literally have a brain-storming staff where you systematically go through each of these channels and figure out a way that it could be used for your business. And then we have a series of steps, a five step process; you rank them, you prioritize them, and then you test and parallel three of the best ideas in the inner circle of the bull’s-eye; bulls-eye being you have a target and you try to hit the center. That one channel that will help unlock your growth. And then hopefully one of the three tests actually proves successful, you focus on that and you drop everything else because focusing means essentially becoming a world class expert at that channel, learning all the cutting edge techniques, doing constant testing, all the things you’re used to talking about with growth hacking.
But in the one town that is working for you. And when that starts to saturate, what it did for us, what it’s naturally going to do, and then you restart the process, you go back to the brainstorming step. This time you know your business looks different. Things that might have moved the needle before, may not now. Getting press might be easier because you’re more known. All these other variables have changed and you kind of start it again.
Eric: Got it. Okay. Real life example, I’m trying to think of clients that we work with. So, let’s say we’re running an Adwords campaign for them. Our goal is to get some initial traction with it, right? And once we see traction with something that has a lot of potential we’ll go all in there. Once that saturates you move into other channels, perhaps Adwords starts to suck and then maybe we move into You-tube ads or Facebook ads or something like that. Or maybe not even ads anymore, right?
Gabriel: That’s exactly right. I think you hit what you’re doing, hit on it pretty appropriately. You did some initial tests, you found ads were kind of working [or] promising to get the traction they wanted. This gets them back to the traction goal, what is their goal? If they can get that goal via ads and you can prove that with small experiments. A small experiment might be you spent $250 to run four ads, you try to figure out what the customer acquisition cost is, you do that, you get them to their 10,000 users, or whatever you want, it starts to saturate, starts to suck like you said, then you take a step back and you say, “Why is this sucking and what are the best ideas now in front of us that might work.”
And it might be Facebook ads, something else might have cropped up in the business that make that, “Oh, maybe we should advertise on podcast.” or something, get feedback from the market. You do a bunch of tests and you, again, hope that one is promising, it probably isn’t ads anymore, search engine ads, and you go all in to that other one. And that’s the process.
Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. Have you guys moved on from the T.V. stuff right now or is that kind of stuff you’re still going all in on right now?
Gabriel: No. We just moved on from it. We really stopped and kind of moved the needle.
Eric: Got it. Okay. With “Traction”, when does the, for the audience, when does the book come out?
Gabriel: The book is going to come out on the twenty-sixth. You can pre-order it on Amazon.
Eric: Okay. Twenty-sixth of August and this is 2014.
Eric: For the future.
Gabriel: That’s right.
Eric: Okay. Cool.
Gabriel: Two weeks from when we’re taping this right now.
Eric: Cool. Perfect. Is there anything else that you think, any other key takeaways from “Traction” that you’d like bring up?
Gabriel: I really want to harp on this spending enough time on it early. I think the key thing you can do is, and maybe if you’re listening to this podcast are predisposed to this and so they won’t make this mistake, but we argue to spend half your time on it, right from the get go, when you’re building a product, and that is very hard to do because you want to build a product [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:57] product and it feels like you should wait to launch the product before getting traction, but that is false. That’s what I wanted to sell.
The good lean methodologies only get you to a decent product that is good for some customers, but it doesn’t give you the other information like which niche you should go after first, which marketing channel is going to be the one to get you traction, what the messaging really should be when you’re in that market channel, like what that copy will eventually be, what’s going to resonate the most. If you do that early two things happen.
One, when you launch you can immediately start to take off because you already know how to approach the market and you can get that hockey stick growth and raise money, if that’s what you need, and what most companies need. The other thing which is more non-intuitive is usually, and you’ve probably seen this Eric so many times, usually when you launch, when you try to get traction, even though they were getting feedback from their customers, they get feed up from the market now and they’ve got to do another product development cycle or two because their early feedback wasn’t comprehensive enough or those clients really did like what they were doing, but that wasn’t where the big market was.
If they do the traction experiments early and they start right in on those ads early, you don’t have to spend tons of money on it, but it’s going through, it usually changes, gets more feedback into the product, it changes the product development that would have happened after. You actually speed up the product cycle even though you’re spending less time on product. That’s the main lesson I want people to be able to do is, do it early and spend half your time on it.
Eric: I totally agree with that. The cool thing about that word traction is a lot of people would think you’ve got to spend time on marketing first, but in reality the bigger picture is you’ve got to spend time on traction whether it’s something you’ve got to fix on the sales side, the operations side, the finance side, whatever helps move the needle forward. I don’t think it’s just marketing, right?
Gabriel: I completely agree with that and I hardly use the word marketing and I love the moving the needle framework and phrase because that’s really what it is. You set your goal and you’ve got to do anything that moves that needle. The brainstorming thing is key because they could be, like you said, it could be all over the business and that’s why you brainstorm because it’s hard, if you just take a random thing without brainstorming you won’t get the optimal result.
Eric: Totally. I totally agree with that. This brings me to my next point. I read a post from you in the past and reviewed it yesterday again. You wrote something about thinking big. Can you talk a little about that blog post and explain to the audience?
Gabriel: This is something that took me probably a decade to learn and so it’s hard to impart if you’re not ready to take it. I ran a business and was successful and sold it with a small [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:04], but I was not thinking big in the sense that I wasn’t thinking in the way that people idealize Silicon Valley, and sometimes I make fun of it in terms of changing the world, thinking I could really make an impact that’s a big impact and change the world.
What the main takeaway is starting a business that is more of a niche business or more of a take over the world business is just as difficult. And in fact it’s arguably easier to start the bigger business because when you have the bigger idea like, “I’m going revolutionize X” or “Make a new search engine that can compete with Google” it’s attractive to all sorts of people because they are attracted to your thinking ‘bigness’. So, it’s easier to raise money, it’s easier to recruit employees, it’s easier to get press, everyone’s kind of interested in your story.
So, my general advice to new entrepreneurs is not to try to find a niche within a niche where you can get easy customers and work and get something going slowly. It’s to blow it out. Take whatever it is that you’re interested in and just think as big as possible about the way the world should be and work towards that really big goal and other things will just fall into place.
Eric: It’s a really great post and I think I might have read it a few years ago when I first started doing internet marketing. We’ll drop a link to it in the post, but I think it’s something everyone needs to read, so thank you for that. Going back to Duck Duck Go was there any point in time where the company was on the brink of failure?
Gabriel: That’s kind of an interesting story. I had sold this business and was thinking of what to do next and I actually took this approach of starting a bunch of different things and seeing what would fall out of it or what I was most interested in.
Duck Duck Go ended up being a merger of three random side projects and then I was like, “Oh, these could be about search engines and I’ll launch it on Hacker News.” It was really more of a soft launch. It wasn’t really a company. That was probably the moment where it could have easily died because I had other products going on and if I’d gotten no interest from the community there I would have been, “Yeah, there’s probably nothing here.” and then stopped.
But I got interest and this goes back to the thinking big thing, everyone uses a search engine, people were really kind of interested in just something different and I felt that energy and that really filled me to continue growing. After that I was just so passionate about the idea and I ran it myself for three and half years and didn’t really have to raise money on it. There was really no chance of it dying unless I lost that energy from users. If I wasn’t seeing any feedback coming in that’s probably the only reason why it would have died, but I never felt that.
Eric: Got it. Okay. You’re building something new, there’s a new twist on a search engine. Do you see Bing coming after you? Do you see Google coming after you? Any experiences like that?
Gabriel: Yes. Absolutely. Right from the early days Google seemed to be tracking us very closely even though we were tiny and they have a history of doing this in general and still do, and responding even to the littlest things that search engines do. I think honestly they have, one of the ways they can be is they have thousands of things in the pipe-line that they could launch anytime when they see a startup doing something they like “We have something like that. We’ll just launch it” Which led me to the thesis of doing things that, for more structural reasons, Google can’t do easily. I think that can be applied to compete in lots of other markets. Because you compete with an incumbent they have their incumbent businesses, kind of the standard disruption model, they don’t want to cannibalize themselves, Prodigy is a great example of that, the rulers have had company and so it’s very hard for them not to track their users. It’s very hard to compete with that.
Eric: Got it. Cool. Google’s ad company, you talked about them tracking users, you aren’t tracking users. Can you reveal to the audience what are the future plans to monetize?
Gabriel: What’s crazy about web search is you don’t need to track users to make money in web search. It’s kind of a myth because as you know from search engine marketing almost all the money is made on keyword match. That has nothing to do with tracking the users. You type in car, you get a car ad. I need to know nothing about or use that ad. There’s a lucrative business model built right in so we syndicate the Microsoft Yahoo ads. All that tracking is generally for all these other properties that Google and the other companies run. Google runs four of the biggest ad networks in the world and only one of them is AdWords. It also has AdSense, DoubleClick, and Admob and they use that search engine information to track you across the rest of the web. But on the search engine itself it’s basically keyword based.
Eric: Got it. Okay cool. Perfectly simple. Let’s change gears a little bit. Let’s talk about Angel Investing. Between running a company and then doing Angel Investing how do you balance your time?
Gabriel: That’s a good question. When I was running the search engine myself it felt like I had a lot more time. It was less of building up the company and I was just building up the product. What I’ve learned is it’s very different building a product, a business, and a company, are all three different things and they take different amounts of time. In the beginning I was just doing product and I had more time. Now I’m building all three I have a lot less time. I’ve scaled back my Angel Investing time and I’ve mainly done more passive investments with people that I’ve already known. And it ends up being because I met so many people on the way it ends up being about the same rate of investing, but I just spend a lot less time going out there trying to source fields.
Eric: You know what’s interesting, I have a lot of friends that are “Oh, I want to go invest on Angel list” and all that, but it’s not as simple as it looks. Based on what you’ve seen what are some realistic returns from Angel Investing and how long does it take?
Gabriel: The answer if you get into it you really should be thinking about throwing that money away. That should be your expectation or else you might be disappointed. With a decent Angel Investing piece it is reasonable to break even on it. It’s hard to estimate returns beyond that. To even get there though you really need to do a couple things which are key.
One is you’ve got to invest in a bunch of deals and that’s a rooky mistake, putting all your money on one deal, because it’s really hard to tell early on; everything looks good really early, but most things die for one reason or another. Two, you’ve got to spread that over several years because it just turns out that certain years kill startups in certain years like macroeconomic downturns and things like that. Invest over many years in a bunch of companies, say 12 plus, and you have decent deal flow, you’re either going to do that by co-investing with people or using Angel, it makes it a lot easier. I think it’s reasonable to expect yourself to break even.
Time frame is average time to exit for Angel Investments is seven years. It is a long time. So, in general I say don’t go into this for the money especially if you’re not full-time. It’s more for learning about doing startups yourself, maybe investing for the future, if you’re going to transition and become a full-time Angel Investor and what can come from that. It’s putting in that time, learning time.
Eric: On the average how much are you typically putting into these deals?
Gabriel: For me it’s between 25, 50K which is kind of typical. On Angel List now you can get lower. I would argue that 25K is probably the minimum per decent sized deals to allow you to get in. It’s hard to go lower than that.
Eric: Got it. Okay. That’s a good bit on Angel Investing. Maybe we can talk about that next time we have you here. Changing gears again what’s one piece of advice you’d give to your twenty-five year old self.
Gabriel: The thinking big thing that we talked about earlier, you hit on that, that is the main thing, but as I was saying it’s hard to impart on people. My path’s a little different, but the thought right on my head is other successful business, but what I usually advise people around me is; given that we’ve been talking about the life-cycle of these Angel Investments, like seven years, the flip side of that is if you’re a founder that’s how long it’s going to take. You shouldn’t start something unless you’re really willing to go after it. That’s one thing.
I met a lot of founders who somewhat opportunistically wanted to go with an idea, three years in are like, “Why did I choose this idea? Now I’m kind of in it. I can’t really get out of it. It wasn’t really the idea I would have chosen because I’m not super passionate about it.” So, I usually advise if you have an area that you’re really passionate about by all means start that company because you’re super passionate about it. It’s a great idea.
If you don’t, which a lot of people don’t, I would advise jump in a company, not just any startup, one that is on the path to success, but isn’t too far along. I just raise that serious investment as an example. Validate it, if they have much traction, if they have some product market, you can make a significant impact that’s probably like ten employees or less, and you can ride that for a few years, learn all sorts of stuff about how to run a successful business and then go start. In a few years you’ll find your passion about what you want to start and then you can go start that company.
Eric: I couldn’t agree with that more. That’s the exact same startup experience I had. I think maybe we should even put together a check list on when you should join a startup, when you’re going to step off, in a time line. That’s great. What’s one productivity hack you can share with the audience?
Gabriel: I’m a big productivity guy. Just one. I’m a big inbox zero person. To do that effectively I use two programs which you might be familiar with, SaneBox in my email which filters lesser important mail out. It’s kind of like an important thing in gmail.
Eric: Yes, they’re a client.
Gabriel: Okay. Cool. I love SaneBox and I also use AwayFind which is kind of two services. Basically it earmarks who is most important to you and then it’ll send you text messages or push notifications, whatever you want, when you get emails from those people. What this enables you to do is two things, I’ll give you two cases. One is you go on vacation and you want it completely shut-off, this will send you text if anything really important comes up.
But two, on a day to day basis once you’re confident you’re going to get text or push notifications for important emails and they can be queued based for like urgent, then you can shut down your email for hours at a time because you’ll get notified if something’s important and then you don’t have to be checking your email all the time.
The combination of those enables me to shut down my email for a while, occasionally I go in to just check what’s in there that’s not insane later, its’ still in the direct in box, but it’s a very quick process. At the end of the day or in the morning I can go through all those same later stuff.
Eric: Got it. Okay. You know what? I feel like you have a lot of these tricks under your sleeve so why don’t you share one more.
Gabriel: Okay, so that’s email. You want to do more email?
Eric: Up to you.
Gabriel: Oh, this is not an email one. I use a Virtual Assistant, I use Fancy Hands in particular and it is—I think a lot of people reject Virtual Assistants because they don’t know how to use them or they sign up and they feel it’s expensive, they can’t think of the task and my advice is to buy a big plan that’s like twenty five tasks, or unlimited, or whatever it is for that month and buy a three month thing so you’re committed to it.
And then try to change your life to do it, because once you actually make the life change it is so [INDISCERNIBLE 00:32:16]. As an example of things you can do; I have a post on my blog about the last twenty things I submitted to Fancy Hands so people get a sense of what kind of things to submit, but pretty much anytime I have to talk on the phone, like anything, not just reservations, but getting a refund or something or something went wrong with my service and I need it fixed I set up for Fancy Hands to do.
Anytime I’ve basic web research for my search engine. Like I need to research a product, I need something to be reviewed on Amazon, or I need a gift for somebody, I will send them all to Fancy Hands first. Even if they, I think people get hung up on two things too, one is, what if they do it wrong? So what? You can still email them back and keep the task going and say fix this, fix that, it’s still a lot faster than if you do it yourself. And the other thing that people don’t realize is I submit a lot of these tasks mobile so a lot of times you remember this stuff and you’re out and Fancy Hands will just do the work for you and do the initial leg work while you’re out. And their app is pretty cool. You actually speak to it so I can be just like “Hey, do this. I just thought of this, can you do this research for me?” I’ll get back later and they’ll just be done.
Eric: Okay. Well that’s really interesting. You can tell them to make reservations for you. What are a few other things you can ask Fancy Hands to do?
Gabriel: I go all over the map with it. A common thing with me, I have kids. I want to find out what events are going on. I’ll be just like, “Find me kid events this Saturday.” or—let me just see this—It’s always fun to just actually see what your last tasks were. Let’s see—Okay. Cool. Some really good ones. This is good for business and growth people. I have a corporate filing like you get an IRS statement and it’s just wrong and they stayed on the phone with them for hours to figure what the deal was. “Help me find an interview I found on line that I couldn’t find very easily.” Something is broken in our house and I didn’t know how to get a part.
I just basically took a picture and just said, “Can you figure this out for me. Find out how to order this part”. Let’s see, something else, “Schedule and electrician to come out”, “Find a place to donate some furniture to.” Really all over the map. One thing I’ve noticed even if you have to talk on the phone the virtual assistant will patch you through so you can schedule it on your time frame. So if you maintain your calendar and you have half a window at 10:30 you can have the virtual assistant and say, “I want to get these errands done and then just get the calls already and just patch me in at 10:30”.
Eric: Got it. Okay.
Gabriel: Am I giving this a good sell?
Eric: This is a crazy sell. I’m probably going to go sign up right after it because I need this. I have a virtual assistant but she can’t knock out things like this. Thanks for that. Final question. Besides “Traction” which everyone in the audience must buy, what’s one must read book for entrepreneurs?
Gabriel: I just finished reading Ben Horowitz’ book “Hard Things about Hard Things” and I can’t recommend it enough. I think it tells the most realistic story about what’s going on in the last thing.
Eric: It’s funny because I’m about to make all my team members read it. It’s the seventh time this book has been recommended. I can’t recommend it enough either. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in the last year.
Gabriel: Yes, I agree with that.
Eric: Cool. Gabriel, thanks so much for being on the show. Everyone go to https://duckduckgo.com if you want to try Gabriel’s search engine. I’ve tried it before. It’s great. Also pre-order his book “Traction”. Everyone needs to buy it. It’s a must buy. But other than that, Gabriel, how else can we contact you?
Gabriel: I am best contacted on Twitter, it’s @yegg; Y-E-G-G.
Eric: Alright. @yegg and then also your blog, is it Gabriel Weinberg.
Gabriel: Yes. Gabriel Weinberg
Eric: [dot] com, right?
Eric: Okay. Perfect. Thanks so much for being on the show. Bye man.
Gabriel: Thank you.
Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.