MicroConf 2011 – Noah Kagan

By Stephen Kellett
17 August, 2011

Noah Kagan currently runs AppSumo. Prior AppSumo, Noah worked at Mint.com and Gambit. Noah blogs at https://okdork.com/

Noah Sriracha sauce bottle starts his talk with an MP3 rap looping “buy something, buy something…”

He surveys the room for entreprenuers, developers, wannaprenuers, etc. Says he wants to change your life, gives brief bio of where he has been etc. Intel, Gambit, Mint, AppSumo.

His talk is in 3 parts: Improving yourself, being unique, improving your business.

As his talk progresses Noah gives out hot sauce for interesting insights from audience. Also gives out stickers with one having a special code on it for a prize from appsumo. Audience engagement is good.

I didn’t know a thing about Noah Kagan before this talk. He is high on energy and focused on things that most people probably are not. I really enojoyed his talk, although the handing out of Srircacha sauce got slightly out of hand at one point (not Noah’s fault).

Improving yourself


Noah only answers email twice a day. Once at the start of the day and once at the end of the day. He does this to avoid wasting time by being in reactive mode always scanning and answering email.

Benefits: Lots of free time.
Downside: Hard to have fast moving discussion.

I can relate to this. I think this will work for you or not work for you depending upon your business. If we operated Software Verification this way customers would wait a long time for customer support – I don’t think it would work for us. But there is a good germ of an idea here. If you can’t just reduce it to twice a day, can you reduce it to once per hour, or once per two hours?


Don’t waste time typing, ensure you type efficiently.

If you type 30 emails day, 50 words/email how much time do you save? If you go from typing 50/wpm to 60/wpm that is a 20% improvement. Over a year you can save a day of typing. This is fine at these speeds but doesn’t work if you are already typing at 80..100/wpm, the % improvements are smaller (12.5% & 10%).

This topic generated quite a bit of discussion later. Not many folks agreed with it because they already typed reasonably quickly. Later on several of us had a chance to chat to Noah about this over a beer. He is really focused on people that haven’t learned how to type with this comment. In that context I agree. However I think its more important to think about what you are typing before you type it. Doesn’t matter how fantastic you are at typing if what you are typing is rubbish.

The point is not typing so much as “what things in your life can you improve to save you time? To give you more time?”

Examples of this:

  • Type efficiently
  • Better tools, don’t use gmail – reactive waterfall
  • Use chrome
  • Use a faster computer. If you are waiting for your computer you are wasting time. Speaking to many MacBook Air users it seems that SSDs are a major win.
  • Annoying people, filter them in gmail. Don’t delete, filter that way they are gone for good.
  • Annoying email, filter.

Don’t allow people to waste your time. Ensure you use your time effectively.

During this part of the talk, Noah upsets a member of the audience and handles it really well. The member of the audience had won one of the bottles of Sriracha sauce and Noah had passed it back to her. What Noah didn’t know was that she was upset with him for a graphic he had shown (which he had intended to be a joke) and she threw the bottle back at the stage. She didn’t throw it far enough and if landed on some guy’s MacBook, split open and covered his keyboard with sauce, then bounced up, just missed Noah and splattered the back of the hall with sauce. No idea what happened to the MacBook, I hope she helped the unfortunate recipient to clean/fix it. (I didn’t see this incident, I was watching the slideshow. I saw the end of it, but the MacBook part of it was related to me by someone else, so it may not be correct, if you know better, please let me know).


Found out that the routine of exercises for the marathon was really effective at improving his life and how he thought. Make a routine for exercise.

Interestingly since Noah’s talk some studies into depression and brain function have been released and they confirm improved brain function is linked to exercise. I don’t have references to this, I heard this on a BBC Radio 4 program related to this. On a personal note I swim 1km several times a week. I often get solutions to problems while swimming.


Noah puts everything on credit cards. Never puts anything on debit cards.


Noah sets aside time time for reading every day. During this time he does nothing else. This is a good way to take a break from “normal” work and also to educate yourself.

Difference between remembering and forgetting? Writing things down. This is also particularly effective as writing things down forces the information to be internalised differently in your brain. So as well as having a permanent written record the information is also stored in your brain in a different form.

Being unique

Be unique. What makes you, you? Differentiate yourself.

Noah consumes information from a variety of sources and recommends that you do to.

Interestingly Noah does not rate HackerNews. He gets his information elsewhere.

Interesting / Boring

Shows a job posting (boring) then another job posting (interesting) for the same job. The boring one is the standard one. Which application would you prefer to receive? The safe, boring one, or the one taking a risk by being unique?

Noah gives some examples of other people being unique. How do you do extraordinary things? How do your surprise people? He then follows this with a story of how AppSumo messed up which ultimately improved how AppSumo behave today.

Customer for life

Noah thinks you should treat people as customers for life. How would you treat customers if you could never lose one of them? What changes would you have to make to meet this goal?

Noah uses followup.cc to automatically create followups and never miss an appointment again. For him its a real time saver and email management helper.

Improve your business

Create Rules and systems for improving your business.

Noah gives an example he uses at AppSumo, the Rule of three: Three deals per week. Make it happen. Simple.

  • Checkboxes for each stage in a deal. All have to be checked before it can go live.
  • Prevents foul ups.
  • Anything done more than once, automate it.


Plan your time each day so that you spend parts of each day doing tasks you need to do. Sure you can function without a plan, but things will be forgotten or left on the side and before you know it they are not getting done.

Success: The percentage of people that will work with you again


Find an advisor that is complementary to you. For Noah that person is Andrew Chen: Marketing guru, super advisor.


If you really want to do something, do it. No excuses.

At about this time Noah notices a conference attendee has fallen asleep. So he plays a trick (gets the audience to make a lot of noise) and the sleeping attendee wakes up wondering what he has missed.

Data driven decisions

AppSumo use data to drive all decisions in their business. Get people that bring problems to also bring potential solutions. Empower your employees to make their own decisions and take initiative.

Build models and test the models and experiment with new models. Google spreadsheet models are quite useful.

To close, Noah talks about RewardLevel – an AppSumo idea that failed.


I enjoyed Noah’s talk and found it interesting.

  • Value your time better (faster computer, etc)
  • Stop working on the wrong idea with the wrong people, use your time effectively – right business with the right people.
  • Test, experiment, use data.
  • Type Faster (wrong! type more efficiently)
  • Slides appsumo.com/noahkagan

Tomorrow I’ll post Ramit Sethi’s talk at MicroConf.

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