18 May 2015

Southwest LOVES Me! Confessions of a mileage junkie

No Comments Travel

Screenshot 2015-05-17 22.06.26

I rebooked a flight that costs 99 cents more and they swallowed the cost.
Of course, they love you, too– and you’d get this if the rebooked fare is close.

I’ve seen the “Southwest Fare Protection” as high as $2.70.
As far as I can tell (and from forums like FlyerTalk), Southwest doesn’t discuss this policy.

The Business Select Fare costs me twice as much as the Wanna Get Away Fare, but earns points twice as fast– 12 points per dollar instead of 6.
If you’re A List Preferred, this $500 ticket earns you 12,000 points, which is enough to book at $200 Wanna Get Away Fare.

Think of it as a 40% rebate ($200 back on $500 spend).

And if you have Companion Pass level– the equivalent of Southwest’s Platinum (companion flies free, since no first class), then it’s better.
So what you’d do is fly the Business Select fare to earn the points and have your designated companion (business partner) travel with you.
Yes, a companion can travel with you for free (paying the $2 segment tax), even if you’re flying free.

If you’re a business traveler or have friend that would otherwise fly with you at least some of the time, this is the best frequent flyer program.

11 May 2015

My new secret office

No Comments Conducting Business

I flew 250,000 miles last year.
My location on Twitter is “the airport nearest you”.

So I signed up for an American Airlines Admiral’s Club membership.

2015-05-12 00_29_28-Dropbox - Screenshot 2015-05-11 18.53.27.png

$500 for one year of access to any of the Admirals Clubs worldwide, about 50 in the US and 20 international.
You can bring two guests with you, too.

Free food and drinks (including booze), but premium drinks and food aren’t free.
Business center with super fast wifi– I just tested the one here at LAX:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 18.47.08

Some of the locations have showers.


I’m watching the Golden State Warriors right now, while sipping on a pineapple juice and doing email.

unnamed (1)

I use the Admirals Club as my office, so I’ll go there even on days I’m not flying.
The clubs are behind security, so you need to either call ahead to get a TSA pass or just buy a refundable ticket you cancel later.

I happen to be TSA Pre-Check and also have a NEXUS card (Global Entry), which speeds me through security.

So there’s no need to hurry to beat the clock to catch a flight.
I can take an Uber to get there early to work, eat some food, and relax.

If you’re flying with me or we’re meeting, holler and we can go together.

View from my seat:

unnamed (2)

If you like to network, the airport lounges have high-class clientele– business owners and executives.

Not only will the workers of the future all be contractors, but we’ll also have virtual offices, self-driving cars, and other asset-light ways of operating.

05 May 2015

Cold calling sellers are the modern digital purse snatchers

No Comments email marketing

Some people call it consultative selling– to add value via your expertise, as opposed to regurgitating what anyone can find online already in your marketing materials.

But it’s more than that.

You have to be a committed ambassador of the thing you stand for.
It’s that passion that causes people to convert– enough to practice “rational ignorance”, which is make a smart choice without have to do the arduous research.

When people practice “rational ignorance”, they willingly forego the mental exercise of further evaluation, since they trust your brand.
And if you believe that your brand is the sum of what others say about you, as opposed to what you might say about yourself, then it makes sense.

We’ve called this inbound marketing, content marketing, SEO, public relations, social media marketing, and word of mouth marketing.
They’re all the same thing, since they fundamentally involve getting others to endorse you, whether it’s a backlink, testimonial, or otherwise.

Naked selling is the outright shilling when you haven’t earned the right yet to provide your opinion.

It’s the preferred practice of the digital purse snatcher, who would love to run your credit card to sell his services over your objections and whether or not there’s a fit. He’s not even looked at what you do, so there’s no way there could possibly be alignment. But he’s too lazy to care.

Here’s a garden variety example:

Screenshot 2015-05-02 23.53.47

And my response, which I have given to many of their aggressive sales people:
Screenshot 2015-05-02 23.54.27

This is coming from the Forbes startup of the year, according to their email signature, no less.


Screenshot 2015-05-03 19.04.05

Usually they don’t reply, which is what happened here.

Jakob Hager, who is the CEO and Co-founder of Taskwunder, stresses the importance of not damaging your brand’s image, and providing personalized value and having a relationship instead of  selling out of the blue:

1c856caA lot of people believe that it’s ok to do “growth hacking” and send out as many emails as possible in order to generate leads for their startup. Sometimes, this may be successful and get you leads, but you have to be very careful and avoid hurting your brand when you do cold emailing. You may just end up with bad customers, who don’t have the money but demand a lot of time and effort. The best in the industry see through what you are doing and they are annoyed by it. You may end up getting a few leads, but annoy a lot of people who could have been your customers if your first point of contact had been different.

If you believe you have to write cold emails – in fact, not only for selling your services, also in general for contacting people – make sure you first read about what they have said publicly and then provide value for them. Offer them something that they could need and be relevant. Say things like “I’ve read your articles about topic A, B and C and I would like to know your opinion about X”. Don’t try to sell something right away. You will be surprised how many people reply. If they don’t reply, at least you didn’t hurt your brand. The least you want to do is annoy all the influential people in your industry.

Many of these spam messages start with false personalization around how they love our company, in the hopes of then arranging a meeting to discuss their product. Because I’m the catch-all on our domain (so all ex-employee emails go to me), I often get a dozen of these messages all at once with identical wording.

We can hope that the email spam filter and various newsfeed filters will catch folks like this.
But more importantly, folks like these will be eventually penalized, since their cost of generating business will increase.

They must adapt by showing genuine interest in the people they’re reaching out to.
They have to become content marketers who wish to educate first, earning the right to a conversation.

01 May 2015

Don’t Mistake Genius with Hard Work

No Comments Entrepreneurship

I might have told you that I once went to a MENSA meeting just to find out what geniuses are like. I was expecting to be blown away with sheer intellect from geeks wanting to chatter about the latest in math or technology.  What would you expect to find at a gathering of people who passed an IQ test?

Secretly, I was hoping to be inspired– by people who were super smart in whatever their area of expertise.

And then maybe I could return the favor by sharing a few things that I’ve learned, so we could have a joint nerd chuckle.

Instead I found ordinary, seemingly average people– the sort you’d expect to see when strolling through the mall.
There were blue collar folks, teachers, the unemployed, and people from all walks of life– no particular pattern.
Then again, what am I supposed to do, go up to each person and ask them their IQ?

I left that evening disappointed.

Think about the people in your life who amaze you– what are they like?
Does their passion create infectious warmth that spills over to you and your friends?
Does their depth of knowledge belie a massive time investment, like the 10,000 hour rule?
Do you describe this as genius?

They might very well be geniuses, categorized as scoring at least 130 to 140 on one of the three standardized IQ tests.
But more likely, what you view as genius is actually the product of hard work.

Anyone with sufficient time can learn a body of knowledge and repeat it back to you with such conviction that you think they’re a genius.
Actors do it all the time, which is why they might be disappointingly ineloquent in a live interview versus in the film.

Mark Lack, who’s the author of Shorten the Gap, explained his observations between natural geniuses and those who achieved such a title through hard work:

photo copy“Having had the privilege and opportunity to rub elbows with some of the most successful and intelligent people on the planet, I’ve noticed that there are people who are born genius and people who become genius through lots of hard work, practice, and training.
To give a real life example of someone who was born genius, I’ll refer to the 14-year-old Indiana prodigy: Jacob Barnett. Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s and is on the road to winning a Nobel Prize. He’s given TedX talks and is working toward a master’s degree in quantum physics. Where as someone like Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, or Tony Robbins (who in my humble opinion, are geniuses at what they do and teach); they have worked very hard and invested decades of their life to achieve their level of intellect and stature. Even the worlds top memory champions train every day just like any other professional athlete would train.

Now, having made that distinction, anyone has the capability to become a world renowned genius or expert in a specific field. The reason why it is so rare is because very few people have the required level of discipline and commitment to continuously go as deep as they possibly can to understand any topic both intellectually and conceptually to ever be considered a “genius.”
If you want to be in the top 1% or higher in your field, spend 10 years of your life going as deep as you possibly can into one topic.

That’s the only way I do something if I commit to it. Why commit to something if you’re not going to give it your all – and do it in a methodical way. Learn from the best and repeat excellence. It’s a science not a secret.

Once we get young adults to understand that, and become excellent in anything they want or do, based around checklists, formulas, blue prints (call it anything) we can change the world one person at a time. “

Entrepreneurship is also about repeated rehearsal.
These super-hard working folks keep failing over and over until they eventually get it.
It’s easy to think that what you see or hear is spontaneous as opposed to the product of 10 years of hard work.

Some people, like Bill Gates, are geniuses and hard workers.
Mr. Gates has a photographic memory, such that once he was able to recite one of the synoptic gospels from memory without missing a beat.
If I had a photographic memory, I’d be able to tell you which book– Matthew, Mark, or Luke– but I’m not a genius like that.

When I was 20 years old, I met some people that seemed so incredibly talented that I felt inferior– even anxious around them.
CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, former US presidents, and celebrity sorts of people– I didn’t even know what to say and felt stupid all the time.
So I would read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover before meeting folks like this, just so I could be ready to talk about current business news and politics.

Have you ever felt awkward in situations like this?

It’s easy to chalk it up to them being a genius– but that’s a cop out.
It’s not a genetic thing, like being 7 feet tall and being able to dunk– it’s hard work.


If you’re a young adult and are discouraged with whole prospect of finding something you love while being able to pay bills, this is good news for you.
It means you’re fully capable of achieving success, as corny as that sounds, provided you can clarify what interests you and can work hard towards it.

And even if you’re not sure what interests you– perhaps many things– there is a process you can follow to start clarifying it and exploring it.

30 Apr 2015

Microsoft is not going to be SkyNet any time soon

No Comments Cool Products

Screenshot 2015-04-30 22.00.10

You see their new site, how-old.net?
They guess at age and gender from any photos you upload.
Of course, you could integrate this with your app and any device that has a camera.

Could you imagine Minority Report coming from this any time soon?
We’re quite a ways from predicting thought crime if we can’t even get gender identification right.

Even the same person doesn’t have the same age when uploaded in another photo.

In this case,we have Alex, who is 21, with the content marketing lead at Infusionsoft, who gained a year from the previous picture:

Screenshot 2015-04-30 22.11.44

then with the Golden State Warriors Sr. Director of Digital, with another year tacked on:

Screenshot 2015-04-30 22.03.57

Next to Amy Metcalfe (who’s current age was guessed correctly, despite being 22 in the picture), Alex is halfway through his thirties:


Screenshot 2015-04-30 21.57.51

A lot people are talking about artificial intelligence– how the machines will be embedded everywhere (the internet of things) and soon be able to do everything. Self-driving cars, the sharing economy, and drones are the hot topics.

But how far are we really from SkyNet based on the current state of technology?

Of course, this is an experimental app, as they note in their disclaimer.
So only in jest do we draw far-reaching conclusions based on it.

But as a party favor, go check it out and see how accurate (or wildly inaccurate) they are.

29 Apr 2015

The lead gen tactic that we all despise

No Comments email marketing, Inbound marketing, Lead Gen

We can forgive the innocent B2B marketer with spamming their lists.
Euphemistically, we call it “blasting”– doesn’t sound like fun on the receiving end, does it?

And we can even forgive the aggressive conference badge scanner or telemarketer.
Remind me to never let exhibitors scan my badge either– since the 7 am wake up calls cramp my style.

But this type of sin is particularly troublesome, since it’s done by a company that claims expertise in lead gen:


This person appears to be asking for help, but really they’re using a canned sales message that continues to follow up incessantly.
In fact, their company admits it in their note “Our automated tools allow us to easily scale up your growth”.

They claim “push button” simplicity in lead gen– that we can sit back and watch the leads roll in.
We will get “thousands of highly-targeted leads and a laser-targeted email copy that converts”– their words, not mine.

Marketing is about truly caring for the customer, not viewing them as wallet for raiding, which happens to have legs.

We’re all so busy and struggling to keep up that it’s tempting to want to resort to spamming shortcuts.
It’s for the same reason that people want to lose weight fast or get rich quick.

Spam in the form of flyers on your windshield or knives peddled at your doorstep– it’s the same thing.
Be a marketer that attracts people with love, as opposed to carpet bombing cities with propaganda.

The outbound cold-calling and spamming sales approach must give way to authentic inbound marketing.

Today’s marketers are too smart for brute force approaches to work, especially as they educate themselves and bring functions like media buying in-house.  The networks such as Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn are creating training and automation that will cut out middlemen over time.

Incidentally, this gentleman never replied to my email, though he seemed so urgent in wanting to talk to me.

15 Apr 2015

Twitter shoots itself in the foot by cutting off Datasift access

No Comments twitter


Last week, Twitter announced they’re cutting off API access to providers like Datasift, forcing everyone to go through GNIP, the data reseller service they purchased.

Full disclosure, we were a customer of GNIP (not Datasift), and were forced to pay between $5,000 to $20,000 per month for access to Twitter data.  And Datasift via Mark Suster is disappointed that Twitter didn’t make the split amicably. People are wondering if Facebook will yank everyone but Datasift’s access in retaliation.

My bet is no.

Why does this matter to you?

If you want to grow your community, perform social analytics, or run ads– and if that has something to do with Twitter– then you’ll need Twitter data to make decisions.  Twitter folks, if you’re reading this, making decisions = spending money. Without analytics, brands can’t understand where Twitter campaigns are performing.

They are in the dark.

So while forcing everyone to go through GNIP may yield Twitter a few million dollars, this is penny-wise and pound foolish. Twitter’s potential advertising business is not worth maiming for data access fees.

That’s why Facebook has never charged for their APIs and likely never will.  Facebook even made their ads API open to everyone. Anyone can get basic access without having to jump through hoops. Facebook has even free training in Facebook Blueprint, Facebook for Business, the various Facebook developer garages, free training materials, and so forth. All of this is free– since it builds the ecosystem of developers, brands, and consumers.

Google doesn’t charge for Google Analytics or the API because they know that stronger intelligence leads to more ad dollars. In fact, Google has been investing heavily in free tools for marketers: Think With Google, Google Tag Manager, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Translate, Google My Business, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, and so forth.

If I were Dick Costolo…

I’d find out what Datasift customers have been doing with the Twitter data. If the metrics lead to analysis and then action, they’re saving pennies by throwing away dollars.
The last thing customers want to do is get into the business of building data infrastructure.  I know this. The very reason we play in the data space is because of the complexities of dealing with multiple APIs from multiple vendors.

Not an option for small businesses and a shaky play for even enterprise-level brands to have their data strategy reliant upon just a GNIP or Datasift. The Adobes of the world will eventually release something here, likely via acquisition, while you see other third parties building logic layers (data models) via platforms (like Pylon from Datasift) so expensive that if you have to ask, you’re missing a few zeros in your budget.

Maybe the marketing automation or tag management players will come in to save us, for the geeks that care to discuss. But for the rest of us, we mourn the slow irrelevance and demise of Twitter at their own hand.
Maybe Twitter with smart folks like Adam Bain will wake up to see that analytics (or at least data) needs to be free.

09 Feb 2015

Fraud in the name of God

No Comments fraud, marketing ethics

The Wall Street Journal published an article of how some authors get on best seller lists by pre-buying books.
One of the main perpetrators is ResultSource in San Diego, who has a cozy clientele of megapastors and the religious right.

Tyndale, Crossway, Harper Collins Christian, and the other large Christian publishers have regularly used these tactics.
Until they are willing to declare such practices unethical, you can expect this to continue.

The rationale to manipulate rankings makes sense– guys like David Jeremiah and Mark Driscoll note that they otherwise wouldn’t get the attention.
In niche markets, selling 3,000 copies is often enough to make a New York Times best seller list.
Yet bulk orders and free copies shouldn’t count the same as individual purchases, even if these bulk orders are funneled through buying networks disguised to look like authentic purchases.

Pre-buying books is the equivalent of buying Facebook fans and twitter followers.
Promoting yourself as a New York Times best-selling author definitely drives follow-on sales, lucrative speaking gigs, general cachet, and the whiff of sweet prosperity.
It’s not different than gaming your Alexa ranking, buying links for tricky Google SEO, or embellishing your resume.

But this unethical behavior by the most self-righteous of people backfires– undermining their cause.
It’s like the cheaters who are calling for Brian Williams head– that he should be kicked off NBC.
And it led to the downfall of Mars Hill Church, perhaps not indirectly, but a compounding of manipulating people, media, and book sales.

In the shared economy, where we crowdsource opinions and make decisions by relying upon the preferences of others, do you expect such behavior to be more rampant?
Likewise, do you trust people who are acutely image-conscious and actively seek the public spotlight?

Personal branding is neither good nor evil, used by hypocritical maniacs and good people alike.

I was recently asked to join an exclusive club for folks who have a 70+ Klout score.
Aside from whether Klout is even an accurate measure of influence, the notion of hanging around influencers is silly.
It’s wanting to join Mensa to hang out with other high IQ people (I’m guilty of trying this).

What matters is not your intellect, but what you stand for.
I could hang around a bunch of people with a Klout of 80, but if they’re influential about car repair, home furnishings, or things I don’t care about, it’s no good.
Likewise, having a bunch of random followers in a social network or nameless people who bought a book (but didn’t read it), is pointless.

07 Feb 2015

Only 44% of American adults have a good job

No Comments personal branding, promoting yourself

Our government say the unemployment rate is only 5.6%, but it’s a “big lie” according to Joe Clifton, CEO of Gallup.
Gallup is a measurement and polling company, so if anyone knows how to manipulate numbers, they would.

We’ve talked about the slave economy, where people have micro-jobs, but are still indentured servants.
Is this the world of tubes in the back of your neck, while we sleep in pink slime pods?

No, it’s just one where the idea of a “job” has shifted from being loyal to one company for 20+ years to doing small tasks in a crowd-sourced environment.
It means that your reputation based on task completion is more important than what a piece of paper says.

Your rating on eBay, Uber, LinkedIn, or whatever is far more compelling than what you say about yourself.
Your business’ rating on Yelp, Glassdoor, and Facebook is far more believable than your own review of your services or products.

Corporate brochures give way to personal branding, where your personal reputation bubbles up to your company’s brand value.

So in most cases, the idea of having a job is now synonymous with who you are and what you stand for.
At least if you have a job that you like.

Back to the 44% figure in our title and the 5.6% unemployment figure.
The 44% is for people who are consistently working 30 hours a week.
Several problems with that:

They could be making minimum wage– so while technically employed, it might not be a “good job”.

1) Some people aren’t hourly. For example, I’m not. Sometimes I work a few hours in a week and sometimes 100 hours. I definitely don’t have a steady job, nor is my value determined by how many hours I put into my work.  If you’re in a factory or place where you wear a name tag, sure. But if you’re an entrepreneur and builder of things, you’re not being paid by the hour. It’s results, baby!

2) If you’re doing something that involves expertise, then you should be spending at least 20% of your time learning, if not more. Should these count as hours? Hard to say, but I spend a few hours a day reading and improving my skills– not just to forestall obsolescence, but because I love what I’m doing.


3) This is assuming someone else is employing you as a cog in their machine. It not only doesn’t include entrepreneurship, but discourages it.

The United States should redefine employment as people making an earnest living doing what they love while covering their basic financial needs.
Hard to measure, but certainly more accurate than being able to count as employed a person who “worked” one hour last week.

Instead of polling people on how many hours they got paid for by someone else, why not ask them if they’re doing what they love, with people they love, and making ends meet?

I believe these are the 3 criteria of job alignment, but most people get only one of them.
Maybe a job that pays well, but you hate what you’re doing and have jerk co-workers and bosses.
Or you love the job, but it doesn’t pay.
Or you’re working with friends, but suffering in some awful place.

Personal branding, which is what we are helping students do, is the intersection of these three.

If you connect someone’s passion with a commercial interest (a client who will pay), you’ve got the love and financial part.
If you have a program that brings people together into teams, then they can work with like-minded people.

LinkedIn meets a dating site or Uber for marketing, we like to say.

What do you think?

29 Jan 2015

Yes and No on guest posting.

No Comments writing

Yes, guest posting is a fantastic technique and drives awesome results. No, don’t do it like this random person who emailed me just now. This particular one is so egregious we can use it as an example of what not to do.

Before you reach out to someone, make sure to look at their content and say something relevant.

Remember a few years ago when people would hit you up for links, perhaps using an automated tool to message webmasters? Make your comment so relevant there’s no way a robot could have sent it and clearly it was meant for them.

Mass blasting your messages will actually backfire.

It’s like comment spam on your blog, which is more auto-generated nonsense.

Build up your personal profile across multiple sites.

In this case, I’m using the Gmail rapportive plug-in, plus Sidekick. Both will look up someone on LinkedIn, Twitter, and elsewhere, as you review their email. This particular person doesn’t have any profiles showing up, so they look fake.

Message people from your own domain.

Looks a lot more legit than aifurled834@hotmail.com or something random like that. When you have alex@alexhoug.com, people know you care enough to get your personal branding right. For young adults who don’t have their own domain, we will generate a subdomain with your name, which is almost as good.

Tweet and comment on their stuff before ever sending a naked email.

Even if you just retweet, because you might not yet know enough to say something intelligent, that’s a good first step.

Share a couple links to what you’ve done and perhaps propose a topic specifically for them.

If you look reputable, I’ll probably Google you to see what you’ve written, but might as well include this, anyway. State your intent upfront– if you shamelessly want to spam their site, truly want to further their cause, or build your brand.

Join myblogu.com and private groups in your area of expertise.

Not for SEO reasons, but because you want to be on top of industry trends. When something happens, you can create “stone soup” by assembling one sentence quotes from a few thought leaders. Then you have an article.

Give before you get.

The more important the person you’re trying to reach, the more you have to stand out among the masses who have hands outstretched. Genuine compliments are irresistible to most influencers and doing this is a surprisingly rare and effective tactic. That said, I welcome guest posts– anything that reinforces something I care about and adds value to the community. We’ll even spend our own money to promote these folks, since we believe in paying it forward.

One guest blog post won’t lift you to stardom.

But you might be surprised how few posts it takes to truly connect with a small circle in a tight niche. Expect 6 months to a year, or however long it takes you to craft a few dozen high quality posts on your site and others.