All posts by visakanv


eg. if a blogpost involved 2 other writers + design, and had a hard deadline, how do you reconcile the timeline?

first I try to come up with something that will let me ship it passably even if say all 3 of them mysteriously disappeared

next I give them a deadline that is a few days earlier than the actual deadline

and I check in on them every day to see how progress is going, and offer help/suggestions

and at a meta level I try to avoid having blogposts with hard deadlines that are contingent on other people’s input to begin with, ie I collect all of the inputs I can ahead of time if possible, and build up a queue of passable content in the interim

despite all of this there will always be some things that miss the planned deadline, because we tend to have ambitious deadlines to begin with

how’s that worked out so far?

about as well as it can, I think. the bottleneck is my own inefficiency

Asking For A Raise

A friend messaged me earlier to say that he was chatting with his HR about asking for a raise. “He said I should just ask, because the worse I can be told is ‘no’. I think I deserve a raise, given my new job scope. But sometimes I still have imposter syndrome.”

Ideally, an organization should have a regular scheduled process for addressing this – like a quarterly or bi-annual performance review. At a high-tempo workplace like a startup, an annual review is probably too infrequent.

Compensation shouldn’t be about feelings – it should be about the amount of value that you’re adding to your organization.

If you normally only have an annual review (as my friend does), you should probably request a meeting about 3 months into a new role.

“I don’t know how to ask for it. I guess I’ll ask as tactfully as I can, and the worst the can say is no.”

I think this is actually setting yourself up for failure. If you ask “Um, can I have a raise please?”, it’s very easy to say no to that. Your manager might sense that you’re not very sure of yourself, and that you’ll accept no for answer. It might seem like you’re already kind of defeated inside. Perhaps they’ll buy you a drink and say nice things, which is touching, but it doesn’t improve your position.

You want to make it easy for them to say yes. You want them to think to themselves, “Wow, this person is focused and committed to improving herself. She’s clear about how she measures her progress, and she’s going to keep growing and levelling up as a contributor. I can say yes and earn her ‘loyalty’, or I can say no and she’ll probably end up moving to somewhere else that appreciates her better.”

Looking Pretty

> Marketing is all about looking pretty (as a company)

This is a complete misunderstanding about the fundamental utility of marketing. It would be roughly akin to saying “innovation is all about adding new features”. (Actually even that isn’t quite bad enough.)

Marketing and innovation are the yin-yang dynamic at the heart of every product or every company. It’s like a waltz. Marketing is about developing deep insights into customers (as patterns of human behavior) and the using that to inform the product, and inform the messaging.

Assuming marketing is about looking pretty is like assuming bodybuilding is about getting spray tans. There’s a lot more going on under the hood.

Beware Formal Tics In Writing

Was giving a friend some writing feedback, and realized there’s a simple name for what most new writers struggle with: a formal tic.

It begins in school, where we’re conditioned to write for examiners. We’re artificially incentivized to use big words and elaborate sentences. And we continue to write for imaginary examiners long after we’ve graduated.

Some people do this reflexively, because they worry they won’t be taken seriously.

Others do this deliberately, to intimidate readers into submission.

And sometimes we’re plain lazy, using multiple words (“I’m intrigued and fascinated…”) because choosing the most appropriate word can be hard work.

In all cases, it can become a habit that’s hard to shake. It gets even harder if you fall into the trap of deciding that overwrought words are your “style” or “voice”.

It takes some guts to keep things simple. But that’s the price you’ve got to pay if you’re serious about writing better.

Contradictions in marketing

  • Perfect vs MVP
    • “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs said this, and yet the Apple I was a total MVP
  • Cooperation vs God-leader
    • “My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”

Ogilvy, on Billboards

“As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel around the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?”

― David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man

See: Ogilvy’s best selling headlines

Tesla’s Marketing Genius – Why Elon Musk Uses The Term “Gasoline Cars”

This was an old post I wrote in 2013.

Elon Musk is known and admired for a great many things, but in this post let’s focus on his casual usage of the phrase “gasoline car”. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s really quite a cunning bit of marketing.

“Hold up,” you might be thinking. “How’s that marketing?” Well…

  1. Marketing is about the deliberate communication of value, intended to influence consumer decisions.
  2. Perceptions of value are very, very subjective. [link]
  3. Language affects perception. (The copywriting industry wouldn’t otherwise exist. A Diamond Is Forever. Think Different. Just Do It.)

The term “gasoline car” is a retronym.

Retro-what? A retronym is new name for an old thing. Let’s quickly go through some examples.

  • “Acoustic guitar”. All guitars were acoustic until electric guitars were invented in, so there was never a need to say “acoustic guitar”.
  • “Analog camera”. These were just “cameras” until the digital varieties were invented. Some people now even call them “non-digital cameras”, or “manual” cameras.
  • Watches used to be either wristwatches or pocketwatches. Now that nobody really uses pocketwatches anymore, the term wristwatch becomes unnecessary. We’ll assume it’s a wristwatch unless specified otherwise.

The introduction of a retronym normalizes the new.

It emphasizes the primitiveness of the status quo.

By deliberately using the term “gasoline cars” (instead of “everyday cars”, “regular cars” or “normal cars”), Musk is reminding everybody how primitive the internal combustion engine is. It’s like a safety razor salesman calling the old razors “cut-throat” just to emphasize the disparity in safety.

Note that actual difference in safety doesn’t matter nearly as much as the visceral imagery of nicking yourself in the neck with a cut-throat razor.

“Gasoline cars” create the imagery of soot, smoke, sputtering motors. Of course, it greatly helps Tesla’s case that the Model S achieved the best safety rating of any car ever tested. Without the latter, the term would just be smoke and mirrors. When you have real data, though, the smoke and mirrors can be used to powerful effect.

“The words that are used in any debate are at the heart of the story we tell ourselves.”

Here’s a relevant quote from a Seth Godin blogpost about language use in marketing (this was following the Janet Jackson superbowl incident, way back in 2005):

“So, the reporter from the LA Times started with this question, “Why do you think the cable TV people are using the Internet to fight the government’s attempts to expand their crackdown on broadcast indency to cable?”

That’s when you know which side has already won the debate. How can you be against indency? How can you argue against a crackdown? Would the question have been just as accurate if it had been, “Why do you think the cable TV people are using the Internet to fight the government’s assault on the first amendment as it tries to censor and control what adults choose to watch on paid TV in the privacy of their homes?”

It’s easy to assume that I’m just playing with words here. I’m not. The words that are used in any debate are at the heart of the story we tell ourselves.”

Change is good, but not at the expense of user-friendliness.

Is Tesla’s success all about “out with the old, in with the new”? No, it’s not that simple. While emphasizing that the status quo is actually primitive and archaic, Tesla also takes significant trouble to ensure that it’s easy for gasoline car drivers to transition to electric. Too much change can be disconcerting and unfamiliar.


Charging stations look and feel like gas stations. They don’t have to be! This is the same reason why automobiles were initially called horseless carriages- to help people be more comfortable with the transition, to feel like it’s a natural evolution of things rather than a drastic change.


The Model S has a “fake radiator” to make it look more “normal”. It isn’t just Tesla that does this. Chevy’s electric Spark has fake grilles, and so do other electric cars.  These are called skeuomorphs. They’re styling features, like plastic wheel covers that simulate spokes or wings stuck on cars incapable of attaining speeds where they might become functional.

In the ecommerce world, we still use “shopping carts”. That’s an example of a functional skeuomorph. It allows online shoppers to smoothly and intuitively interface with ecommerce stores without having to confront new terminology.

The takeaway? Choose your words carefully.

Elon Musk said during one of his interviews that he “doesn’t care about marketing”. He simply focuses on building great products that people will get excited about. (Seth Godin would argue that this is actually the heart of marketing- to build something remarkable. That’s what a Purple Cow is.)

I would ignore what Musk says and pay attention to his actions, though. Claiming to eschew marketing is great marketing for a technocrat and for a company focused on being the cutting edge of an entire industry. Musk’s actions reveal a clear understanding of the power of performance, the cult of personality, how to make announcements, how to tantalize the press. He also happens to be a guy who’s known to read like crazy, and any person who reads extensively will have a natural sensitivity to the nuances of language. This makes a person a very natural marketer.

Which brings us back to the fundamentals: Marketing is the deliberate communication of value, intended to influence consumer decisions. The better you understand language (retronyms and the like), and the better you understand consumers and their needs, the better you’ll be able to earn their trust.

Some fun stuff:

Here are some great discussions on skeuomorphism. Enjoy!:

Also, check out this now-humorous debate on terminology back in the 1890s. Language purists still do this to this day:

“Which is it to be? We observe that the London Times has lent the weight of its authority to the word “autocar,” which it now prints without the significant inverted commas but with a hyphen, “auto-car.” We believe that the vocable originated with a journal called the Hardwareman, which succeeded in obtaining the powerful support of the Engineer for its offspring. As for ourselves, being linguistic purists, we do not care for hybrid constructions–“auto” is Greek, while “car” is Latin and Celtic. At the same time, such clumsy phrases as “horseless carriages,” “mechanical road carriages,” and “self-propelled vehicles” are not meeting with general favour. Why not therefore adopt the philogically sound “motor-car,” which could be run into a single word, “motorcar”? “[“The Electrical Engineer,” Dec. 20, 1895]



Examples I like:

Fizzle – Our Most Popular PostsI like the leadcap


[thinkpiece] How Google Analytics ruined marketing | TechCrunch 2016 article

A Clear Path for Marketers to Surviving Content Shock – Moz (response to Schaefer’s Content Shock)

The point about deep pockets is an interesting one. Ultimately the question might be one of motivation. What motivates people to make great content? To build the skills, etc?

Gorilla360 – The scary online advertising trends you need to fight against – Why build an audience when you can buy one? VV: Think about your own thoughts about how to grow an audience, and what your own plans are on that front.

[unread] /r/entrepreneur – BS-free marketing strategy

Long slow SaaS ramp of death [1]

[tonnes of links, unknown value] 70+ ecommerce best practice tips, stats, blogposts (Econsultancy)

Ash Maurya [1]

Hubspot [123 4] – 6 decks on content marketing & strategy

@erikdkennedy’s 7 rules for creating gorgeous UI, part 1 and part 2 – 5 hacks candy crush referrals / clean plumber (USP) / retargeting / twitter piggyback / yogurberry large-size-only / 

Growth reads

Emily Kramer (Asana Marketing) AMA


Moz / Rand – What Are the Most Powerful, Mind-Expanding Ads You’ve Seen? [2016]

Social Media


Social Media Examiner – 13 Facebook marketing tips from top pros

Content marketing





Reddit – This exact process has gotten my startup written about in the New York Times, CNN, Mashable, TechCrunch, etc. It’s a long, detailed post, but it should work for your company too.

Writer/Blogger outreach


Email Marketing

Vero – Email Marketing Best Practices

Customer Acquisition



Content ideas

Origin Stories

I’d like to do a post exploring the origin stories of all the popular marketers and marketing thought leaders that are on my radar.

Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Paul Graham, Gary Vaynerchuck, Mark Cuban, Tai Lopez, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins


It’s a brand that I like and I’d like to see it written about. I’ll probably do this on the ReferralCandy Blog. Links: 1 2 3 4 5

How to idiot-proof yourself as an ecommerce marketer. Make a list of 20-30 businesses that you really like. Evaluate what you like about them.  Look for businesses that are in your niche, in your interest. Watch webinars where experts dissect ecommerce stores – it’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to get a practical understanding of what a good store looks like, and more importantly, what mistakes look like (so you can avoid making them).

Don’t try to do everything at once. You always have limited resources, so you have to prioritize. Trying to do everything at once is usually a symptom of not wanting to do the difficult work fo figuring out what’s most important. If you have 10 things on your todo list, seldom is it actually the case that all 10 things are equally important. You might have 3 things that don’t matter, and 2 things that (if done well) have the potential to make more of a difference than all other 8 things combined, times two. Sometimes one thing done really, really well will completely change the game. But figuring that out is hard, so we often settle for mediocrity.

Prioritize one thing at a time.

Of course, the end goal is to have many mature channels that give you lots of customers so you can make a lot of money and achieve your goals. But you have to start by doing one thing right. That said, you’ll also want to avoid spending TOO much time on any one thing. This is a real danger – it’ll seem like you’re being meticulous, but it also means you’re wasting limited resources and moving too slowly.

Expectations vs reality. Expectation: Define marketing goals, achieve them, celebrate. Reality: Tough to have clear definitions, you have budget constraints, time constraints, tonnes of plans and everything is breaking.

Before you begin, you need to know what you’re trying to do.

What is your role, exactly? If you’re a one-person founder who’s running everything, then everything is your responsibility (until you’re able to outsource, delegate, hire and so on). Let’s say you’re joining an existing ecommerce company that’s doing moderately well, selling at least 100+ products a month. We’re not going to talk about how to make a great product (check out ABLS). Let’s talk about making a marketing…

What does every marketer need to do? What is his or her function? The point of marketing is to achieve marketing goals. And so the first and most important thing is to define what those marketing goals are, as precisely as possible.

Be precise about your marketing goals. If you’re just starting out, you might find yourself saying vague things like “build awareness”, “get more customers”, “get more sales”. That’s level 1 shit. As you develop and become better, you’ll want to make things more precise. Every business can theoretically have an infinite set of marketing goals, ending with world domination. You need to pick smart, stretchy goals that you can measure and achieve.

How do you achieve your marketing goals?

You have to break them down into actions, desired end-states. For businesses, revenue is a great metric – it’s a simple goal that doesn’t have . That said, it’s possible to get obsessed with that metric to the point of over-optimizing it and having adverse effects you might not have intended. You might con people into buying a product that they don’t like, use high-pressure sales tactics, etc to make more revenue for a quarter – but then find out later on that you’ve damaged your brand in the process and nobody loves you.

Work backwards from revenue.

Case studies of business mistakes

One Kings Lane, Nasty Gal,, Vine, Theranos, Homejoy, Google Glass, JFDI, Gushcloud, Formspring, Secret, Stipple, Pict, 99dresses, Zirtual

Networking Advice For Self-Conscious Noobs

A younger friend – she’s a History major – posted on Facebook that she was frustrated with her experience at career fairs.

I left a comment saying “the trick is to avoid career fairs altogether. All the cool and interesting jobs get snapped up long before job descriptions get written.”

Someone else commented that most of the companies at a career fair are there out of obligation and not for actual recruitment. The best use of the career fair, he said, is just to look up the companies present, then submit your application directly to the company online.

I replied: Yes – and a step beyond that  is…

  1. look up people working in the company,
  2. ask them out for coffee, then
  3. have them refer you to whoever’s hiring for whatever role you’re interested in.

Because people are always more interested in referrals from their peers than in CVs from strangers. You improve your response rate probably 10x-100x by getting a referral.

Another friend messaged me about the above comment.

Here’s how that conversation went:

>> can you tell me a bit more about how that goes? hahaha ick job hunting woes

Well, where do you want to work? You should start by putting together a list of specific companies you think you’d like to work for.

If you like, you could then add a bunch of people from that company on LinkedIn. (I’ve found that people are quite willing to add strangers on LinkedIn.) That way, when you eventually talk to someone from the company, and they look you up on LinkedIn, it’ll look like you already know a bunch of people in their company.

I have a bunch of people on my LinkedIn who I don’t know personally – but I think of it as having the option of getting to know them personally later on. I can now message them over LinkedIn to introduce myself, for example.

You can also do this over Twitter, if they’re on Twitter. It’s a very peripheral way of building relationships, but it does work.

>> My main fear/gripe is that it sounds too informal or like a date(?!) and i wouldnt know what to say while having coffee

The thing with that is to manage expectations as early as possible. Say you’re curious to learn more about the industry, and that you’re looking for a couple of specific pointers. Say you want to ask them about their experiences. Don’t be vague.

>> do you have tips on things i should/ shouldnt say? eg like dont even ask for job openings

Offer to buy the coffee, obviously.

Definitely don’t ask about a job in the message itself. People are interested in interesting conversation with interesting people, but they’re less interested in being used merely as a stepping stone for a job.

You can ask about jobs midway in the conversation, or towards the end, depending on how it goes.

You want them to get the impression that you’re smart and have initiative.

Ask them about what challenges their company is facing, what do most people not know, etc. People are always eager to talk about the the things they can’t quite say in public.

Once they’ve gotten comfortable with you, like you, see that you’re thoughtful and smart, you can ask about a job.

>> is there anything i strictly shouldnt do or say? and also do you think 30 min is a good time or too long?

I would just say “quick coffee”, which is generally assumed I think to be about 15-20 minutes. And if the conversation is good they can stick around. Or if they need to, they have the freedom to say they need to get back to work. Then you can ask to email them.

>> how would you work the whole getting them to refer you to HR thing into the conversation (like assuming its going well)

You don’t need to be like, “yo can you hook me up with John Smith from HR”. You want to let them make the decision themselves.

Ask something along the lines of, “Do you know anybody I can talk to about getting my foot in the door, maybe an internship or a starting role”.

>> oh! one more… should you buy the coffee before hand or is it okay to just pay for it at the shop tgt

Well, you’d want to get there before them. Then when they get there, you stand up smile shake hand say hi, then just ask them what they’d like. “Coffee? Tea?”.

And if they make a show of taking out their wallet or whatever you say, “No, no, it’s my treat!” It’s a small thing, but it should trigger some reciprocal, “I should do her a favor in return” feelings.

It’ll also be good if you have a mutual friend who can introduce you to the first person. Same principle. If you have a friend who works in the company, chat with them first. So it all starts with knowing which companies you’re interested in, then talking to your existing network to see if anybody knows anyone.

Generally I find that it’s better to do this sort of thing 1-1 (asking people over IM) rather than broadcasting it over Facebook or Twitter – unless you’re so talented that your friends will be fighting amongst themselves to refer you to their colleague(s).