What can the Alligator Snapping Turtle teach you about marketing?

Without a doubt, every startup hungry for success needs one thing, regardless of industry or location. And that’s customers. Without them, there’s no business, and definitely no revenue stream. They feed your business, fuelling progress and growth. A bit like how your standard animal needs food. It’s a bit of a non-negotiable.

Unfortunately, like trying to track down food in a competitive ecosystem, getting customers is easier said than done. For a business, this is where marketing comes in. For most people the word “marketing” elicits thoughts of massive marketing campaigns, facebook adverts, direct emails and tv adverts. These techniques are known as outbound marketing. Unfortunately, all of these channels come with a cost, and in a world saturated with advertisements it can be difficult to standout.  Just like your average predator, with so many other competitors fighting for the food it can be hard to get any for yourself. How can you differentiate and get the competitive advantage?


Source: Reference



Well, one unique species has figured this out. The Alligator Snapping Turtle. Instead of chasing down its prey, it entices them to come to him. The ultimate in lazy hunting. So how does it do this? Lying motionless in the water with its jaw open, its head and body look like an innocent rock. Like in the video below, the turtle then moves its fleshy tongue, which looks remarkably like a wriggling worm. To the innocent small fish or frog this looks just like dinner, so they wander into the Alligator Snapping Turtle’s jaw, completely unaware they are about to become its dinner. As soon as they enter the powerful jaw, they are instantly snapped up and killed. For the turtle this is a perfect deal. It doesn’t have to waste any energy searching for prey.

In the marketing world the same technique can be applied. Inbound marketing focuses on producing quality content that potential customers want to read or engage with, naturally drawing them towards your company and products. Most often this in the form of blogs, with content that is aligned with the target customers interests, but can also come as videos, podcasts, eBooks, newsletters, whitepapers and so on. Not only does this attract customers to your website, where the sales can be made, but it also builds trust with the company.

Source: Smart Insights

There are 3 key steps to make inbound marketing work for you:

  1. Attract: the worm tongue

It is critical to attract the right customers at the right time. Make sure your content is aimed at your target market. There is no absolutely no point in discussing the best icecream shops in Melbourne if your product is a weight loss pill. It’s counterproductive. There’s a reason the Alligator Snapping Turtle’s tongue looks like a worm, because frogs eat worms. So produce educational content that people want. A great example is Casper, a bed startup with a blog focused on the science of sleep which is perfect for their target market.

  1. Convert: Eat the prey

Now that the prospective customer is on your website, you want to hook them in that little bit more. An Alligator Snapping Turtle literally snaps up its prey, but you may prefer to gently encourage them towards email sign up and sales. Using an email as “payment” for an eBook can be very effective, especially if the content is good. With blogs it can be a little trickier to get an email, but a clearly visible sign up box is a good addition to your website.

  1. Close: Digest the prey

Once you have the contact details of prospective customers, it is all about what you do with this information. An Alligator Snapping Turtle does not just close its mouth and leave it at that. It chews and digests to get the most nutrients out of its food. Similarly, you need to continually produce valuable content to keep your subscribers coming back and purchasing your products or services.


Source: Belshaw Agency


If trust with the brand is built up through offering genuine information, you will find much greater marketing success than forcing a sale through expensive advertising. And although an Alligator Snapping Turtle can only make use of their prey once, effective inbound marketing can see sales coming in again and again, all while sitting back and relaxing (writing blogs)!


Is over-regulation inhibiting the hustle catalyst?

In the entrepreneurial space, a favourite buzz word is “hustle.” Now I’ve talked about hustle before, and to be honest, I think it is fantastic. It gets things happening. You avoid procrastination and overplanning. Hustle is the enzyme catalyst for action in a business, it takes that initial idea, like the reagents in a reaction, and makes things happen. Fast. Put together your customer and a prototype (reagents), add a bit of hustle (the enzyme catalyst) and you get instantaneous feedback on your idea (reaction product).

Taking action quickly is vital when you want to get a proof of concept, make pivots based on the market response or have the first mover advantage. But you lose the beauty of the moment if these things happen slowly. Rather than iterative product development, slow action means you have to make assumptions about the wants and needs of the customers. And in entrepreneurship, making assumptions is a dangerous game to play.

But having spent a large part of this year working on The Cricket Effect, I am starting to see that hustling isn’t always that easy. In fact, progress can be ridiculously slow as you work through the bureaucracy and red tape, making every little step a mountain to overcome.

With the current government focused on innovation and an ideas boom, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the intention of the current policies, and the reality of the situation. There are so many fees and legal requirements, that getting anywhere is tricky. As a food business, we face importation restrictions, food business registration, company registration, kitchen licensing, mobile food vendor fees, and the list goes on. The hustle to get out our MVP and test the market has been all but completely halted by the over-regulation.


Is the government really doing all they can to help “ideas boom”? Source: ANAO


Just like hustle makes thing happen, like an enzyme catalyst, over-regulation works as an inhibitor, in particular, an allosteric inhibitor. In an enzyme catalyst, the reaction happens at the active site, where the two reagents meet, but a second molecule, known as an allosteric inhibitor can come over and bind to the enzyme. When this allosteric inhibitor binds, it changes the shape of the active site, so the two reagents can no longer fit together and react. This slows the reaction right down, and in some cases can even completely stop it.


The action of an allosteric inhibitor. Source: BIOAP


Over regulation when working in the start-up and innovation space does the same thing. It comes in, sucking out time, money and every ounce of enthusiasm. Those quick ideas have to be moulded to fit with the masses of rules. Suddenly those instant iterations are not so instant anymore, and the investment in every trial becomes significant. For us, we cannot pop down to a market, sell our product, and get feedback. Instead, we have to spend upwards of $1,000 to get the necessary licenses and permits.

One of the special features about allosteric inhibitors is that they can be specific to certain enzymes, with only some enzymes and some reactions being affected, while the remainder are left untouched. So when over-regulation works as an inhibitor, it affects low budget start ups much more than established multi-national corporations. Bootstrapping is an entrepreneurial gem, allowing resourceful action on a minimal budget. It makes new start-ups dynamic and innovative. However, with so much regulation, true bootstrapping is made nigh on impossible with all the fees required. For corporate giants, a few thousand dollars here or there is a drop in the ocean, meaning they are unaffected by these requirements. This means the ‘reaction’ of these huge companies and their products with customers outcompetes the ‘reaction’ of startups with customers, as start-ups are affected so much more. For new companies, this makes it difficult to compete.


We should favor innovation and freedom over regulation.
Source: Double Quotes


Often the best and most disruptive ideas come from outside of the box thinking with a limited budget. But the huge amounts of regulation and fees required in order to comply with legalities means for many new startups, it may not be worth the effort to even try. Although rules and regulations have their place, and exist for a reason, startups are a catalyst for change and rely on hustle. Over-regulation is inhibiting this hustle and may put a stop to an explosion of new ideas.


Ginger beer: Risky business

As a kid, I absolutely loved ginger beer. So one day as a 10-year-old I decided to make it myself. I found a recipe courtesy of New Zealand childhood TV legend Suzy Cato, made up the gingery-yeasty-sugary concoction and left the bottles for three days. The anticipation for trying my home-made bottle was building. And little did I know, so was the pressure inside the bottles. The first half-full bottle was opened with a half metre foamy column pouring out of the top. With some less than sound scientific knowledge, I reasoned that the full bottle would be less likely to explode. Obviously, this was completely wrong. The final bottle exploded in a torrent of foam, hitting the ceiling 3 metres above, spraying the walls, and leaving barely enough ginger beer in the bottle for a taste. A failure. A bit like this one:

It’s well known that ginger beer has a tendency to explode, but I was obliviously engaging in this risky behaviour. As a naïve 10-year old an explosion had not even crossed my mind, so I loaded up the yeast and the sugar without restraint. There were no what-if scenarios niggling me with fear. And even though it was a total failure, I learnt a lot, from the physics of pressure to the biology of yeast, to the joys of science experimentation.

In my youth: A little naive about the reality of science

In life, the fear of failure can often hold us back from trying things, but ultimately, risk-taking is the driver of innovation. None of the world’s big breakthroughs were achieved by safely sitting on the couch. In the world of entrepreneurship taking risks is just as important as it is for a child learning about the world. But for many the thought of investing personal capital, staking their reputation on an unproven idea or sacrificing a steady salary seems terrifying.

Unfortunately, we tend to exaggerate the likelihood and consequences of failure. Sure, the ginger beer exploding and coating the walls with sugar was not ideal, but it was not a total life disaster. When considering a risk, think “really, how bad is the worst case scenario?”. If it all goes wrong, could you bounce back? Chances are you could.

Even so, Leonard C. Green specified, “Entrepreneurs are not risk takers. They are calculated risk takers.” Successful entrepreneurs do not take reckless risks with a vague hope of success, betting everything on one roll of the dice. They take small steps towards their goal, so any stumbles do not totally derail their plans. With each and every one of these steps, they find ways to minimise risk. Can they make the step cheaper, faster, more effective, all to reduce the investment in this risk.  Riskology even suggests a Smart Risk Equation for quantifying risk, balancing potential loss against potential reward. So sure even though glow-in-the-dark ginger beer would be cool, the risk of poison from that glowing powder is so much higher than the potential benefit. That would not be a smart risk.

Source: Environmental Risk

The final, most important element of risk taking is learning. There is no value in taking a risk, failing, and calling it a day. Be an experimental, cyclic risk taker. A popular strategy in entrepreneurship is Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. When you act, you are taking a smart, calculated risk. A small step towards your goal. Whether it is a success of a failure, pausing to consider helps you to learn. This learning can then be built into the next step or iteration, and then the whole cycle repeated. With this strategy, improvement and progress are inevitable.


When I made ginger beer as a child, my mum’s reluctance for sugar-coated walls meant  it was the first and the last time I made ginger beer. I never followed Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. This was a missed opportunity, as I would not have made the same mistakes twice. At the very least I would have opened the bottle outside!  I learnt a lot from my foray into ginger beer production, but this knowledge could have exploded exponentially if I had not just left my risk as a failure, but rather, as the pinnacle in a learning cycle.

This is perfectly encapsulated by Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, who said, “Failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success.”

Who knows, maybe I’ll give ginger beer homebrew another go tonight. Building from my failure, 10 years on.

Why we procrastinate and how to combat it (the scientific way)

Procrastination. Everyone does it (and I certainly do). It’s one of those things that is absolutely great early on (so much time left), but quickly, those weeks turn into days, and then hours (uh oh). Suddenly, you’re at the panic point. There is literally not enough time to get everything done.

80 – 95% of college students procrastinate, with over 95% wishing they did it less. But ultimately, no one is making you procrastinate. So if we don’t want it, and we have total control over it, why do we do it?

Turns out, we are just plain unempathetic. Research using fMRI  has found that when we think about our self in the future, we activate the same part of the brain as when we think about a total stranger. This means that when we procrastinate, our brain thinks we think we are passing the problem (and the work) onto someone else. Unfortunately, that person is us. With a whole lot less time.

Another study asked students to decide how much of a concoction of ketchup and soy sauce they would drink. Those who had to commit to drinking it that day only mustered up the courage for two tablespoons, but if they only had to consume it the following semester, they were willing to drink half a cup. This dramatic increase stems from our lack of empathy for our future self. By failing to self-regulate our behaviour, we are prioritising an instantaneous mood boost now, over the consequences in the future.

When trying to combat procrastination, if we remind ourselves that in 10 minutes, or an hour, or a weeks time we are not going to suddenly want to do that dreaded task, then we may actually have a chance of getting it done early. This concept of connecting to our future self is known as future self-continuity, and can have many benefits, like improved decision making, goal pursuit and well-being.

Sourced from Cubiclebot

On average, older people tend to procrastinate less. However, this is not because of a true growth in self-control, but rather the adoption of strategies to deal with this behaviour. So the earlier you can find a way to tackle procrastination, the better.

Learning to self-manage and self-regulate is key. I love nifty little apps, and so as I procrastinated a lab report, I thought, maybe there is an app to help with this. After a few trials, I found two gems on Google Playstore, Accomplish: To-Do list reborn and Clear Focus (sorry they’re both android only).  I’ll look into Clear Focus next time, but for now, I will focus on Accomplish.

Accomplish is an app which allows you to create a to-do list, and then drag and drop the tasks into a calendar. It is really easy to move them around, adjust their lengths and finally tick them off when you are done. If you do not tick off a task by the end of the day, then it returns to do the to-do list for the next day. This is perfect if you are little ambitious or underestimate how long tasks will actually take because you won’t forget about them the following day.

Source: Google Play

I personally find myself drowning in lists scribbled on spare pieces of paper. I am constantly reshuffling them, and figuring out when best to do everything. This in itself is procrastination.

Breaking large tasks up into small ones makes them seem more achievable, and reduces the initial inertia to get started. By beginning the day with a plan, and segmenting that massive lab report into quick 15 – 30-minute tasks, it all suddenly becomes very easy. Accomplish is perfect for this. You can also start to get a better perspective on the timeline, allowing you to see how procrastinating now will affect you later on.


Now, planning out your day is the first step, but making the most of those segments is even more important. My next tip is using a Pomodoro timer, so tune in next time for scientifically backed procrastination-beating tips.

Olympic hustle: Does it really come down to the race?

In a bit of a deviation from the classic science approach, this week we’ll be looking at the Olympics. I feel that it is a pretty justified one, though considering it has been distracting me from my work for the last two weeks (plus there is loads of physics behind all that success.)

The stories, the drama and the pure athleticism are truly captivating.  Before I know it that quick glance at the gymnastics has turned into a three-hour marathon comprised of five different sports. But who can blame me when there are superstars like Simone Biles – she is the greatest isn’t she?)All those things I should have been doing are suddenly ranked a bit lower on the priority list. I just can’t seem to help myself (but could you either if you were watching some spectacular Simone Biles – she is just the absolute greatest isn’t she?)

The 10-second race

However, at the same time, you can’t help thinking about all those athletes who make it to the Olympics, but fall short. Their Olympic dream can be over in literally 10 seconds (take the 100 m sprint). Be it a bad day, or not quite being good enough, they have spent the last 4 years dedicated to achieving their goals.  4 years of work for only 10 seconds of action. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?

Is being an entrepreneur any different? Can 10 seconds make or break you? Sure, you may win a big deal, or get funding from a venture capitalist, but ultimately, you cannot pinpoint the 10 seconds that pushes you over the edge, to success or failure.

Make use of every 10 seconds – Source Pixabay

That’s because every second counts. Every little fraction of time accumulates into something much bigger. And it is the same for athletes. Did you know in four years there are over 12 million lots of 10 seconds? That is 12 million 100 m sprints to get something done. The action you take now, affects everything else that happens. Sure, athletes have bad days, but none of those gold medallists wins by chance. They have made the most of every opportunity in preparation for the Olympics. At home on the couch, we only see a tiny fraction of what makes them winners.

Working on a startup, you need to realise the importance of now. Every 10 seconds is another opportunity to take action, improve, adapt and be ready for whatever comes next.

$5 Challenge

This message was recently driven home by an assignment. We were given $5 seed funding and told we had two weeks to make as much money as possible. With limited time we could procrastinate, over plan, or try to create the perfect product. We simply had to act. For someone who procrastinates, this was a new and exciting approach. Brainstorming ideas as a team, with the hope of coming across something lucrative, so many had road blocks. But what it ultimately came down to was that we simply did not know what would work. What did customers actually want?

As our team tried to come up with the next million dollar idea there seemed to be so many potential roadblocks. But what our indecision came down to was that we simply did not know what would work. What did customers actually want?

Launch and Learn

Instead of figuring it out on our own, we embraced the every-second-counts mentality. We decided to fail, and fail fast.  Colin Raney believes it is important not to wait for perfection, but rather to launch and learn. So straight after our brainstorming session, we tested our first scheme. Coffee deliveries. And it failed miserably. But all we lost was a few hours of our time, yet in the process, we started to understand our customers needed. We learnt to adapt to the conditions and iteratively improve our offerings.


For a procrastinator, this is a pretty exciting mentality. Perfection is hard to achieve, and when we focus on it too much it can be a massive barrier to achieving anything. But unlike at university, where you only get one shot at every assignment, working on a startup you can be dynamic, and respond to the market’s needs. This is truly refreshing and makes those 10 seconds count even more. It really embraces the “hustle” mentality that entrepreneurs love. The commitment to get ahead and take action, no matter what fuels resourcefulness and rapidly builds value. This was essential working on the five dollar challenge, but hustle is important for athletes too.

Even though that 10-second race is all that seems to matter. It does not. It is every other second of preparation and hard work that has gotten them to this point. Take the incredible Olympic swimmer, Katie Ledecky, she is known for her phenomenal work ethic, training relentlessly twice a day.

Although those Olympic races are when it counts, it is taking action early that sets you up for triumph. As Eddie Cantor says, “It takes years to make an overnight success.”

Dealing with the competition: Are you in the desert or the rainforest?

When launching a start-up, it seems obvious to avoid markets which already contain competitors. But, this should not necessarily be your default approach. In ecosystems, competition can be a good thing, driving diversification and building resilience. So what can our ecological environment tell us about the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Competitors offer validation

First up, competitors show us where the resources are. For a species like an orangutan to survive, they need the basics, like food and water. But of course, local competition like gibbons are fighting for the very same essentials. Similarly, as a bare minimum need, a startup needs customers. It is simply not a viable business without them. With competing companies trying to get these same customers, it can be difficult to turn over profit. Instead of facing rivals, for an emerging startup it can seem a lot easier to look elsewhere for a less crowded market.


But do you see orangutans in the desert? No… And it’s true; there would be very few competitors in the desert. Not many gibbons swinging through the cacti. But that’s because it is essentially a barren wasteland. This environment is not just constrained by competition, but also by other stress factors like climate. Orangutans could not survive there.

In the same way, do you want to launch your startup in a market without a customer in sight? If there is no one already in the market, it may be a warning sign that it is not worth entering. Ben Yoskowitz, an angel investor, “If nobody is competing in your space, there’s a very good chance the market you’re going into is too small.”

So if other people are working on a similar idea, don’t get put off. They’re proving an idea has a potential market. That’s a good sign for you too.

Carrying capacity

By the same means, this does not necessarily mean you should launch yourself straight into the most crowded market around. You need to consider the carrying capacity of the environment. In ecological terms, this means how many individuals can be supported by a region, based on natural resource limits.


A desert may seem like a low competition environment, but it has a small carrying capacity and cannot support vast numbers of species. However, the abundance of food and water in a rainforest means it has a much higher carrying capacity and can provide for orangutans, gibbons and a multitude of other species. When deciding whether it is worth launching a product into a market with existing competitors, you need to consider whether the market is big enough to support you both. Does it have the carrying capacity if you jump on board too?

Competitive Exclusion Principle

Unfortunately, merely having the carrying capacity to support you is not enough. The Competitive Exclusion Principle says that species that use resources in the same way cannot coexist long term, as eventually, the species with the competitive advantage will overtake the weaker species.

As a business, you do not want to be overtaken. If you are a late entrant to the market, there’s a good chance your competitor will already have a competitive advantage. So you could find yourself in a tricky situation. But luckily, the world’s ecosystems have another lesson for us. Evolution.


If orangutans and gibbons ate the same seeds, in the same places at the same time, one species would eventually dominate the other. But they still manage to coexist. Incredibly the stressors of the competitive environment and the constant threats to survival have led to evolution. Orangutans have adapted so that they can manipulate fruit and crack shells, allowing them to eat the unripe fruits many of their ape and gibbon competitors cannot eat. This transformation is niche differentiation and allows the two competitors to coexist more easily in the same environment.


When you launch your startup in an environment with competitors, it is vital to differentiate yourself to survive.  Burke and Hussels believe a challenging environment helps a startup focus on satisfying customer needs and keeping costs low. The pressures of a competitive market drive the kind of innovation and success which cannot occur with complacency. In fact, a study found that although failure rates were higher in the first year for companies in crowded markets, those who made it past this mark had a much greater chance of success after three years. Those that can survive the initial adaptation are stronger as a result.

Don’t be afraid to enter the competitor-filled rainforest; there’s a good chance it will have have the carrying capacity to support you, but be prepared to innovate, evolve and differentiate to find your niche.


Can Exo protect you from the ‘yuck’ factor’?

Making sales in any business can be hard enough, but converting repulsion into sales is even harder. Armed with cricket flour protein bars in hand, Exo has taken on this challenge.

Source: Exo

Founded in a Brown University dorm room by Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz in 2013, Exo is trying to convince people that ‘crickets are the new kale.’ Their protein bars are not only healthy and super nutritious, but the cricket flour adds a sustainable punch of protein. Despite these key selling points, Exo is still fighting an uphill battle to convince consumers to start eating insects.

A bit like the uphill battle I seem to face constantly in the chemistry lab, trying to get the reaction I want and avoid all the other possibilities. Take this molecule.

3-Chloro-1-propanol. Source: created on ChemSpider


Swapping out the chloride for something else seems pretty simple right? Wrong. Instead of an easy swap, the much more reactive -OH (alcohol) reacts, and you end up with a bunch of products you don’t want.

Protecting groups

Luckily, chemists have outsmarted the alcohols, devising a sneaky method to get the outcome they want. They use protecting groups. These are unique molecules that bind to the most reactive group (like the alcohol) stopping it from reacting. This forces the other group (like the chloride) to react instead, giving a chemoselective reaction.

These protecting groups have a lot in common with Exo’s nifty approach to marketing and branding. By carefully presenting themselves and their product, Exo manages to protect their audience from their first super reactive “ugh – I hate insects” response. This leaves open the less reactive option, “yum – insects are fantastic!” and with it, the potential for sales.

More reactive

Despite cricket flour being their main selling point, Exo manages to keep their product separate from the ‘creepy-crawly’ nature of crickets. Although, “Made from Cricket Flour” is written front and centre on the bars, there are no cricket images to be found. Not an insect to be seen on their instagram.  Instead, they give off a healthy, scientific vibe. Their packaging has an almost lab manual look. They use statistics and infographics to convince people of the advantages of eating crickets.

Exo protein bars. Source: Exo


Now, if your molecule was to have a more reactive bromide instead of a chloride, getting the ideal reaction would be that bit faster and easier.  Likewise, Exo started strategically, pitching and testing their product amongst regulars at the local CrossFit gym. These early adopters were keen to build muscle and boost their protein, and so were more reactive to the scientific benefits than the gross factor of insects.


Unfortunately, if a protecting group only gets your product a measly 2% of the time, it’s not really good enough. The closer to 100% the better. In the laboratory the yield is often not immediately obvious, instead a series of tests are needed to find the purity.

In the business world this yield of success can easily be measured with key metrics like sales and profits. If Exo’s marketing strategies and branding had been unsuccessful, they would have had only a handful of customers. They would have been an unsustainable business. But luckily, their protecting group approach has given a high yield. In their first production run they sold out of all 50,000 bars within weeks. With growing demand, they’ve expanded their channels to include online sales, subscriptions and stockists in wholefood stores.



Reaction conditions

A good protecting group should be effective in  a variety of reaction conditions, so for Exo this meant that hard core gym bunnies alone, are not enough.

But by pitching from a variety of angles, from sustainability, to protein, to vitamin content, they have managed to appeal to a broader market. This was evident in their first Kickstarter campaign in 2013.  Shooting past their initial goal, they raised a huge $54,911 USD. Since then, they have gone on to raise a total of $5.6 million USD. With only a few early adopters this would not have been possible.


Temperature can cause havoc on reactions and the resulting products, especially if the protecting group is unstable. But Exo have taken advantage of the heat of the media. With such a controversial product, media scrutiny has the potential to do more harm than good. But Exo have made this heat work for them, with coverage in publications like Forbes, TIME, and National Geographic being used to open a dialogue on entomophagy and ignite interest in their product.


Protecting groups also have to be resilient, because acid has the potential to strip back a molecule, leaving it unrecognisable and prone to an unwanted reaction.

Exo also had to ensure that despite their marketing, their product had a solid scientific backing and could withstand attack. Luckily, their insect eating approach has been supported by a 200 page UN report,  making it all the more difficult for them to be undermined by factual discrepancies.

In a chemical reaction, the protective group can eventually be removed, leaving the ideal product. Although, Exo still have a clever marketing cloak that carefully masks the crickets, they have managed to reach the reaction outcome they want. And by bugging people about the benefits of insects, they have given the insect market the potential to take off with unprecedented potential.