Archive for June 2014
Before your B2B startup has a product available you’ll want a few – but not too many – metrics to help you steer the ship in the right direction.
Customer Development conversations
It doesn’t matter what your startup is building if customers don’t want it.
Get out of the building and make sure you are talking to potential customers often. This is the only way you’ll get a deep understanding of your potential customers’ needs.
When you’re getting started a good pace is somewhere on the order of 1-2 conversations (new potential customers) per business day. Once you reach 25-50 conversations you should have a good sense of whether or not your product idea has legs.
Don’t cheat on this metric by counting conversations with potential partners or investors as ‘customer’ conversations. These groups can provide useful feedback but their feedback shouldn’t be weighed as highly as what you hear from potential buyers (Customers rule!).
If you’re having trouble finding enough potential customers to meet your goals, here are 4 tips for finding those ‘earlyvangelist’ customers that are so important to a customer development process.
Potential employees met
If your little startup starts to make progress you’ll need to hire quickly. Without a pipeline in place you’ll struggle to make these hires.
Start developing relationships now which may turn into hires down the road:
- If you’re a technical founder without a counterpart on the business side you should make a point to meet a bunch of sales/marketing/product people each month.
- If you’re a non-technical founder without a technical counterpart then make sure you’re meeting a bunch of software engineers each month.
- If you have a complete team in place then just try to meet lots of great people each month.
Like anything in startupland, this is a numbers game. If you’re meeting 5, 10, 20 really sharp people per month you’ll quickly have built up a great pool of future talent for your company.
And if you can actually get them to quit their cushy job to join your budding startup before it’s on the tech community’s radar, then you may be on to something. On the flip side, if you’ve met 40 people and none of them want to come work for you, maybe that’s a signal you need to consider as well.
(Here’s some great guidance from Paul English, founder of Kayak, about how to make your startup really great at recruiting, interviewing, and hiring.)
Even if you don’t have a product available you need to start your marketing engine ASAP. Otherwise you’ll be caught completely flat-footed if/when you reach product-market fit and you want to scale up fast.
Pick one metric (be it leads, blog visits, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or something else), set a goal for that metric, then execute.
Content marketing is probably your best bet – and most capital efficient way – to reach whatever goal you set (versus buying ads or paying to acquire traffic) at this early stage. And it is the gift that keeps on giving because you can re-use and re-purpose your content to drive future marketing efforts.
That’s why content marketing makes so much more sense when you’re at this early stage. You can develop an audience and a following by creating helpful, free resources to people in your target market.
If you do this content marketing thing right, that audience will be very eager to hear about what you have built once the product is finally available.
One more thing. Even though you are “marketing” don’t market your product. Because you don’t have one (at least not one that works) yet. Plus, the features you promise today may not (OK, 90% likely will not) be the ones that actually ship.
Product features completed
Last but certainly not least you should be setting product goals each month.
These goals should be focused on user facing features (“deliver user-facing feature X”) and not platform features (“build interesting backend queuing system that a customer doesn’t actually use directly”).
One exception? Perhaps a system for your team to monitor customer usage. Kind of important, eh?
What metrics did I miss? Let me know in the comments or just tweet at me and I’ll respond.
Thanks to my enterprise software / SaaS savvy pals:
for their input on this post.
As a product guy, I love product features that make me go “Wow, I don’t believe they thought of that.”
But it’s never the primary features of the product that make me say that. It’s the little things that seem obvious when you use them (“Of course the iPod should stop playing a track when you pull out the earphones!”)
Those little things are the hallmarks of great products. And they are the hallmark of great product managers, too.
- Facebook Ads: They provide a library of photos from Shutterstock to advertisers at no additional charge. And use of the photos is seamlessly integrated into the campaign creation workflow (Twitter, are you listening? :)
- Evernote’s Chrome Plugin: Does a great job at guessing which Notebook and Tags I’d want to use for a given web clipping
- Gmail: Tells you if you may have forgot to attach a file to your email
- Amazon Subscribe and Save: Gives me ample warning if I want to cancel my shipment
- Trello: Too many to list :) Since I have to pick one I’ll say making a checklist automatically if you write a checklist-like card description
If you can work “little” features like these into your product you can take a pretty darn good product and make it amazing.
Best part of this interview is that Jerry ends up coaching Scott…and in the process exposes all of the key struggles that wrack the mind of an entrepreneur.
If you’re an entrepreneur you owe it to yourself (and to the people around you) to listen to it.
When I step back and ponder this, the CEOs I respect the most are the ones who take responsibility for the actions of their company. Good or bad, successful or not, they don’t shirk any responsibility, blame anyone, or try to make excuses. They just own things, and if they need to be fixed, they fix them.
I’m sitting on a panel tomorrow for Inbox Awesome. Consequently, I’m spending some time today (better late than never ;) to learn how I can make the most of the experience. Here’s what turned up in my research that looked worthwhile:
- Scott Kirsner, a tech journalist and frequent conference panel moderator, published a great list of things that panel moderators and organizers should be doing to ensure great sessions.
- VC Mark Suster wrote a post about how to make the most of a panel as a panelist. Some combination of disagreeing with fellow panelists (occasionally) and not tooting your company’s own horn (too much) seems to be his recipe for success.
- The Hubspot Blog had some content on this topic as well. Here are 10 tips they came up with to help panelists make the most of their panel experience. Big takeaway: Don’t go in cold. Prepare some talking points and be sure to hit as many as you can.
- Toastmasters has some curriculum focused on public relations which I’ve started to work through via my local Toastmasters club here in New York City.
What else should I be doing to make the most of the panel experience? Let me know in the comments.
In the last six weeks we have:
- invalidated our previous business model (email API – a cool idea that I couldn’t figure out how to make into a business)
- validated a huge opportunity in identifying, nurturing, and closing high value passive candidates and began product development to attack that opportunity
- interviewed over 40 recruiters and other knowledgable people in the HR tech space
- built an awesome and relevant startup advisory board consisting of the CTO of one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, an entrepreneur who sold her HR tech startup to Oracle, the founder of a leading sales & marketing analytics company backed by Sequoia, and the COO of the leading marketplace for technical on demand workforces
- found an awesome summer intern (MSCS at Cornell with a focus in machine learning)
- experienced many disappointments!
Despite all of that it still doesn’t feel like we’re moving fast enough.