I Made the World’s Greatest Landing Page

Out of the blue I learned that HubSpot recognized a landing page I made as one of “12 Great Landing Page Examples You’ll Want to Copy”. I did it back in 2014; Edupath was a client of mine.

landing-page-screenshot

My Damning Admission

It’s always nice to be recognized for your work, especially when it’s by the acknowledged expert in the field: HubSpot went public with a hefty valuation because they’re the best at this stuff.

But it should be no surprise that they liked what I did: everything I know about landing pages I learned from the HubSpot blog. I just followed their directions, step by step. Here’s the funny part: this was literally the first landing page I ever made.

You Don’t Need to be a Landing Page Savant

Entrepreneurs often wonder what they should do themselves, and when they should get help. Things like landing pages are the execution of your marketing strategy. The decision on whether to outsource tasks like this should be based on your bandwidth, not because you think making one is difficult. This is something you can do yourself. Or at least it is if you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  1. Can you follow simple directions?
  2. Do you know who your target users are? Can you clearly express the benefits for them? (Is your strategy dialed in?)

You Need a Strategy

s_curve-2Moving from 96% to 97% of your maximum conversion rate will require a specialist—you’ve already done the easy optimizations—but moving from 20% to 80% is should be something you can do internally. As long as you’re heading in the right direction because you have the right strategy, it’s not so hard to make big gains in the beginning.

Statups should have an explicit strategy that drives everything in their business: it should inform their decisions in product, marketing, customer service, operations, engineering, and so on down the line. Developing that strategy is hard, but it makes other things much easier. If you need help with something, get help with that.

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1980s Softcore Videogames, Crystal Meth, and User Testing

By http://hg101.classicgaming.gamespy.com/lsl/lsl.htm / Gamespy. The image may also be obtained from //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_On-Line/ Sierra On-Line, Fair useLeisure Suit Larry was a somewhat racy graphic adventure released in 1987. I never played it—I wasn’t even aware of its existence until years later. Recently I learned that it was a huge hit, not only because of its risqué content, but because it was actually a good game. Its author attributes this to the fact that it was the first game the publisher ever ran through user testing.

Most app developers I know don’t do user testing, either. And then they wonder why they have no customers.

Dumb Excuses for Not Testing

The Man With the Yellow Hat https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yellow_Hat.jpg Fair Use

Did this man take my laptop?

As I said in my last post, my laptop was stolen while I was performing coffee shop user testing for a client. I didn’t actually say define ‘user testing’, so here we go: you ask people to try your app, then you see if they can figure it out, and if it solves their problem.

Here are the excuses I get for not doing it:

What could I possibly learn?
I get this all the time. Some entrepreneurs are so sure of their Grand Vision for the Future that they don’t believe they can learn anything from users.
That doesn’t sound very scientific.
It isn’t. Qualitative research identifies problems; quantitative research measures them.
What do you have against data? Let’s do a survey.
You’ll get plenty of data when you launch, and it’ll be way more relevant than survey data. But you will learn different things from user testing.
I don’t want to delay the launch to do user testing.
So do it after launch. Unless you’re planning to do a big marketing splash to coincide with go-live—and you probably shouldn’t—this is fine.
I am afraid that people will hate it.
OK, nobody says this, but it’s what they’re thinking.
You’ve convinced me. Let’s do this the right way.
Nope: let’s half-ass it instead. Performing user testing at a coffee shop implies that you’re not that particular about who is participating, and that your main focus is on ensuring that it actually gets done and doesn’t become this bizarro never-ending project of its own. (If you work for a giant corporation, then go ahead and do this stuff. For you, eking out small improvements can yield big dividends, and the cost of a mistake is huge. For entrepreneurs, speed is paramount.)

Eight User Testing Tips

I’ve had my picture taken over a dozen times while I’m testing. A college professor uses an image of me in his class. Tourists laugh and say, “Only in San Francisco!” Yelp’s offices overlook the café where I set up shop, and they sent a member of their product team down to investigate what was going on. (Yes, I made her take the test.) So I’ve done enough user testing that I feel comfortable sharing some advice:

uat_sign

The sign I taped to my chair

  1. Write a script. If you try to wing it, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Test it with two people outside of your organization.
  2. If what users type into the device—not just their comments—is important, then instrument the app so you can collect their data without looking over their shoulders.
  3. Find a local coffee shop with decent foot traffic. Family-run ones are best: you want one where the person behind the counter can make the decision. (If you go to Starbucks, they’ll give you a little card with the number for their Intergalactic HQ.) Once you find a place, go there every time. Sometimes prospective testers don’t have time the first time they see you, but they’ll look for you next visit.
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crystal_Meth.jpg

    I’ve tested with people who were on meth. If they can understand your app, you know it’s easy to use.

    Offer money. $10 for 10 minutes is far more compelling than $20 for 20, so break your testing into small chunks. Lots of people will do it just for the money, and that’s OK.
  5. Tell them that you don’t care if they like the app or not. I like to say that I’m testing it for a friend.
  6. Ten people is enough. I know this sounds ridiculously small, but by the time you talk to the last person, you should be hearing the same complaints over and over. That means it’s time to stop testing and go fix things.
  7. If it’s below 65 F, it is too cold for San Franciscans to be outside.
  8. Nobody wants to go first: people would walk up to me, get nervous, and back away. I am always very thankful for the people who volunteer. By the time they finish, someone else is inevitably waiting.

Done Is Better Than Perfect

I’m a big believer in strategy-focused product development. Part of that entails being laser-focused on who your customers are (and are not). So how can I recommend something as sloppy as coffee shop user testing, where you’re profoundly unconcerned with the demographic of your testers?

Because the alternative for entrepreneurs is usually not doing it at all. Someday you’ll be big enough to worry about getting users in the right demo, but that time is not before you launch.

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How to Steal a Laptop in Five Simple Steps

One day not too long ago I was sitting in front of a café helping out a consulting client of mine. I was performing coffee shop user acceptance testing, in which I pay people $10 to try an app. (Sidebar: I am amazed that so few entrepreneurs do this. I guess that they’re deathly afraid that people will tell them that their baby is ugly. But this is a topic for another day and another post.)

  1. I was typing away on my laptop when a man ran by at full speed and grabbed the computer by its screen. It took me a second or two to figure out what was happening—Is this a joke?—before I took off after the perpetrator. Yes, I left all my other stuff (2 phones and another computer) on the table.
  2. He was wearing a lemon yellow windbreaker. Pretty distinctive, right? Well, the location that I picked had lots of small streets, turns, and potential exit routes. I kept track of him through the first corner, but by the time I rounded the second, there was nobody matching that description. It was almost as if he had done this before, and he knew that I would fixate on his jacket…
    map
  3. He kept the laptop open, presumably so he wouldn’t have to deal with login passwords.
  4. I was sitting down, and he was running full speed. As we have already established, he does this for a living. The last time I ran anywhere was to make it to an ice cream parlor before it closed. Who do you think is going to win this race?
  5. When you encounter a street, you at least wait for a gap in traffic before you jaywalk, right? Not this guy. He’s going to jail if he gets caught, so he is motivated. My motivation is to protect my stu—wait a minute, I left most of my stuff back in front of the café. Maybe I should make sure that it’s OK. Huh: by not stealing all my stuff, the guy reduced my motivation to chase after him. When I returned, half a dozen people were guarding my things.

And that, my friends, is how you steal a laptop.

What I’ll Do Next Time

  • Turn on Find My Mac, or Find My Device on Windows 10 boxes. Unlike the similar services on your phone, these are not enabled by default. Do this now.
  • Backups. But you already know that.
  • Don’t call 911. I did, and not a single cop passed by in the seventy-five minutes I waited. (I get that more serious crimes take precedence, but the dispatcher implied that someone was coming, and that I should wait.) When I called back, the dispatcher suggested that I just go to the police station the next morning. Since I was only doing it to satisfy the demands of my employer’s insurance carrier, this was fine with me.
  • dogDraw attention to the crime: I should have yelled “Thief!” It’s crazy suspicious to be running through traffic with an open laptop, and people knew exactly what he was doing, but it only dawned on them
    a moment after he has passed them. They would have helped if I had shaken them out of their coma, but I was in a coma, too. That’s what this guy was relying upon. Like I said, he was good at his job.

Alternate strategy: negotiate with the thieves, and get them on camera.

P.S. This is what it takes to break the multi-year silence on my blog. Was it worth the wait?
P.P.S. And what do you think of my clickbait headline?

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The Best 29 Seconds in Television History: June 26th is Dog Ate Dan’s Heart Day


I’m pleased to announce that today is Dog Ate Dan’s Heart Day, in honor of this clip:

Frequently Asked Questions about #DADHD:

Which one is Dan?
This guy, I presume:
Dan

Who are the other people?
I don’t know.

Why does Dan need a new heart?
I don’t know.

Why does everyone just stare at each other instead of stopping the dog?
I don’t know.

Why is there a dog in the hospital?
I don’t know.

Why is that guy carrying around a human heart in a styrofoam cooler from Walmart?
I don’t know.

Did they get that ice from one of those hotel ice cube makers that are right next to the vending machines?
I don’t know.

Do you think Doctor Casper and Nurse Henderson are getting busy in a supply closet?
I don’t know.

How did the heart move three feet from one cut to the next?
I don’t know.

What happens to Dan?
I don’t know.

What happens to the dog?
I don’t know.

Can I pet the dog?
Sure, why not?

What TV show is this from?
One Tree Hill

Wait, that clip was actually shown on network television?
It was on the CW, so sort of.

OMG Peyton Lucas Haley blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh
I don’t know.

Why is June 26 Dog Ate Dan’s Heart Day?
I first tweeted out this clip on June 26th last year, and I invented a reason to share it again.

Also, I wanted to encourage my wife to push her blog live, even if not every post is a work of genius. Real artists ship.

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17 Terrible Answers to Business School Admissions Interview Questions

Ridiculous clip art that pops up when I do an image search for “Business School.”

Late January is peak interview season for MBA admissions. In the years since I graduated from business school, I have met with over 50 candidates. They often failed to take the interview seriously; this did not bode well for their prospects.

Let’s Start With The Takeaway

Whether it’s an admissions interview or a job interview, do not wing it. It’s obvious to anyone who is paying attention. (And why would you want to go to school–or work–at a place where they don’t care that you don’t care?) The application is a sales process, and the interview is your time to close. So practice.

The Aforementioned Terrible Answers

Below is my interview script, along with the worst answers I received for each question. (I don’t mention my graduate school by name in this post; they wouldn’t want this kind of attention. If you’re curious, click here. The script itself is no secret, and similar ones are all over the web.)

I ran a pretty standard interview. There were no questions designed to trip people up. Interviews are stressful enough, and anyone who asks trick questions is an ass.

As the interview began I’d speak for a minute or two so they could gather their thoughts. I’d share what year I graduated, what I do now, and so on. I also told them that I was going to close the interview by asking for 1 or 2 sentences about why the school should admit them.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”
This should be 30 seconds. It’s a marketing statement. I can always ask for more details, but it’s awkward for me to interrupt and ask for less. The average answer was around 2 minutes, which is way too long.

Terrible Answer: One person talked for 27 minutes without interruption. I tried to break in, but he just talked over me. I decided to see how long he’d go, so I answered email and made a grocery list, all while sitting across from him. Periodically he would remind me that the component numbers for his product were “important” and that I should “write this down.”

More absurd b-school clip art.

2. “Walk me through your resume.”
Short answers are best.

Terrible Answer: “I went into medical devices because I wanted to help people.” I did not request platitudes.
Bonus Terrible Answer for Bostonians: Passing off Harvard Extension School as Harvard College.

3. “Why do you want an MBA?”
Terrible Answer: “Because my dad made me apply.” Followed by tears.

4. “Why do you want to go to this school?”
Not-Terrible-But-Still-Pretty-Lousy Answer: “Because it’s ranked highly.” Give me something more compelling than that.

5. “What do you want to do after school? How will an MBA help?”
Terrible Answer: Not Applicable. Even the worst candidates had pretty good answers. Sometimes they were just making things up–especially the consultants getting their tickets punched–but at least they had a story.

6. “If you get into every school you applied to, how will you pick? Keep in mind that I don’t want to know where else you’re applying.”
You’d think that, because I said I didn’t want to know where they were applying, people would respect that. You’d be wrong: over half of the candidates told me. A third gave me their order of preference.

Terrible Answer: Two candidates didn’t rank my school–the place they were interviewing for–as their first choice.

7. “If you don’t get into any business school, how will you continue working toward your goals?”
Most said they’d stay at their current job and reapply in a year or two. That’s a fine answer. Others indicated that waiting another year to get an MBA would throw off the cost-benefit calculation. That’s an even better one.

Terrible Answer: Several candidates were offended by the question and insisted they’d get in. They did not.

8. “Tell me about an accomplishment. What did you learn? What would you do differently?”
I was primarily interested in the follow-up questions. Since business school is a time to reflect upon one’s career to date, I wanted some thoughtfulness about how they could do better.

Terrible Answer: Desperate silence as they realize they had learned nothing.

9. “Tell me about working in a team. What role did you take? Can you think of an instance when you played a different role?”
A lot of work at many business schools is team-driven. If someone can’t switch roles and adapt to a new situation, no one will want to work with that person.

Terrible Answer: “I am the leader. Always.”

10. “Tell me your strengths/weaknesses.”
Terrible Answer: “I work too hard.” Give me a real weakness, and tell me how you’re addressing it.

11. “Tell me about an unpleasant decision.”
I am looking for a time when the candidate made an unpleasant decision, not a bad decision. Perhaps he or she had to lay someone off, or report on a colleague for misconduct, or decide which project to cut.

Terrible Answer: A longwinded story about how the applicant committed voter fraud.

12. “Which of the school’s extracurricular programs interest you?”
Terrible Answer: Not having a clue. Hint: spend 3 minutes skimming the program’s website.

13. “What do you do outside of work?”
Terrible Answer: If one claims to have done something notable–something important enough that dozens of articles have been written about it–it would be more convincing if it were true.

Folsom Prison. Not a business school.

14. “Is there anything about your application that you want to further explain?”
Only one person ever answered this; she acknowledged her horrible GMAT scores. She was also the only person whom I recommended who was not admitted.

Fictional Terrible Answer: “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”

15. “Have you visited the school?”
Terrible Answer: There isn’t one, although people got panicky if they hadn’t. I used this as an opportunity to suggest that they spend time at every school they were considering. Because fit is critical. (More on this later.)

16. “Do you have any questions?”
Terrible Answer: People think it’s bad not to have questions, but usually they had rambled on so long that we were both itching to leave. Most people asked me why I chose this particular school, and I’d tell them it was all about finding the right fit. (Again, more on this later.)

17. “Give me 1 or 2 sentences about why this school should admit you.”
I warned them that I was going to ask this, but 80% hadn’t thought of anything. Those people did not get in.

Good Answer: Two sentences.
OK Answer: Five sentences.
Bad Answer: Ten sentences.
Terrible Answer: I cut them off after they start to hyperventilate two minutes in.

Final Thoughts

Who has 2 thumbs and loves MBA clip art? This guy!

  • Do not call me up in a blind rage if you aren’t admitted. Also, if you’re the kind of person who does stuff like this, you’re not getting in.
  • Do not try to flirt with me. Do not repeatedly cross and uncross your legs. Do not play with your hair. Do not lean in as I ask a question, then giggle as you deliver you answer.
  • Do not go to a school where you don’t fit. I told candidates that I would be happy to talk with them about their decision, regardless of which programs they were considering. One person was offered admission at my alma mater and our cross-town rival. On paper, he was a much better fit for my school. He called me up and said he felt he belonged at the other place. As far as I was concerned, his choice was clear.

Good luck to the applicants, and my sympathies to the interviewers.

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Uncle Matt from the Fraggles Visits San Francisco, Muses on Product Management

I’ve lived in the Mission—a district in San Francisco—for a little over a year. Its weirdness strikes me as simultaneously charming and affected. I don’t feel like I truly belong here: I am an observer, not a member.

A Cliff’s Notes Guide to the Mission

Contrary to these reports, the Mission is an absolutely terrible place to find a “meth head prostitute”. However, they’re correct that the sidewalks are in perpetual need of a good scrubbing. There are murals, pirate supply stores, an old-fashioned barbershop aimed at men called “Beauty Salon Chica Sexy“, garage parties, taxidermy shops, the World’s Largest Torta Cubana, a store that sells both eyeglasses and live edge hardwood lumber, a bewildering number of prepaid cellphone dealers, old movie theaters that have been converted into dollar stores, and the best restaurants in the city.

Fraggles, Product Management, and Whatnot

I’m a product guy at heart. I observe people for a living, and I figure out what’s going to make them happy.

Other people have different strategies for being a product manager. I’ve worked with PMs who were visionary types, and I’ve worked with PMs who were their own target customer. That can be tremendously valuable at the start, but after a couple of years they all either ran out of steam or went off on some wild tangent. They lost their implicit understanding of the market.

No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve never been the demographic target for what I’ve built, so my market understanding has always been based on observation. It’s how I operate in my non-work life, too; I engage with people about what interests them. This is how I end up spending most of a wedding reception in a heated argument with teenage girls about whether Dair or Chair was endgame on Gossip Girl.

My role model in this is Uncle Matt from the Fraggles. He was the one who explored ‘Outer Space’, as he called the surface world, and shared his observations with Gobo through postcards. Overall, he demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of how human society works. Perhaps it’s vanity, but I believe my success rate is a little higher than Uncle Matt’s.

I recently purchased a new phone, which meant it was time to recycle my outdated-when-new HTC Hero. As part of this, I cleared out a year’s worth of photos from the camera. Virtually all of them were trashed immediately: the camera on this thing was awful, and the photographer was not much better. I was left with half a dozen usable images.

The Mission in Six Photos

Car culture is big in San Francisco. So are rims. Bonus points for: 1) Mural 2) Hipster 3) Fixie.

Contrary to the name, Romanesco broccoli is actually a cauliflower. It’s notable because it’s mildly fractal-like. Note the anti-establishment spelling and pricing schemes.

People like to poop on subway escalators, which causes them to not work so well.

Did someone mention Heathcliff? Oh wait, that was me.

How many doormats did this person go through before deciding to chain it down?

Don’t worry, ma’am. Birdcages make me want to take my clothes off, too.

San Francisco Is Weird, Part I

On Thursday I was riding the BART home from a drinky/schmoozy event. I recognized one of the speakers from the shindig, and we introduced ourselves to each other. I informed him that I’d recently moved here, and this city is totally freaking nuts. He strongly disagreed and asked which part of the city I lived in. It turns out we both live on the same tiny little street, and we entered into a discussion about whose block is cooler. This is what his block does for Halloween, so I guess he wins:

The next day I was walking along the Embarcadero, and in a five minute span, the following things happen.

This city is weird. Q.E.D.

I Have a New Job

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined instaGrok. This post is long overdue—I came aboard a few months back—but I remain awed by the possibilities of what we’re doing, and the grind of Getting Things Done hasn’t taken that away.

What does instaGrok do?

instaGrok is a research engine for learning and sharing: Users explore graphical concept maps that show how ideas connect. They can also customize the maps (with key facts, links, and images) and pass them on to friends. As Pinterest changed how we curate and share photos, instaGrok will do the same for what we learn.

For those of you who are mathematically inclined:

instaGrok =
(Google – Links + Concept Maps) *
(Pinterest – “Keep Calm and Carry On”)

So it’s not a search engine?

Nope. Search engines just give you links, so it’s up to you to read a bunch of pages and figure out how concepts relate. instaGrok scans all the pages you would’ve gotten as search results, and then it builds a concept map of the important ideas.

Can I try it out?

Sure. It’s open to the public, and we’re getting tons of users. Here’s a concept map on the American Dream that I made in a minute or so.

Who is it for?

K-12 education is our first market. However, we think instaGrok will be useful for everybody who uses the internet to learn (a.k.a. all of us).

Doesn’t Wikipedia cover this?

We respectfully disagree:

  • Wikipedia is linear. There’s no adaptivity or interactivity. You can’t zoom in to focus on a particular topic.
  • Wikipedia doesn’t know if you’re a beginner or an expert. Check out the introduction to the article on Gravity.Curvature of spacetime“, anyone?
  • You can’t customize a Wikipedia entry and pass it on to a friend, saying, “Here is what I think is important about this topic.”

What’s your role?

We’re a small team, and inevitably everyone does a little bit of everything. Somehow that ends up being terribly unglamorous.

Awesome! How can I help?

  1. Try it out.
  2. Tell us what you think.
  3. Tell your friends—especially friends who are educators—and help spread the word.
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How to Catch Runaway Dogs in San Francisco

Perhaps you suspect that the title of this blog post is a fake-out, and I’m going to launch into some wacky parable about startups or marketing or something. Well, you’d be wrong: it’s literally about catching dogs.

This city is one giant Heathcliff cartoon

Be prepared for some ridiculous nepotism on the part of Captain Kelly:

Since moving here six months ago, my wife and I have corralled three loose dogs. There’s a law about everything in San Francisco, so there must be a leash law; based on what I’ve witnessed, I suspect it’s illegal to use them.

Anyway, here’s your chance to learn from my mistakes.

Runaway Dog #1

Location: Ashbury Heights
Month: April
Breed: Don’t know. Don’t care. I’m not a dog person.
Details: We were heading home when a dog joined us on our stroll. No humans were in sight. At first we thought he was tailing us, but then he took the lead, so we followed him. He trotted past several streets before heading up some steps to a front door. My wife rang the bell. A woman answered, and my wife asked if this was her dog. “No, but I’m his walker! Hello Gordon! Did you come to visit? Is it time for our walkies? You’re such a good boy! Yes you are…”
Advice to prospective dog catchers: If a loose dog seems to know where he’s going, give him the benefit of the doubt.

Runaway Dog #2

Location: the Mission
Month: June
Breed: Don’t Know. Don’t care. I’m still not a dog person.
Details: A little pup sprinted into a cross street between Mission and Valencia. We stood in the road to stop traffic. The dog ran in circles as we made futile attempts to catch him. Eventually a preteen boy showed up, and the dog meekly followed him home.
Advice to prospective dog catchers: Some of your classier neighbors ‘walk’ their dogs by pushing them out the door and letting them crap in the street. Sometimes those dogs make a break for it. It’s tough to blame them.

Runaway Dog #3:

Bernadette hitches a ride home with the author

Location: Noe Valley
Month: August
Breed: Even I know this is a corgi.
Details: We saw this girl motoring through a busy intersection with no regard for her personal well-being. I bolted after her while my wife found the owner. (He was the guy yelling, “I’m sixty-nine years old. I can’t run fast!” Apparently the dog had just arrived in town a few hours before: she was a ‘retired’ breeder dog from Arkansas and had never been off the farm. Cars and traffic were totally foreign to her. Thus her total obliviousness to the rules of the road.) The entire chase was under 10 minutes, but may I remind you that San Francisco is hilly? Especially Noe Valley, where the streets have sidestairs, not sidewalks. Wrangling her was a team effort: at intersections, drivers would point which way the dog headed.
Advice to prospective dog catchers:
  • You are out of shape. Even a chubby little dog can outrun you. And you should really take off your fancy zip cardigan before you sprint up hills in San Francisco. It will get sweaty.
  • Don’t bother trying to tackle the dog. Instead, just push her to the ground and hold her there.
  • Keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth. She will bite.
  • After she’s bitten you, keep your hands away from her mouth. She will bite again.
  • For the love of God, KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM THE DOG’S MOUTH.
  • Remember that zip cardigan you were supposed to remove but didn’t? Yeah, she’s going to poop on it.
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Testing a Hypothesis: IKEA is like a Fancy Restaurant

As a new resident of San Francisco, I’m required to write about how hard it was to rent an apartment. Bloggers get competitive about this topic. I swear that some of them do SEO, and I’ve spotted one instance of plagiarism.

So here’s my advice: it’s not hard, and it doesn’t take a long time. Just lower your expectations, and be prepared to pay up. (Obligatory startup note: yes, money is tight. So is time.)

The real challenge: furnishing our place

Far more arduous was equipping our new home when all our worldly possessions were 3056 miles away. (We were selling our condo in Boston—more on that another day—and our realtor strongly suggested leaving it furnished. So my wife and I would be spending a couple of months in an unfurnished apartment, sans stuff.) Apparently this is not an uncommon problem for new arrivals; last weekend we had dinner with a couple facing the exact same issue. In case you find yourself in such a situation, feel free to learn from my mistakes.

The hypothesis: be a cheap bastard

In 2002 I helped paint a mural at a children’s hospital in Warsaw; there I met the funniest person I know. A few years later he and I were getting dinner in Chicago, and he detailed his foolproof method for choosing wine at a nice restaurant. His reasoning was ridiculously complex, and he’d obviously suffered some sort of psychotic break, but I’ll summarize it here:

I have embraced his logic wholeheartedly, and I apply it everywhere I go.

The experiment: buy the cheapest of everything at IKEA

We only needed the stuff to last a few months. What could go wrong?

The results: things go horribly, horribly wrong

  1. The cheapest salad bowl: $4
    • The first time I used it, it cracked from thermal shock.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: get a set from Amazon.
  2. The cheapest cutting boards: 2 for $3
    • I used one once, and it added strips of brightly colored plastic to my dinner. It might look like a Fruit Roll-Up, and it might feel like a Fruit Roll-Up, but it does not taste like a Fruit Roll-Up.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: head to Amazon again.
  3. IKEA spoons are Smurf-size. This is especially odd because Swedes are tall.

    The cheapest flatware: 16 piece set for $4
    • They’re finished as well as the keychain I made in junior high shop class; I scratched my lip on a metal burr. But they work.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: buy two sets on the first trip. Plus an angle grinder.
  4. The cheapest can opener: $3
    • It doesn’t open cans so much as it repeatedly dents them until they cry out for a swift and merciful death. I rarely use it, which pisses off my cats.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: bring my nice can opener with me from Boston.
  5. The cheapest sheets: $8
    • Itchy and ugly.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: buy the 2nd cheapest set.
  6. The cheapest kitchen chairs: $14 apiece
    • Also functions as a desk chair. Surprisingly comfortable, probably because the plastic has a frightening amount of flex.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: buy 2 more as spares for when these break.
  7. The cheapest desk: $8
    • The legs are $3 apiece (not included in the price above). Do yourself a favor and get them, even if you’re tempted to just stick the desktop on top of a big box.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: buy the legs on the first trip.
  8. The cheapest kitchen knives: $4 for 3
    • Chopping root vegetables usually ends in a stalemate. It’s like the Korean War on my kitchen counter. But they haven’t broken.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: very reluctantly buy them again.
  9. The cheapest lounge chair: $49
    • In under a month, it broke under the weight of my cat. (Yes, it was the chubby one.) I disassembled it, lashed it together with twine, and added a layer of bubble wrap for extra cushioning. It looks like Mickey Rourke’s face, but it’s holding together.
    • If I had a time machine, I’d: kill it with fire.

Conclusion: hypothesis is disproved

Buying stuff at IKEA is not like buying wine at a fancy restaurant. It’s not a bargain if you have to replace it after one use, so don’t be a cheap bastard: if you get stuff from IKEA, buy the second cheapest item.

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