Many #Startups don’t get sales or users because they don’t hustle hard enough

Startups need traction. Startup themselves are defined by their rate of growth. Speed is of the essence. It’s all the more surprising then to often find Founders or founding teams reluctant to sell. By this I mean, sell hard to their customers.

That might be selling a product, that might be simply getting someone to sign up; either way ultimately you’re trying to persuade someone to enter your engagement funnel, whether you charge them at the end of it for a product/service or not.

Startups get frustrated that they don’t get the growth they want. Yet it’s being bold enough to relentlessly push your product or service which will result in “sales” (and remember that sale could just be a sign up).

It’s surprising then when I am often able to sit down to mentor a startup or work with one of my portfolio companies and find that there’s a big list of things which haven’t even been tried – and these are often not onerous or expensive in development terms.

Give me an example?

This isn’t the blog post to provide an exhaustive list of what you can do to engage users en general, but I do want to give one example of what I mean by being relentless and hustling to get people in to your funnel, in this case specifically using a blog post as an example (the same by the way, applies to email newsletters).

I often see startup founders investing in time to write a blog post; but traffic on their blog is often low and the ROI of the time invested unmeasured. Worst still, there are seldom enough (sometimes no!) call to actions. So, what’s good practise? Well you can Google that to find exhaustive articles, but in short make sure:

  • the blog provides value to the reader
  • the blog is appropriate (and the value aligned) to the target audience of your product or service
  • that the blog is not a one-off and that you have in place a system to regularly* deliver that value as part of an ongoing persuasion campaign to on-the-fence potential customers
  • but most importantly that you provide comprehensive call to actions 

 * unlike this blog which has been woefully and sporadically updated!

Just take a look at this example from CBInsights, the tech industry data platform:

Startups publishing blog posts and even web pages often don't optimise for customer engagement and consequently rarely provide a good ROI. This example from CBInsights does.

Startups publishing blog posts and even web pages often don’t optimise for customer engagement and consequently rarely provide a good ROI. This example from CBInsights does. (ignore the blue menu bar half way down, that’s an error from screencapture)

  • items marked in pink are opportunities for readers to share
  • more importantly items in red are calls to action to funnel people into a sales process.

Why does this happen? Often because startups are under focused and under resourced. If you have minimal resources you can only do a few things well. Refocus ruthlessly, not doing ANYTHING which doesn’t move the needle on your sales or growth; then you’ll start having the time to pay attention to the detail of your sales or user engagement funnel, test, measure, interpret and iterate – and your sales/signups will go up. Simple as that.

So, still wondering why your sales (or user signup) pipeline is not working? Take a leaf out of CBInsights book and get selling, relentlessly.

 

Advertisements

How BIG is your vision?

I find a paradoxical problem with many startups.

On the one hand they have this grand vision and don’t understand the baby-steps they need to execute on in order to be able to reach -and deliver on for users- that vision of their shiny idea. You can’t just functionality-build your way to a user base or owning a market, which so many startups (including one or two of my own in the past) have tried to do.

The flip side is that often the vision itself isn’t big enough, or perhaps articulated well, or clearly enough. And this is about big problems and big markets, not necessarily about the specific revenue mechanism.

With this in mind I wonder what vision Uber is selling to its investors. Certainly it got the baby-steps right. i.e. A basic app with flashing read dot, serving a handful of users in San Francisco. Iterating the service -and no doubt discovering how addictive users find it, as I did to my shock horror when I had my first credit card statement in month one of using it- they executed on the next steps to deliver their vision, for sure dominating taxi servers in all major cities across the globe over the coming years. A multi-billion dollar market opportunity.

How is Uber worth $42+ bn?

I wonder though whether they’re selling something even bigger. Google self-drive cars (and others) are poised to revolutionise transportation – and upend society in the process – in a way few people are yet to realise. If I were Travis (aside from making some different decisions around my company culture!) I would be selling the potential to own an individual’s car travel beyond use of taxis in their traditional form but to become the complete and entirely (likely cheaper) replacement to owning a car at all.

Why own a car if they can drive themselves, are serviced by someone else and are precisely everywhere? Automated driving means less traffic jams, better economy for fuel/electricity, not paying a driver, no maintenance headaches. In fact, driving becomes a leisure pursuit almost exclusively, not for travel A to B.

With $4bn+ in funding (and no doubt more to come) that potential blue sky opportunity starts to be a real possibility over the next 10 years.

STOPPRESS 4th Feb 2015: Seems I predicted correctly, since this post was published Uber to open self driving car facility

Selling Blue Sky

Selling that vision to an Angel or Series-A, or even B, would likely never have worked though. You have to get to first, second, third base first. That was Ubers simple want to own the world of taxi’s. With that strategy in full flow, any future share price may well be driven by what once seemed like blue sky thinking.

When you’re selling in your vision, thinking really BIG is important (I don’t invest in any startup which isn’t a potential future $1bn company) just make sure you understand how you’re going to get there.

In the extreme, that means how can your shiny new app be useful and solve a problem for it’s first 10 users, or you’ll never reach critical mass, because that’s the bit most startups -including in the past my own – seem to fall down on.

The answer is babysteps – that’s how Usain Bolt (and Uber) started too.