An introduction to building a startup [VIDEO]

RIG consultants David Gates, Jessica Tayenjam, and Simon Jackson presented at Escape the City’s workshop, ‘An Introduction to Building a Startup’ on Saturday 9 March at The Hub Westminster.

View the video for select highlights of their session.

Please email jessica@rapidinnovation.co.uk with any questions related to the presentation or RIG workshops.

Strategy Fundamentals for B2B Startups [SLIDES]

RIG consultants David Gates, Jessica Tayenjam and Ffion Rolph led a class on ‘Strategy Fundamentals for B2B Startups’ at General Assembly London on 11 July 2013.

The slides from the class are available to view below.

Please email jessica@rapidinnovation.co.uk with any questions related to the presentation or RIG workshops.

How to think when building or reviewing your website …. 101

I want to turn the reader’s attention to websites – an object that evokes responses ranging from an obsessive-compulsive requirement to update, to that akin to a toddler who has seen a new pigeon in Trafalgar Square (with the old website being the previous pigeon).

I don’t sit at either extreme, but I do believe that for the vast majority of today’s companies the website is the ‘shop window’. Now everyone knows that a good shop window pulls in customers – provided it is seen – no matter what the size of the organisation behind the shop. The website provides the entrepreneur with the opportunity to present their wares on a level playing field (the internet) against much larger rivals.

“But I am no designer!” you might cry. Irrelevant; I am not talking here about the prettiest shop window aiming to attract the most conscious fashionista.  This is about getting the right message across to the intended reader.

Have a look here; did that site make any sense? Probably not. To its intended reader, it’s spot on – XP Power is one of the fastest growing companies of its type globally.

So, how can the entrepreneur make sure that they are hitting the (right) mark with the company website? I would advocate the creation of a simple grid – on one axis list your stakeholders (the people you want to communicate with), on the other axis list the reasons you believe people are going to come to your website.  Here are some examples of each:

  1. Stakeholders:
    • Investors
    • Specific customer sets e.g. middle aged men, human resources directors etc.
    • Journalists
    • Potential employees
  2. Reasons for visit:
    • To get contact details
    • Information for an business degree thesis
    • Find out about the company
    • Identify fit between product / service and need

Next, put a cross through each box on the grid that is clearly nonsense, e.g. the box which is at the intersection between the ‘investor’ column and ‘identify fit between product / service and need’ row.

Then review each of the remaining boxes. If you already have a site, match all the pages to the relevant boxes in the grid. Where a page appears in multiple boxes ask yourself ‘can I realistically service all audiences through a single page, or should there actually be multiple pages?’. In some cases, the answer will be ‘no’ – the homepage is the homepage; contact details remain the same for all audiences. In other cases, you might wish to consider creating multiple pages to reflect the differing information requirements of the audiences.

You will also find …. gaps. Be honest with yourself, identifying a gap is a good thing – it shows where you need to put in some work to give your stakeholders the information they need.

A final thought: make sure you are running and reviewing your Google Analytics data. I won’t accept any excuses on this one – Analytics will tell you where your audiences are going, and where you should be focussing your energies when producing content.

Big Data – the New New not-so-New Thing

The cry sounds very familiar: “Big Data. We’re doing Big Data”. Substitute ‘the Internet” for “Big Data” and it could be 1997.

In 1997, it was very common to meet people who were “doing the Internet”. It was by far the most exciting game in town. There was often not so much understanding of how “doing the Internet” was going to generate value. There were new business models and new future titans being built. It was also imperative for all existing big corporates to be doing it.  They didn’t have the in-house skills, so a raft of product and service start-ups mushroomed to fill the as-yet-not-so-defined gap.

There is a similar rush now with Big Data. And as in the internet rush, while there are some people that are building and investing in companies that generate and look set to monetise Big Data, there are also many that are looking to take advantage of and fill the gap that the lack of maturity in this discipline has opened up.  In many cases, it’s not obvious what kind of business is actually being created.

In a way, this is to be expected. As in the early days of any emergent field, there is a surge of new entrants. This is particularly helped by the fact that much of the underlying technology that is being used to manipulate Big Data is open source. The cost of participating is low, while the perceived need is great.

When looking at companies that want to provide services to enterprises, one major decision is between whether to offer a platform or an industry-specific solution. At RIG, we have come across quite a lot of companies that are in the middle – they have a basic platform that they are trying to use to solve problems for a range of customers. Essentially they are offering tool-driven consultancy, taking advantage of the gap – as for the internet – where core mass data handling skills are not yet embedded in the organisations that have the data and which are facing the expectation of being able to do something interesting with it.

This can be a starting point, but we would strongly recommend that they quickly move to focus on a cohesive set of industry-specific problems, preferably for an industry whose problems they understand well.  As my colleague David Gates’ wrote in his recent blog post, having market focus sharpens a company, improves its product, and ultimately allows it to offer and extract more value.

Sometimes early success can get in the way of finding a better path of evolution. One company we spent time with had won a couple of big name customers, but was having to spend a huge amount of time providing consulting and customisation services to deliver. The business plan showed a move to a self-serve product and ramping sales numbers, but it seemed that much of their value was actually in their ability to consult.

Ultimately, Big Data will go the same way as the internet. It will spawn a host of new technologies and tools. It will become a core competence for most large corporates; there will be some excellent ‘pure Big Data’ companies. And it will create a raft of new kinds of jobs. While we should expect that most of the current Big Data startups will not last, their existence now is important as part of launching the movement to imagine and unlock the value of data.

Market focus is directly proportional to deal value

I wouldn’t pay me anything to consult on Java development, if I were you.  Why?  Because, to be frank, I don’t know very much about it.  You are, almost certainly, wasting money.

So why would you separate yourself from a lot of capital, to buy services from someone who didn’t know a lot about your industry?   Again, you probably wouldn’t.

The lesson here for entrepreneurs, particularly those in the business to business space, should be clear: if you do not understand the industry you are selling into, you are unlikely to achieve significant revenues from it.  Is this always a bad thing? No.  Salesforce.com does not need to understand the markets it sells into in particularly great detail – why?  Because it’s a highly disruptive offering, primarily because of its low ticket price, which means the customer cannot reasonably expect to have an industry-specific product.

Salesforce.com is disrupting an existing market – not all entrepreneurs start in such a fortunate place.  If you have a generic product, with a limited market, and are resource constrained – you need to be doing big ticket deals in order to survive.

My argument for the non-Saleforce.com entrepreneurs is this: you need to create market focus to drive up deal values.  What does market focus do you for?  Several things:

  1. Focusses the mind – no more ‘we can sell to anybody / we aren’t selling to anyone’ nonsense
  2. It directs resource – you need to learn quickly, so learn French quickly – don’t decide to become a specialist in European languages tomorrow
  3. It creates credibility – I really understand your industry, and because I understand it you are going to trust me to provide good advice on how to drive business performance
  4. It informs the proposition – a well-researched and targeted proposition unlocks all the stores of value, and increases the likelihood of conversion

So ask yourself this: do I have market focus?  How focussed am I on that market – some entrepreneurs achieve a zen-like state where they will happily refuse business from those that are outside their target group, anticipating that in the long term this will result in a superior return.

One to consider…

"Building a product that people want" – An Interview with Dragos Ilinca, CMO and Cofounder of UberVU

Dragos Ilinca is the CMO and cofounder of UberVU, a social media intelligence company with bases in London, Bucharest, and the USA. Dragos began our interview by describing the genesis of UberVU as it evolved out of a web-marketing consultancy into a social media posting platform, into a social media monitoring tool, into its current form as a social media dashboard with social media intelligence.

In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of getting a startup off the ground? Is it getting funding, working together as a team, is it actually developing the product, or something else? Or is it everything in combination?

I think it’s everything in combination. It all comes down to building a product that people want because I think everything falls into place from that. Of course in order to build that product, you need a team. We were lucky because we had known each other for a lot of years, we had started other businesses together, but I look around and a lot of people are looking for co-founders and I think that’s really, really hard, finding someone to start a business with. And once you do that, its about just building something that people want—even if it’s a minimal sort of version—because if you do that, raising money shouldn’t be difficult. If you manage to build that product, that kind of means you’ve got a team, and if you’ve got that team and product, raising money should come pretty easily. So in our case, I think it was definitely figuring out what product to build, but I see a lot of entrepreneurs who are starting with building a team, especially in places like London where developers have so many options to choose from. They could work for, you know, the finance industry, or an already-established startup, and if you’re just starting out it’s difficult to get talented people to join you.

Perhaps it’s too early to ask this question, but in terms of your experience working with social media, how do you adapt? How do you know when to stay your course with your vision for developing a product, and how do you know when to pivot? The social media world is constantly changing, so how do you adjust for that?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it, but it kind of comes down to traction. If nobody likes your product or buys it, you need to do something about it. If you have a few people who really, really love it, then you need to understand who those people are and why they love it, and if there’s an easy way to reach more of them, that’s your whole market. And if you’re happy with that that’s fine, but if you need a way larger market, you can potentially work with them and figure out what a dumbed-down version of that product is. I think the most difficult thing is actually making the decision. I think deep down you kind of know when things aren’t really going well, and you can stick around for three months, maybe another six months and see: make a plan, and just say we’ve got this deadline and if things don’t pick up we need to do something about it. But I think people deep down kind of know, but they’re just afraid to make a decision. You need to be able to say, “What we’ve done so far, yeah, it’s a lot of effort, but in the end, people aren’t really paying attention to us and aren’t buying the product, so tough luck. We need to start all over again.”

UberVU strikes me as a pretty advanced mechanism, integrating social media and media monitoring. Do you think the days of simplicity in application development are over? In other words, do you think the skill-level required to produce groundbreaking apps will only become higher as times goes on?

Probably. That’s probably true. Because we’re a business tool, so from that point of view, we need a lot of technology to do what we do. But look at something like Instagram, for example: there’s not a lot of technology in there. If you think of technology just in terms of code, you know, other people can build that kind of stuff in a weekend. If you think of technology as also the mechanism by which they’ve been able to build viral coefficients in it so that it spreads and that kind of stuff, then that’s very difficult to replicate by other people. So I think if you’re building consumer apps—if you know what you’re doing—you can still get away with not having a highly technical solution. But even so, if you look at Colour, they’ve got pretty hardcore technology in there, and it’s just a photo app, more or less. So even these things are becoming more and more complex, and I think the reason is that you can do so much more now with the technology and the stuff that would have been impossible to do in real time is now possible, so you can build a lot better experiences for the user; and the second thing is there are so many people looking at the tech space, that if you build something that can be replicated within a week, and you’ve got absolutely nothing else that can make you succeed, then it’s just not worth it, because other people will copy you ASAP. Just look at Groupon as an example. A lot of people think it’s the technology and they built that in a weekend and there are hundreds of clones; but actually the difficult part is the sales behind it, selling to small businesses and being able to scale and that kind of stuff. So if you think about that as sales, not really technology, but technique and strategy, then it’s very difficult to replicate it. In terms of actual code, some people can probably build that in a day. But it’s not that that makes it work.

Since you’re the CMO, I wanted to ask a marketing related question. Since uberVU and so many applications are so heavily grounded in the online world, how important is actual person-to-person interaction in marketing?

I think it’s still important to have the in-person interaction. Not all the time; we started selling online with credit card, so it wasn’t necessary to meet anyone at that point. You could, you know, make the product and the company look more human by having photos of the members of the team on the website, having a video where you present certain stuff, having a blog that’s very human, but now that we’re moving more into the enterprise space and we’re starting to get customers like NBC or the World Bank, for these sort of things it looks like it’s pretty important to meet face to face, and if you cannot do that, at least have a few phone calls. I think the higher price you charge for what you do, the more you need that sort of relationship. And it’s not just because of the person-to-person interaction; usually if you’re charging a lot of money, the solution that you’re selling, you need to really understand the customer’s use case and be able to show them how the product is really going to make an impact. And these solutions are usually pretty complex, so it’s not like a photo sharing app: you take a picture, you share it with your friends, pretty easy to understand. It can be pretty hard to articulate just from a website and understand exactly how that could be used in your organization, and understand how easy it is to use even though it’s got this breadth of features. It’s hard to make the jump from, ok I see this demo video, how could I use it for my specific use case? It’s very difficult to understand that. And people just don’t have the time and don’t want to take the effort, so instead of researching that tool for 30 minutes and not understanding, it’s sometimes more useful to say, ok let’s just have a 30 minute phone call, you’ll tell me about it and I can explain really easily how we can help or how we won’t be able to help and you’ll probably need some other tools.

 

The Risks of Awesomeness Marketing

There are many strategies for marketing, but one that has been growing in popularity, particularly in the United States, might be affectionately called “Awesomeness Marketing.”

As a type of viral marketing, the concept is pretty simple: associate a product or service with something awesome. Often, the connection between the product and the awesomeness will be tenuous at best. The association between a car and a Greek god, for example, is irrelevant; but putting the product next to something witty, outlandish, and intelligently over-the-top associates the product with favorable qualities and a sense of enjoyment.

Recently, the startup Dollar Shave Club has attracted a lot of attention because of its YouTube viral advertisement video:

The video appeals to a range of audiences, pushes on a real pain point most men have (overpriced razor cartridges), and includes a number of more subtle riffs, including having the guy getting his head shaved reading a copy of Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup. Nice touch.

For a video of this nature to be effective, it cannot dance with any middle ground of reality: it must be clearly and decisively over-the-top. Otherwise, the company runs the risk of being taken seriously in its boasting. Or, worse, just flopping. Video advertisements of this nature shamelessly extol the awesome powers of the products they sell: “Anything is possible,” says the Old Spice man after passing seamlessly through an impressive series of fantastic set changes. Furthermore, by claiming to be so “awesome” that nothing can come near, the company builds into its marketing a solid defense against inevitable attack. They can say, “Hey, don’t you have a sense of humour? We were obviously joking…”

“…But we really are awesome.”

In order to create the desired effect, however, one must be very careful to actually produce something amazing. Trying to be awesome can be fatal and will be worse than more traditional forms of advertising. In many ways, working with the real selling points of the product can be dangerous; every message needs to pass through the twisted gates of hyperbole.

Awesomeness Marketing is high risk/high yield. Do it right, produce a legendary campaign, and your brand will stand as legendary in the minds of consumers (provided the product is actually decent). But if your advertisement falls short of awesome, or worse, if in trying to be awesome, it comes across as juvenile or offensive in some way, then you have big problems.

One can never be certain that a video will go viral, even when the requisite qualities of brevity and over-the-top humor have been included. For an example, see the Zeus Scion commercial below, which does not have the same viewership as other similar ad campaigns. The video itself does it right, but it has not enjoyed the same success as others. Not going viral is always a risk when aiming to produce a video of this kind. But equally, there is the risk that the video actually will go viral. What then? Can you scale quickly? Is everything ready to fill orders on a large and perhaps international scale? Are all mechanisms in place? Is the product actually any good?

Awesomeness Marketing is also risky because of its implications in terms of social media. When a commercial goes viral on the Internet, there is no time to have a legal team vet all social media correspondence. Tweets, Facebook posts, responses of various kinds all come in and must go back out very quickly in real time. The team in charge of handling that social media presence must be sharp and switched on, able to respond quickly and appropriately without approval from corporate boards or legal teams.

The customer’s initial reaction to “Awesomeness Marketing” typically has nothing to do with the product itself. The product is in many ways irrelevant. The goal is to get the viewer stirred up and to think, “That was awesome!” The product can almost be an afterthought, which is one of the reasons the advertising is effective: the customer does not feel pushed. Gradually, and perhaps long after seeing the advertisement, the customer’s awareness—and the association with awesomeness—will shift to the actual product itself.

The efficacy of this kind of marketing comes down to the way in which the association with the advertisement shifts to the product:

Distributive Property of Awesomeness

Customer —> Awesome Commercial

Awesome Commerical —> Brand

Awesome Brand —> Product

Awesome Product

Customer —> Product = Awesome

 

Awesomeness—in terms of advertising—appears to be highly transferable.

Awesomeness Marketing will find a stronger appeal among the younger generation, but that is not to discount its effectiveness with other demographics. Who doesn’t like things that are awesome? It can be an incredibly powerful tool, especially because it requires relatively little resource to use, but it is likewise an incredibly dangerous tool and one that should be used carefully and only when one is certain the advertisement will be effective and the company is prepared to handle the responses.

6 steps to run a successful series of webinars for lead generation

A good way of allowing potential customers to get a feel for your product or service and for your company, without feeling under pressure that they might be hassled by a salesman, is running a series of webinars. This is particularly true in the B2B world, in which it is less likely that you have a demo or trial version that customers can play with before buying.

Webinars allow you to make a presentation to a large audience over the internet, answer their questions, conduct surveys, and develop a reputation of thought leadership in your industry. The most commonly used platform for growth-stage companies to do webinars is currently GoToMeeting, and I would say that the webinar series run by Hubspot on marketing are a good example to follow.

But you will not get the most benefit out of running a webinar series if you simply show up and deliver a presentation. Here are 6 steps you should aim to do well if you want to get the best return.

1. Pick the right topic

You should always have a target audience and an objective in mind when coming up with a webinar topic. Are you trying to find potential customers that are nearly ready to buy from you? Are you trying to educate the customers of a reseller of yours? Are you trying to build a reputation for thought leadership with one of your key target customers?

Identify topics that are useful to you during your sales process. Webinars take time so you should try to see them as a way of generating content that can be used in different situations. They should not be seen in isolation: build on other whitepapers or blog posts that you have written.

The other advantage to webinars is that they can be a two-way conversation – not just a one-way presentation. For instance, if you are developing an ROI model for your product or service then you could use a webinar to gather feedback and insight from practitioners in your industry.

2. Pick the right date

A typical drop-out rate (the proportion of people who register for but then do not attend the webinar) for webinars is anything from 30-50%. Find out in your sector whether people are more likely to attend if it is on a Wednesday rather than a Friday, and whether it is over lunch or at the end of the day. Don't organise it at the same time as a major industry conference or sports event if you suspect that they might draw your customers away.

3. Publicise the webinar

Identify who you want to attend. It might be primarily potential buyers from one company, or one sector, or one country. It might be anyone who has attended one of your previous events, or everyone in your marketing database to whom you've spoken in the past and with whom you want to reopen a dialogue.

Find out where those people will be and go to them to publicise the webinar. Think about posting on relevant LinkedIn groups and Twitter, and certainly your website, blog, and newsletter.

4. Prepare for the webinar

Once you have a list of attendees, go through it an identify the key individuals from that list. You might have 50 attendees but if one of them is a key decision maker in a target customer account then you should tailor your webinar to ensure that she receives the right messages.

Identify individuals who are regular attendees to your webinars or events. Think about sending them a note before the webinar thanking them for their continued interest and asking them whether they have any particular questions that they would like to raise. If those people are supporters of yours then you might be able to ask them for referrals or for support in developing future webinar ideas.

Prepare your answers to the questions you expect to come up. This also gives you an opportunity to kick off the Q&A section with a confident answer to a prepared question, to encourage others to come forward.

Prepare any collateral or documentation (such as the presentation slides) that you will send to the audience afterwards, so that it is ready to go within an hour of finishing the webinar.

5. Execute the webinar

If you have the resources to do so it can be interesting to conduct a discussion in parallel with your webinar on Twitter. Create and share a hashtag on Twitter, share it with your audience, and allow them to discuss your webinar with each other and to raise questions with you.

Usually webinars are divided into two-thirds presentation and one-third Q&A. The first two-thirds can also be used to conduct surveys, gather feedback, and ask for questions.

Tell your audience exactly how you will follow up with them and what you would like them to do next. For instance, you can invite attendees to your next event or ask that they join whatever social networking groups of which you are part. If you recorded the webinar then let the audience know when it will be available. Provide your contact details in case anyone wants additional information.

6. Follow up

Send out your marketing collateral as soon as you can after the webinar. Then send individual responses to any unanswered questions. Ensure that you send the collateral to everyone who registered but did not attend.

GoToMeeting provides an 'interest rating,' which allows you to benchmark and qualify attendee interest in a webinar on a scale of 1 to 100, based on their proprietary algorithm, which I imagine will take into account for how long each person attended, whether they responded to survey questions, and whether they were doing other things whilst the webinar was running. You can use this as one way of prioritising your follow-up. The individuals with a high interest rating are likely to want to be involved in future webinars so consider asking them for input to the next topics.

If there were any key individuals in your target customer accounts amongst the attendees, or amongst the no-shows, then consider passing their details to your sales team to follow up personally.

Finally, collect all the names and add them to your CRM system, so that you do not lose the contacts that you invested time in locating.

This is a lot to think about for any growth-stage company but, as with any demand generation tactic, you should always be looking to optimise the return you get from your limited resources.

Running a demand generation campaign is a bit like playing pinball

Running a B2B demand generation campaign is a bit like playing on a pinball table.

You can put money into the system and get more balls into play by launching the spring. You control the paddles around the pinball table and you have to make sure you press each one at the right time, just when a ball is about land.

Each ball in play represents a potential customer of yours. The paddles are the various marketing or demand generation activities you have at your disposal. One paddle might represent sending out a newsletter; another might be interacting with potential customers through Twitter; another still might be presenting at an event.

Your goal is to push the balls progressively to the top of the table where they might 'convert' into sales-ready opportunities. You should also aim to prevent the balls from falling through the gap at the bottom. If they do fall through, they are lost opportunities and you'll have to replace them by putting more money into the system.

As a startup you won't have a lot of marketing material, case studies, videos, or blog content. You'll only have a couple of paddles on your table – perhaps a direct email or a cold call. You certainly can push a ball all the way to the top and generate a sales-ready lead using one paddle in isolation, but it's difficult. You're relying on a bit of luck with your timing; and the chances are that a lot of balls will end up falling through the bottom.

As you add more and more paddles (marketing activities) to your table you are effectively giving yourself more chances to keep your potential customers engaged with your organisation. You reduce the chance that good prospects are lost, since you have more ways to interact with them.

You still need to have management oversight of the whole system once it's up and running to ensure that the paddles are being activated at the right time and in the right order. You also need to know when the system is working well enough that you can invest more money with confidence that you'll get the right return. Learn to play this game effectively and you'll have a predictable flow of sales opportunities.

A Tale of Two Clients: Making the best use of relationships to grow your service company

Over the past two years since I joined RIG, I have worked with two service clients. In each case, the brief was the same: “we have plateaued in terms of growth, please help us go out and win new customers.”

Both had been in business for more than 10 years. They had reached what they thought was the limit of growth with their current clients and had been spending time trying, without success, to break into new organisations through sales teams and cold calling.

The similarities were striking. We found that:

  • the companies’ service offerings on paper had little differentiation
  • their current and past customers rave about their work – how competent, innovative, knowledgeable, and proactive they are
  • most of their customers and projects had come from the founders’ networks
  • they were so busy that they had lost touch with many old contacts
  • they had foisted responsibility for ‘selling’ onto junior team members
  • both companies had a core offering for which they were known but were afraid to take a focused message to the market in case they missed out on opportunistic non-core work

Where a product or service is hard to differentiate (because all vendors make the same claims) and only appreciated once used, then it falls into the category of ‘experience goods.’  In the B2B world, the best way to sell an experience good is via referrals.

First we sat down with companies’ principals and took stock of everyone they had worked with, and looked to see where they were currently working and where they used to work. In one case, we then gave each person two scores – one for how useful they are in terms of their job position and their networks; and one for how likely they were to want to help. The second prong was looking at how each of these people was networked into the individuals and organisations that we wanted to access.

We had our clients re-connect with their contacts, talk through their focused business objectives and find out what was important to them. Our aim was to be able to build a nurturing programme, and also to put together events and marketing collateral to address the needs and interests that would speak to our companies’ audiences.

The amount of goodwill, recommendations, and willingness to make introductions that we found was astounding. Just making contact was enough to put our clients front of mind and led to some immediate project enquiries.  Going forward, these networks provide the best way to leverage the goodwill that our clients enjoy.