A Letter To My Younger Self

I came across Ray Allen Advice by Ray Allen which he wrote to his younger self, and I immediately started thinking about the letter I would write to myself. At age 37, having been a part of a few successful entrepreneurial journeys in both the driver’s seat as founder a few times and observing as an angel investor many times more, what would I write to my younger 20 year-old self? At age 20, we were just getting our team together to launch our first ‘serious’ startup complete with angel investors, actual employees, an office, etc and had many lessons yet to be learned. Here is what I came up with:

‘Entrepreneur’ Often Means ‘Into-Manure’
As my friend David Pomije, founder of FuncoLand recently shared with me, ‘entrepreneur’ often means ‘into-manure’. Entrepreneurship is very celebrated after it works, but if you ask any entrepreneur, they all have their own epic battle that had to triumph over to persevere with their new startup. Expect there to be difficult times, and understand that you are not alone.

Spend More Time Interviewing Customers and Thinking About Strategy Before Starting
Being an entrepreneur is being in a race against time, a race to not run out of resources before getting your startup to viability. To get ahead in the initial race, spend more time before it starts validating your ideas with prospective customers. It is much cheaper, and more efficient, to validate your ideas before you start sprinting.After you start sprinting, you’ll quickly realize it isn’t a sprint at all, but a marathon. Don’t just hop into new startup opportunities without consideration to market size and defensibility. Some entrepreneurs may luck into a strong defensible business model that ends up lasting, but most will not. You only have so many ‘bullets’ in your life, make sure you make them count.

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Secret to Fostering a Strong Startup Community Inside Your University

Most colleges and universities are finding it very challenging to cultivate strong startup communities like those found at leading institutions like Stanford and Yale. But if we take a deeper look at these leading institutions, and how others are responding to this challenge, we can build a repeatable model to support the the rise of the rest.

Certainly one component to developing a strong collegiate startup culture is having a strong curriculum, jam packed with not just theory but applied learning activities which enable students to develop skills required for jobs in today’s workforce. A good example of this occurred two years ago with the creation of a Software Engineering degree at St. Cloud State University. Many engineering programs have become dated in our region but SCSU’s Science and Engineering leadership are meeting regulary with industry leaders to identify the practical needs of employers and then developing new degrees in support of satisfying them. Many companies are looking for strong software engineers. SCSU has long offered a Computer Science Degree that includes required classed on Computer Architecture and Operating Systems that are less useful to software developers whereas the new Software Engineering Degree offers Project Management, Mobile Development, and Games Development (useful for 3D software such as VR/AR programming). Additionally, four years ago SCSU opened a brand new 100,000 square foot ISELF facility where student can work with industry leaders on projects utilizing the latest technology (VR/AR, Robotics, Nanotech, 3D printers, etc.) The vast majority of students today in Computer Science programs would rather be learning coding skills to build useful enterprise or consumer software instead of spending their college years learning how to build infrastructure they are not interested in building. The ISELF building is not just a place for engineering SCSU students to gather either, the facility is being utilized by students across a variety of fields from business to art in support of experiential learning.  Let’s face it, many software engineers don’t make the most aesthetically pleasing software!  It may go well beyond SCSU’s campus too. Recently, we held a meeting between SCSU and CSBSJU’s Director for Entrepreneurship, Margrette Newhouse, and both groups of academic leaders expressed an interest in collaborating to get more student led businesses from CSBSJU to work collaboratively with SCSU’s experiential learning offering.

It has become table stakes for a university to invest in equipping labs with cutting edge, disruptive technology to give students access to equipment that they otherwise won’t have access to. Some of America’s greatest start-up stories involved young founders taking full advantage of their school’s resources. Take the story of Google and how their founders waited at loading docks at Stanford for new computers to come so they could increase their network and computing capacity. It isn’t 2000 anymore students need access to an even greater number of tools. Ideally, universities should invest in labs that provide access to breakthrough AR/VR technology, robotics, drones, etc.

One often overlooked and easily corrected way to supercharge your universities startup community is to encourage it to focus its investing activity on regional venture funds that align with the universities mission as pointed out by Tim Schigel of Refinery Ventures’ recent post. In Tim’s post, he shares insights as to how universities like Yale are generating out-sized returns for their endowment than they would otherwise get in the stock market by investing in venture funds which align with their school’s regional impact mission. Today, most universities when investing in the venture capital asset class send all of their funds outside of their region. This far away distribution of venture capital creates a virtuous cycle where the universities in other regions end up dramatically outperforming them, which causes the original university to be less competitive. If there are no venture funds in your region, universities should consider adopting a policy to take small amounts of their capital and deploy it to first time fund managers who align with a regional investing strategy.

Startup competitions like the Minnesota Cup organized by the University of Minnesota bring awareness to many startups that otherwise would fly under the radar. Beautiful things happens when you bring awareness to startups in your region. The entrepreneurial community will start to rally behind them, bringing with them valuable business contacts, advice, capital, and more to ensure their success.

And then there is that all so important issue of connecting top employment opportunities to the most talented graduating students. The best startup communities provide organized apprentice programs such as Xtern by TechPoint in Indianapolis. Apprentice programs are critical to the success of new graduates so they can learn applied skills required for these new high demand jobs.

Finally, the university needs to identify regional founders who can lead this charge, and support them with a bottom up approach by spreading the word throughout various student groups across different disciplines. Top down approaches don’t work. Entrepreneurs are best led by entrepreneurs as Brad Feld’s describes in his book Startup Communities.

NativeX Launches New Video Ad Format

Sponsored Post

Introducing a new Mini Multi-Offer ad format “Triad.” Triad combines the latest mobile video ad technology with NativeX’s industry leading selection of native advertising formats to give users the choice of which ads to engage with. Triad joins the NativeX Discovery Suite to give developers the right ad format to optimize strategic placements in their apps for a more native experience with higher impact.

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See Video:

How Creative Innovation Drives Mobile Growth

In the mobile app world, innovation and creativity is required in order to grow and survive. Unique concepts, stunning artwork, and addictive gameplay have all contributed to breakout successes for many apps. However, in the recent GamesBeat Summit, Nexon’s CEO Owen Mahoney pointed out how acquiring new players these days is difficult because so many mobile games are all alike.

With that said, innovation does not necessarily mean you have to have a completely new idea. You don’t have to be first, you just have to be better. The following are a few examples of good ideas being taken to the next level.

1.Slither.io – ing to Success:

MobileAction recently studied how Slither.io has driven over 16 million downloads since its recent release, breaking through the App Store clutter of classic Snake game clones. With a nod towards Agar.io, the developers created an updated visual appeal with vivid colors. The simple controls ensure a quick “pick up and play immediately” experience. They also kept an eye on the most requested features and improvements by listening to players feedback.

2. The Evolution of Emojis:

Bitmoji innovation

Bitmoji innovation

With mobile devices becoming a primary mode of communication amongst teens, emoji is quickly evolving into a new shorthand language that is innovating the UX design of classic functions that can transcend language barriers. As the CEO of emoji app Riffsy pointed out at the Grow MAU conference, emoji’s are the most used apps on iOS. This is no doubt why Snapchat recently paid a whopping $100 million for personal emoji app, Bitmoji.


Other brands are using emoji’s in unusual ways as well. Domino’s now even let’s their users tweet their pizza order with an emoji. The system is a product of Domino’s AnyWare suite of mobile ordering technology, which is developing software to allow customers to order food from multiple devices, such as smart televisions to smartwatches.

3. Deck Building Clash:

Through the years, physical deck building card games like Magic and Dominion have gained a dedicated fan base. So it was only natural for developers to create a mobile app that utilized the best of that gameplay.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is an example of a free-to-play online collectable card game which has had great success with both its theming (using the lore of the Warcraft series) as well as successfully monetizing through tempting in-app purchases giving the advantage of more powerful cards.)

SuperCell has previous found great success with Hay Day, which offered a FarmVille-type of experience without needing Facebook and many other user-friendly improvements to the experience. With just 3 games, Supercell made $924M in profits on $2.3B in revenue in 2015.


Their newest release, Clash Royale, injects the massively profitable Clash of Clans brand DNA into their own version of a deck-builder game. Instead of feeling like a copy-cat clone, the combination of genres and gameplay mechanics in Clash Royale actually works incredibly well for a mobile game. And according to CEO Ilkka Paananen, SuperCell killed over 14 game titles in their quest to find their next hit with Clash Royale. The game has been No 1 in 44 countries and now boasts over 100 Million Daily active users. This success will most likely lead to a flood of clones. The challenge for those developers will be to find how to do it better and with their own distinct twist.

4. New Growth Campaigns that Tap into the Power of App Store Search:

Innovations don’t only come from the creation of the apps, but also in marketing them. Hundreds of mobile ad networks compete for advertising dollars. We have noticed that there is a lot of copying of best practices, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of innovation in how to give advertisers the best value for their campaigns.

With 67 percent of mobile users reporting that the last app downloaded was found through an app store search, ranking at the top of searches for relevant keywords has become a critical part of the success for mobile apps and games. Yet, almost all mobile adveritising campaigns have ignored the impact of ranking high in search results which can keep an app visible and can drive organic installs from users in the critical moment when they are actually searching apps in the store with the intent of downloading.


NativeX launched Search Spike specifically built to drive major increase to your keyword rank. It impacts factors off-page factors like downloads and CTR. Search Spike is driving measurable increases in offer wall performance for both publishers and advertisers alike from real, engaged users.

In summary, the winners in mobile growth will be those who are innovative with original projects as well as those creative and savvy enough to recognize golden opportunities found in new twists on the familiar and who can make good ideas into great success.

Will Apple’s paid search product level the playing field for game publishers?

Following Google’s efforts in 2015 to launch paid search on Google Play, there are now rumors that Apple will be coming out with paid search for iPhone and iPad.

There are mixed opinions on how paid search will impact mobile app developers. Several of the opinions can be found on this VentureBeat post.

My belief is paid search does have the potential to create better opportunities for mobile app developers versus pure organic app store search distribution or display advertising. There are so many keywords which can drive meaningful traffic, that it is unlikely the top grossing developers would be able to design apps which would be suitable for all of them. Mobile app developers are less likely to be squeezed as much in paid search as they are in display advertising.

A New Beginning for the NativeX Team

Being an entrepreneur is very fulfilling but also a grind at the same time. Thankfully, you get to share your pioneering experiences with a tremendous team of employees and board members. You also get to establish commercial partnerships with some pretty amazing people as well.

Yesterday, we announced our plans to merge NativeX with China-based Mobvista. This merger creates a new beginning for our team at NativeX. I’d like to personally thank all of our alumni, our current employees, and all of our current and past business partners for getting on the trail with us.

Here are four posts which offer some different perspectives on the merger announcement-

I look forward to our new beginning with the team at Mobvista.

Inspiring Books for Digital Media Professionals

Often times, people I come across in the digital media and entrepreneurial world ask me for book recommendations. Here are a few of my favorites-

Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Running Lean by Ash Maurya

Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People by Richard Shell

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh & Steve Jamison

Win the Game of Googleopoly by Sean V. Bradley

You can also download my company’s newest free white paper about App Store Optimization (ASO) for best practices and tools to improve your search rankings in app stores.

Top Factors Which Impact Google Play Store’s Search Algorithm

In this recent VentureBeat article you’ll find the following very precise illustration of how the factors for search rankings impact where apps are ranked on Google’s Play Store (Android):

ASO: Off-Page & On-Page Google Play & Android Search Ranking Factors

To expand your knowledge on the subject of app store optimization for an app you are publishing, you should study the above info-graphic.

For more in-depth details on the topic of App Store optimization, check out this free App Store Optimization (ASO) report.

To learn what factors influence Apple’s search ranking algorithm, go factors impacting Apple’s search algorithm.

Secret Factors Behind Apple’s App Store Search Ranking Algorithm Revealed

VentureBeat’s recent post ‘Boosting organic downloads: ASO in 4 simple steps’ has an outstanding image showing how the iPhone and iPad App Store search rankings work:

ASO: Off-Page & On-Page iPhone & iPad Search Ranking Factors

If you are looking into app store optimization for an app you are publishing, you should memorize this image.

For more in-depth details into App Store optimization tips and tricks, check out this free App Store Optimization white paper.

Top Tools for App Store Search Optimization

If an app is published in the App Store, and no one finds it, it is invisible. In order to prevent publishing invisible apps, App Store keyword optimization is key for most publishers. And understanding Apple’s search ranking secrets is no easy task. Fortunately, there are a number of tools out there to help app publishers maximize their App Store search traffic. Here are some of my favorites-

SensorTower– SensorTower provides a very useful free tool for selecting the right keywords to target. Not only do you learn which keywords are the most popular, but also how competitive those keywords are so you can select keywords to optimize for where you have a realistic opportunity to land in the top 3 rankings.
TUNE’s App Store Intelligence Service– One of the biggest challenges while optimizing your app’s search traffic is how to measure what keywords are driving what installs. Following their acquisition of MobileDevHQ, TUNE has a premium offering whereby they will map out your organic installs by different keywords.
Google’s AB Testing for App Store Pages– As part of Google Play, Google now providers a service for app publishers to AB their store pages. This is freaking awesome, as not only can you use this AB testing for the Android version of your app, but you can also take your winning store page and mimic in on your iOS store page.
NativeX Search Spike Keyword Campaigns– I’d also like to mention my innovative new pet project at NativeX called Search Spike. Search Spike is an innovative new ad product launched in early 2016 which has no direct competition at scale. As long as you have a budget of $5,000 per month or more, Search Spike will help you dominate keyword rankings by running keyword optimized ad campaigns proven to positively impact your rankings. Most developers using Search Spike report seeing an over 100 percent increase in their organic keyword traffic!

Got another App Store Optimization tool to recommend? Please leave a comment to expand on this list.

Apple Dots Its Privacy ‘I’s In iOS 9, While Google Appears To Back Pedal

[Originally posted on AdExchanger, September 1st, 2015]

The debate around privacy – and where Google stands – is kicking up on the eve of Apple’s upcoming September launch of iOS 9.

Why? Because though advertising revenue hardly tickles the bottom line at Apple, its decision to enable content blocking in iOS 9 affects how Google’s developers monetize.

Apple’s content-blocking feature allows developers to create extensions that block cookies, images and trackers. Apple also is implementing a security and encryption provision in iOS 9 called App Transport Security (ATS) that will require developers to use secure communication – known as TLS, or transport layer security, the successor to SSL – between their apps and web services.

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