How we reduced bandwidth by 4X

One of the sites I run has been growing a lot lately. Late last year as the traffic grew, page load times started going up. We already had a lot of things optimized, it runs on a server a bit more powerful than my Macbook Air. I had tried Cloudflare in its early days and had complaints from several people that it was very aggressive with its security captchas. I gave Cloudflare another try (with low security settings) and the results were phenomenal. Not just our page speed increased, it just dropped our bandwidth to almost half. Since November we have increased our traffic 2.5X and as you can see bandwidth started increasing back again in February. This is when I setup minimum expire TTL (in Cloudflare settings) to 1 Year and that gave us another drop in the bandwidth usage. This helps with the returning users, not so much with the new users.

We have increased our traffic around 2.5X and reduce the bandwidth to half (perhaps more). If someone is not using Cloudflare’s free CDN and other features like auto minify JS, CSS and HTML they are missing out. No matter what the traffic is, your users and server will thank you.

We have also experimented with Varnish and a few other things, but haven’t been able to set it up with a very high cache rate yet. More on that later.

Entreporn – NSFW

A couple of weekends ago I was coding at TechCrunch Disrupt’s hackathon. This was my first full 24 hour coding hackathon and it was a lot of fun. While taking a break, I had pizza in my one hand and other scrolling down an article about how some guy shut his company down and lessons he learnt. Harish, who was sitting next to me pointed out – “we are reading the same thing!” I looked over his screen and indeed we were. He mentioned that he found the article on Hacker News and started talking about that particular article and in general content like that. We talked about how fluffy most of this content is and doesn’t add much value to the user, just like porn. He was quick enough to coin the ‘Entreporn’ term.

It is true.

Hacker News

Most of the articles – lessons learnt, “10 things you can do to get X”, etc. – just like porn are pieces of content that make one excited and give a feeling of achieving something by reading other’s stories. But the truth is that these articles don’t add much value to a startup founder’s life (this blog post included.) You don’t accomplish anything by reading about other’s experiences other than getting few ideas which you may or may not remember when you are actually in that situation.

Some of you may disagree. You might provide a few instances when you read something related to entrepreneurship and it changed your life. Actually, I myself have got a lot of value out of reading the JFDI blog post by Mark Suster. There was a time (back in 2007) when I was obsessed with reading TechCrunch. I made sure I don’t miss ANY story posted on the blog (they used to write 5-6 posts back then). More recently, I have also been checking my Twitter stream, Hacker News and other sources often a day and spent a few hours reading Entreporn because it gave me insights into things and supposedly made me a lot more prepared to work on my startup.

You bet I was wrong.

These feel-good articles do add value, but the value added by reading these articles is far less than by actually doing things and putting that time & energy into your own startup. Once I started ignoring most of this content, my productivity level increased a lot. By choosing not to read all the interesting articles, I don’t feel like I am missing out on some great advice or some snazzy marketing tactics. I only read articles/blog posts that I come across at least 2-3 different sources without making much effort. This helps me clear out a lot of noise/fluff and get to the important content only.

For all those people reading this, try cuting down on Entreporn (like this one) for a week and notice the change in your startup’s productivity.

Got any other productivity ideas? Would love to know about them in comments below or HN.

Kevin Rose's Foundation

Top 4 entrepreneurship podcasts for busy startup founders


One can read several blogs, scan people’s tweets, go to conferences, listen/watch tons of podcasts to learn insights into how other entrepreneurs operated. Who doesn’t like to get free advice from people who have been there done that, but the reality is as a startup founder you always have a shit load of things that you wanted to get done yesterday. Below is list of podcasts that I subscribe to (with my comments on them). Hope it helps you find good content and save time. Continue reading

How to communicate with “Regulars” about your startup

It is ironic that an introvert like me is writing about communication, but here I am.

While working on a startup you meet a lot of other people who are in the same boat or have passed through the phase you are in. At the same time you also meet a lot of people who haven’t heard of Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Convertible Debt, Pivot (maybe they did), MVP, AARRR, Lean Startup and the list goes on. I call these “regular” people or the sane ones. They could be your friends, neighbors, parents of your kids friends, mailman, teller at your bank and sometimes even your own family members.

When one of the “regulars” ask me about what I do, I start thinking about what version of my pitch do I tell them. I used to mention the current “solution” of the problem I was testing with my startup/product. Some times people questioned back about it and asked more details, but usually I got the “OK. Sounds good” response. I believe “OK. Sounds good” is the one of the worst answers to get from a person you are talking about your product. It is most likely think it is stupid or worse they didn’t get what you are doing.

One of the other things about telling “regulars” about the current “solution” you are experimenting is that it is an experiment and most likely will be replaced with another one in a few weeks, if not days. When you meet the same “regulars” again and talk about how you are doing this new experiment now, in their head they validate that you are a loser, you have no idea what you are doing and your product is going nowhere.

A lot of founders say that they don’t care about what people think or say about them or their product as long as they are on the right path and see progress. I disagree. Being a Founder/CEO your job is to make sure that from your grandma to your neighbor’s 5 year old boy should understand what you do to a basic level.

I started testing a few things with “regular” people about 3 weeks ago. I started talking to them about the problem (not the solution) I am trying to solve and in some cases I ask them even before telling what I do about how they find the products they want to buy. How did you know which camera to buy when you bought the last camera? Why did you buy your last camera? These questions are very relevant for RightBuy and help me understand the user’s thought process and current buying/researching habits. Talking about the problem helps me understand how many people have the problem vs. how many don’t even think it is an issue. Earlier, when I talked about what I am trying to solve the conversations went into silence because I talked to them about something they never saw, but something that I live 24/7.

Since then I have noticed a lot of people getting passionate about the problem and talking in detail how they wasted a lot of time and if they can use the application right now. There are also people I meet who haven’t experienced the problem or don’t consider it as a problem. Both kind of people help me understand who can be beta testers for the app and even evangelists.

I would love to hear other ways you talk and engage with consumers/customers who are not early adopters or tech savvy. What kind of questions do you ask them to get honest, constructive, actionable feedback?

Early thoughts on bo.lt

bo.lt is a service that let’s you copy, edit and share webpages. TechCrunch labels bo.lt as “bit.ly on steroids”.

The core copy and edit functionality looks really solid and works well. It finds all the images/css/js and other dependencies of the page and replaces them in the page and serves it up from their own S3 account. They have done a good job with the design as well.

As a user, I can think of times when I would want to use this service, but not as much as I use bit.ly. Most of the time when I share links, I don’t need to edit the pages.

As a content publisher, I am not too sure if I want users to use this. I understand that anyone can copy my content, edit it and host on their servers right now even without bo.lt. I believe bo.lt makes it easier for content publishers to lose control over the content. Any future changes to the original content will not be passed onto users with bo.lt.

According to TechCrunch: “…is content provider friendly in that Bo.lt still serves up a given page’s ads and analytics systems.” I haven’t tested the ads, but bo.lt does seem to append their own Google Analytics code to the existing GA code on the page. I am not sure how they work with other third-party or home-brewed analytics systems.

Another issue as a content provider is that bo.lt now competes with the original page for Search Engine rankings. For instance this page competes with  the original page without any reference to the original page. Currently, this whole model is breaking the web as we know it to multiple versions of almost same content with different URLs. Depending on how important getting indexed by Google is in their strategy, it can be easily fixed by either adding ‘noindex’ to bo.lt pages or even better adding a canonical tag to the original page. Perhaps, this is more of a reason for content publishers to have a rel canonical tag on their pages so that they get credited for their content.

It takes a lot of effort to change elements of a webpage on the fly and expect most of them to function as the original one. I think bo.lt is an impressive technology, but I am not too sure that they will be well received by publishers with their current model. I hope that they evolve and make it compelling for publishers to be comfortable with their product. They have raised $5 Million from Benchmark Capital.

Update 1: Brian Rutledge mentions that bo.lt seems to be moving rel=canonical tag into the body section, making it obsolete. However, that’s not what my experience was. Looks like a bug in bo.lt.

Update 2: I wanted to see if there is a way a bo.lt can be blocked to copy a website, same way crawlers can be excluded using robots.txt. I found that bo.lt does not look for robots.txt prior to grabbing a page. I looked through my apache logs and it never requested robots.txt today. Another problem is that they are faking the User Agent to be Firefox 3.6.4 (see image below). Whois on the IP address confirms it is owned by Boltnet, Inc. The only way to stop bo.lt from copying your pages is by banning IP address 199.204.84.2, until they change it.

Stop using “hits”

Back in the days of early web (pre-bubble 1.0) “hits” was a popular metric used to measure popularity of a webpage/site. Technically a hit is “a request for a file from the web server.” Any file – jpg, png, css, js, pdf, html…you get the point.

I am amazed how many people still use “hits” when talking about their website and even tech bloggers use them in their articles. It is not that the hits metrics is wrong, it is useless. It does not tell you anything about the actual usage of a website. I can always increase the number of hits by 10X my blog gets by adding 10 1px by 1px images in the footer. The number will sound really larger, but the usage of the website will be same.

Now that we know that the 2,200 – no – 22,000 hits Zuckerberg got in the movie The Social Network isn’t that impressive, let’s see how should we refer our traffic as.

I believe when most of the people these days talk about hits, they actually mean pageviews. As a tech startup founder or a tech blogger you need to know what is the difference between a pageview and  hits.

I consider “pageviews” as the lowest granular metric that you can talk about a website. It is better than hits, but still doesn’t tell you much about the user retention or engagement.

Here are some of the metrics that do tell something about your website:

  • Visitors
  • Unique Visitors
  • Repeat Visitors
  • Pages Per Visit
  • Time Spent Per Visit
  • Monthly Active Users
  • Daily Active Users

All Tech bloggers and startup founders – Please stop using the word/metrics “hits“.

Startup conversation my wife and I had over IM

My wife and I had an interesting conversation this morning.

Sent at 9:46 AM on Wednesday
Neha: I cant create groups in google talk
thats the problem
gsharma: try pingdin
Neha: but it does not have web interface
does meebo have a download version?
gsharma: don’t think so
Neha: hmm
I want something which has both like google talk
and I can sort my list like AOL msger
gsharma: unfortunately there is nothing like that – company idea! Start one :)
Neha: lol I am not kidding
this is a brilliant idea
gsharma: neither am I :)
Neha: so can i leave job and start now
:P
gsharma: or side proj to begin with
I am serious
I can help you out w/ planning etc.
Neha: ok will think
let me work now

New Google Analytics

Just got access to latest version of Google Analytics for RightBuy. It looks great, here are things that I like. You may not be able to experience the screenshots as I do, because I have selected the date ranges that don’t have any data on purpose.

Speed

I must say it is blazing fast as compared to current Google Analytics. Looks like they re-did whole infrastructure for it to usa AJAX just like Gmail. Existing Google Analytics took really long for pages to load and reports to generate.

Google Analytics Mysite

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New Dashboard

They have widgetized the new Dashboard, more like iGoogle. They have also added ability to add more dashboards.

Google Analytics Dashboard

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New Menus

I also like the way Google Analytics changed their top and right sidebar menus. They made the labels non-metrics-geeks friendly and has better categorization. I also like that they took out “Intelligence” out of the menu and made it a separate tab. My guess is we’ll see a lot more of the “Intelligence” like features which will help automating the marketing reports and other alerts.

Google Analytics Menu

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Google Analytics Menu

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Motion Charts

I love current GA’s motion charts, but they had them hidden in Google Analytics. That has changed, Motion Charts is now a type of graph that you can choose for some reports!

Google Analytics Motion Charts

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