How we introduced YO! to Silicon Valley and lived to tell the story

NOTE: This is a cross post from (October 4, 2014) . We’re sharing our story as it happens. Join us at:!/our-story

YO! in Silicon Valley.

So… there is no turning back now.
I am writing this entry on a flight home from San Francisco to Vancouver, and I am doing so with mixed emotion. Normally, when people use that phrase it references that strange hybrid  feeling where joy and sadness comingle, but not this time. This time, what I am feeling is a strange blend of terror and excitement.
You see, we are coming back from the heart of the technical jungle, Silicon Valley — where ideas come to life, fortunes are made, and where there are more ideas per capita than anywhere else on the planet [not a scientific statement]. And most importantly, we are coming home after showing off our baby for the first time at TC3, The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley’s annual event for innovation.

“This executive summit [is] the premier telecom innovation event of the year — which highlights the relationship between the companies building networks, with the companies inventing the next generation of technologies.”

Over the past 4 days, we probably gave more than 100 demonstrations of YO! to some of the smartest minds in telecom, trend spotters, venture capitalists, our Board, and other vendors from within the mobile arena. The response we had was overwhelmingly positive.
Yes, sometimes some of the mobile carriers were a little unsure of what to do with us. One even swore openly once we explained what we had already created and our vision for what we could do, saying that “Well the best thing for us is if we could just make you go away, but that is not going to happen… so let’s find the best way to work together and make this work together.”
The giant whooshing sound you heard on Wednesday morning was the collective sigh of relief as Chris, Saju, and myself exhaled for the first time in six months.
You never know how people are going to react in situations like this. Were they going to say, “Oh yeah that… We’ve seen that before.” Or perhaps, “Mildly interesting, but we don’t see the need, we don’t have the pain, and the opportunity that you are pursuing is not really there.” Or worst of all, getting the dreaded  “Meh.”
We got none of that. The pain that we thought we had identified is real. Telecom carriers are looking at innovative ways to offload data. They are looking for value added services that they could bring to the market and help them become more than just a “dumb pipe” … These were their words, not ours.
The people we spoke to, especially the carriers involved in emerging or developing markets – Telefonica, SMART Communications, China Mobile, Saudi Telecom, etc. – they understood the pain point that YO! can solve.
Their customers are buying smart phones by the millions, often for the very first time, yet these same customers will not be using data plans. They simply cannot afford to. Data is too expensive and bandwidth is too precious. Oh… and those that are sharing and connecting are going to crash the global networks in a ‘data tsunami’ before the decade is up.
That is, of course, unless innovations come about that change things. Innovations like YO!
When we started journaling this effort 6+ months ago, we spoke about wanting to tell all and share this journey. And in so doing, we wanted to share both the good and the bad while giving those that follow after us a bit of encouragement to step into the world of entrepreneurship and into the unknown. In the spirit of this, here are some random learnings, each of which probably deserves its own post, but given time constraints, this probably won’t happen.

Stand out from the Crowd

Full credit  goes to the team for this one. When we first committed to going to TC3 and registered for a demonstration table, we were given strict rules to follow, including:

“Your display must fit onto the 36” circular cocktail table and cannot be taller than 24”.

As soon as I shared this information with the team, Joe stated matter of fact as though it was not up for debate, “Well it is simple then. You will be the display.”
And so we were, we had bright green golf shirts that while still classy, could be seen from across the conference hall. People noticed us, especially in a world of dark suit jackets.
And the same was true with the display itself. Lighting is key in tradeshows as it attracts the eye. Our team hand-crafted a glowing, circular display that caught everyone’s attention and disrupted the status quo. On top of this, we had the website homepage on loop via a front-facing flat screen display. Oh yeah… we also had YO! on full display running on a few Android devices plus our personal devices (the ones used were $100 smart phones from India.) All these phones were meshed together via an off-the-shelf ASUS WiFi router that was not connected to the Internet.

Have Something People Want

After drawing people to us, we had to have a story to tell. We had to listen to understand the visitor’s pain and then explain not only how we solved that pain, but how we were different. While the sales and marketing experts say that the product itself is merely a prop to the story you weave, I have to say that without actually having a product to demonstrate, people wouldn’t believe what we were saying.

“Yes… we are letting people share and connect without the internet.”
“No… we don’t require a server or any special router or hardware.”
“Yes… it is free for users.”
“No… We are not passing it through the Internet.”
“Yes… that file was just sent in a few seconds.”
“No… you cannot have it yet. Unfortunately, we are still in a private beta while we test the application in different environments around the world.”

Have Something People Need

Wants and needs are two different things.  And while YO! addresses a real need for consumers and for carriers, the need that I am referring to was the best tradeshow giveaway  by far. We were offering up free pre-charged solar power packs to anyone who saw the demonstration of YO!
These chargers were great. Each was pre-charged with enough juice to recharge two devices. And as each day wore on, people’s phones were drained by mid-afternoon.  Each came equipped with an Android and Apple adaptors so we were not discriminating. Oh… and they had a solar panel, so they could be charged via USB or simply by clipping onto a backpack and sitting the charger in the sun for a short time.
Total cost per unit was less than $10 when purchased wholesale.
While a great giveaway for a telecom conference, it also helped us tell the story that YO! is not being developed like so many innovations today for the developed world where power is plentiful. There are parts of Bangladesh, South America, Africa and around the world where reliable power is a problem. Technology can help them connect and share. The theme of empowerment runs true.

Make it Personal

Yes, each demonstration of YO! attempted to personalize it to the needs of the audience, and thus become more relevant. But what people wanted to hear was a story – a personal story.  I think that this was because many at the event (and throughout North America) had a hard time understanding that data is not unlimited and sharing is not always easy. What made people understand was relaying a story about our development team in Bangladesh, and in particular telling them this:

“After building web brands for the past 4.5 years, we developed a certain daily development rhythm. This included frequent Skype calls between Canada and Bangladesh. What we did not realize, however, is that if we were having these calls during the Bangladeshi day (our night), the team would need to stop working, sharing, and communicating internally. The bandwidth was too precious. So to compensate, they built YO!, allowing them to message inter office AND keep connected with us back here in Canada.”

In short, our team in Bangladesh had a pain that was not felt by our team in Canada. It was personal.
There were a few glitches here and there in our demonstration of course. Those things always happen. But these are all reasons why we are still in private beta… testing and refining to make sure we get a minimum viable product that can now live up to very lofty expectations.
It is always hard to know where these things will go. But I am very proud of the team for getting it this far. The next few months (and years) are going to be one hell of a ride.
What do you think? Have any launch horror stories to share?

PPC Double Serving with Bing

PPC Double Serving with Bing

Are Top Ad Spots Being Served Up Twice?

Just the other day, I read an interesting article from Ginny Marvin via PPC double serving in Search Engine Land. However, I just noticed something with our PPC campaign on Bing (for our brand) that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, so I thought I would share. It appears that Bing is either testing or has made a switch that if your ad is appearing in either the first or second ad slot, you are also served up at the bottom of the page. In essence, they are double-serving your ad to the web searcher.
From a monetization perspective, it makes sense for Bing. As an advertiser in positions #1 or #2, we’re paying more for a click than the traditional person who is appearing on the right side or at the bottom. My assumption is that whether a visitor clicks on the top or the bottom ad, we are paying as though we are in position #1. The advertisers who are bidding to the bottom are also less relevant to the searcher (more often than not), so a typical searcher may even deem the results to be more relevant to their needs, so Bing wins on all accounts
It is always interesting to see how the search networks are displaying your advertising and see their motivations.
In case Bing changes things, here is a screen grab.

Do Category Killer Domain Names Give you an Unfair Advantage?

We saw this quick rambling by Shane Cultra of DomainShane that we wanted to share. Shane is an offline businessman first and foremost, but owns a good collection of domains mostly in areas that he knows well (i.e., plant and garden-related). He asserts...

"When you own a category killer domain, a person that enters that site is making an assumption that the owner must be one of the leaders in that category. They haven’t a clue that many of the owners are clueless about their products or the industry in general. In my opinion, new customers won’t feel as comfortable going to Jones’ Mattress Factory as they would Jones’ may have been around for 80 years and only 3 years (made up numbers) but gets a big head start. This doesn’t mean that Jones can’t become the largest seller on the net, but the road will be longer and actually could be more expensive than the road with the advertising budget needed. The Internet is still young but major keyword domains feel older, more experienced. People feel like they’ve been to the site even though it was most likely some other generic type site. That familiarity helps them sell..."

Will the name make you an overnight success? Hardly. If you fail to deliver on customer expectations within the business itself (e.g., if could not gain the trust of its users through its actions), then the name doesn't matter.
The impact that "Trust" has with customers, and the ability for a domain to influence this trust, is directly attributable to the brand positioning that we've established for This category killer and brand is all about "Trusted Global Trade." We've been working since the brand's launch to reflect this intrinsic trust of the domain name, back out in any of our marketing messages.
Launching and running a business is hard. There are bumps, twists, headaches all along the route. One second things are going well, then the next you are scrambling to reconfigure a merchant account so as to not miss out on any online orders. But when things are running properly and all things are equal:  in our opinion (and Shane's too) the ability for your customers to trust you over your competitor does give you an unfair advantage.
Part of what we do at Left of the Dot is allow small businesses as represented by the category killer domain name is to leverage this trust bestowed on the domain as sub-domains. In a way, having a marketing name is kind of like a celebrity endorsement from someone you trust. Everyone trusts Tom Hanks, so if you have your product next to Tom, some of that trust rubs off on your products too.
What do you think ... do category killer domain names give you an unfair advantage?


Don't Forget the Sub-domain Factor

I was reading this article over at Owen Frager's blog over the weekend, exploring the power of conversion words when combined with core concepts (e.g., ... which is an interesting read for anyone who is interested in its own right ... but a paragraph contained within the article really caught my eye:

..."Don’t forget the sub-domain factor," counsels Turkel. "I know of dozens of large cities ramping up their budgets to reach the Dual Income No Kids (DINKs) recession-immune audiences." This might help move domain negotiations that previously lacked justification or sense of urgency to buy. Sub-domains extend the reach of the domain by enabling you to present different faces to different demographic groups...

The Turkel being quoted is Bruce Turkel of TURKEL, an agency focussed on travel and tourism marketing, branding and advertising.
What he is alluding to of course is using sub-domains to segment your audience into silos, providing each with content and an experience relevant to the whole. If you have, you could just as easily have or While each of these could support the overall brand experience of the main domain and borrow the trust associated with the primary brand, they could stand alone and speak to the target audience.
It is no wonder then that the major search engines still treat sub-domains as separate websites... because they are. However, an effective sub-domain strategy can allow large brand holders to sculpt the end user's experience so that they see content that is relevant to them. The domain "" can deliver on the brand promise that the name implies: visitors (and search engines) would expect that this sub-domain is, well, about Helitours in Oahu.
Our approach at Left of the Dot is to allow the brand holder to create these sub-domains easily, allowing either the natural community to build out sub-domains to their "best fit and use", or the brand holder to build their own network underneath.

Look Left for an alternative to domain monetization

Our creative team was hard at work building something a little different explain some of the differences of Marketing Names.
They had a bit of fun with this over here. Check out the video and tell us what you think...
Alternative to Domain Parking

Marketing Names Explained

We've been working on a video to better explain our Marketing Names... what do you think?

Marketing Names - by Left Of The Dot from leftofthedot on Vimeo.

SEO and Sub-domains

The impact of sub-domains and SEO took an interesting turn in recent weeks with coverage in the Wall Street Journal about how HubPages has had a material improvement in their organic rankings by leveraging a sub-domain strategy. Of course, they had been hit hard by the Panda search algorithm update, so any sign of improvement must have been welcome news to them and their shareholders.
It has been interesting to read some of the comments and thoughts of those in the SEO space about what this means, but I think that Aaron Wall of SEO Book wrote is probably the most accurate: we will soon see millions of people pour into sub-domains as a way to get ahead of Google (Read: Google Says "Let a TRILLION Subdomains Bloom").
But we believe the reality is that Google hasn't changed their position: sub-domains are still treated as separate websites, each being able to rank independently with good or bad content. Ian Lurie over at Conversation Marketing has described this well...

Panda considers the quality of all content on a subdomain when making ranking decisions. If you’re, say, HubPages, and 50% of the content on is basically brain snot, that hurts the ability of every page on your site to rank. So the other 50% of content—the arguably decent stuff—gets zapped out of the rankings. The bad content becomes an anchor, dragging everything down.
That’s why subdomains helped HubPages. They used subdomains to separate the crappy stuff from the good stuff: versus I made those up, by the way. But you get the idea. With subdomains, HubPages was able to move the bad content ‘anchor’ to a whole other site. That helped the good stuff move back up, because Google doesn’t let subdomains directly pass ranking factors back-and-forth.

This is not a change

What HubPages describes is exactly how Google has always treated subdomains. It’s not a change in their algorithm. It’s why I’ve always said putting your blog on a subdomain is a bad idea: Subdomain authority and relevance doesn’t directly transfer to other subdomains.
Apparently, the same holds true for quality.

What it comes down to is that you have to have good content on your website. Will the other factors like having the exact match concept influence your ranking? We believe so... but not if your website has nothing original or relevant on it to attract Google's eyes in the meantime.