“When I grow up”

This was rewarding project that I worked on with a friend – the nonprofit Youth for Technology Foundation’s 3D Africa campaign video. I came up with the concept, wrote the script, and selected the music while my friend did the art direction. The video is now featured on TechCrunch.

3D Africa from Youth for Technology Foundation on Vimeo.

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Kahuna portfolio

Check out my work for Kahuna, an awesome mobile marketing automation startup. I authored 25 blog posts, 10+ case studies, and 5 ebooks, including:

Marketing Strategy Guide for Kahuna

Marketing Strategy Guide: Push and Email in the Mobile Era. 

Selected blog posts and case studies:

Mobile Engagement Crash Course #1: Intro to Mobile Marketing Automation

Turning App Installs into Valuable Customers: Secrets from Mobile Ticketing Leader SeatGeek

Mobile Innovators Series: Q&A with Jake Fuentes, CEO of LevelMoney

Video Marketing on a Shoestring Budget: Originality Has No Price Tag

This post was first published on June 10, 2014 on the ReelGenie blog and later syndicated in the August 2014 issue of Digital Marketing Monthly.

When Phil Nottingham of Distilled declared at WistiaFest that “the biggest brands of tomorrow will be built online,” he was speaking to an important disruption in advertising currently underway. His colleague, Will Critchlow, elaborates on the idea that digital advertising is a disruptive innovation—a “cheaper but worse” alternative to the traditional product with the potential to gain serious market share.

But is cheaper actually worse? We’ve seen plenty of video marketing that’s succeeded phenomenally despite budgets in the thousands rather than millions. For video marketers, working with limited resources may actually be a driver of success.

Why cheaper can be better for online video marketing:

1. It forces you to be original.

Scott Goodson, author of the bestselling marketing book Uprising, said, “The best brands have remarkable creativity in advertising to help them break through people’s wall of indifference to create brand heat and product lust.” Think of creativity as solving a problem in a novel way. Oftentimes the more difficult the problem and more limited the resources you have, the more ingenious the solution has to be. With unlimited resources, you can dream big—but how many times do those dreams translate into something flashy and cool instead of creative? When you don’t have the budget to make the commercial of your wildest imaginations, you are forced to come up with something clever in its own right.

This viral video created by the Dollar Shave Club is a great example of originality on a shoestring budget. Starring their own CEO and filmed in their own warehouse, its humor, personality, and weirdness strikes the right chord with audiences.

2. Less frills = more authenticity.

The films that make the deepest connection with audiences focus on a simple idea and emotion. We spend most of our days staring at the computer screen, bombarded with messages that beg for our increasingly fragmented attention. At this point, an authentic human connection is like a breath of fresh air. That’s the key to Wren’s viral “First Kiss” video released in March. It captured both the beauty and awkwardness of first kisses between perfect strangers set in a simple studio, garnering 61 million hits in one week and boosting sales by 14,000%. Creative director Melissa Coker told Business Insider, “We set out to create an authentic, touching content marketing campaign in the context of the fashion and style space that took people out of their day jobs.”

3. A simple story is the best story

Similar to authenticity, nothing makes a better connection than a simple story that people can relate to. Yes, sometimes we do want stories to activate our fantasies—the popularity of Harry Potter and superhero action flicks come to mind—but other times, we want stories that help us savor and celebrate everyday life. These are the Before Sunrises of the world. So if you don’t have the budget to create the summer blockbuster, why not try for the charming indie flick that’s just as memorable, perhaps even more so? The most unlikely of subjects, A1 Steak Sauce, has done just that with this gem of a video, “New Friend Requests.”

Access your inner child

Fun is the common element that ties together all of the most successful low-budget online video marketing campaigns. Who’s to say that a child who can buy all Legos in the world will definitely have more fun than one who turns a bunch of sticks he found in the park into a castle? Video marketing on a shoestring budget works because there is no price tag on fun.

Ready, Get Set, Travel! Your Gap Year Starts Today

This is a sample blog post written for a consumer facing travel site.

Traveldream’s new Jetsetter series will take you into the lives of young professionals who are breaking conventions in the world of travel. Creative and resourceful, these serial jetsetters are redefining the rules of adventure.

Today, we’re featuring a trend that many dream of but few dare to fulfill: the mid-career gap year.

Meet Kalie Moore, a young entrepreneur who took the leap of faith. Always spotted with her chihuahua Mr. Tobes, she’ll be the first to regale you with tales of her whirlwind weekend romances in Paris, a glass of merlot twirled around her boldly manicured hand. Three years ago, Kalie spent her 8am to 8pm in a windowless office of a prestigious international law firm in DC. From there, she plotted her escape – out of the corporate world and into the adventure of her life.

Traveldream caught up with this travel darling as she was touring a 13th century Italian castle. Her gap year is over, but she’s caught the travel flu. It’s wild, it’s incurable and it’s here to stay.

KalieHipmunk

When is it time to quit your job and just go traveling?

Now. The truth is there never is going to be a convenient time to pack up everything and quit your job. It is really scary. You just have to trust that there will be new opportunities abroad, or wherever you end up when you are done traveling. I quit my job at a top international law firm in DC (something I thought was my dream job), and now three years later I was just named one of the top 100 international entrepreneurs in Berlin, Germany.

Tips for planning multi-city trips?

Be flexible. Buy a one-way ticket to one city and one-way ticket out of another city countries away. Plan the in-between stops on the fly. You’ll see more and probably get better last minute deals.

Tips for staying within a gap year budget?

If you really are on a shoestring budget, stick to Asia where transportation and lodging cost significantly less than Europe or South America.

Most dog-friendly airlines?

I take my 17 year-old chug (pug/chihuahua) Mr. Tobes almost everywhere. When we fly domestic we always take Virgin, and when we fly international we stick with AirFrance. I have found these airlines to have the most straight-forward dog guidelines, which can be challenging when bringing pets abroad. Virgin in particular is super dog friendly, and the flight staff has been more than accommodating.

Where do you meet the coolest locals?

If I’m going to a new city I will send emails to people I’ve met along the way asking if they have contacts in that area. Also, I use Tinder in most major cities I go. It is always great to grab a drink with a local guy and ask for travel tips.

Favorite adventure?

That’s hard. I’ve been to thirty-something countries in the last three years. I’m currently writing this from Schloss Korb, a castle in South Tyrol, Italy. I’m here to market their out of this world sparkling wine, Dellago Ginger Rose. It is a mix of work and play – yesterday I learned how to ride a vespa 🙂

How to Build a Superteam of Ordinary (But Motivated) Volunteers

This post was first featured in “Change in the Making” on Forbes.com in July 2012.

Building an engaged team is not just about finding the right people; it’s also about keeping them motivated. For non-profits, that challenge becomes even bigger when working with volunteers. It can be difficult to find a model that works for your team as well as your volunteers, and an unmotivated volunteer can waste time and money, while a motivated volunteer can mobilize resources to their maximum potential.

Jaime Ulloa might have your answer, allowing you to build capacity by turning ordinary volunteers into invested leaders.

Twelve years ago, Ulloa started volunteering — not in his native Peru, but in the United States, where he was a short-term English student. Upon returning to his country, he realized there was no culture of volunteerism in Peru despite the notably higher levels of poverty. He never volunteered in Peru because no one had ever asked for his services. Ulloa used that insight to start Asociación Trabajo Voluntario (Voluntary Work Association), which has since helped nonprofits in Peru build volunteer capacity and introduced the idea of volunteerism to dozens of corporations.

But simply building a sustainable business model wasn’t enough for Ulloa. Through his experience organizing volunteer programs, Ulloa noticed that, like employees, volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. There are the one-time helping hands who build a home for a low-income family they never meet. There are volunteers who contribute one skill set or another to a non-profit in a longer-term relationship.

There’s a third kind of volunteers, too: The individuals who truly get to know a community and take the initiative to design their own projects. These are the people who go beyond the parameters of a project they are given, learn the complexities of a problem, identify a solution and then lead others to take action. In other words, these are entrepreneurial volunteers. From this group, some then go on to become agents of change. Ulloa asked himself, “How can we turn ordinary volunteers into extraordinary agents of change?”

His solution includes several important aspects:

1. Help volunteers to reflect on the context of their work. Volunteers need to reflect on their experiences and draw their own conclusions. If a volunteer who builds a house for a family talks to that family and finds out that beyond housing problems, they are also facing lack of employment and healthcare, then that volunteer has come upon a nugget of realization on his own and will be more committed to participate in a project addressing these problems in that community.

2. Change attitudes about what’s possible.  This is all about breaking paradigms. A volunteer who gives his time to help out with one event might not think he could ever go into a community, define a problem, and design his own solution. However, if you show him a peer or co-worker who has developed a project that has achieved meaningful impact, then he begins to ask the question, “Why can’t I?”

3. Relate to the volunteer’s identity. Encourage volunteers to participate in activities that reflect their identity. For example, someone who loves to run will be more invested in leading a project that promotes running among teenagers to instill leadership skills and endurance.

4. Optimize the flow of volunteer assignments: According to the concept of flow, people are the most productive and satisfied when they are given work that is challenging but not overwhelming to them. In order to optimize the volunteer experience, volunteers should not be assigned a project so complicated that it will frustrate them or so simple that it will bore them. Volunteer tasks should be just challenging enough to keep volunteers engaged.

Ulloa believes there are dormant agents of change everywhere who just need to be awakened. Through his new model — which creates a pathway for volunteers to grow as citizens — he hopes to catalyze that change on a larger scale.

The Will of the World

The Yellow Mountain, Anhui, China.

A conversation over smoky Peruvian chicken and piles of ceviche tonight led me to a favorite hiking memory.

I spent some time on the Fulbright scholarship a few years ago, taking in the raptures of China. At the university where I was studying, I met a dashing young man named Xiaoyang. He was from a city in Inner Mongolia known as the “Dubai of China.” Ordos, he named it proudly — perched atop a desert plain, fertile with oil.

Xiaoyang was a Mongol convinced that he was a descendant of Genghis Khan. He might have been on the mark. I had met many interesting Chinese boys in China, but never had I met one as exuberant as Xiaoyang. He took it upon himself to befriend all of the internationals at Zhejiang University, giving us lucky Americans tours of Hangzhou’s Dragon Well villages, where teas of the same name are harvested and made. I also owe to Xiaoyang a thrilling trip to a local dance club. He was a keen observer. Outside the club, he pointed out the lineup of neon yellow bullets — flashy Porsches driven in by the boy billionaires of Shanghai.

October that year, Xiaoyang and I — along with another friend — hopped a creaky bus to the Anhui Province. He wanted to take me to see one of China’s greatest mountain ranges—-enormous, legendary, but oddly unknown to foreigners. Upon arriving at Huangshan, “The Yellow Mountain,” we started on a paved path upwards. Easy enough, I thought. That was only the first kilometer. I am not the fittest person. Kilometer after kilometer we climbed. I could feel my breath getting rougher, my legs getting heavier with each passing step.

I reached a point where I thought I could go on no longer! But, then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older Chinese man make his way toward me. He was smaller and frailer than me, with tanned, creased skin. Draped across his shoulder was a long bamboo stick. On each end, a round satchel, bursting with something.

“He’s carrying supplies of food up to the mountain store,” Xiaoyang said to me.

Then, the clincher.

“He makes the trip up and down the mountain eight times a day.”

“Oh,” I said.

My legs had felt like stone. My will, like silly putty.

I gathered my strength anew. If this old man could make it up the mountaineight times, surely I could manage a single summit.

I’m glad I ran into my muse. It was well worth it. Up on the higher altitudes, I saw the raw, colossal and jagged peaks. They jutted up from the Earth as if to say they had defied nature and torn themselves out from the womb of hell. By sheer will.

Will, it seems, would be a myth and a reality that day.

Photo Whispers: Why Facebook Acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion

The tech world is buzzing with news of Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, a text messaging application with 450 million active users and growing. The app, started by an engineer who was rejected from a Facebook job five years ago, has amassed global popularity since then—gaining many users in fast-growing international markets such as India, Mexico, and Brazil.

Pundits are asking why Facebook shelled out $19 billion for WhatsApp – nearly 10% of its market cap. Some, like Tech Crunch’s Josh Constine and Kim-Mai Cutler, speculate it’s the access to emerging markets about to explode over with mobile users. Others point to WhatsApp’s revenue model and its lean operation.

One interesting opinion comes from Sarah Lacy, founder and editor-in-chief of PandoDaily, who urges us to “follow the photos.”

WhatsApp has been processing 500 million photos a day compared to Facebook’s 350 million, even with far less users than Facebook. A few months ago, Snapchat announced that users were “snapping” 400 million photos a day on its app. Instagram was one of the first major standalone photo sharing hits.

Each of these companies have been been acquired or sought out by Facebook in deals worth more than a billion dollars. Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion the next year and now is picking up Whatsapp for a phenomenal $19 billion.

According to Lacy, this is a trend for Facebook’s acquisition aspirations.

“Facebook has become the world’s most dominant, and resilient, social network by ensuring that it ‘owns’ photos. Today’s purchase shows they’re determined to maintain that dominance whatever the cost,” she writes.

Lacy has made an penetrating point, but she could take it one step further. By acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook is ensuring its dominance of social communication, period, public and private.

Let’s face it. Facebook is for your “public.” Facebook users broadcast their messages to the world. It’s the place to go if you want to upload a snapshot of a diamond ring and announce that you’re engaged, hoping to collect hundreds of Likes and comments.

For most users, there’s a loose definition of a “friend” on Facebook: everyone from your grandmother to the attractive guy you played Beirut with once at a house party. The average number of Facebook friends for a single user is 338. Very few people have that many friends they care about in real life.

People don’t want to share every message with everyone. Social networking today is moving away from the democratization of friendship to increasing privacy and selectivity. There are two driving forces behind this: wanting to share more meaningful moments and connecting across special interests or in-groups. Many people realize that all their acquaintances don’t want to see their most recent ultrasounds or a video of their child’s first hiccup and choose to share it with their family and a few close friends only. It’s still on social, but not on Facebook.

That’s why there are multitudes of newer, private social networks that allow you to share messages and photos only with a select group of people. 23snaps is geared towards families while Path allows only up to 150 of your circle. Nextdoor, which has raised $100 million, only connects physical neighbors.

Facebook has introduced the option of sharing your photos in a private message with select friends, but it’s often much easier to send a group text message. As the photo sharing numbers behind WhatsApp (and Snapchat) reveal, people are sharing massive numbers of photos privately that they won’t be posting publicly.

Facebook has identified the trend toward private communication and opted to buy a dominant player in that space. With the combined power of Facebook and WhatsApp, Facebook will continue to defend its throne. For now, it will continue to be the reigning patron of social communication–both its shouts and its whispers.

This post was first published February 20, 2014 on the ReelGenie blog.