How I Messed Up in the Shaving Niche

Posted on Apr 01, 2015 by Michael Gugel.


This is a story of how I messed up.

The year was 2009.  I was 23 years old and DREADED shaving.  It was annoying, painful, and time consuming, but I did it every day anyway.  Billions of men around the world did the same thing.

Then I found about wet shaving.  Thousands of men on the forums were saying that they actually ENJOYED shaving after switching from cartridge razors.  I decided to give it a shot so I bought the gear – a $50 razor, a brush, some blades and some soap.

The razor in question.

And it WORKED!  I became hooked.  So hooked, that I started a somewhat popular wet shaving shaving blog.  I gave tips and reviewed razors, blades, brushes and soaps.  At its peak, it got around 3,200 visits/mo.  Not bad for a small niche. sessions since 2010

What kills me is that I knew that this niche was growing fast and billions of men were suffering from the same problem.  But I didn’t know how to monetize.  I tried ads.  I tried specific product referrals. I tried making my own shaving cream (which had some…side effects).  I got maybe like $0.02/visit before calling it quits and moving on to other ideas.  That was a terrible move. A terrible, terrible move.

I stumbled on a thread today where a redditter named localcasestudy told the story of how he bought a wet shaving blog for $4000 and it turned it around to generate $360,000 in one year.  He did in 2014…5 years after me.  And take a look at the other shaving success stories out there (at least in terms of raising VC).  Harry’s raised over $200M.  DollarShaveClub which raised $50M.

I missed the boat.  There was opportunity there and I was early.  I just didn’t push hard enough.  Lesson learned.

4 Layers of Design

Posted on Sep 30, 2014 by Michael Gugel.

  • OUTCOME:  Start with the intended outcome. What will the thing you’re designing make easier or better for people? Most projects without a clearly defined intended outcome don’t end well.
  • STRUCTURE: Next design the system. Work out the required components to meet the intended outcome, and map the relationships between them.
  • INTERACTION: After the outcome and system are figured out, design the interaction details. What are the microinteractions? The sequence of behaviour and events? What are the UI components and how will people interact with or manipulate them? How will things move, change or animate? Revisit the system, evolve it to match the interactions. Keep iterating.
  • VISUAL: Once the outcome, system and interactions are well defined and working(ideally prototyped), design the visual details. Make it look and feel beautiful, enjoyable. Now it’s time for beautiful grids, colour, typography, iconography.


Chasing Unicorns

Posted on Sep 30, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


Be very careful asking customers what they want. They’ll typically send you chasing unicorns.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

Curbing Violence with Social Reinforcement

Posted on Jun 30, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


Steven Kotler wrote a post that examined the effectiveness of using social positive & negative reinforcement to decrease violence.  A particularly interesting point is that social acceptance triggers key neural pathways in the brain that are almost equivalent to physical pleasure/pain.  No wonder social features are so engaging.

A bunch of new research shows that humans process the pain of social rejection in the same places they process physical pain.

…not only do we process peer rejection as physical pain, but we process the opposite—social acceptance—as intense pleasure.

Lean Canvas

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


5 Steps to a Great Landing Page

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


A great landing page has 5 main parts:

  1. Headline –  A good headline tell the user he reached the right place, conveys the unique value proposition, and draws the user in to make him read the rest of the copy.
  2. Visual – Supports the headline to build emotional resonance.
  3. Call to action – A user should instantly know his next steps.
  4. A secondary call to action – If the user is not ready to buy immediately, he’ll need an opportunity to educate himself.
  5. Sell the sizzle – Clearly and concisely explain how the product will help the user solve a relevant problem

Agile Principles

Posted on Jun 05, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.  Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts it behavior accordingly.

Responding to change over following a plan.

Is Your Team Self Actualizing?

Posted on Jan 19, 2014 by Michael Gugel.


As a manager, your responsibility is to make your team as productive as possible.  To do that, you need to motivate them to maximize performance NOW and improve their skills over time.  To motivate your team, you need to first understand how motivation works. That’s where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes in. It provides an easy-to-understand framework that’s really relevant for managers.

In short, he divided motivation into 5 distinct parts:

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

You want your team members to be at the top of the pyramid to maximize their performance. To do that, you have to progress through each tier of the pyramid starting from the bottom:

  • Physiological – The basic needs of food, water, shelter and clothing have to be met. I don’t have much to say about this one since I’ve never had a direct report who was starving.
  • Safety – When an employee was under-performing at Zynga, the were put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Unfortunately, it was very rare for an employee to survive a PIP.  That’s not surprising. When faced with a high likelihood of losing their job, the most rational course of action is to hedge your risk and immediately start looking for a new job instead of improving your current performance (since you’re facing an uphill battle).
  • Belonging - Humans are social animals. You need to feel part of the team and share in their successes and failures.  Failure to do so makes you feel isolated and that your contributions don’t matter.
  • Esteem - Before you can really embrace feedback, you need to feel competent.
  • Self Actualization – This is where you want everyone to be! If you make it here, you’ll start to see your team really KILL IT! They will accept and internalize feedback and will constantly strive to improve.

Make your employees the best they can be!  Move each of your direct reports as far up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as possible!

* There are some exceptions to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (e.g. starving artists partially skip the physiological tier) and it’s not hard science.

Ask for the Sale

Posted on Sep 15, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Does your website ask for the sale?  Are you saying “yes” because you have a pretty page that lists all your products?  That’s not enough.  You’re being too meek and timid.  You’re NOT asking for the sale — you’re relying on people to stumble their way to your sales page and you’re losing a ton of people along the way.

If you want an amazing ROI (revenue impact / dev cost) feature , then think about ways you can ASK FOR THE SALE.   Are your call to action buttons bright and vibrant?  Is there anyway you can show off or educate your customers about your products on your highly traffic’ed pages (not just your homepage)?

At Zynga, we frequently had a sales popup right when you entered the game.  Now that was REALLY asking for the sale.  It was in your face and aggressive, but the reason we did it is that it generated a sustained 5%-10% increase in revenue with NO IMPACT ON RETENTION.

A word of caution, however – there are diminishing returns so don’t go overboard.

Battle Pirates Deconstruct

Posted on Jul 30, 2012 by Michael Gugel.


Battle Pirates has one of the highest rev/DAU of any FB game.  I’ve been playing it obsessively over the last month to figure out why.

Key Metrics (as of 7/29 from

  • DAU: 230k
  • Month Over Month DAU Growth: 9.5%
  • Engagement: 19.2%

There are 3 main reasons why I think this game is success:

  1. An external threat to survival with an ability and incentive for users to band together
  2. Aspiration
  3. Egg-timer galore

Threats & Self-Organization

There’s nothing like a looming threat to bring people together.  Here’s how Battle Pirates did it:

At level 10, I attacked one of my neighbors.  Before I could congratulate myself on taking out his base, a level 30 annihilates me.

That level 30 user was an enforcer. He took it upon himself to make sure of that users in Sector 330 didn’t attack each other.  We were supposed to stick together and fight users in other Sectors.
Sector 330 self-organized (with only the help of chat) and built a community around a common goal: Sector security.

No infighting in Sector 330. It's enforced by elder users.



Having a persistent, multi-player game world  let’s you easily see other users bases and fleets.  That provides aspirataton:

George_R has a bunch of Hammerheads (the most powerful ship in the game). I'm jealous.


Speeding up Upgrades

FB’s Game Spotlight leaked some amazing info:

Speed-ups account for 85% of revenue across all of KIXEYE’s games, including War Commander.

There are egg-timers are on EVERYTHING in Battle Pirates!  And as you level up and get swankier gear, it takes long and longer to upgrade.

Upgrading units on an egg-timer.


At level 19, it takes me almost 24 hours to build a single ship, but I can get instant gratification for a mere 32 FB credits ($3.20):


How can you encourage self-organization, generate aspiration and put egg-timers in your game?