MicroConf 2011 – Andrew Warner of Mixergy

By Stephen Kellett
9 August, 2011

The first speaker at MicroConf was Andrew Warner of Mixergy.

This write up is my take on Andrew’s talk. I’m listing the things Andrew picks up on in pretty much chronological order as he talks.

Andrew talks with passion about what drives the entrepreneurs he interviews. What makes a business bomb and then the next business with the same people is a roaring success. Andrew gives some examples: Andrew Mason founded The Point which bombed but also founded Groupon which is a success, After AirBnB flew to New York their business takes off – why is that?

Andrew is very curious about what makes a good business. Andrew interviews a diverse group people and on many subjects but a common thread comes from them all.

How to stop making mistakes? Surprisingly, we are more likely to make mistakes if we know not what to do. How can we mitigate this? To illustrate this Andrew’s talk gives examples of various different people and what they did and the results they got or the strategies they use.

Hugh MacLeod – Why does he draw on back of business cards? Convenient, no need to get to work, buy a canvas, not confined to one physical place (where the drawing board/canvas is). Business cards, can draw anywhere, practice any time, any place. Practice makes perfect. Repetition allows improvement by testing and allows you to repeat until you find what works well.

Gary Vaynerchuck produces wine tasting videos, every day. This allows him to refine the process. He decided to leave the mistakes in the videos – shows you are human (and saves time not editing them out).

Andrew sometimes asks awkward questions. Sometimes that goes wrong, but often people answer unexpected questions, questions you think they would reject. This allows more insight. Its good to push the boundaries sometimes. Do not be afraid.

AirBnB – Why did they go to New York?
They were struggling to make the idea work in San Francisco. So they took some advice from Paul Graham of Y Combinator. . Most of AirBnB’s customers are in New York. Paul Graham’s advice was “Go to New York and talk to your customers. Don’t care about scale. Just do the talk.” They recognised key insights from talking to customers. They thought adding photos would be good, but it turns out the photos were not big enough. Until you get the feedback you only have your own frame of reference – people want unexpected things. Then they also met a musician (Barry Manilow’s drummer) who wanted to rent his whole place while on tour, not just a room. So changed their business model based on this feedback.

Small insights – big changes.

Fusion Charts is multi-million dollar company selling charting and graphing software for use on websites. Their first customers wanted tech support for their graphics widgets on website. They charged peanuts to provide tech support. Why? So that they could get in their system and see how they are using their software – after a while of doing this they worked out how to simplify and scale it.


Avinash Kaushik is a noted expert on web analytics. He likes AppSumo because of the testing mantra. He mentions Noah Kagan’s sig line (which is itself an experiment – try it – I tried to find an example of this but it seems I have deleted any that I had, sorry).

Andrew’s business Mixergy sells access to interviews. Andrew tried selling lifetime membership just to see if people were interested. Andrew is constantly testing new ideas.

To understand success you must study success AND failure.

fitfuel.com started off selling nutritional supplements. Then started adding energy bars, and cereals. And so on until he ended up with health food for dogs and viagra (sexual health). He ultimately ended up selling viagra for dogs. All the changes were test driven, but there was no focus. The tests worked but the result was diffuse. He had too much stuff in the warehouse going out of date. That is effectively money going rotten. The result? – business failure.

Techstars believe in power of small experiments. One of the startups they helped Photobucket is a photosharing website. They allowed embedding on websites. They killed ability to embed and customers complained. So they brought it back. Kill stuff to see if people complain. Andrew tried the same technique on mixergy by removing transcripts. Not enough complaints so dropped the transcripts – resulting in less work and a better, tighter experience.

Tim Ferris is author of The 4 day body and 4 hour workweek. The claims seem outlandish, but underlying them is the concept of “Minimum effective dose”. How little do you need to do to get good results? Seems that many entreprenuers are like this.

Ramit Sethi is author of the book “I will teach you to be rich”. Andrew shows the screenshot of a website. It has info graphics, embed and include anchor text, and a bit of SEO with the embed text. Outsize results with small changes. (I’m afraid one is too visual, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

Artificial demand

An alternative way of doing things, rather than allow people to give you their email address is to ask them “request an invitation”. This technique works due to the power of persuading someone to do something. By asking, they are showing interest. If they are interested then maybe they might be interested in your business at some point.

Neil Strauss, author of The Game was continually testing ways to attract girls. He eventually learned what works – “Cat-string theory”. String is interesting if the cat can’t have it. String is not interesting if cat can have it. Neil concluded that girls are the same. Say hello, then back off, see if they are interested. Apparently it works!?

A real estate company was failing but then they changed business model to average price for all apartments regardless of cost. With a twist. The offer was for a limited time only. The business very quickly became a success.


If you want to go from small to big, need big army to help you. Email can help.

Clocky is a mobile alarm clock that runs away when the alarm goes off. It’s gauranteed to get you out of bed! The creator generated a huge email list while the product was in development (2 years, China) and when launched she had no difficulty selling the alarm clock. The company was profitable in 2 months.

How do you build a 16 million strong email list? Use every opportunity to get people to sign up. Make the site so that people can’t do anything without signing up. Some people will leave (they weren’t really interested) and some will sign up.

WooFoo was a blog, with code how to develop better sites. They slowly built an email list. When launched they got slated in the TechCrunch comments, but their fan base stepped in to protect them. Having 3rd parties respond to negative comments is powerful.

Ramit Sethi when asked “Whats the one thing you wish you had done? ” answered “I wish I had signed more people up for my email list, and earlier too.”.

Why did The Point fail and Groupon succeed?

The Point’s business model was I will do “action” if “condition”. They failed because trying to do too many things at once plus they had too much money up front.

Groupon started with a WordPress widget that allowed an offer to be shown. They used an email mailing list. Its boring, old, but it works. They were 5 offers before someone would buy.

Mixergy. Andrew wanted to test a headline. How do I do that? Via email, 50/50 split. He also tried that with Noah Kagan for a Mixergy party plus tickets. Approached all people via email, before public launch. Evenbrite: Minimum is $1 plus $1.06 fee -> $2.06. Try, free section + VIP section ($25). Tested limited seats. By time ready to post about the event, he had sold out of seats.

Its a mistake to grow too big while not recruiting army of fans.

Noah started selling a video in realtime while demoing stuff to Andrew. Andrew didn’t like it, but it worked, lots of people liked it. The data in the video was more important than the quality of the video.


Grasshopper is a virtual phone system for entreprenuers. They have an offer, tell a friend, get a price break. They get a 15% conversion rate. Seemed like a good idea? So they tried another idea, but it failed. Ruined $500,000+. Scrapped after 3 months, rebuild. Then scrapped again. Reputation can prevent you from trying new ideas.

Sizzle It were using video to promote products but they wanted to do more. There was a lack of focus giving a diffuse result. Growing too large too fast. They decided to change their focus to one narrow niche. 1 minute videos about products. Success!

The founder of fitfuel.com (which was mentioned earlier as a failure) tried again by focussing on Christian based nutritional supplements. Focussed, narrow niche. This time he succeeded.

At the end of the talk Andrew takes some questions from the audience. Sean Ellis asks “Who would Andrew invest in?” Answer: “Noah Kagan”. He Loves The Copy.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting Sean Ellis’s talk.

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