Julian Shapiro of Bell Curve: How to Grow Your Business – The Indie Hackers Podcast

Check out The Indie Hackers Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Always try to add value to other people without asking for anything in return – you never know where it might lead you
  • Constantly be running A/B tests for your company/product/service
  • If you put in a ton of work into building something great, put in the effort to share it with as many people as possible
    • “If you build something incredible, it would be selfish to not put in the hours to share it with others so their lives get better”
  • Constantly seek feedback from customers and users about EVERYTHING
  • When you can, try to get press coverage for your product/company
    • To increase your chances of getting covered: when cold emailing journalists, include a prewritten article – this reduces the amount of work the journalist has to do themselves

Tools and Resources Mentioned


Aim to Add Value to Others Without Asking for Anything in Return

  • Julian tries to always provide value to others without asking for anything in return
    • “When they click on my name, whatever my personal website is, whatever my Twitter history is, my history of tweets reinforces the value I’m offering, and I do so without asking for reciprocation”
    • “Provide value, don’t ask for reciprocation, but if you provide value, be able to reinforce it”
      • A while back, Julian offered Courtland advice on how to grow IndieHackers and through helping him out, the two eventually become friends

Julian’s Company – Bell Curve

  • Bell Curve is a growth agency that acts as their client’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)
    • The company helps manage ads, run A/B tests, design landing pages, and all other marketing/advertising tasks
      • “They basically throw tasks on our shoulders as if we are their in-house CMO”
  • Why is growth important for a small company/startup?
    • “Growth is the source of volume that gives you sufficient sample size to test everything”
      • The more you can test, the better your product/service
    • Once you have growth, instead of winging your design or copy, you can run A/B tests to constantly improve user experience and satisfaction

How did Julian end up starting Bell Curve?

  • In the beginning, Julian was just trying to find ways to promote an animation engine that he had built. He found a few hacks and then started doing freelancing growth work for his friends’ companies. His friends were happy with the results and ended up referring more people over Julian’s way.
    • “You do a really good job and then they refer you to someone else and it just steamrolls from there”

How to Get Press Coverage

  • News sites that cover startups, like TechCrunch, get inundated with cold emails from startups all the time
    • Even if your company gets covered, there are a lot of factors to getting good press: article title, page placement, time and day dropped, etc.
  • If you want a press feature – Instead of sending cold emails, write a prewritten article with the same style guide as the publication with content that is similar to other articles
    • Also, aim for smaller sites that aren’t being spammed with emails – it’s better to get published by a smaller site and get some PR than to not get published at all
  • If you put in a ton of work into building something great, put in the effort to share it with as many people as possible
    • “If you build something incredible, it would be selfish to not put in the hours to share it with others so their lives get better”
      • “Just educate yourself and break down those barriers of, ‘Oh it’s marketing, it’s spammy, it’s SEO, it’s salesy.’ It really doesn’t have to be any of those things. You can just write great organic content for blogs that you love to read.”

The Growth Funnel

  • The first step is acquisition – acquiring a customer
    • Aka conversion – having someone go from visiting your site to becoming a user
  • Then engagement – having them use the product or service often and constantly return to the site
  • Then optimizing revenue extraction – finding ways users can pay more over time as they can get more value out of the product.
  • The last step is referrals – having customers refer other people to become new users
  • There should also be an onboarding process for first-time users to make it exciting for them to go through the signup form and join your community of users
    • Ashley Madison for example, had a slightly blurred image of a beautiful woman behind the signup form so that potential users could visualize the end goal – hooking up with a beautiful woman
      • “They’re enticing you with the end goal of filling out the form so that you don’t bounce halfway through”

Advice for Startups

  • “A landing page should not be complicated”
    • Post the logos of your biggest customers on the landing page as social proof
    • Have a couple of calls to actions (CTAs) throughout the page (call to action – ex: “Connect with a sales rep today!!”)
      • Make the copy (aka the writing) as descriptive as possible
  • Constantly seek feedback from customers and users about EVERYTHING (the product, copy, user experience, etc)
    • “Survey your users or survey prospective customers because you probably don’t understand what they find most interesting”
  • A/B test EVERYTHING on your site: the copy, images, ads, etc.
    • Julian doesn’t always understand the reason behind why one change works better than another, but if that change is giving you 20% better results, use it!
  • The testing never stops
    • “You can never write any copy on your landing page, and let it stay that way forever. You have to run tests”
      • With Facebook ads, you can continually run A/B tests with a potential audience of millions of people
      • Julian often tests copy for his website with Facebook ads just to see which one performs better it’s a fast and inexpensive way to get results
    • For analytics software – Julian recommends Mixpanel, Heap Analytics and Amplitude
      • Also Google Analytics – ”You always, as like a base layer, want Google Analytics installed for a few reasons – it’s reliable, it works, and it’s free”
      • Install Conversion Pixels – this feature allows for ad retargeting and helps track conversions from specific ads
        • “Retargeting always performs better. The CPA (cost per customer acquisition) is way lower. Maybe a 10th of the cost.”
  • Find out your customer’s LTV (lifetime value) and CAC (customer acquisition cost)
    • “The rule of thumb is you want to pay a third or less of your LTV per customer acquisition. The essence here is – unless you do have that portion of your product built out well, and you know how much a user is worth, you can’t really go to marketing having the confidence you’re not overpaying for users yet.”

Bell Curve Client Cases

  • Service
    • Service handles customer complaints
    • The first thing Julian did was look for cases that had the highest lifetime user value which turned out to be airline complaints
      • Airlines give customers money back when there’s a long delay or flight cancellation
    • Julian got the company to focus only on airline cases and built a landing page just for that
      • However, people weren’t sure the site was legitimate, so Julian explained the steps of how people could get money from Service on the landing page
      • Julian also added social proof such as Jared Leto’s tweets about the company (Jared is an investor in Service) and a segment from the Today Show which covered them
        • The result? – A 55% conversion rate going to the App Store.
  • Cinder Grill – The world’s first countertop grill that cooks food perfectly with no guesswork.
    • Julian suggested the company do a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the new product. He then created a list of possible news sites and journalists that would be interested in covering the product.
      • Julian recommends using Clearbit to find journalists’ emails and Streak to create “template emails very easily”
      • To create a catchy email:
        • Have a link to the landing page so they can easily learn more
        • Include a quick bullet point list of why your product is cool and interesting,
        • Have a call to action (offer a test product to the journalist)
      • But be aware that getting a story out there doesn’t equate to getting a ton of traffic to your site
        • However, since PR outreach is free, it is worth trying and you could also use the press stories as social proof
    • When running a crowdfunding campaign, Julian recommends using “custom audiences” (when you define a list of emails, specifically people who’ve visited your site, and retarget them)
      • Example – “Uploading a list of emails in Facebook, and supplying that as a custom audience…Facebook will try to match those email addresses to users on Facebook, and then you will be able to target those users specifically.”
      • There are specific crowdfunding agencies that keep a list of thousands of prior crowdfunding contributors who you can easily retarget new crowdfunding ads to
        • “And the reason that’s so valuable – I know all of those people (a) know what crowdfunding is, (b) likely know what either Kickstarter or Indiegogo are because they contributed to one of those platforms prior, and (c) have a credit card on file with one of those platforms.”
    • Cider Grill ended up raising over $500K on Indiegogo

More Advice from Julian

  • When building a social media account, be a curator or producer
    • “Either be a curator – someone who finds and retweets/ regrams/reshares great content OR produce original niche content yourself.”
  • Building a great social media account takes a ton of work and just because you put in the effort doesn’t mean it will have hundreds of thousands of followers
    • “Unless you give them [people] a really, really good reason to look at your stuff, they’re not going to”
      • Offer value and give people a reason to come to your page

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

Indie Hackers Podcast : , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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