Will Critchlow: Founder of Distilled, fan of whisky, basketball and food (in almost any order), husband, father. These are my personal thoughts and not necessarily the views of Distilled (or anyone else).
You can find me on Twitter @willcritchlow or my company blog.
I have been hugely impressed by Launchrock. I initially thought it sounded like the perfect example of Feature Not A Company but I’ve been convinced that if what they have is a feature, it’s one that should be present in every email provider’s toolkit.
In particular, I’d like Mailchimp to buy them please.
Yesterday, we ran a “ship-a-thon” at Distilled (like a hackday, but designed to be more inclusive of everyone who isn’t a developer / designer - the idea being that we all spent the day shipping stuff to make the company better).
I worked with 4 colleagues to ship an internal alpha launch of a product we are calling “DistilledU” - a learning platform for internet marketing. The first thing we shipped (in good “lean startup” methodology style) was a pre-launch landing page. Obviously we could have built this pretty easily on our own, but I was very impressed by how easy Launchrock made it to create a great-looking page with all kinds of embedded social sharing etc. and a 43% conversion rate.
Yes. You read that right. So far we have had getting on for 1,000 sign-ups at a 43% conversion rate.
I was amazed by the tweets it generated and the great feedback loop that resulted in ever-more signups. When you combine that with the analytics in the back-end, really the only thing missing is integration with Mailchimp. So - to Mailchimp - I don’t care if it’s a feature, I’d like it integrated - even if you have to buy it.
I have a very different viewpoint.
After my undergraduate degree (pure and applied mathematics at the University of Cambridge) I stuck around in Cambridge for a one-year course entitled “part III” - effectively a one year masters in mathematics.
Part III is described on the website in typical Cambridge style as “not an easy course”. This is a bit like maths professors using the word “trivial” when they mean “very hard, but previously solved”. I found part III hard.
One of the courses I took was financial modelling at the Judge Institute (the business school in Cambridge). This course is part of the MBA syllabus and we sat alongside MBA students. It was not easy for those of us doing it as part of an immersive mathematics course. The MBA guys were doing this across a whole range of disciplines and it’s probably this that is the source of my respect for the institution as a whole.
Although I don’t have the patience to go back into academia now and I love building a business in the real world I am always watching out for ways I can learn more about the theory of business.
I think the biggest three distinct benefits of an MBA are:
I’m not realistically about to embark on an MBA and I think I have the rigour from my degree and just have to push my own flywheel on the network side of things. Which is why I’m focussing heavily on case studies.
The online world is dominated by young companies and young business people. Many of Distilled’s competitors are run by people no older than Duncan and I. We need to learn from history both to grow our own business and to help our clients truly effectively.
Watch this space.
I have recently been reminded of how hard it is when you’re starting out at something. When we started Distilled, it took us a long time to get any kind of momentum going (see the presentation I gave at my old high school over the summer). Recently, we have been the lucky benefactors of the flywheel effect - that once you have been pushing hard in a consistent direction for a length of time, it seems to get easier and easier to build momentum.
When you don’t yet have that flywheel, it is hard to sell, hard to convince and hard to reach people.
You may know that we are building out conferences in the US. You may not know that we are not going to sell out our upcoming conference in NYC. There. I said it. We have poured blood, sweat and tears into the content and the promotion, but we are simply not yet as well known on the east coast as we are in London or Seattle. The conference will still be amazing, but it’s painful to feel that we could have done more to reach more people, to pack out the room.
And it’s a big but.
Some of us have been here before. It’s only 4 or 5 years ago that Duncan and I were excited to be “selling out” our little shared office hallway to give presentations to 20 or 30 people at £20 / head. We have come a long way. And we’ve done it by turning that damn flywheel. Every damn day.
I’m writing this publicly, even though it should probably be an internal email. I’m doing that because I want our whole team to see that I mean it. Many of our team joined recently. Very few of them (2?) ever worked in our tiny underground office. To you guys: this is real. This is what it’s like. And this is winning. It just doesn’t always feel like it.
There is no shame here. We will continue to work to get the best speakers, to push them to deliver their best content, and to give our delegates the best conference experience we possibly can. We will carry on:
And it will pay off. Maybe not this year. Maybe not even next year. But if I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that pushing the flywheel is something close to magical, and by the time it’s going so fast that you couldn’t stop it if you tried, you will feel like the king of the world and we will sell out events that will make this one look puny.
Finally, I want you all to remember the bigger picture. To put things in perspective, up to 2008, maybe 100 people total had attended a Distilled event. In 2009 I think it was about 200. In 2010, 320. In 2011, by my count, we’ll sell about 950 tickets across all events (and that’s not counting the hundreds of people who have bought videos).
The flywheel is spinning, we just need to keep pushing. Welcome aboard. It’s going to be a helluva ride.
Oh, and I should mention, you can still buy tickets, and don’t worry - we have enough people coming that it’s going to rock, we’re just kinda ambitious around here…