Rethinking My Startup Investment Strategy

Crains just published a piece on my new venture Southbox and how we’re experimenting with the early-stage investing and incubation model. An excerpt:

When you are an investor in tech startups, to a degree, you operate in a particular way, which is what I had been doing over the past three years. I was putting money into companies that were all at the early stages, where they were trying to get their first customers, build their product and make it sure it worked, and all that other fun stuff that happens when you are trying to start something from nothing.

The observation that I made towards the end of last year happened when I was working with a much larger fund that had probably 300 companies in its portfolio. As I was looking at all the companies that didn’t make it, I noticed that they all seemed to fail for the same reasons. They didn’t have the ability to share resources beyond capital, and were sort of left on their own to find their first customers, hire their first software developers — all of those early stage problems.

If you’re a VC, and are effectively funding all of these companies to solve for all the same problems, it’s way cheaper for you to allow the companies to share resources and collaborate. 

Read the full story at Crains

Six Posts to Read Before Reaching Out to a VC

I get a lot of emails from young, upcoming founders who want advice, help, funding or many other things. If that’s you, or you’re about to reach out to me or some other investor please take the time to read the following articles first:

  1. Jason Calacanis does a great job of telling people what it takes to get funding with his post “When You Should You Reach out to Investors?”
  2. Fred Wilson does a great job of explaining how to build a minimal pitch deck and why that’s often preferred in his post “Six Slides”
  3. Steve Bowman offers an interesting counter-point to Fred about doing a longer, more elaborate, pitch deck.
  4. Guy Kawasaki is somewhere in the middle on the subject.
  5. DJ Patil writes about what it takes to succeed in his post “Failure is Our Only Option”
  6. This post over at Less Wrong tells you to just “Shut Up and Do The Impossible”

The first four of these are pretty quick reads, the last two are longer reads. Still they are worth it. So read them. If you can’t invest a few minutes of reading into your company, you’re either wildly successful already or you’re doing something wrong.

The last one I’ll add is one from myself for entrepreneurs who feel they are at a disadvantage because they are a minority.

Guess what? You are and no one gives a shit.

Being a great entrepreneur means tearing down the hurdles that others put in your way, no matter that they are. Here are my even more candid thoughts on the matter: “The (Bad) Advice You’ll get as a Minority Startup Founder”

Updated 6.8.2017: Changed ‘Five Posts’ to ‘Six’ and added Guy Kawasaki’s

Join Myself, Media and Tech Executives at Pivot Con 2015!

I’m excited to be hosting the upcoming Pivot Con 2015 at the Dream Hotel in New York City. I’ll be accompanied by executives and staff from the industries leading media companies to discuss the future of tech and media.

The pace of business transformation accelerates year over year as new
technologies emerge and best practices evolve. Pivot exists to create a
community of leaders from innovative brands and companies, and to
provide this community with a roadmap to navigate the increasingly
complex modern business landscape. From product development, to customer
experience, to internal operations Pivot provides the insights and
connections you need to remain agile and impactful in a Social/Digital
world.

The one-day conference will combine dramatic keynote
presentations with interactive roundtable conversations to leave you
inspired and ready to take action.

Join us at the Dream Hotel in New York, NY on October 29th for Pivot Con!

Grinding

Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Startup Grind Philly.
Startup Grind is a nationwide speaker series that invites some of the
best investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators to a fireside chat style
session – basically a mixture of interview, Q&A, and presentation

In the session I spoke about my journey, from my initial foray into making comics, then into the music industry, then film, then tech.

But mainly I gave advice to upcoming entrepreneurs that I’ve learned over the years. Here is the TL;DR version….

  • Don’t let other people define success for you. Build something that works and that you’re proud of and own that as your success.
  • Build a strong company first, worry about investors later. You can torpedo a solid business neglecting operations and sales to raise capital.
  • Investors are fickle anyways. You can have customers, revenue, and a great product and still not be able to raise capital. Investors should be nice-to-haves, not need-to-haves.
  • Do one thing well first. A lot of startups fail by trying to ‘boil the ocean’ with features and serving all possible markets. Nail one first, grow into the rest.
  • The worst thing in the world, which I learned the hard way, is to have a wide set of features for a wide set of customers. Either narrow the product offering, or narrow the customers you’re targeting, or both.
  • Diversity in tech is about “who’s in the room”. Whoever is in the room, controls who else gets in the room. It’s that simple. We have to focus on nurturing more minority and female investors who are good investors first, minority investors second. By changing who’s in the room you eliminate some of unconscious biases that exist.
  • The best way to become fearless is to fail epically at least once. If you can bounce back, you learn that failure is usually worse in your mind than it is in reality. If you can’t bounce back, you’ve still learned a valuable lesson about what NOT to do again.

Thanks to everyone who attended!

What I Learned about Tech and Business from Tyler Perry

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When I tell people I used to work for Tyler Perry there are overwhelmingly two reactions. The first is the number of people around the world who haven’t ever heard of him or his work. The second reaction is laughter or condescension:

“The guy who dresses like a woman?”

“The guy who makes those black films?”

“The guy who puts his name in the title of all his films?”

Yes. That guy.

Regardless of whether or not you think he’s a creative genius, he is a genius of a different type and a lot smarter than people seem to give him credit for, especially when it comes to business.

First, some background. I only worked for Tyler Perry Studios briefly  from 2006 to 2007. It was just after he had closed a deal for $200 million dollars to build his studio in Atlanta and produce his first set of TV Shows, HOUSE OF PAYNE and MEET THE BROWNS, for TBS. I was a Sound Designer and Audio Engineer at the time and not involved in any business dealings so nothing I’m saying here is confidential. In fact, much of what I write here can be discovered through a few searches on Google, Wikipedia or Variety.com.

In any case, through following Perry over the years and reflecting on my own observations at his studio, I learned a lot that I later used to find success in the tech industry.  What are some of these lessons?

1- He Knows the Business He’s In

The secret to Tyler Perry’s success is really in that second group of people I mentioned. The smug people who underestimate him.

The first lesson I learned is, rarely are successful people in the business of the things their critics think they are.

People think Tyler Perry is in the business of pleasing the public or critics. He’s not. He’s not even in the business of speaking to his ‘niche’ audience. No, Tyler Perry is in the business of making movies that earn returns for his financiers. Yes, he speaks to an audience he understands but he’s always been smart enough to focus on what matters most which is the bottom-line.

But what makes him stand out, is that people at every level are always underestimating his ability to do one thing because of their opinion about how poorly they feel he does another. In this case, because they don’t get or simply don’t like his films, they often assume they will flop. When they don’t, not only has he succeeded, but he’s surpassed expectations that were probably unfairly low to begin with.  He knows this and uses it to his advantage. 

2 – He’s Bankable

At Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses they use the term ‘bankable’ to describe people and companies who are attractive to investors. In other words, people who prove they will use money wisely and therefore attract more money.

There is a saying that goes, “A good engineer is someone who can do for $1 what any idiot can do for $2”. In this regard, Tyler Perry is a good engineer.

His first film DIARY OF MAD BLACK WOMAN woman only cost $5.5 million dollars to make. It went on to gross over $50 million.

Many of the methodologies Steve Blank described in ‘The Lean Startup”, I watched Perry apply to his work in TV and Film. Prior to having the money to actually produce feature films, he just set up a camera and FILMED THE PLAYS ON STAGE!! Frugal innovation that would make even Navi Radjou proud. It was the sale of those homegrown DVDs and related merchandise and tickets that originally gave him his first big financial successes. This also proved he had an audience that was hungry and unspoken to.

It was these numbers that convinced Lionsgate to back him for his first few films. It was the success of those films that lead TBS to back him for TV syndication deal for his first two TV Shows, which lead his deal with Oprah’s OWN network and so on.

He essentially sold his first TV Show, HOUSE OF PAYNE, into syndication before he produced a single episode. This was smart for many reasons. First, it gave him the money up front to produce the show, which would go on to build his brand over the next five years. Second, because his deal with Lionsgate also underwrote his studio, this asset dramatically cut costs on producing the TV show (and all his subsequent TV shows and movies). Third, because TBS put the money up for a syndicated show, we ended up shooting and editing the entire series (which ended up being 7 seasons long) in just over a year. One year!

Why? Because the longer you shot a show, the more costs you have.  Staff, insurance, on screen talent, if it took 7 years to produce the show, you’d have to pay for all of those for 7 years. By doing it all in barely over one year, that’s essentially 1/7th the cost for the same amount of money.  That money he reinvested into producing other content which at that point could be sold for all profit.

The fourth amazing thing about that deal was the fact that he completely de-risked the entire process of launching a successful TV show in the first place.

Syndication means that a TV show will go on to air and ideally generate profit for the TV Network that purchased it for years. Usually syndication deals only work with popular, proven shows that have amassed huge followings when they originally aired. Shows like BIG BANG THEORY, SEINFELD, and CHEERS. Rather than run the risk of HOUSE OF PAYNE airing and not being that successful, by selling it directly into syndication he ensured that, regardless, his product was sold. It’s a bit like starting a business with a guaranteed exit.

There are a lot of people who try to argue away Tyler Perry’s success because of they don’t like his creative choices.  But they fail to realize that there are plenty of people who have talent who don’t survive in business. Talent isn’t always bankable, generating profit is.

3 – He’s Consistent

More than the fact that he knows how to operate leanly and still generate profit, the reason why investors continue to back his projects is the fact that he’s so amazingly consistent. He has NEVER lost money on a film.  Not a single one.  In fact, almost all of his films made all their money back on the first weekend, Which is crazy given that in Hollywood’s eyes he’s still relatively ‘new’ (he’s only been directing for around 12 years).  This is in comparison to an industry full of big name directors who have lost tons of money on various projects.

Here is a list of the movies Tyler Perry has made throughout his career and their box respective office earnings (and cost where I could find it):

Title / Budget / Opening Weekend / Total Earnings (in millions)

  • MADEA GOES TO JAIL Unknown/$41M/$90.4M
  • MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION $20M/$25.3M/$65.6M
  • MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION $6M/$30M/$63.3M
  • WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO?  $20M/$29.2M/$60M
  • WHY DID I GET MARRIED?  $15M/$21.3M/$55.1M
  • MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY $25M/$25M/$53.3M
  • A MADEA CHRISTMAS Unknown/$16M/$52M
  • TEMPTATION Unknown/$21.6M/$51.9M
  • I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF $13M/$23.4M/$51.6M
  • DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN  $5.5M/$21.9M/$50.3M
  • MEET THE BROWNS Unknown/$20M/$41.9M
  • FOR COLORED GIRLS Unknown/$19.4M/$37.7M
  • THE FAMILY THAT PREYS Unknown/$17.3M/$37M
  • GOOD DEEDS Unknown/$15.5M/$35M
  • DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS $10M/$13M/$31.3M
  • THE SINGLE MOM’S CLUB Unknown/$8M/$15.9M

This data is gathered from the IMDB page on Perry.

My initial reaction is holy cow, MADEA GOES TO JAIL made $90 million dollars! Combined his movies have made $792.3 million dollars. That’s just theatrical releases and doesn’t include merchandise, DVDs and Blueray, his TV and licensing deals etc. No wonder he keeps making Madea movies!

Beyond that, if he were an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist Perry’s track record would be the equivalent of a like 9.3 of 10. (This assumes THE SINGLE MOM’S CLUB may have lost money since it was a theatrical release with big talent but relatively low earnings. The rest almost certainly did not lose money based on what they ultimately earned.)

It’s actually stupid to bet against a guy who performs this consistently.

4 – He Bets on Himself

I’ve talked a lot about how much money Tyler’s work generates in this post. While the arts aren’t always about profit, being able to finance your own work means you don’t need anyone’s approval to get stuff done.

From what I understand, Tyler Perry is still 100% in control of all his own work. This is similar to how Mark Zuckerberg has built Facebook into a public company valued at over $50 billion dollars without ever giving up more than 51% ownership. It means that nothing happens at Facebook without Mark’s say. He controls the show.

Likewise, with Tyler Perry, he’s the world’s most successful independent film-maker. He never gave up control. Lionsgate is an independent film distribution company and it largely backs independent film projects.  By working with them instead of anyone else, Tyler insured that he never really gives up creative control of his work.  

This means he doesn’t have to go to the Weinstein Company or Sony or anyone else to ask for money to produce anything. He has enough personal wealth, and enough credibility and success to convince people to back his projects himself.

In fact, the way Tyler’s films are backed tend to resemble venture capital deals more than typical film deals. He proposes a project, investors put up money, he does the project and returns their capital at some multiple of what they originally gave him. That’s the whole bankability thing at play. But because he reinvested his early money to build his own studio, there are far fewer middle men to pay. This means the costs of making a film or show are far lower for him than they would be for anyone else not in his position which allows him to take greater risks on projects.

If he was working within the studio system, he’d have a much harder time convincing “The Studio” that his projects were the right movies to make in the first place. Studios tend to want to make a lot of changes to scripts and they inflate costs because to them, putting more money into fewer projects is more efficient.  But what that does is greatly diminish their tolerance for risk. This is why they spend even more money developing and retaining A-List stars who they then cast.  The assumption is that A-List talent leading well financed film projects is far more likely to succeed than a bunch of unknowns in smaller budget films. This, as a rule, is usually true. Unfortunately for writers and directors, this ultimately means they have less control over projects that are backed by big Studios.  When you hear some directors talking about how hard it is to get controversial films made, it’s because they are asking permission from people at major film studios who are inherently risk-adverse. The Studios want to finance money makers, and they will do everything in their power to ensure everything they produce is such. For them ‘controversial’ means alienating, and alienating audiences isn’t helpful if you’re trying to get the most people possible to go see a film.

The equivalent in the startup world would be the entrepreneur who successfully bootstraps a series of companies, versus entrepreneurs who only rely on venture capital.  Neither way is wrong and both can lead to great success but the boot-strapper can take greater risks because he or she has less people to answer to.

5- He’s Obsessive and Detail Oriented

Now you might ask yourself how on earth I could learn anything from a film director if I was working in the audio department. At most film studios, you’d be right. The sound designers usually don’t work too closely with the director.

I’m not sure what it’s like at his studio now but back then, initially I probably saw Tyler Perry once a week (which is a lot). He wanted to change the music, he hated the laugh tracks I added, he wanted some dialogue to be louder, he made suggestions on sound effects. It wasn’t just the audio department, he’d go into the writers room and rewrite portions of the script himself. He’d be on stage with the actors helping them with their performance. He’d supervise video edits. He was in accounting. He was in props. He was the lunchroom with the interns.

The point is, he wanted to know what was going on at every level of his business. While it sometimes it felt like micromanagement, it was ultimately because he cared.

On top of that, he was used to doing a lot with a little. When you build something from nothing, you aren’t used to the people around you chipping in to make things happen. This is because people tend to assume you’re going to fail, and therefore you aren’t worth going out on a limb for. As the founder you know differently, you bet on yourself and you double-down on yourself. This means you’re going to make sure everything gets done.

At Tyler Perry’s studio I saw both sides. Initially he was always there making sure everyone was doing everything. This is completely unsustainable for any business. You have to delegate to scale. As he got more comfortable with the people around him, and saw that we were all actually doing good work (and better work if he left us alone 😉 he backed off. He was able to delegate and ultimately start doing multiple things at the same time.

While that ‘founder anxiety’ probably still rears its head every now and then, to be successful at his level you have to learn to let go. Regardless of the business you’re in, this is a good management skill to develop.

6 – When the Rules Aren’t in Your Favor, Make New Rules

While Hollywood has about 100 years on Silicon Valley, the film and tech industries have a lot in common. Both have very insular communities at “the top” which make it hard for newcomers to break in, both require access to capital or financing that not everyone has access to, both require more than just creative talent to be successful, and whether it’s intentional or not, a lot of people feel like many forces conspire to keep them out of the industry at all.

When faced with a tough environment like this, there are two options: fight the system or work outside of it.  As far as I’m concerned, Tyler Perry provides one of this generations best examples of a businessman who worked completely outside of the system until the system couldn’t ignore his potential for profit. At that point he had the leverage to basically do whatever he wanted.

From what I can see of his career, Tyler Perry rewrote all the rules that lead to his success because the old rules would have completely prevented it. While that isn’t always easy, it’s necessary for anyone who wants to succeed when the odds are stacked against them.

Sometimes fighting the system in place is a futile effort because you as a lone individual usually can’t change an establishment fast enough to also benefit from the change. If your goal is to make it easier for the next generation that’s one thing, but if your goal is to change it and play in it at the same time, that’s almost sisyphean.

So the lesson here is that when you feel the rules of a system are working against you, one option is to stop working in the system altogether.  There is more than one way to do anything.

If you can’t raise venture capital as an entrepreneur perhaps because you feel decimated against or any other reason, then double-down on what you do have.  Changing the entire venture capital industry is hard, it’s not impossible but it’s likely not going to be a battle worth fighting if you need capital tomorrow.

If you have an idea for a product or company, bootstrap as far as you can. Do what you can to prove that customers are ready for that product.  If you still can’t convince investors to back you, then use that demand to partner with other businesses who can help you get your own to the next level. You never know, you might build a massive business without backing, in which case you’re in the best place to be.

But most importantly, don’t let the fact that the system wasn’t designed in your favor prevent you from trying at all. Not trying is not challenging and not being challenged is exactly what any establishment requires to preserve its status quo.

“Women are likely to bring diversity to a male founding team, and that’s not what founding teams need.” – Penelope Trunk on diversity

In a post entitled “Think about workplace diversity in terms of experience”, I mostly agree with Penelope that there are many different flavors of diversity (as it were).  But in this recent article for TechCrunch she seems to argue against her own logic, making the case that diversity of idea/opinion in a startup is a bad thing (I do understand her point, that co-founders should be on the same page) to making the case that women should stop worrying about inclusion in the tech industry at all.

Where to begin. First, coupling ‘diversity of ideas’ with ‘diversity of sex’ is a mistake. Do women now think so differently than men that they need to be stripped of the right to vote, too? Lest, they derail democracy with all their hormones and need for family time? Nonsense.

The problem with the line of reasoning on display here is simple: If everyone in the industry began to think like this, the next time a female entrepreneur walked into the room to for funding, regardless of the quality of her idea or pitch, a VC might think, “I need to find a man to run this company, because this woman will sink it by having babies.” Or perhaps her customers, also using the same logic, would think to themselves, “I can’t trust a company run by a woman, they don’t even want to be doing this kind of work!" 

There are a lot of people in the tech industry who don’t think diversity is a problem because either they can’t see, or can’t relate to, the fact that for every anecdotal observation of minority groups ‘not wanting to enter the space’ there are at least a handful from those groups who feel as if they are actively being kept out of the space.

History shows us that, at least occasionally, those who feel intentionally disenfranchised will be correct. That isn’t everyone’s experience, but is the experience if some. Someone with authority might decide these groups simply don’t belong and can wield their power to keep them from entering a field they actually *want* to be in.

My question is what happens when a brazen careerist women, like Penelope, is prevented from entering the industry they are pursing simply because it becomes accepted that diversity is a bad thing that needs to be avoided? When does it go from ‘diversity isn’t so great’ to ‘homogeny is preferred’?

Every Day Apps – Web Products I Use Daily

…because they add a lot of value to my own personal life or work. 

1. Vizibility

So brilliant!  It allows you to manually curate your top ten search results on Google, then Vizibility buys an adwords campaign for whatever name or word you’ve created the list for. Now, their list will show up for anyone searching your name, company, or product.

I use it for my company metaLayer, but also as an individual it allows me to know who’s searching me, as well as where they live at a city level (reverse IP lookup).  After I give a presentation or go to a conference, it’s almost inevitable that the results of people searching from that location spike.

2. Buffer

If you have the tendency to overshare on Twitter, Buffer has an app for that.  By spreading out your bookmarked links or messages throughout the day or week, Buffer forces you to pace yourself.  It also helps to make it appear like you are tweeting away at work while you’re actually on vacation sipping mojitos on the beach in Cabo. 

3. Grammarly


SaaS grammatical checking and suggestions to improve your writing and sentence structuring.  It’s an awesome web service, but over-priced at $19 a month, in my opinion.  I paid for it for a while but found the cost disproportionate to the benefit. Still, I think the product is very much needed.

4. Flipboard


Your favorite Feedreader’s favorite Feedreader. Flipboard for the iPad just gets better and better. It’s also beginning to feel more organic to use. I wish they’d ship an iPhone solution already.

5. Simplenote/JustNotes

   

Why these two products are made by two different companies is beyond me.  They work seamlessly together. JustNotes is a desktop app for Mac that solves the problem of speed and simplicity for saving notes.  SimpleNote is a web app that allows users to store files, lists, ideas and notes to the cloud.

On my Mac I used to use the native TextEdit like a ninja. That’s usually the perfect solution until the day the program you’re using or your comuter crashes and all those ‘Untitled 1’ files mysteriously vanish into the ether.  

JustNote offers the speed and simplicity, while Simplenote stores it all in the cloud.

6. LittleSnapper

A desktop app for OSX that allows users to edit photos, capture screenshots, upload to the cloud and other things.  I used to use Cloud App but I like being able to edit and crop photos and screenshots before they are kicked over to the cloud.

7. Foodspotting

I never thought I’d be someone who took pictures of their food to upload them to the internet but as it turns out, I’m a total unabashed food geek.

8. Quora

A question and answer website where the quality of answers makes it more like Wikipedia than a YouTube comment thread (here’s looking at you Yahoo! Answers).

9. DropBox

Backup your important files to the cloud and across devices.

10. Spotify


It’s so easy and convenient it makes file sharing feel like a chore.  No download, no uploads, just start listening to music. Many competing apps have a catalog problem, but Spotify solves that problem by integrating with iTunes.

Speaking at DC Week

metaLayer will be presenting at DC Week (Digital Capital) which takes place November 4-11th.  Check back here for more details as the event draws closer. DC Week is a week-long festival in the US capital focused on bringing together designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and social innovators of all kinds.

dc week

Weekend Project: Turn WordPress into Techmeme

Weekends for me are usually spent doing one of two things, working or hacking. Hacking is learning and usually I do it to inform decisions I need to make for real projects.  In this case a client asked me to build a website aggregator in WordPress.  He wanted something more like a news portal in the vein of the HuffingtonPost, but a lot of the features he was requesting reminded me of TechCrunch.  So to help me figure out the best way to accomplish doing this client project, I decided to build my own aggregator using WordPress.

Step 1 – PostRank

Techmeme is a website that uses algorithms to determine early trending stories related to technology.  The algorithms used to accomplish this have to be pretty sophisticated, looking at comments, in and outbound links, re-tweets as well as other things like credible tips and story leads.  They have minimal human input and let their tecch do most of the work.  I wanted to do the same.  Understanding how much of a pain this type of programming can be due to my work with SwiftRiver, I knew I wasn’t about to attempt to come up with any custom algorithms for a ‘toy’ project like this.  Instead I decided to leverage a platform that already does this, PostRank

PostRank offers a number of free and paid web apis that can be used to process content to determine influence and popularity online.  They started out about three years ago as AidRSS, and have since grown to become a pretty awesome platform.  They also have a hosted platform that lets individual users add feeds that they then begin ranking for social influence.  It took about an hour to add about 25 feeds and get them indexed. 

PostRank then returns a new feed of ‘ranked’ content.  Best, Great, Good and All are the four methods with which you can filter your feeds.  As the titles suggest they filter based on how popular the sites content has been online.  For example, best means that a blog post has had a lot of delicious.com favoirtes, a lot of Twitter retweets and a lot of comments.  The others would be less.  Each item in the feed has to be given a score and these scores are used to filter out other content that don’t meet certain criteria as determined by PostRank.

Now I had 25 feeds, all optimized to only allow the best content through.

Step 2 – Yahoo Pipes

I didn’t want to pay PostRank for access to their advanced API (which would allow me to get one feed back from all of the ones I added in the previous step).  So, instead I took each of those PostRank’d feeds and added them to YahooPipes.

Is a free service for creating web mashups with minimal programing skills necessary.  My pipe (which can be found here) is pretty simple.  It takes several of the ranked feeds, mashes them together and orders them chronologically, re-orders them in descending order by popularity, strips the ‘PostRank’ number from the title and outputs a new feed.

This new feed will consist of only the most recent popular content.

Step 3 – Feedburner

Feedburner is a Google service for RSS feed processing and optimization.  Yahoo Pipes is great but for some reason in the past three years, Yahoo hasn’t figured out, or bothered to figure out how to output feeds that validate. Also, Yahoo Pipes doesn’t offer any sort of analytics, branding or advanced syndication options.  So I took my newly created Yahoo Pipe feed and added it to Feedburner.

Here I was able to make sure the feed validates, rebrand it with a title and description, set-up auto-mated email blasts and ad ‘flare’ options for sharing content via Delicious and Facebook.

Step 5 – WordPress

Assembly in WordPress was dead simple and took about an hour.  I used the P2 Theme which makes WordPress look a lot like Twitter.  Then I added the following plugins:

  • Akismet – spam filtering, never press without it
  • FD Feedburner – for redirecting subscribers to my Feedburner feed
  • Feed WordPress – advanced aggregation for WordPress
  • Feed WordPress Duplicate Post Filter – all aggregators need to filter out duplicates
  • Shorten2Ping – shorturls for all your posts (ex. t.co, is.gd, bit.ly)
  • U-Cron – Cron Jobs (automated tasks) made simple for WordPress

WordPress also has a Javascript bookmarklet called ‘PressThis’ that I can use to add non-syndicated content to the mix.  So on occasion I can add my editorial input to the mix.

Step 4 – Yourls

I wanted my aggregator to have it’s own short url.  I decided to go with a.fricame.me  (Africa Meme) because my aggregator showcases trending topics related to African tech.  With Yourl you simply buy and configure your domain name then setup the script in the root folder.  It’s just like setting up WordPress. Dead simple, took all of five minutes.  You can get it here.

Once I had Yourl configured, I used the Shorten2Ping plugin to automatically create a short URL for all my posts.

Step 6 – Twitter and Ping.fm

Finally, I had a completely automated aggregator that was only finding the most popular trends about African tech.  Awesome.  Next I needed to automate the process of broadcasting.  I setup a new Twitter account @africameme and a new Ping.fm account.  Ping.fm is a service that ‘pings’ multiple social networks with the same updates at once.  If I wanted to blast Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Email and a plethora of other services at once, I could use it do so.  I opted for just having it ping Twitter whenever new content is aggregated. (I only needed Ping.fm because the Twitter updates for Shorten2Ping are no longer working due to Twitter moving to Oauth only authentication.)

In six easy steps, and about as many hours you can easily set up your own Techmeme-type news site on any subject!  To see it all in action follow @africameme on Twitter or visit us at http://a.fricame.me