Definition Note: We use the simple term "Viral Whatever" to avoid constantly writing out: "viral videos, viral audio, viral images, viral emails, viral trends, viral memes, viral ideas, viral news, viral challenges, viral meda, etc."
(Table of Contents)
1. Jeff's Bio & Background / Experience & Expertise -- 12+ years creating VIRAL WHATEVER! (Including 40+ Viral Ventures reaching over a million people each!)
2. ~12 Pages of Thoughts & Theories on Virality (from the "Viral Whatever" book - that I haven't actually gotten around to writing yet) #IamADD
3. ViralWhatever.com Projects & Programs (primarily PART-time!) ***Pitching for Partners & Participants! (Ever wanted to be there when a viral phenomenon first launches?! Come work with us!)
1. Jeff's Bio/Background & Experience/Expertise
"My (relatively unique) experience / expertise is creating and evaluating potentially-viral concepts and content that will resonate with large/diverse audiences, intuitively recognizing/analyzing MANY factors (the art, science, math, psychology, mechanics, etc.) impacting virality and differentiating “ideas” from “IDEAS+++" (ideas plus vision, viability, viral potential, and more)..."
Jeff's 12+ Years Creating "Viral Whatever"
NOTE: Each of the following snippets can/will be elaborated upon in future posts. And some may still have some re-launch potential as part of The Whatever Network in 2017 and beyond.
2001: AskTheCollegeGuy.com — an online advice/humor column that “went viral” (before Jeff even knew what “viral” meant) and developed a loyal following of online readers on 739 college campuses, received millions of page views, and was syndicated in several college newspapers as large as The Centre Daily Times at Penn State...
2002: The Rejection Hotline® — created as a joke in 2001, the humorous fake phone number service took off virally in 2002 (thanks to word-of-mouth buzz and mainstream media coverage by CNN, the LA Times, and much more). It would go on to average more than 1 Million Calls Per Month for the next 10+ years...
2003: Just Thought You Should Know — a multi-medium notification service (email, phone, web) allowing people to alert others of something they might not be aware of (bad breath, body odor, stuff in their teeth, etc.), which went viral to the tune of 20 Million messages...
2004: It Could Always Suck More® — with just the right mix of serious inspiration/motivation and edgy humor, the trademarked phrase resonated with the masses, initially going viral via a Humor Hotline (25+ Million calls), but demonstrated additional viral/brand appeal selling 10,000+ “It Could Always Suck More” wristbands.
2005: Screen Numbers — Recognizing a need for secondary phone numbers (for dating, business, CraigsList, etc.), I haphazardly launched ScreenNumber.com in 2005. Despite decent traction (~10,000 users), it was unfortunately never made a top priority. On Sept. 25, 2006, a company named Grand Central launched the same service (11 months after us). Admittedly, they did it better. But it still stung a year later when Google bought them for $95 MILLION and it became Google Voice :)
2006: SnapVine — I had begun speaking at conferences as a Creativity and Viral Marketing expert and I was approached by the CEO of a startup in Seattle (bringing VoIP to Social Media) to be their interim Creative Director as they sought Product-Market Fit. We found it, scaled the product virally, acquired millions of users, and SnapVine was acquired by WhitePages.com in 2008 for ~$20 Million.
2007: Get Over It Day® — A goofy idea (to create a national holiday?!), but the core idea (that EVERYONE has SOMETHING to get over) resonated with the masses and Get Over It Day was announced to the world by Good Morning America, The Today Show, ESPN SportsCenter and more! The original Get Over It Day poem (via audio, video, and image) has reached an estimated 19 Million people.
2008–2012: Humor Hotlines (RH Brands) — After firing myself as CEO of my own company, bringing on a business partner, raising ~$1 Million in funding and figuring out the “in-call audio advertising” business model, all my other ideas/projects were put aside and we had a great run: 4+ profitable years of 7-figure revenue from 475 Million phone calls to 300+ Humor Hotlines (~40 of which were viral), until...
... [2013: #ShitHitsTheFan] :( After Verizon and AT&T made some big changes to the mobile content industry (our main advertisers), we made the difficult decision to shut the company down — laying off our employees and selling off our 2000+ phone numbers. [Note: I personally bought back all unsold assets — including The Rejection Hotline and all Humor Hotlines’ audio files — some of which may be re-purposed & re-launched as part of The Whatever Network.]
2014: I joined the Atlanta Tech Village and, while also investing in and advising a few younger entrepreneurs, I THOUGHT I had decided that Prediction Log would be my next full-time startup (the idea being that predictions are everywhere, yet there is no central location to officially log predictions, so there is a permanent record and “Proof that you called it!” (B2C = User-generated content & freemium models / B2B = users/data and/or SaaS models). I still believe there is a good opportunity here; BUT, after 6 months development and a moderately-successful semi-private beta test, I abruptly hit the pause button after a few big epiphanies (most notably that I had picked that startup for the wrong reasons, I had little passion for it, and there were way too many other things I wanted to be working on)...
2. Thoughts/Theories & Lessons Learned (on Virality)
- This might sound hypocritical, but... I cringe every time I hear someone talk about how their product/app/content/whatever is "going to be" viral. I believe that “going viral” should NEVER be part of a business plan or a strategy that you or your investors are betting on! *UNLESS* you’ve done it multiple times before and truly understand the art, science, math, psychology, etc. behind "going viral"... Because, much like my dating life:
"IT'S COMPLICATED!" I have studied "Viral Whatever" for many years... and I've created 40+ viral hits (each engaging over a MILLION people each - collective total reach of 500 Million), but I could probably teach a full semester "Viral Whatever" class and/or write an entire "Viral Whatever" book (which I hope to!) and still not properly convey even half of the **MANY factors that impact virality....
**[Yes, there are MANY elements of ART. Yes, there are MANY elements of SCIENCE. Yes, there are MANY elements of MATH. Yes, there are MANY elements of PSYCHOLOGY. Yes, there are many elements of both SOCIAL MEDIA and NEWS MEDIA. Yes, the IMAGES matter, the WORDS matter, the TIMING matters, the MEDIUM matters... etc. etc. We will discuss all this and more when we work together...]
- Yes, a viral idea CAN (theoretically) come from anywhere/anyone. But we estimate that the average person has roughly a 1-In-A-MILLION chance of creating something truly viral... while there are certain people, using certain strategies, that can make it much more likely... 1 in a thousand? 1 in a hundred? 1 in ten?!?!
[Note: All our program participants and partners will learn MUCH more about this]
- I believe most people have very skewed perceptions on virality, how it happens, and how difficult/rare it is to achieve… But that's completely understandable if you stop and really think about the following:
A) >99% of the videos you see ARE viral videos – they only reached you BECAUSE they are viral.
B) YOU WILL NEVER SEE >99.99% of all videos made – why/how would you? they won’t reach you BECAUSE they’re NOT viral.
C) Replace “video” above with “app”, “website”, “photo”, “song”, “product” etc. and the statements are still fairly accurate!
- I often say "potentially-viral" (in regard to future ventures - mine or those of my consulting clients) because, in my experience, most people who use the word "viral" to describe something BEFORE it launches, do not actually understand what viral means. By definition, something is not viral until it has actually "gone viral" (spread like "a virus", multiplying/growing exponentially). Until then, it is, at best, only "potentially-viral". When I do consulting gigs and someone tells me they're working on a "viral video", depending on how sassy/feisty I'm feeling, I will occasionally ask them how they could possibly know that already and/or I'll correct them and tell them there's a greater than 99.9% chance that they are not, in fact, working on anything "viral" at all. :)
- There are MANY different WAYS things can go viral - and for MANY different reasons. There are some that I particularly like and some that I particularly dislike. (I could write an entire chapter on this - but I'll just give a quick example)
- I LOVE when something goes viral based on some combination of exceptional quality, talent/skill, creativity, originality, rarity, authenticity...
I HATE when something goes viral (without anything truly exceptional about it) based entirely on celebrity endorsement and/or mass-media distribution...
[Correction on the previous bullet] I shouldn't say I "hate" that. If you can get your product endorsed/launched by a Kardashian or Ashton Kutcher or Rob Gronkowski or Oprah, that's awesome, kudos to you! I just don't consider it true "viral marketing" when you have that kind of star power and your starter/seed-audience is so huge - especially if you had to pay them for their endorsement or give up equity for their involvement - because that's a lot closer to just another form of paid advertising (just like you would pay to advertise somewhere else).
NOTE: I feel very differently about celebrity endorsements and media coverage when it was the merits of your product/content and natural virality that caught their attention in the first place!!! A few of our examples of this over the years:
A) Mass Media Coverage: We created "National Get Over It Day" (10+ years ago) and it went "naturally viral" on its own. But, among the people it organically reached were reporters and producers at media outlets like ABC, NBC, and ESPN and then, yes, it definitely received a big viral boost after being featured on Good Morning America and ESPN SportsCenter:
B) (Unsolicited) Celebrity Endorsements: We've had MANY examples over the years of our viral "Humor Hotlines" being re-ignited (millions of calls) after tweets from celebrities who heard about us from their friends just like any random/regular person...
Here's a quick summary of (another chapter from the "Viral Whatever" book I'll probably never get around to actually writing)... "Marketing" vs. "Viral Marketing"
MARKETING (Regardless of paid or unpaid!)
Hope that some percentage actually see/hear/listen/watch/read/whatever: 1000?
Hope that some percentage take some action - click/subscribe/buy/whatever: 100?
X percent think it's [interesting] enough to share with Y others: Reach = +400?
X percent think it's [interesting] enough to share with Y others: Reach = +1600?
X percent think it's [interesting] enough to share with Y others: Reach = +6,400?
X percent think it's [interesting] enough to share with Y others: Reach = +25,600?
X percent think it's [interesting] enough to share with Y others: Reach = +102,400?
VIRAL MATH: Above example - viral coefficient is 4... which can exist several very different ways:
A) 100% telling/sharing with an average of 4 people each?
B) 50% telling/sharing with an average of 8 people each?
C) 25% telling sharing with an average of 16 people each?
D) 10% telling/sharing with an average of 40 people each?
E) 1% telling/sharing with an average of 400 people each?
NOTE: We explain all this MUCH BETTER in our ViralWhatever.com presentations, workshops, and in everyday discussion (with all our partners, employees, interns, etc.) while we work on real projects!
"There's no such thing as a bad [xxxx]"
Wait... WHAT?!? If you wouldn't say that about a "logo", a "website", an "app", a "marketing plan", a "sales call", or an "investor pitch", then WHY do we say it about "IDEAS"?!? (full column soon)
Most people have a pretty good level of self-awareness when it comes to their abilities to play the piano or pilot an airplane - or how good they are at golf or ice-skating. (And most ENTREPRENEURS are fairly accurate in their self-awareness of their graphic design abilities or their coding skills - or, albeit to a lesser degree, even their public speaking or sales abilities.) BUT, I believe most entrepreneurs have a terrible level of self-awareness when it comes to their ideas, strategy, vision... (full column soon)
- Everyone has ideas. But (obviously?), not all ideas are created equally... I believe there is a difference between a regular “idea” and what I call an “IDEA+++"
- I completely understand why many people minimize the value of ideas (with Gary Vaynerchuk famously preaching: "Ideas are Shit; Execution is Everything") - because, I admit and agree, that is a fair critique for MOST ideas, conceived by MOST people...
- ... BUT, I also HATE when people minimize the value of ideas like that (and I would love it if Gary V. and others would modify that sentiment to: "MOST Ideas Are Shit (And Execution is Extremely Important)" ... because there is a huge difference between the vast majority of (regular) ideas (conceived by the vast majority of people) as opposed an IDEA+++ (conceived by a very small percentage of the population for whom that happens to be an area of expertise)...
3. COME WORK WITH US!!! (And launch Viral Sh*t with us!)
[Continued from top of page] - We are very good at creating viral concepts and content. HOWEVER, we are admittedly terrible at logistics, execution, implementation, and management of it all - and Jeff admits he is personally terrible at managing the stress that often comes once his stuff does go viral (crashing servers, fulfilling orders, a flooded email inbox, etc). "This is embarrassing to admit, but I have intentionally killed the virality of several projects - taking content down, cancelling orders and refunding payments, putting "sold out" icons up when I actually had/have a storage closet full of inventory..."
So, the biggest goal of this ViralWhatever.com site - as well as some other StartupWhatever.com programs - is to attract entrepreneurial partners (particularly PART-TIME partners!) interested in working with us so that we have the right logistics and personnel in place to open the flood-gates and start launching lots of **potentially-VIRAL WHATEVER... We have MANY projects (that we've determined to have at least a 10x better-than-average chance of going viral) that we are literally sitting on until we have the right personnel in place to launch/manage it all!
** NOTE: We often say "potentially-viral" (in regard to future ventures) because, in our opinion, most people who use the word "viral" to describe something BEFORE it launches, do not actually understand what viral means. By definition, something is not viral until it has actually "gone viral". Until then, it is, at best, only "potentially-viral".
ViralWhatever.com Programs - Learning While Launching!
Within each of our programs (details TBD), we will actually be launching MANY pieces of potentially-VIRAL WHATEVER (products, services, content, social movements, charity-fundraisers, etc.). Our goal is that everyone who works with us will not only be learning many of the viral principles and strategies that increase the likelihood of viral traction (via presentations, Q&A, projects/experiments, and in everyday casual conversation with us about our past/present/future viral ventures), but that you will all get to launch some "Viral Whatever" and play a key role in making it go viral enough to reach a million people or more!
P.S. I realize it sounds ridiculous to say that the goal is to launch multiple things that reach millions of people. But we've done it many times before and we plan to do it many times again! We need people to help us execute, launch, and manage it all - it might as well be YOU!
Important Note: Some of you might not like this part (and that's ok!), but none of our programs are like typical Hackathons or "Startup Weekends" where everyone is encouraged to bring their own ideas and brainstorm new ideas to pursue... We do hope that working with us will give you the skills necessary to come up with your own viral ideas/products/content/whatever in the future if that's your goal, BUT, to begin with, you will be selecting and working on (executing/building, A-B testing, launching/seeding, managing - and hopefully monetizing!) ideas that interest you from buckets of ViralWhatever.com ideas that have already gone through our proprietary "IDEA+++" vetting process (the many aspects of which will be presented/explained in much greater detail!)...