OnStartups

The Gentle and Visual Guide to Startup Marketing

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on July 8, 2014 4 Comments

There are two things in my professional life that I'm passionate about.

1.  Startups.  I love startups.  It's an obsession.  I've started three companies, angel invested in over 50 and (hopefully) helped thousands more entrepreneurs in some small way through the OnStartups.com community.

2. Inbound marketing.  I love inbound marketing.  It's the idea that's at the heart of my company, HubSpot.  It's about marketing that focuses on attracting customers — not annoying them with interruptions.  It makes marketing about helping people, not harassing them.

Those of you that follow me either here or on the LinkedIn Influencers program know that I've spent hundreds of hours on the HubSpot Culture Code deck.  Now, I'm thrilled to share with you the second most intense deck I've worked on.  Clocking in at 100+ slides as well (what is it with me and large slide decks)?  This time, instead of culture, I talk about startup marketing.  It's my contribution to the startup marketing world.  Like everything else I work on, it's an obsession.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

 

If you'd like to discuss this deck, or startup marketing in general, I'll be doing an “Ask Me Anything” (about this deck, startups or anything) over on the #1 place for inbound marketing discussion.  Come join me.

Here are some highlights for those of you that are not “slide-y” kind of people.

1. Stop ignoring marketing.  Yes, I know you're going to build a killer product that people are going to love.  Marketing can help you find people to love it.  And yes, you can hire a PR agency and hope that you're going to get all this “free” publicity in TechCrunch and what not.  That's fine — but what are you going to do the other 363 days?  You need to invest in marketing.

2. Marketing doesn't have to be sleazy.  The best marketing is inbound which is basically doing what you do best (helping customers).  It's about creating content that is useful for your potential users/customers.  You use that as a tool to bring people in.

3. Stealth mode is for fighter jets, not startups.  If you're worried about somebody stealing your idea, please stop.  Right now.  Worry about how you're going to get customers.  And team members.  And funding.  All of these things are really hard -- if you don't talk about your idea.  

4. If you wait until after your product is out to start marketing, you waited to long. Ideally, your'e writing your first line of content the same day as you're writing your first line of code.  You need to start building brand, reach and credibility as early as possible.  

5. Don't get into an arms race for attention.  You won't win by shouting louder, getting bigger ads or buying a bigger booth at the tradeshow.

6. Don't try to outspend the incumbent.  They have more money than you and can spend money way more stupidly.  As a startup, you need to find marketing that gives you leverage.  Where you get disproportionate, long-term return given the investment. 

7. Don't just hire a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer).  In the early years, everybody in the company should be selling.  Everybody in the company should also be marketing.  You don't need a high-falutin marketing executive from [whatever-company].  You need someone that cares passionately about what you are doing, wants to help people and teach them and can create content and build your brand and reach.

8. Learn the basics of SEO.  There's just too much  traffic to ignore.  The nice thing about organic traffic is a) there's more of it.  b) the marginal cost for those clicks is low.  (Once you have content ranking, you're not paying additional money for each additional click). 

9. Use social media as an amplifier.  It takes time, but if you build a following, social media is a great way to take that awesome content you're producing and spreader it further and wider.

10. Don't assemble your own platform.  This is a bit self-serving (since my company HubSpot provides a marketing platform), but it's still true.  As a startup, you should be spending ALL available calories on making your product better and helping your customers.  Don't rationalize the time for wiring together a bunch of different apps, just because you're smart enough to pick the right tool in each category, and smart enough to get them to talk.  Use those brain cells on the product.

11. Definitely do not write your own CMS. I'm amazed at how entrepreneurs can get lured into this “but it's not that hard” mindset.  Wordpress is an awesome product.  HubSpot has a CMS and blogging app built in.  In this day and age, there is no reason to write your own CMS — unless you're selling your own CMS (in which case, may the force be with you).

...for the rest, you'll have to check out the 116 slides in the deck (it goes quickly).

jumpstart-rocketsBy the way, my company, HubSpot just launched a new program specifically for startups from great accelerators.  It's called Jumpstart.  You should check it out

This has been 5+ years in the making.  You should join because of the reduced price for HubSpot (by about 90% for the first year).  It'll help you get marketing started off on the right foot.  It'll help you DO the things you need to do (blog, SEO, social, landing pages, etc.), KNOW the things you need to know (like what's working and what's not) and GROW your company by pulling it all together and giving you the industry's best support.

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The Most Important Thing to Do Before Building Your Startup

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on June 3, 2014 7 Comments

product_plan

We failed.

After 6 months poring over the code quality and refining the design of our mobile app, my partner and I finally launched it in the app store and the downloads started coming in.

Then after a few days, BOOM. We got punched in the face by reality. No users returned to the app. This was a devastating shock, since most people we spoke to were excited about the idea. Our app allowed you to take photos and ask questions to learn about what you were looking at. It had all the traits of the most-hyped startup trends that year: mobile, social, local. It was early 2011.

Frustrated and determined to find out why no one was using our app, I decided to interview iPhone users who took a lot of photographs to understand if they had visual questions to post. After a few rounds of interviews, where they walked me through their photos, it soon became clear that I had built my product under a crucial, and faulty assumption; I had assumed that people actually had questions about the things they took photos of! What I learned was that these people were often in familiar environments where nothing new piqued their curiosity. Even when they did take photos of something that was interesting, it didn’t bother them enough to exert the extra effort needed to find out more information.The root cause of our failed launch finally dawned on me. The failure wasn’t due to a poorly designed solution; our app simply didn’t solve for a real human need. I had been working under an assumption that we had never validated.

The key to building products users want

Why did it take so long for me to realize I was building a solution for a problem that didn’t exist? Besides the various confirmation biases that often plague entrepreneurs, many fail to recognize these pitfalls early on because they are not taking the time to quickly test risky assumptions before jumping into the thrill of building.

By testing the value of the product, and other assumptions continuously throughout the product development process, entrepreneurs multiply the chances their businesses will acquire a passionate group of engaged customers faster.

Identifying assumptions

An assumption can be any number of things - a user behavior, mentality, or action that needs to be accurate in order for the solution to be viable. The riskiest assumption is the assumption that’s most core to the viability of the business and most unknown, meaning there is little or no data collected that supports the validity of the assumption. Testing the riskiest assumption at the very start of the project reduces the time it takes to find the biggest flaws in an idea and increase the speed at which we can find a better, more viable alternative.

In my example, the riskiest assumption to test early on would’ve been: people have questions to ask about their photos. That is eventually what I went back to test, after my partner and I gave up our salaries and put in months of labor. Testing the riskiest assumption is difficult for many to do and, very often, teams will succumb to hindsight biases and subjective arguing. To mitigate this problem, entrepreneurs need a way to list out their assumptions for any new idea, run an effective experiment, and hold each other accountable to the results.

Testing the riskiest assumption

There are many ways for teams to define and agree on what they’re testing up front. The pain of my failure led me and my co-founder at Javelin, Trevor Owens, to create the Experiment Board, which helps entrepreneurs to do this in a systematic way. Writing down the riskiest assumption focuses team efforts on testing the most important aspect of the business first. Once the riskiest assumption is validated, the team can move on to testing the next riskiest assumption.

One key benefit of the Experiment Board is its ability to help entrepreneurs and teams focus on customer problems and assumptions, rather than jumping into solutions. The steps it brings users through are the same steps an entrepreneur should take with any new business idea:

  1. Identify the customer segments, and the problem being solved.
  2. Brainstorm a list of assumptions.
  3. Determine how the team will know if an assumption is valid.

Validate before building

Let’s see how this works with a case study from Tarikh, founder of Seen.co, a past Lean Startup Machine winner who went on to raise money from Dave Tisch and other top investors.



Continuous Validation

Once an entrepreneur has validated that there is a real customer problem to solve for, the next step is to test how much the solution is worth for the customer. Will they pay, pre-order, or give up something of value to use the service? This measure of demand can be easily tested through a pitch experiment. You can do this with a simple landing page and some Google ads (and yes, we’ve created a tool to help you do just this, it’s called QuickMVP).

The process of identifying and testing assumptions should be ongoing when building a startup. Attend an upcoming Lean Startup Machine in your city (LSM Boston is happening June 6-8; register here), to learn the process and avoid wasting time and money building things people don’t want. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

Register for the Boston Lean Startup Machine on June 6 to 8.

This is a guest post by Grace Ng, Co-Founder of Javelin.com & Lean Startup Machine (LSM), the world's leading Lean Startup workshop. LSM Boston is this weekend June 6th to 8th 2014 and tickets are almost sold out, get yours here and use the code "onstartups" for a 30% discount.

 

 

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