The first thing you’ll probably read about Noah Kagan is that he missed out on $100 million when he got fired from Facebook. (That sure makes for a snazzy headline.)
But what you may not know is that he’s an inbound marketer, too. Noah recently did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on inbound.org -- the community for marketers to connect and share -- where he engaged with fellow marketers on everything from reaching 750,000+ email subscribers and founding AppSumo, to hiring marketers on a budget and why inbound marketing is a lot like Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Any successful inbound marketer knows that to stay relevant in today’s overcrowded, ever-changing marketing landscape, you have to be a great storyteller. Not only can Noah captivate an audience with his candor and quirks (his love of tacos was a surprisingly popular AMA topic), but he also has a unique story to tell. Noah got fired from Facebook in 2006, went on to join Mint (the cloud-based personal financing platform) as Director of Marketing before quitting a year later, moved to Argentina for awhile, and co-founded both Gambit and AppSumo, where he is now Chief Sumo (which I can only assume is the highest-level of sumo you can achieve) that shares daily deals for online products and services.
Needless to say, Noah picked up a skill or two on this entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride, like a little trick for determining whether a marketing tactic is savvy or shameful: “If it was published on the WSJ's frontpage or if your mom knew, would you feel guilty? If you would, don't do it.” During his recent AMA session, followers and fans picked his brain on developing an authentic copywriting voice, his tell-all blog OkDork.com, getting people to pay for your offering, outsourcing work, achieving daily goals, and attracting thousands of email subscribers. Here are some highlights every inbound marketer could learn from:
On Creating Content People Come Back For
The most valuable kind of content marketers can create answers the questions their audience is asking. As you can imagine, getting fired from Facebook early on sparked an endless slew of “Why?” for Noah from his network. So, like a savvy inbound marketer, Noah published a blog post titled “Why I got Fired from Facebook (a $100 million dollar lesson)”. Yup, still a snazzy headline.
If you haven’t checked out Noah’s personal blog, OkDork.com, yet, I demand that you go do so. (And by demand I mean lovingly recommend, of course.) It’s honest, funny, and most of all, helpful. During his AMA, someone asked how he gets creative ideas for his blog. Staying true to his motto of doubling down on what’s working, Noah responded that he spends more time on “meatier/longer/evergreen and highly actionable posts” because they get the most traffic.
If you’re stuck for post ideas, which happens more often than not for an inbound marketer, Noah suggests looking at “which posts on GrowthHackers/Inbound.org or whatever respective aggregator of your site get the most views/comments and write more on those topics.” Spend time writing more to see what sticks and once you know what people want, focus your efforts there.
On Planning Less and Doing More
As marketers, we spend a lot of time researching, planning, and thinking about what’s going to hit it big, and less time actually "doing." Noah had some valuable insight on this.
“After getting fired by Facebook I realized the best way to get attention is to create things ... There's never one most important thing or book or blog post that will solve business problems. I truly believe the best way to learn is experience. Go fail. Do. Try again, iterate, and improve. I never did marketing before Mint.com but I loved the product and spent a lot of time figuring out who else would too!”
The thing is, we can still learn what works and what doesn’t while diving into the deep end and putting our plans in motion. Noah adds that for marketers, the best learning tool is experience. “No book will have a magic answer, and you'll learn so much more through experimenting, failing, and succeeding.”
On Checking Things Off Your To-Do List
Between creating content, scheduling meetings, going to those meetings, following up on email, and the million other things marketers do on a daily basis, it can be hard to actually get things done. When we’re juggling so many long-term and short-term projects, our to-do lists generally get added to before we check anything off. Noah shared his quick morning ritual that helps him keep his eye on the prize each and every day:
“When I start my work day I generally pull out my moleskine and list three things I want to do that day. I try not to look at anything as it helps me really think which three things are really the most important that day. This is my most productive period of the day.”
If we give ourselves realistic goals, we can accomplish more each day and turn the page on projects once and for all.
On Being the Best Email Marketer Around
According to Noah, “Ultimately, NO ONE wants more email.” So then how did AppSumo get 750,000+ professionals to subscribe to their email list? Simply put: because people actually like getting their emails.
Noah has a reverse psychology approach to AppSumo’s email list where he actually wants people to unsubscribe. Well, some people. “We actually spent two weeks optimizing our unsubscribe page until my good friend Andrew Chen said, don't optimize for losing. Optimize for growing. When Gmail makes changes I'm always happy. We only want subscribers who look forward to getting our emails, so making it easier to unsubscribe or filter us to other tabs, the real people will find it.” By weeding out unengaged contacts, you can better reach and serve the ones who are more likely to be a customer or evangelist for life.
But how do you make people want to respond? “The #1 way for you to ensure open rates stay high is to only send kick ass emails. I know that's cliche and you know it but I want to repeat that,” Noah said.
Turns out, AppSumo has a solid formula for creating kick ass emails that influence content, calls-to-action, and tone. During the AMA, our own co-founder Dharmesh Shah asked Noah about the talent behind AppSumo’s email copywriting which he said was reminiscent of Groupon. In a nutshell, copywriters are always thinking “How can we delight people’s inboxes?” According to Noah, “The point is to be authentic to your own voice or the voice of the company. And ultimately explain why or why not this is a great product for the people you are writing to.” Like a blog, ebook, or tweet, your company’s email content should reflect your voice and your audience’s needs.
On Validating a Business Idea
Noah worked for two companies that went on to become multi-million dollar businesses ... after he left. When you’re known for missing out on that much money, investing your time, energy, and resources into an idea that won’t actually drive any revenue is something you watch out for. When people start paying for your offering or service, however, you’ve proved that there’s a need and your idea is validated to customers, investors, and stakeholders.
“Validating because "someone else has" or people said they'd pay never counts," he says. "Can't tell you how many promises have never paid up so I make it very clear to get three paying customers within 48 hours to validate your business idea.”
Having support, encouragement, and followers is a crucial aspect of growing business, but be sure to optimize your time and resources to get things off the ground.
On Inbound Marketing for B2B
It’s not news that B2B marketers are a bit more reluctant to adopt marketing methods like social media and blogging than some B2C businesses. But we know that inbound marketing can work magic for B2B companies, so we were glad to see an inbound.org user asking whether inbound is a waste of time for B2B companies. Noah's response was great: “There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's peanut butter cup.”
Reese’s and B2B marketing are both very important parts of my life, so this was a great response in my book. Noah added, “Inbound takes patience and a commitment. I do 100% fully believe that educating potential customers is one of the best ways to get them to become a customer.” Candy aside, he’s right. Big purchase decisions typically happen in the B2B space, so buyers want to know every detail before making a call. Inbound marketing is a multi-faceted approach to provide that information and educate your prospects.
On Outsourcing Work
Let’s be honest -- no matter how great a marketer you are, spreading yourself too thin is never a good solution. We get burnt out and our work ends up suffering. Delegating, collaborating, partnering, or hiring a third party can all be effective ways to outsource some of the work on your team’s plate. But when is a good time to outsource, and when should we just buckle down and do it ourselves? Noah shed some light:
“For business I HIGHLY encourage everyone to do all the work in the beginning themselves. For AppSumo I did the coding, support, business development, and marketing. Then over time, I cherry picked the work that was most fun and hired people who could do the work better than I can. It's hard to say the exact formula for what to outsource. It comes down to what do you value vs. the cost it takes you.”
Say you usually post three blogs a week, but suddenly you’re overbooked with meetings, events, and travel you simply can’t get out of. If your blog is your main lead gen source, it’s probably worth the cost to stay on track and hire a freelancer to step in for a post or two. But ultimately, Noah suggests trying it out first: “Hiring/outsourcing/insourcing is a mindshift that takes time to get comfortable with and see the results. Then you can decide what kind of balance works for you.”
On Hiring a Kick-Ass Marketer With a Small Budget
You know recruiting marketers is tough when Dharmesh Shah asks Noah to share his insights on finding awesome candidates. Noah pointed out that great people are hard to find because “the best people to hire are generally already employed so you have to be proactive on meeting them before they are ready to leave.”
If they’re already employed and aren’t sending you an application, then how do you know who’s a game-changer? “Go to the sites like inbound, conversionXL, or growthhackers and see who's doing/commenting/writing things that aren't full of shit. Look at marketing that is working on you and find those people via LinkedIn: who's writing the great content at Kissmetrics, which creative campaign happened from HowAboutWe, or have solid thoughts about marketing like my buddy Brian Balfour.” (Fun fact: Noah is actually starting to work with someone he recently met on inbound.org.)
But wait, what if your marketing budget is small and you can’t afford to lure someone over to your company? First, consider hiring people that are young and hungry -- they’ll be less experienced so you’ll need to invest your own time to teach and guide them, but generally won’t demand unreasonable pay. You can also offer equity in your company. “I started AppSumo by myself and then got Chad (my biz/tech partner) to join without pay since I could show the business was already making a profit and growing," Noah shared. "I told him to tell me what amount equity would make him super happy. He said his amount, I agreed. We've been together in love for 3+ years :).”
Money matters, but it isn’t everything. Get creative and think about how else you can offer someone their dream job.
The perfect way to wrap up Noah’s inbound marketing expertise is by watching it in action. After tuning in to the AMA, I realized I hadn’t been following Noah on Twitter and should be in order to stay in the loop on his blog, endeavors, and taco advice. Though he has about 23,000 followers, he tweeted at me shortly after I clicked ‘Follow’ to say hello and make a joke about a previous tweet I shared. It was a simple and small gesture, but it was personalized, timely, and relevant. And I think any inbound marketer can appreciate that.
Originally published Mar 24, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017