We've been looking at different ways to promote this website to the Internet at large, and it just occurred to me that it would be fun to involve everyone in the brainstorming!

In fact, I don't even want to taint the conversation with our own ideas.

But I would like to throw out these considerations:

  1. We do not want traffic at the expense of quality. That's a non-starter, period.
  2. We don't mind spending money, but not obscene amounts of money, and free is better all else being equal.
  3. We're not interested in bursts of traffic -- we're trying to get honest, useful questions and answers, not "hits" or "impressions." Although bursts of traffic where crappy hits just fall away and useful stuff sticks is of course a good thing.
  4. We'd like to give back and/or reward folks for contributing and/or helping us to add quality users, so long as it cannot devolve into people "gaming" the system with crap.

(If you have more constraints you'd like to add, that's interesting too!)


migrated from answers.onstartups.com May 1 '11 at 2:30

This question came from our site for entrepreneurs looking to start or run a new business.

While we're having a meta-discussion, I want to say that I've spent a bunch of time over at StackOverflow, and I love how the community here is so much more open and helpful. Maybe it's that to be an entrepreneur requires much better people-skills than being a programer, but here, there are no confrontational attitudes, just people helping people. Thank you for bringing us together! –  Frederick Cook Feb 10 '10 at 4:08
+1 Agree with you Frederick, the community is very welcoming and I love being part of it. Let's get more people in here. –  Slav Ivanov Feb 10 '10 at 5:06
Hey! there's programmers here too! grrr.. –  jimg Feb 10 '10 at 14:33
Thanks guys! That was the goal. @jimg -- yes, like me! In fact I think most folks here are developers. I think part of it is that SO is about getting the "right" answer (see their FAQ) whereas here we made the choice early that there's often no such thing, and so we encourage different points of view and the "mark answer as correct" feature is less important here. –  Jason Feb 10 '10 at 15:23
@jason: perhaps adding a link from your blog homepage would be helpful as well... –  jimg Feb 10 '10 at 16:20
@jimg - Great idea, but I did that already! It's under "Q&A" in the titlebar. Maybe not the best title though, huh? ... :-/ –  Jason Feb 10 '10 at 18:40
@ jason - yeah - I saw it there - but perhaps it would be better on the homepage... with the logo.. my 2 ¢ –  jimg Feb 10 '10 at 20:42
+1 to Jason - as an active StackOverflow participant, I think the welcoming feel of the community here is largely due to the wider breadth of questions that can be asked (i.e., the absence of the "must not be subjective" rule). –  Arkaaito Apr 2 '10 at 19:40

21 Answers 21

A couple of things come to mind:

  • Promote where entrepreneurs get information: Places like the SBA, SCORE, Business Week, etc.
  • Reach out to Non-Software Entrepreneurs: Most of the people on this site are starting or running micro-ISV's. There are a ton of other businesses that can benefit from this forum. Most of the questions and answers apply to any business. Look at places like Startup Nation or the like.
  • Organize Resource Pages: Take all the great questions and answers and put together a common startup guide or something like that. This will reduce the barrier to entry for finding useful information.
  • Guest Post on Other Blogs: This is pretty effective for bloggers and can be effective for this site as well. Heck, I found this site because of a blog.
  • Contributors can Target Forums: Assign some of the community members to comment on other forums where entrepreneurs hang out like The Personal MBA, Venture Hacks, etc. That way, the word gets out and people can see the value.
+1 for the guest blog posting. great idea. –  jimg Feb 10 '10 at 15:55

One of the best possible sources of new members for a community like this is the existing members.

You have a good group of passionate and knowledgeable members. To best leverage this great group, I'd start with one simple step and use addthis.com to add "share this" buttons by each question and answer. This links to everything from basic e-mail to Facebook to Twitter to Digg to . Simple, easy, and free.

This will let OnStartups members share specific content with people they know who will be genuinely interested in that content - and then who are most likely to sign up as members. We're using this on our user generated content site and have been researching it - it turns out that even WhiteHouse.gov uses this now.

Good luck!!!!

+1 for easier ways to share. Can we take a crack at adding the TweetMeme retweet button for each question? –  dharmesh Feb 10 '10 at 16:09
Yes. I tried this once and it's easy to get the button working but hard to MOVE the button into a place that doesn't take up too much space. However it's clear now that we just need to have a button, period, so I'll get something working ASAP. –  Jason Feb 10 '10 at 18:51
OK, every question now has a RT button in the margin! –  Jason Feb 12 '10 at 16:59

I think one way to do this is to find blogs that write on topics of interest to your target audience, and get them to write a review of the site. I did this a while ago (here's my first mention of this site on my blog, and I've since mentioned the site several times when questions here have prompted articles on my site).

You could also write guest posts and publish them on various sites for startups. Perhaps offer a journal system where entrepreneurs can write about their journey in exchange for some customized advice, and a mention on this site (in exchange, they would get a mention here for their contributions, and they would provide thanks to this site on their own site).

I'm really interested in seeing what other people come up with!


To use our own info:

1) Target these sites:

Try to get mentions on them. If applicable, place ads. joelonsoftware should be amenable to this, right?

Run an Adwords campaign

do some quick research - startup questions & startup help seem to be good ones.

target other "stackexchange" sites. IF they already bought into this type of q&a model, then they will feel familiar and come over here if they are so inclined. I'd definitely put an ad on stackoverflow - esp. for those microisvs.

[edit: added another]

Why not add twitter capability so that new questions are automatically tweeted? That works pretty good for other interest sites...

The Twitter button is now up (in the right margin). Thanks for the suggestions! I like your other ones as well. –  Jason Feb 12 '10 at 17:00
Noticed the button - cool. Might I add to that? use something like twitterfeed.com to automagically add new questions to the onstartups twitter account - or create a dedicated onstartups answers acct. if the existing rss feed doesn't work, I'm certain you can come up with a good alternative (or hack something together with feed43.com) –  jimg Feb 12 '10 at 18:23

You may want to contact Jason Calacanis at his ThisWeekInstartups.com and he might mention this site in his podcast. His podcast is all about startups. Although this site might compete with his podcast segment where he answers questions from callers.


I found this site because I follow Dharmesh's blog. I think Dharmesh needs to blog more often or find a couple regular bloggers for OnStartups (heck I'd do one or two guest posts if he asked). You don't see Arrington doing all the blogging on TechCrunch. Most of the community here came form his blog.

Another idea is to do what Guy Kawasaki does on Twitter and post the most relevant questions on this site on Twitter. He tweets about 10-20 of the best and most compelling aticles per day from his AllTop site on Twitter. I find some of them fascinating and as a result find myself on AllTop more often.

I think that this is a great approach. It is a good way of making good questions known in a relevent fashiomn without being spammy. -e- –  Ev Conrad Mar 29 '10 at 15:44

My first question would be defining your target audience. Who are the primary users of this site? Can you give a little more description of what you consider "quality" users?

My first gut reaction was guerrilla marketing. Go after the top similar type forums and post questions as well as answers for visibility. So for example, Linkedin Answers or Yahoo Answers. Answer startup related questions related to some of the best posts here and end with a simple signature/link at the end and little plug that "From our Answers Users" or something like that. Each forum (like Linkedin Answers) has lots of crazy active, crazy smart people who contribute and lots of people who look. Go after the big ones. Some may chop your posts but do it in a mostly neutral way and give it a go.

At the same time, post really interesting questions that start off with a lot of valuable content that you're giving to that particular community with a request for more answers from the users. Like I did with my "productivity" post - I had about 10 things I do then asked others to jump in. And again, you brand this as "Answers" driven. Soft sell.

And per your question, you could create some type of incentive to get people to check the site out. That might get you blasted off but you can test the waters and try.

That's just one idea. I know it takes a lot of time but it's cheap and I think it's going to hit a highly qualified audience.

I'll search the brain for some more ideas.

Best of luck.


Hi Jason, Such a great idea to ask the community for help and ideas. Here are a few of mine:

Badges/Buttons-The badges here are used internally to this site (which is fine) but you could implement a public badge creator that enables people to embed an OnStartups Answers badge/button on their blog or website that links to this site. This would be similar to the many Twitter button creators, etc.

Email Newsletter- Although many people use RSS feeds, some people prefer to subscribe to forums via email and receive a weekly or monthly round-up of top questions and answers. This is a great way for people to opt-in to receive information (even if they don't register with the Answers site), and emails are often forwarded to others. To increase email subscriptions, or just offer on its own without registration form if you want to take a more viral approach, offer a relevant, useful eBook, video, or other type of content that they immediately receive. This content should be optimized to be shared via social media, furthering its reach.

Video Campaign- Create a series (start with one video, test it, analyze results, create second video, and so on) of short videos and post to YouTube and the OnStartups blog. Include a strong call-to-action, for example the "Google inbound marketing" CTA that HubSpot used in You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing" video.

SEO Press Release-Simple, short press release announcing two successful software entrepreneurs started free community to help other startups. Do some keyword research and be sure to include keywords in release and provide link to Answers site. PRLog is my preferred free or low-cost release distribution site.

Contest- The person that submits a question that gets the most community votes during a specific month, and the person that has the top answer during that specific month, each receive a free 1 hour conference call with you and Dharmesh to receive valuable advice on their most challenging problems. Since only active community users with high enough internal badges can vote, this would prevent cheating.

+1 for buttons for blogs. You could even tie the buttons to reputation level so visitors to your blog can see how much you are engaged with Answers. –  Steve Wilkinson Feb 11 '10 at 8:18

I highly recommend Dharmesh's book for ideas :)


I have seen in various forums that most of the start-ups are struggling to get financed. More often than not, they are gracefully/diplomatically shooed away by the financiers (angels/VC's/banks etc). This happens for one of many reasons which are not conveyed directly to the poor chaps.

How about getting in touch with angel networks / VC's who can guide these chaps to this forum?

These guys would be able to get tremendous help here.


Piquing the interest of a journalist who writes for a large paper (NY Times, etc).

Forcing an article would be expensive though - maybe reaching out to some journalists? –  Elie Feb 10 '10 at 23:22
@Elie What do you mean by "forcing an article"? –  Damian Feb 11 '10 at 17:25
Arranging to get yourself featured - i.e. paying for a review. But if you piqued the interest of a journalist who writes for a large paper, that would be much better. You might want to clarify. –  Elie Feb 11 '10 at 19:55
@Elie , yes "piquing the interest of a journalist" is what I meant. I edited the post. Thanks for your feedback. –  Damian Feb 12 '10 at 10:17

The Stackexchange way of promoting desired behavior is to award badges. Since many of the Stackexchange-sites will have the same problem:

Is it possible to have the dev-team add badges for traffic?

  1. The user adds a link to answers.onstartups.com/incoming/user-id
  2. A bronze badge is awarded after 5 incoming unique visitors
  3. A silver badge is awarded after 500 incoming unique visitors
  4. A gold badge is awarded after 10000 incoming unique visitors

No reputation points are awarded (it would be too easy to game the system and the reputation should probably reflect the activity on the site).

Great idea! Unfortunately we're currently unable to make custom badges. –  Jason Feb 12 '10 at 16:58

What about reaching out to college professors teaching courses in relevant areas (i.e. innovation, small business, technical ventures, technical management, accounting, etc)? They might be willing to share the site with their students as a resource for them. I would guess that the students would post good questions. And the professors may be willing to answer questions as well.

I know of one professor I'll ask.

sounds interesting, I'll also ask a professor teaching a related course. –  Atul Goyal Aug 27 '11 at 19:14

As Chris suggested, guerrilla marketing could be very powerful, but I'd stay away from spammy tactics, like posting on forums or other Q&A sites. But doing something outrageous and controversial that will make an impact in the community might be just the thing we need, if executed properly.

Also a bunch of my friends share my entrepreneurial passion, so there should be "Tweet this" and "Share on FB" links to every answer and question. Could be done with some custom javascript without tampering with the inner workings of Stack Exchange. Or full Facebook Connect integration if possible. For example each time I answer or ask a question a prompt appears to let my facebook friends and twitter followers know about it, "luring" them back here to register and benefit themselves and the community.

Peta came to mind when you mentioned doing something outrageous and controversial. –  Zuly Gonzalez Mar 28 '10 at 2:15

I would come up with some type of reward system that encourages the existing members to refer and invite new contributing members who post thoughtful and relevant questions and answers. Maybe a badge for referring x new members who acquired x number of votes would work. That way members who are here for the long run will think about potential new referrals who will make this a bigger and better community and invite them in.


A couple of thoughts I didn't see mentioned:

  1. Allow users to post their question on Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, etc. - Basically, make it easy to share your link is a great way to raise awareness. Also, what better reason to join than help out your friend by answering a question of theirs. Integrating with Facebook connect is a quick way. OpenID/Twitter/etc login is another great way.
  2. Encourage users to turn their Q&A's into blog posts. I blog regularly and these posts are great for when I have writer's block and can't think of a new topic to write about. They must add a link back of course.
  3. Finally, see if there's a way to work with Aardvark. This site reminds me a lot of it. Maybe there's a way to harness the power of the community they've already built.

I just started using this today and I'm really impressed by the caliber of the answers I've received. In fact, I posted the same question on Twitter and Aardvark too and this forum was the most helpful.

Best of luck!



Have you thought about speaking at a conference that targets start ups?

The 19th annual Software Industry Conference will be held this year in Dallas, Texas at the Hyatt Regency DFW, July 15-17, 2010. It is intended for software start ups, SaaS, Micro ISVs, and internet marketers.

If you are interested in speaking at the conference to an audience of hundreds of Micro ISVs, here is your chance. Use the link below to build and submit an abstract on the topic you want to speak about. Feel free to pass the PDF on to anyone you think might be interested in speaking at the conference.


For more information on the conference in general visit:



Why not approach entrepreneur meetup groups to spread the word or create affiliations?

Most large metros have a few like the ones we have in the Bay Area: such as SF New Tech, http://sfnewtech.com/, Silicon Valley Assoc of Software Entrepreneurs, svase.org and TiE.org, http://startup2startup.com/ etc.

Everybody is doing a FB page, maybe Onstartups should have one too?


I suggest that you reach out to entrepreneurs involved with early stage seed accelerators like TechStars and YCombinator. They are prefiltered as very knowledgable/experienced people interested in giving back, and they may encourage involvement from those startup communities and their own.

The number one reason I come here and recommend others is because of the people who contribute. There's something special about being able to ask questions that get read and answered by a quality community.


Since many users are in the IT industry, you could sponsor a tag(s) on Stackoverflow like Redgate does for SQL Server. SO has many questions about pricing, sales, licensing etc. Pool them together in a 'Business' tag. Users of both sites could help with the tagging if you just ask.

These sites have no way for current members to get credit for referrals or a referral mechanism. At least a badge for 5, 25, 50, 100 referrals.

Sorry, but Joel Spolsky was right (most recent podcast), both sites need to merge. There isn't enough to go around.

Yeah, well considering we were the first such site, and considering they have fake questions and fake users, maybe the actual humans from that site should merge with us... I agree we don't need more than one site, but tell them that! –  Jason Mar 29 '10 at 1:32
I didn't mean this site should become part of the other. –  Jeff Oresik Mar 29 '10 at 15:22

I launched a new StackExchange site last Sunday and have followed many of the suggestions in the answers to this question as part of our launch efforts.

I had suggested using the "share this" button from AddThis for AnswersOnStartups. Since it worked here, I put this on our new site. It turns out that this has not only helped by making it easy for new members to share the content - it has also had an immediate impact on how we are showing up in Google. For example, we have had members share content via Digg and StumbleUpon and now Google shows this which I think has to help with our SEO ranking.


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