Triple Your Language Learning and Speaking Skills with Private Online Tutors

Being able to hold even a simple conversation in a foreign language is useful. I’ve found it’s a great icebreaker and can be a lot of fun too.

It is also grounding, and I’ve felt much more connected to the part of the world where I'm traveling.

’Ni hao (你好)’, “Zdrávstvujte (Здравствуйте)” or "Konnichiwa (こんにちは)" is a way to build rapport more quickly when you step into a store in China, Russia or Japan.

Besides English and my native Finnish, I can hold very simple conversations in Mandarin and Russian.

Having a conversation with high-level North Korean officer:

Let me tell you a story of unexpected situation where foreign language conversational skills have been useful, and totally unexpected, to me.

Two years ago, with my limited Russian, I was able to hold a conversation with a high-level North Korean officer over a business lunch.

(It’s really a story of it’s own, one which opened my world-view more than any other travels. I was staying one week in North Korea to teach local students basic skills in entrepreneurship. So here is just one snippet from the week.)

We were a group of about 10 people, and we were having an official business lunch in Pyongsong with senior government representatives. Pyongsong is know as “Silicon Valley” of North Korea (*ehm*), as there resides plenty of engineers and academics.

I was lucky to sit next to the North Korean Big Guy in the room. I tried opening up the conversation first in English with this officer. No response. Next, just for the fun of it, in German language ("Hallo, sprechen sie Deutsch?”). No reaction. His assistant was looking at me with a desperation in his face. He was probably thinking we can never crack a conversation without him helping to translate.

Then, to counter his desperation, I asked the assistant if his boss actually speaks anything else than Korean. The assistant promptly replied: “Of course, he speaks Russian!”. I’m like “Oh, Russian! Well, привет! Kак дела?” (Hello, how are you?) and I received a happy face and first smile from the officer and prompt reply "хорошо, а Вы?”.

He was happy as he could finally join the discussion without a translator. I asked how on earth he could speak Russian. Stupid me. As a senior officer, he had naturally received his communist training and education in the former Soviet Union in Moscow.

We talked for some 10 minutes in Russian language. We e.g. talked about the places we both had visited in Moscow. We had good laughs and a fun moment that I’ll never forget.

And it was certainly the last place, and with the least likely person, where I was expecting to speak Russian.

So, you never know where the language skill turn out to be useful, and how much fun it can be.

Triple your language learning and speaking skills with private online tutors

I have been studying Mandarin Chinese for two years now. I have explored various methods to learn a new language, and have found some novel ways of learning that I want to share with the world.

I feel there are so many misunderstandings regarding language learning. Most people see only two options:

1) Learning a new language in a classroom setting in your home country; or

2) Moving to the destination country and continue learning in a classroom

While Option 2, moving to the country and taking an intensive class, is definitely an effective learning method, not all of us can make such a move or take one year off to focus full-time on learning a new language.

On the other hand, Option 1, learning a language in a traditional classroom setting in your home country, is neither the most effective nor the most flexible method for numerous reasons. I will talk about these later.

I’ve discovered there are more than these two options, some that most people are not aware of.

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Traditional classroom teaching is not the only method. It’s just the one we are most familiar with, of course, as we’ve experienced it through around 10 years of schooling.

There are more effective, more flexible, and more ‘targeted' ways of learning. With ‘targeted’, I mean vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, dialog practice and so on. Learning a language consists of many areas and you can utilize targeted method for each one.

Get yourself a private teacher and learn over Skype

Most people agree without hesitation that private tutoring is the most effective way of learning a language. That said, many of us think that the price level of private tutoring is out of reach.

For a long time, this used to be true. Thanks to the Internet, things are different now.

You can now find many professional private tutors online. The classes can be conducted over Skype anywhere in the world, with native-speaking, professional teachers. Prices are incredibly reasonable, typically between 5-25 EUR per hour.

In total, I have taken around 100 private classes online, each class 60 minutes, in three different languages.

Elena, who lives in China, has been teaching me Mandarin for well over a year now. I’ve had Svetlana teaching me Russian from Tel Aviv. Roćio taught me a few lessons in Spanish when I wanted to learn the basics before staying in San Sebastian, Spain, for a few weeks.

In short, private tutors have been my go-to method for rapid foreign language learning for the last few years.

Where do I find the teachers then?

Learning over Skype is rapidly gaining in popularity with teachers and learners alike.

Teachers typically use a platform called iTalki and are making a living out of online tutoring. My Mandarin teacher Elena has taught me over 50 hours of Mandarin on iTalki. She has had 9648 lessons in total with 704 different students. Her typical work week consists of 20-30 classes of language teaching — entirely on Skype.

Here is my teacher Elena — Most teachers on iTalki have similar video introduction of themselves

In my opinion, iTalki is the best online service to find private language tutors. They have tens of thousands of private tutors listed on their site, many of whom are professional, university graduated, licensed language teachers. There are also community teachers who don’t necessarily have a degree and have lower hourly prices.

You can try several teachers and pick your favorite to continue your weekly classes with. The first ‘trial lesson’ of 30 minutes is half the price for new students, so you are encouraged to try out several teachers.

I think it is worth your time and money to get the best rated teacher if you are serious about learning a language. It will cost a bit more (while still being reasonably priced), and it’s so much more enjoyable and effective.

Also, once in a while, I’ve taken single classes from other teachers. This way I can practice some particular pronunciation or simply try to have an informal conversation in the target language with a new person.

What are the main benefits of private tutoring over classroom teaching?

1) You get the teacher’s full attention

Needless to say, with private tutors, you get their full attention. Moreover, because you pay them, they know what they get. They are there only for you — patient and polite. You don’t need to worry at all, even if you are just a beginner. This makes the setting comfortable for both the student and the teacher.

This is also the reason why it almost never works if you try to learn a new language through your friends who speak the target language. They will just get frustrated at some point because it’s a one-way street.

The same applies to ‘language exchange buddies’. It rarely works efficiently because enthusiastic learners might not be great teachers, and vice versa. Private tutoring is a completely different setting, and the small fee you pay guarantees your teacher’s attention and expertise.

2) You learn to pronounce like a local

One definite upside in private tutoring is learning pronunciation. The undivided attention of a native-speaking teacher is key to this. I remember repeating a single Mandarin word for 10 minutes in a row to get it right with the teacher. And I successfully used this ‘rinse and repeat’ method with several other words too. Finally, I learned the fundamentals of the four tones in Mandarin. I simply insisted we use the time to learn this, and it was the right decision looking back.

Later, I took a short traditional Mandarin language course in physical classroom setting. I was stunned by how all of the students pronounced in such a terrible manner. I wondered how the teacher could stand it. Other students simply hadn’t figured out how to pronounce the four tones yet, and the class was already progressing to following lessons.

Well, it wasn’t the teacher’s fault, she actually did great job as a teacher. The classroom setting just doesn’t give room for individual teaching and correcting the nuances of pronunciation. Learning to pronounce requires one-on-one time.

I felt I was so much ahead of everyone else with my earlier investment in better learning techniques.

3) You get to choose the most effective time for your class

Flexibility is important. We all know the time of day when we are most focused and productive, ready to learn and for new information to sink in. It can be different for each of us.

For me, the best time is in the morning, right after my regular mourning routines and my 30 minute morning run. I’m also mindful not to look at any emails, messages or other social media notifications before my language class. My mind is then relaxed and uncluttered, and I’m in my most attentive state to learn new things.

This is why I schedule my 60 minute lessons at 9 am every Wednesday. I’ve chosen Wednesday, because I might have other plans over the weekend, which could otherwise interrupt my routine. Mondays are usually busy at work and then I have Tuesday to prepare for my lesson the next day.

Due to its flexibility, private tutoring is ideal because it allows me to select the best time of the day for me.

Taking your first private tutoring class

When you take your first lesson, you don’t need to prepare, or to be too nervous either. Good teachers lead you through the lesson and make it comfortable for you. The teachers are generally polite and friendly people. They have taught the same lessons many times. And, unlike traditional classroom settings, if you don’t feel completely satisfied, it’s easy to try out another teacher.

I tried four different Chinese teachers before I stuck with the one I’ve now taken over 50 classes with. My teacher, Elena, has been extremely professional, polite, reliable and quick-witted.

She is also a quick typist in Skype chat. Yes, typing speed actually matters :) Teacher needs to clarify words in writing, especially with Mandarin. Some other teachers I tried were not as professional, or were simply not as available to suit my schedules.

I gladly pay a little extra to get the best teacher, as it is still a fraction of the cost when compared with face-to-face private tutoring.

Screenshot of  iTalki.com

Screenshot of iTalki.com

My class structure

My typical 60 minute class structure is as follows:

1) First 10 minutes: We talk randomly in Mandarin just like you would catch up with any friend. What did I do yesterday, how was the weekend, how is the weather and so on. This is a smooth and comfortable start, and is also great way to learn to have simple conversations.

2) Next 20 minutes: The teacher asks me to recognize ten different hanzi characters one-by-one. These ten characters have been my homework, and I’ve learned them using self-made flashcards. We then speak a few sentences about each word to perfect the pronunciation and grammatical relevance of each.

3) Final 30 minutes: We follow the HSK book series, and typically go through one chapter. I do have a physical book in front of me (it’s much better than having just a PDF on your computer). At the end of the lesson, the teacher gives me homework to learn the next ten hanzi characters and prepare for the next chapter in the HSK book.

I’ve found this structure to be most effective.

Should the Skype lesson be with or without video?

When I started to take private tutoring over Skype some years ago, I first used both video and audio in Skype. I could see the teacher and she could see me. This was useful for the first one or two lessons to build rapport and to connect comfortably with the teacher.

However, I felt that the real-time video was distracting the language learning process. It takes extra mental energy to pay attention to the teacher’s facial expression and body language. My listening and speaking were a little distracted. Without the video, I felt I could fully concentrate on listening and speaking, and learn more effectively.

After my first two classes, I suggested that we continue the Skype lessons only with audio. This has worked well for me, as I’ve been able to focus exclusively on listening and speaking. It’s easy to try both ways and see which works better for you.

Start speaking from the day one

Over the years on my multilingual quest, I’ve found out that there are some novel and far more effective (and affordable) learning methods. These can accelerate your language learning speed to new heights.

One-on-one online tutoring is the number one method that I have recommended to many of my friends.

Benny Lewis, a polyglot (or multilingualist) who speaks eight different languages, discovered that people who are not afraid of speaking a new language from day one, despite many mistakes, are usually the fastest language learners. I’ve found this to be true for myself as well.

Online tutoring is so compelling because you actually get to speak from the day one. It’s a head start compared traditional classrooms setting.

Mr_Bean_language.gif

Are you currently learning a new language? Or perhaps you studied a language for years, back in the days, and regret a little that you never really had good chance to learn how to speak it fluently?

I encourage you to consider giving an online tutor a try.

I’ll guarantee it will take your learning speed and enjoyment of language learning to new heights. Finding a teacher and booking a class for ANY language takes just 5 minutes.

PS. If you’re inspired by my writing, and found it useful, you can consider signing up with iTalki through this link. It’s my affiliate link, and we both get $10 USD free credits if you decide to book a class.

- Mikko

My morning routine that makes me THRIVE!

Ask any high-performing individual and they will all tell you they have a morning routine.

Just check these guys out for some (early morning) inspiration:

  • Richard Branson wakes up at 5am to kite, surf, swim or play tennis and claims to get an extra 4 hours of productivity a day from regular exercise. Amazing.

  • Mark Zuckerberg wears the same style of T-shirt, pants, and hoody every day to minimize day-to-day choices by making as few decisions as possible. Definitely works.

  • Tony Robbins does a daily morning ritual he refers to as ‘priming’: First a set of energizing Kapalbhati Pranayama breaths, then he finds three things he’s grateful for, and finally he sends strength and well wishes to friends, family and business associates. Incredible.

Routines are important, and highly beneficial too, because they negate the need for you to regularly schedule your days ahead of time. You already know what you’re going to do every morning, which saves choice and thought time. In addition, a regular plan and structure adds momentum and direction to your life.

You want to get where you’re going as quickly as possible, don’t you?

It’s no secret that our daily habits make us who we are. Habits become part of our instinctive nature and develop our characters. They also determine our results and outcomes. So, in a way, we are what we repeat.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones”.

In my case, I quite simply didn’t realize just how much time I was wasting, or how ineffective I was, until I came across the idea of a morning routine.

Here’s the old me before I had a morning routine

Quite some years back now, my morning looked like this: I would wake to my phone’s alarm at around 8 am. Typically, I’d snooze it a few times too. Then, before even getting out of bed, it was straight to Facebook on my phone. I’d check out what was happening in other people’s lives, which made me lose focus on my own tasks for the day. After fiddling on Facebook for a while, I’d get out of bed, drag myself to the shower, have breakfast and go to the office. Does this sound familiar? Looking back, it was terrible, and I wanted a change.

My morning routine for the last three years

When I realized how much time, opportunity and potential I was wasting, I completely transformed my old morning habits. Although I’ve adapted my routine slightly along the way, I’ve committed to a solid and productive morning routine since then. A morning routine is important to me because it enables me to stick to my important goals that are not urgent. No one distracts me in my morning hours anymore. My mind is clear after a good night’s rest, and I feel productive, energized and inspired.

Having a morning routine has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I’m sharing mine with you because I’d love to encourage and inspire you to have one too.

Here’s what the first two hours of my day look like now

  1. My routine before I go to sleep

  2. I read a book for 30 minutes

  3. I make my bed

  4. I enjoy a healthy breakfast

  5. I run for 30 minutes while listening to a podcast

1. My routine before I go to sleep

It may sound strange, but my morning routine already starts the previous evening. Before I go to sleep, I first schedule my To-Do list for the next day in my Google Calendar. I prioritize my most important tasks as first items for the next day (after my morning routine, of course!). Then I set my old-fashioned analog clock to wake me up. I deliberately don’t use the phone as my alarm clock. I charge my phone on my desk. The desk is too far to reach from the bed, so there is no temptation to touch the phone when I wake up.

I’m not strict about what time I set my alarm for, but I am strict about getting 8 hours of sleep every night. I typically wake up between 7 am and 8 am, depending on when I go to sleep. Finally, I close the curtains to make the room pitch dark, and I doze off.

2. I read a book for 30 minutes

Some years ago I used to read only in planes or on trains. However, I discovered I wasn’t reading nearly as much as I wanted to. Things changed when I made reading a daily habit. Every morning when I wake up, I read for 30 minutes while still in bed. I feel I’m learning something new every day, which I can reflect on during the day with people I meet. Thanks to this habit, I automatically read 3.5 hours every week (minimum!) over and above the reading I do on my travels. I’m learning so much more than before. If anything, I wish I’d started this excellent habit much earlier.

3. I make my bed

After I’ve finished reading, I get up and make my bed. Yes, the bed looks neat and clean after it’s made, but the real benefit is psychological. As you make your bed, you’re mentally starting your day. And once you’ve made your bed, it’s not so easy to get back into it again after brushing your teeth. The best part of this routine for me is when I get home in the evening. I will see my bed, neatly made. Which I made. I then give myself a mental pat on the back. This dose of gratification I experience every day is thanks to a simple 20 second investment in the morning.

4. I enjoy a healthy breakfast

I like to get the day started quickly, and with good energy. I replace time-consuming cooking (which is good fun when on vacation with friends) with a quick and healthy alternative. Besides convenience, a great fast breakfast also needs to be healthy to prepare you for the day. I enjoy 50-80 grams of Ambronite mixed in a shaker. I get everything my body needs: Protein, fats, carbs, and greens in a balanced manner, and it only takes two minutes. I usually top this of with a bit of extra protein.

The critical benefit is that I always know I’m going to feel great afterwards. A smoothie-type of breakfast also works well before my morning run. It won’t slop around my stomach as solid food would. Breakfast is the only meal of the day which I have total control over, so I choose it wisely.

5. I run for 30 minutes while listening to a podcast

When I finally head out of the door for my morning run, I know that the day is going to be a breeze. Exercise wakes me up mentally, and I’ll be fully energized for my activities of the day once the endorphins I get from running kick in. I run the same route every day next to the sea, mostly in a park, and the serene views of Katajanokka make me feel at ease. Besides running, I also do some push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Once a week, instead of a morning run, I go to the gym to do some strength training.

I also listen to a podcast while I’m running. This way, I combine learning, exercise and the outdoors into the same activity. I typically listen to Chinese Pod, as I’m learning Mandarin as my hobby. Sometimes I also listen to this upbeat running music that makes me speed up and get energized. Few times a week I also complete Brendan Meyers’ 5 min Abs Workout.

After my morning routine, I do proactive work for an hour

Once I’ve finished the five activities above, my morning routine is complete. I feel I’ve accomplished plenty for the day already, while it’s still morning. I have mental focus and clarity, and boundless energy to tackle whatever I have scheduled for the day. As Mark Twain said, I try to “eat a live frog first thing”, which means I focus on completing the hardest task first thing after my Morning Routine. Whatever this task is, I get it done first.

Once this is done, I check my emails, messages or social media for the first time. This is the first time I move from proactive mode to reactive mode.

So, do I stick to this routine every morning?

In short, no I don’t. It’s not carved in stone but it is a habit I stick to as best as I can. For example, during regular weeks, I follow my routine religiously. However, if I have an early appointment, I only go for a quick morning run. When I’m traveling for business, I stick to my routine.

On the other hand, when I’m on vacation I deliberately don’t follow most of the routines, because it feels good to just go with the flow, improvise and be present with the people you are traveling with.

We all have different routines that work for us, and I hope to have helped inspire you to craft a morning routine that works wonders for you.

More reading

For your interest, here ( https://mymorningroutine.com/ ) are some incredible, neatly categorized stories of morning routines of high performing individuals (e.g. entrepreneurs, writers, yoga and meditation, frequent travelers, etc.).

Enjoy!

Yours,

Mikko

Ambronite Crowdfunding: How We Raised $100,000 on Indiegogo

I’ve shared what I learned about crowdfunding with dozens of people since we raised $100,000 in pre-sales through the Ambronite campaign. It’s been a privilige to help entrepreneur with their new ideas. Finally, I decided to compile all I have learned and share it in a blog post, for a one-stop-shop experience.

Setting the Expectations: Preparation Takes Time

Creating a successful crowdfunding campaign is much more time-consuming than one would think. Many assume you just launch a campaign and money starts flowing. But the fact is that you need at least 6 months to prepare. After we decided to crowdfund for Ambronite, it took us 9 months before going live with our campaign on Indiegogo.

Ambronite Campaign: Key figures

Ambronite raised $102,824 USD in total during its 60-day campaign between May 4th and July 3rd, 2014. The original goal of the campaign, $50,000 USD, was fulfilled at 205.65%. We had 829 individual contributors, and the campaign site on Indiegogo received 35,401 visits and 11,070 referrals. We were lucky to become the most funded food project in the history of the Indiegogo platform.

Wondering about the sales spikes? On May 14th we sent out a reminder via e-mail and on June 13th,  TIME Magazine  published an article about the campaign.

Wondering about the sales spikes? On May 14th we sent out a reminder via e-mail and on June 13th, TIME Magazine published an article about the campaign.

As you can see, most of our pledges came in during the first few days and during the last few days of the campaign. This was well expected and typical to most crowdfunding campaigns. It’s actually fairly easy to extrapolate the success of any crowdfunding campaign within the first 3 days of it going live. Most of the media articles came out during the first week, and a few articles helped us in the middle of the campaign, too.

Pledges Were Split Into Three Categories

  • 1/3 of pledges came from people who had expressed their interest to buy Ambronite when it became available, prior to the campaign. We had a non-binding pre-order form on our website before launching on Indiegogo. There were 449 pre-orders totaling around $60,000 pre-revenue. We didn’t ask for payments at this point, but gathered a list of contacts to reach out to once on Indiegogo. Roughly half of these people completed their purchase when we launched.
  • 1/3 of pledges came from media. TIMEArstechnicaEntrepreneurU.S. News and tens of others. We proactively reached out to journalists, together with externarnal help, during the campaign.
  • 1/3 came from here and there, e.g. through social media buzz and Indiegogo discovery.

Indiegogo’s rule of thumb is to have thefirst 1/3 of the pledges committed to purchase before you launch. The next 1/3 will come from friends of friends, your extended network. And the final 1/3 will come from the platform featuring your campaign.

A Common Misconception of Success-factors

An amazing video. Great looking crowdfunding page. Well-thought pricing. That’s the recipe for success, right? Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for miserable failure.

To be fair, having these is a great start, but alone, these won’t bring you much in sales. Most campaigns fail here. They have great video, profile page and externally everything looks perfect. Then they are surprised when the campaign gets nearly zero sales.

Traffic is All That Counts

The common misconception is that the crowdfunding platform will bring traffic to your campaign.

The truth is, initially, the crowdfunding platform (e.g. Indiegogo or Kickstarter) hardly brings any relevant traffic to your page. You need to be able to generate traffic on your own first. For example, the Indiegogo’s GoGofactor will only feature you if you’ve been able to generate sales and traffic by other means. In a way, the platform multiplies traffic you’ve been able to generate yourself.

If you do really well, you might get featured to Indiegogo’s or Kickstarter’s newsletter. That can potentially be huge.

So How Do You Get Traffic?

I divide this chapter into four sections. 1) Social media presence, 2) Building your e-mail list, 3) Working with media to get coverage and 4) Paid advertising. The first two are pretty no-brainers, while working with media and paid advertising are usually areas that many first-time crowdfunders lack understanding and experience.

  1. Social Media Presence

You should have Facebook and Twitter accounts and start building the brand early on. It’s a good idea to register Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, etc. even though they might not be relevant at this stage. We started activating our social media channels one year before the campaign.

When you have your brand & visuals are ready, you can soft-launch your brand through your website and social media. A simple landing page is enough. Tell a story and start gathering email list. If you are not too savvy with tech, there are lots of tools out there such as Launchrock.

2. Newsletter — E-mail List

Ambronite newsletter subscribers growth

Ambronite newsletter subscribers growth

When you have your social media presence in place, it’s good idea to start generating an e-mail list as soon as possible.

When you don’t have any product ready, your main call-to-action should be converting your website visitors to newsletter subscribers. You can attract people to join by promising them to be the first ones to know when you launch. We also provided a small discount during the first 48 hours of the campaign for our newsletter subscribers.

Be creative — You can also provide some other value-added insights about your product of the industry in general, e.g. through an auto-responder. Keep the email list warm with at least one email per month.

3. Working with the Media and Getting Coverage

Some of Ambronite’s media coverage

Some of Ambronite’s media coverage

Reaching out to media is extremely underestimated and is often not completely understood. There are thousands of journalists out there looking to cover great new inventions. If you don’t contact them, they have no idea about your initiative.

You need to put yourself in their shoes. Journalists are looking for scoops: interesting milestones that nobody else has covered yet. If you’re preparing a crowdfunding campaign you already have two stories to tell: 1) your new product and 2) simply the fact that you’re crowdfunding. Crowdfunding as a method is still attractive to readers all on its own

Being featured in international media doesn’t just happen by creating a website and waiting for a journalist to find it. You need to proactively pitch to journalists. Cold-emailing is perfectly fine when you do it in a proper way. The best part about crowdfunding is that you can contact journalists a few weeks before the launch and share a private link to your crowdfunding campaign. That’s a scoop — early access to a story that has not yet been covered. It also gives the journalist time to write about you. Due to the nature of our product, we also sent physical samples of Ambronite to most of the journalists. Actually, most journalists would have not written about us without the samples, so be prepared to send something in case you have a food product.

Keep in mind that outreach can be surprisingly time consuming, and you won’t get reply to most of your emails. Thus, don’t just contact 10 journalists. Contact 100. Or 1000. Aim high — find a journalist from a large newspaper, who has been covering your niche. Just remember to send tailored and personalized e-mails to each person. Tools such as YesWare are useful for personalized, but scaled outreach.

Tip: Do not write a public press release! Press release implies that there is no scoop anymore. Focus on a story idea instead. And pitch it to directly to one journalist, not in the mass email chain. There are many good articles on how to interact with the media. For example The press release is dead by Mike Butcher from TechCruch.

PR professionals — are they any good?

Beware, most traditional PR companies are utterly useless for crowdfunding. They merely provide you copywriting services.

However, there are some novel agencies and freelancers who can do e-mail pitching to thousands of journalists, and do this quickly. We had external help for 2 months, and it was definitely worth every penny. Based on my experience, most of this talent seems to reside in the US, not in Europe.

Convert to Organic Traffic

Not only did the media hits turn into instant sales, but the articles also built our SEO, and thus increased organic traffic to our website in the long run. Google ranks search results with the PageRank algorithm. PageRank basically counts the number and quality of links to a webpage to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites. Also, TIME Magazine, Wires, Business Insider etc. are great quality links.

4. Paid Facebook Advertising

Crowdfunding campaigns have recently seen a boom in digital advertising, especially in paid Facebook ads. This was also emphasized by Indiegogo UK’s Director Anastasia Emmanuel on 12th Nov, 2015 in an event “Building crowdfunding success” organized during Slush 2015 where we both were invited to speak about key ingredients for successful crowdfunding campaign.

When it comes to Facebook marketing, there are two simple, but useful tools: Retargeting and Lookalike Audiences. Retargeting enables you to show ads to people who have visited your campaign page, while Lookalike Audience lets you to upload your email list (or even a list of phone numbers) to Facebook and its algorithms target people with similar interests.

Anastasia mentioned an example of a drone-project that got $12 return for every $1 invested. They put in $100,000 in Facebook marketing to generate $1.2M worth of pledges.

On the cautionary side, my own experience is that the glory days of Facebook marketing have passed. A few years back, bid prices were super cheap and people were building enormous e-mail lists. Today, Facebook ads are much more competitive. Still, they can be useful. Just be prepared that learning the tricks and optimizing the campaigns take time.

We didn’t use paid Facebook advertising for the Ambronite crowdfunding campaign. Looking back, this could’ve been a great opportunity.

Shooting the video

Shooting the video was probably the most fun week when preparing the campaign

Shooting the video was probably the most fun week when preparing the campaign

We hired Uber Creative and they did splendid job. Many of the awesome ideas for the video were brainstormed together with Jasu and Mikko from Uber Creative.

I’d definitely recommend hiring a professional video freelancer to shoot and edit the video. Just hire carefully so that you can trust their level of professionalism. References are easy to check from previous videos, but the prices vary a lot. We got offers everywhere between $3,000 to $60,000.

You definitely should be the mastermind behind the script and plan what you’re going to say. Just leave room for the video team to have their say on the rest (shooting locations, video angles, etc.). They usually come up with amazing creative ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of. That’s why it’s better to plan this together.

In retrospect, we wasted a bit too much time tinkering our script and thinking about exact video shooting locations before hiring Jasu & Mikko.

The crowdfunding campaign and video are going to show a big part of who you are and what you stand for as a company, so prepare them well.

Running the campaign

Day 1 — The Launch Plan

The first two days of the campaign were extremely hectic. Our team spent most of the time in front of computers. There were a lot of queries coming in and we had to respond to all of them. This really showed us the nature of a wired world we live in.

Also, we were able to enjoy Ambronite meals every day, which proved to be a very convenient “launch meal”. That said, we had to schedule time to actually leave the computer screen with the team to get some exercise and fresh air.

Ambronite crowdfunding launch date —human flags in-between the hacking

Ambronite crowdfunding launch date —human flags in-between the hacking

Twelve hours before the launch, we pinged our newsletter subscribers about it. They would be prepared to make the pledge to get an early-bird discount, which was only available for first 48 hours.

When we launched we 1) Sent a newsletter to our e-mail list 2) Sent a reminder to those who placed pre-orders 3) Shared our message on Facebook and Twitter.

One of your greatest resources is your friends and family. A few days before the launch we personally reached out to 100 of our friends over Facebook. We told them about the initiative and how excited we were, and asked if they would like to help and share the campaign during the launch date. Of course your friends want to help. Always remember to be grateful and say thanks even for a tiny bit of help.

Also, the media interviewed us a few days before the launch, so the journalists were waiting to publish their stories within the first days of the campaign.

Day 60 — Final Day of Crowdfunding: How to Top Six Figures

During the last hours, the team was stressed out — we were worried whether we were going to cross six figures in revenue or not. It was so close, but there was not much time left. Suddenly, the campaign was well over $100,000. One of my American acquaintances, I met him for casual chat during the Burning Man festival the year before, pledged $2,599 USD for one year’s worth of Ambronite meals. After pledging, he sent me a message: “Wanted to make sure you topped $100k. And I couldn’t pass up the free shipping option! :}”

Lesson learned: random interactions matter. Stay grateful and keep sharing your passion wherever you are :-)

Day 90 — After the campaign?

Managing more than 200 backers after the campaign is a pain if you are going to rely on Excel only. Backerkit is a great (almost de-facto) online platform to manage your pre-orders. You can simply import your pre-order excel from Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Backerkit handles address confirmations and you can conduct a survey through it (and learn a lot from you customers). The platform has a price tag, but it allows to upsell more products to your current backers, which covers the cost. 100% recommended.

Day 120 — How We Leveraged Our Crowdfunding Backers in R&D

The unique aspect of crowdfunding is to have paying customers before they have even used you products.

Your crowdfunding backers will be a major asset to you in many ways, not just financially.

When our crowdfunding campaign was over, we had a nearly finished version of our recipe developed. We wanted to understand more about what our customer thought and we sent out free samples to 50 of the backers. We asked for a 15-minute call in return. That helped us to understand how our customers used Ambronite, what they thought about the taste, labels and so on. This was valuable input and we were able to hone the actual product to be even better when shipping the final version to backers.

Before you start to work on your campaign

Motivation and Timing to Launch Crowdfunding

Revenue should not be the sole target of crowdfunding. Many times your profit will turn out to be pretty thin from the campaign itself. However, a successful campaign will bring you much more — media coverage, early customers, a community. It will also leave a public stamp of your success. It becomes part of your story and helps with other aspects, for example to raise funding from traditional investors. Our successful crowdfunding campaign was naturally a part of our pitch when we raised $600,000 in funding later.

When to launch?

It’s good to be confident that you can actually manufacture and deliver what you’ve promised. Being late for a month or two is fine. People accept that when they participate in a crowdfunding project. However, it’s not necessarily a good idea to raise money before understanding your manufacturing process.

We already had some 200 paying customers before launching our campaign. We had iterated our product and understood customer priorities at some level. Also, we had a nearly finished recipe and a partnership with a co-packer before the launch. Still, it took us five months to get the product to backers.

Crowdfunding looks much easier what it is

A campaign is much more time-consuming to prepare than many assume, and it’s even harder to be successful. To put things into perspective, only 1.99% of successfull Kickstarter projects raise more than $100,000.

Yet, crowdfunding is definitely worth the effort if you plan to launch a consumer good and build a start-up around it. Just remember that it’s extremely rare for a campaign to go viral. To be successful, you need to systematically and willfully build your presence. Great video and a honed profile page are important, but won’t bring you any sales alone. Focus on building traffic: engage your friends, build an e-mail list, plan your media outreach and learn digital marketing.

Good luck!

Mikko,

Co-founder at Ambronite

Further reading

Ambronite Indiegogo page

Ambronite web page

Tim Ferriss blogpost

Crowdfunding bible

Hire Knowledge Work Samurais: Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants (VA) are today's knowledge work samurais. VAs allow a new person to grow within you. They enable you to navigate through your day without wasting time on repetitive and manual tasks. You can focus on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses. Ultimately, virtual assistants make you productive, not busy.

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Quantified Self & Biohacking

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition focusing on person's daily life, in areas such as nutrition, sports, sleep and mood. Self-monitoring is usually done with wearable sensors and smartphone apps. 

Biohacking means realtime self-experiments, such as changes to your daily nutrition, and following how these changes affect different markers. Biohacking is experimentation and Quantified Self is about tracking, so they go well hand in hand.

I'm the co-founder of Quantified Self & Biohacking Finland. It is a community that organizes events and brings likeminded individuals and companies together in the capital region of Finland.

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Some of the greatest moments in my life have taken place in the middle of Siberia, while on a private train.

Aalto on Tracks took around 100 people from the Aalto University community on private train from Helsinki to the Shanghai World Expo, China, in May 2010. That was over 10,000 kilometers and a whole week on tracks!

This journey has been a very personal one for me. I was the chief organiser of the trip, putting nearly half a year of my time to make it happen. During this time, I learned about life and human interaction at a faster pace than at any other point in my life, and as a result made 100 new friends.

Our goal was to take Aalto University, Finland and Finnish education to the world. We wanted to unite the Aalto community and create an unforgettable learning experience for close to one hundred Aalto participants and guests.