Monday, November 11, 2013

Growth Hacking with Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistant Slides 
I first heard of virtual assistants when I read The Four Hour Work Week by +Tim Ferriss. I even tried hiring a VA back in 2007 and found that it took more time to manage the VA than to do to kinds of tasks that I was asking him to do. We were getting ready to leave the country and I wanted to find storage for my Tesla Roadster which I was sure would arrive before we left to live in Saigon.  (It didn't.) In retrospect, trying to explain to a guy in India that I needed a garage space for my electric car, was maybe not the right task.

Fast forward to 2013 and I'm trying again. After reading APE where +Guy Kawasaki  recommends contacting reviewers on Amazon and inviting them to review your book, it got me thinking. Could I leverage the same group of folks to get them to review the webcam recording service? How could I find reviewers on Amazon that might be interested in reviewing or blogging about  

Camera Product Reviews

It's all about the camera models.  To use you need to have a webcam, IP camera, or network security camera. In fact that's how we get most of our users today. They are trying to figure out how to use their Foscam or Dlink camera to FTP images or setup the firewall.  They Google "Foscam FTP" and end up on our site.

The Amazon reviews are a great place to find folks who know what an IP camera is to begin with. The Foscam FI8910W has 3,488 reviews right now. To put that into persepective, the site has fewer than 20 thousand registered emails at this point.

So how can we leverage these product reviews to spread the word about My idea was to pick camera models that are popular on and then go through the reviews and create a list of folks who have reviewed the cameras. My friend Erbil Karaman suggested to me that to effectively use a VA, you must create a script of what you want them to do. I pretended I was the VA and created a Google spreadsheet with the information I want to track and practiced going through the reviews while filling out the spreadsheet. It seemed pretty simple.  Now to find some VAs.

The oDesk Experience

After listening to a recent Gweek podcast where +Kevin Kelly discusses hiring virtual assistants to help with his new book Cool Tools, I was inspired to go hire some VAs. I decided to use oDesk for this, mainly because I already had an account there, but this was my first time actually posting a job. It went very smoothly. Within an hour I had verified my account, created a job posting, and folks around the world were applying.

I decided to choose a few different VAs from different parts of the world to see how they would compare. So far I've hired three VAs and each one is working on a different camera model that I care about. I'm paying between $1.17 and $3.33 per hour and definitely seeing a difference in the quality of work. You get what you pay for.

When this is all said and done, I should have a hundred or so folks who seem to care about IP cameras.  At that point, I need to figure out how to contact them.  I'll probably try sending a personal email, tell them about, and see if they are interested in updating their review on Amazon to include a few words about how our service works with the camera that they reviewed.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions on how to use VAs or the data that they are collecting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Growth Hacking

The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking

Growth at, the company I started a few years ago, needs a boost. I've decided that I need to learn how to become a Growth Hacker and see if I can get our growth up to interesting levels.

To do this I've been trying to get close to the users. I'm doing the customer support on a daily basis and asking folks what they think of the service. Mostly this is a very positive experience. is a service for techies, so these are my people. You pretty much need to be tech savvy to get an IP camera working.  So where do we find more tech savvy folks who are into IP cameras or security cameras?

When users cancel, I ask them why and try to get them back.  That's a great learning experience.

The first thing I've been doing is learning about Google Analytics.  We've had it on our site since the beginning, but we're not using it very effectively. My mountain biking buddy Wendy Hummer at EXL Media recommended I start with this course to get the basics under my belt. Now that I've done, that I know enough to be dangerous and ask reasonable questions on Stack Overflow about Google Analytics.

I've also read Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Kawasaki and Welch.  This is about publishing an books but it has a lot of great advice for promoting things in general.

As I learn about Growth Hacking, I'm hoping to share some of the techniques and experiences that work for me along the way.  A tip from +Guy Kawasaki is to blog at least once a week. So here we go!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chromecast versus Apple TV

About a month ago, I replaced my Apple TV with a Chromecast in my home gym.  With the Apple TV I would listen to podcasts, Pandora, or catch up on TV with Hulu Plus or HBO Go.  I would occasionally watch Ted talks or YouTube on the Apple TV.

By comparison Chromecast seems pretty limiting.  At first they had only YouTube and Netflix.  There is now Hulu Plus and Google Play Music.  Just today I signed up for All Play to give that a try.

Of course Chromecast relies on having some other device to stream the content, it works with Android and iOS devices as well as the Chrome browser.

The Good

  • It's cheap, at $35 I really shouldn't complain, but of course I will.  The Apple TV is $99 so you're giving up a lot to save $64.  
  • It's small, pretty much the size of a large USB stick.  It still needs a power connection so you'll need to find an outlet or a USB slot somewhere to get it fired up.  I plug mine into the back of my Apple Airport which happens to be near the TV.  Heresy I know!
  • It's easy to setup.  I got it going pretty quickly.  I can't even remember the process now, so it was pretty seamless.

The Bad

  • Side Loaded Music doesn't work with Chromecast.  You need to buy music from Google or sign up for All Play at $9.95 per month.  After six months you've spent enough to by an Apple TV and use Pandora or you own music library for free.
  • Needs a buddy device at all times.  It's useless unless you have an iOS, Android, or comptuer with you.
  • Most apps aren't yet compatible with it.  I'm sure this will change over time.  
  • No podcasts as far as I can tell.  Maybe there is a way to play them but I haven't figured it out. 

So overall it's not worth it as a replacement for the Apple TV.  However, I think it would be a good solution for watching TV when you travel.  I like the idea of popping it into the hotel TV next time I travel.  I'll drop it in my suitcase next time I travel.  Time to hook the Apple TV back up and catch up on the Fresh Air podcasts I've been missing.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Went out on my 10m Rally and my Axon Rhythm today at Third Avenue.  Was on the water for about an hour from 4:15 to 5:15.  The wind dropped pretty quickly and there was a rush to get off the water.  You can see the drop in the wind graph just after 5pm.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fun with iOS Development Profiles

Currently Apple's Development site is partially down.  In particular Xcode Automatic Configuration.  This means that if you want to add a new phone to Xcode can't automatically update the provisioning profile.  I figured out that I could create a new profile on the Apple Developer site, download it, and manually install it.

This worked fine except that when I installed the new profile Xcode said that "A valid signing identity was not found".   This seemed to say that I didn't have the right certificates in my key chain.  Some Stack Overflow articles suggested removing certs from my keychain.  At that point I decided to call Apple.  Luckily I was able to get some help.  It turns out that the profile I downloaded didn't have certificates for everyone.  Actually it just had one certificate and it wasn't mine.  Creating a new profile and making sure my certificate was included fixed the problem.

Back to coding now....

Friday, April 5, 2013

My Basis Watch Arrived

Back in December I saw a post from Robert Scoble where he interviewed the Basis folks.    It arrived last week and I started wearing it last night.  It's going to be difficult to wear a watch again as I do a lot of typing and it gets in the way of my keyboard activity.

First impressions:

  • Nice packaging
  • Easy to setup
  • Nice display
  • Bigger than I had hoped
  • USB charging and syncing seems clunky

I've been using the Parrot Zik headphones for a few weeks now and enjoying wireless connections, so the USB connector seemed odd to me.  There are different design constraints of course.  A watch need to be able to get wet. I would never wear my Zik headphones where they could get wet.  The Basis has little metal contacts on the side so it can charge.  The Zik has a micro-USB port so it can use the same cables as my Android devices.  Making a waterproof mirco-USB cable could be a problem, so I can see why the Basis folks came up with their charging cradle.

Here's a shot of the cradle in use from their support site.  

I also notice that the Basis supports Bluetooth but I'm not sure if it's been activated yet.  I didn't see anything in the setup that discussed Bluetooth.

I'll report back after using it for a bit.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amazon S3 Static Sites

A friend of mine recently asked about hosting a simple static site for his business.  There are lots of places that will do virtual hosting for you, but he really just wanted a simple single page site for his business.  I remembered that Amazon recently enabled static website hosting using their S3 service, so I figured I would give it a try.

Pretty much just had to follow the instructions on this tutorial page.  I didn't do the redirect business since I only had one domain name, not two.  Also, it was easy for me since I already have a custom domain service at Dyn.

Logged into and created bucket.

Create a simple index.html file called ab90.html.  Uploaded it using the console.

Grant everyone open and download permissions.

Add bucket policy:

   "Principal": {
            "AWS": "*"

Select enable static hosting. Now go to the site and it's there!

Create a CNAME that points to and then it's done!  I now have a new static site at http://ab90.beguelin.com

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

R.I.P. Uncle Gene

Uncle Gene died yesterday.  He didn't make it to 2013.  What do I remember of him?  Mostly I remember that he was determined and happy.  He really seemed to enjoy life and to enjoy people.  As someone who has led a charmed life, I was surprised that Uncle Gene had such a good outlook on life.  He was born with cerebral palsy and orphaned at an early age.  This didn't seem to bother him much, beyond his dislike for the drive thru.  He had a lot of friends and it was easy for him to make more.  He had a host of corny one liners that he would launch and unsuspecting store clerks or anyone who crossed his path.  One of my favorites:

You gotta go, when you gotta go.  If you don't go when you gotta go, you might find out when you do go, that you already went. 
During my high school years my cousin Mark and I would occasionally "work" for Uncle Gene during the summer.  Working usually meant some kind of maintenance on his rental trailers or his fleet of cars and trucks that he collected.  For the rental trailers we got to tar the roofs and insulate the water pipes.  Tarring a roof is a hot job, especially in the summer heat of Southern Illinois.  We would haul buckets of silvery goo up on the roof and spread it around with mops.   The underside of a trailer tends to be more or less open to the weather, so the pipes will freeze in the winter.  Mark and I would crawl under them and wrap "heat tape" around the pipes and then fiberglass insulation around that with generous layer of duct tape holding it all together.   Heat tape is basically a long flat electric extension cord that heats up enough to keep the pipes from freezing.

I remember Uncle Gene usually had at least three or four cars around.  One of which almost always needed something done to it.  I learned how to change a thermostat on his Chevy Nova.  He taught us about the proper mixture of antifreeze to water when filling a radiator.

I remember that he had a diesel truck that was his pride and joy.  He wanted to use a special kind of oil in the truck and so he wrote to the manufacturer to make sure it was ok to use a certain motor oil since it wasn't on the recommended list in the owner's manual.  Apparently they gave him their blessing.

One of my favorite memories was changing the tie rods on one of his cars.  I think one of them was bent, so we replaced it.  We made the mistake of measuring the toe-in while the car was jacked up.  This meant that when we took the car off the jacks, that the toe-in was way off.  I distinctly remember test driving this car and it made a horrible squealing sound as it went down the tar and gravel road in front of Uncle Gene's house.  It was a hot day and the road was soft.  The Nova's front tires left a gouge in the road, not unlike a snow plow would have left in soft snow.  We re-worked the toe-in measurements, this time while the car was on the ground as opposed to when the front wheels were hanging down from a jacked up frame.  Lesson learned.  That reminds me of another Uncle Gene saying: "Measure twice, cut once."

Uncle Gene loved country music and dancing.  His diesel truck had dual smoke stack exhausts and a spoiler with the saying "Country lovin' with the country cowboy".

As a kid I remember that he would drop by occasionally to confer with Dad.  It always seemed like they had several secret projects that they were working on.  He had a sixth sense about when to come by.  If we were opening the pool for the summer or fixing up the barn, he would usually appear to put in his two cents, often leaving unceremoniously, the scent of his Brylcreem slowly dissipating.

He worked at Valley Steel in quality control.  I'm not sure what he did exactly, but I think it involved a lot of measuring and checking of orders.  He worked outside a lot and the rumor was that he would never wear a hat, no matter how hot or cold it got.  He did wear a cowboy hat when going out on the town though.

I remember he would drop by Grandma's house and sometimes plop down on the itchy carpet next to me and watch TV.  In my minds eye we were always watching Hee Haw or the Carol Burnett Show.

Thanks for the life lessons Uncle Gene.  I'm better off for having known you.  May you rest in peace.