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Editor, Camille Ricketts

Marketing

Your Product Demo Sucks Because It's Focused on Your Product

“There will be haters. There will be doubters. And then there will be you proving them wrong.”

This is how Robert Falcone thinks about product demos because he's lived it firsthand. As a co-founder of his own startup, and now working closely with customers at marketing software maker Monetate, he's given hundreds of product demos. For a while, many were not successful, but he’s used that experience to his advantage.

“I thought it was just as easy as telling people what the product was and what it did,” says Falcone. “But then I'd finish and people would either be confused or just politely say, 'Thank you,' and we'd never hear from them again.”

After getting this response time and time again, he was determined to crack the product demo code. If clarity meant conversions, how could he change his delivery to give people clarity the first time around? To find the answer, he continued to pitch and demo, A/B test, observe and repeat. The lessons he gleaned are collected in his new book “Just F*cking Demo,” which recently hit Amazon's list of hot new releases.

In this exclusive interview, Falcone shares the structure of a winning product demo and the tactics he's discovered to convince people that they need your product in just one conversation.

Marketing

Square Started Small and Won Big with This PR Strategy

When Pam Turkin quit her job as VP of Marketing for a major merchandising firm, people were shocked to hear why: She was finally turning her passion project into a business by opening a cupcake shop in her hometown of Detroit. Today — after testing numerous flavors on her family and accepting credit cards with Square — her shop, Just Baked, is a chain with several locations.

It’s stories like these that grab Khobi Brooklyn’s attention. As Director of Product Communications and Marketing at Square, part of her job is to surface amazing anecdotes to amplify the company’s marketing efforts to an extremely broad audience — i.e. everyone who sells things.

This is what makes Brooklyn’s job so hard: She needs to get Square’s products in front of everyone from farmers market sellers to surfing instructors to barber shop owners. In this exclusive interview, she shares her tactics for marketing a product to extremely diverse audiences — including those that don’t care about what’s hot in Silicon Valley.

Product and Engineering

What I Learned the Hard Way Building an eCommerce Site

Two years ago, Emile Petrone posted a humble question to reddit.com/r/arduino: "Would you support an Arduino marketplace or am I totally off base?" After observing the market for a while, he saw the need for a central destination where people could buy handmade tech. Many others agreed, and Petrone started to build. Five months later, he quit his job and raised $500,000 in funding to turn Tindie.com into the eCommerce platform for these types of products. Today, the site draws customers from all over the world, including companies like SpaceX, Google and Intel that can't find what they're looking for anywhere else.

But Tindie had another big milestone early on: Julia Grace joined as Head of Engineering after gaining expertise at companies like IBM and VigLink. Now, as CTO, she heads up a team where engineering plays an enormous role in maximizing customer acquisition and sales. In this exclusive interview, she shares the lessons she learned developing the company from its scrappy roots into a major supplier, and the tactics that can give eCommerce startups a big, early lead. 

Marketing

This Woman Has Landed Millions of App Installs — How She Does It

You may not know Tamara Steffens by name, but you’ve downloaded her apps. Running business development for companies like Path, Color, and most recently breakout email app Acompli, she’s responsible for millions of mobile downloads and blockbuster deals with the likes of Sprint and Verizon that have brought in even more. In doing so, she’s come to signify a new breed of BD professional — a hybrid of quantitative marketer and sales leader who is laser focused on delivering what young startups need most: Users.

And not just any users, either — valuable users who will stick with you and generate revenue. With the data available to startups today, it’s easier than ever to find these people and keep them happy. It’s also easier than ever to get distracted by the wrong metrics. In this exclusive interview, Steffens — now senior vice president of business development at Acompli — sheds light on her approach to user acquisition and how both enterprise and consumer brands can capture the market share they need to win.

Product and Engineering

This Startup Built Internal Tools to Fuel Major Growth — Here’s Their Approach

Noah Brier knew what he needed to do. As CEO of Percolate — the maker of full-stack marketing tools — he wanted to involve engineers earlier in the product design process to keep things innovative and agile. But he also saw the possible repercussions: A scramble to make sure the right people had the right information, duplicated work, wasted time. He didn’t want to create more process, so he built a tool instead that would automatically route relevant info to the right people.

Automating with tools over process like this has been a guiding philosophy for Percolate since the very beginning. In order to continue building great products to amplify brands like GE, Anheuser-Busch, and Unilever, the company has built a number of tools that no one on the outside ever sees. And, as Brier notes, this has laid the groundwork for the company to grow to over 150 employees in just over three years. In this exclusive interview, he shares why product-oriented startups should build internal tools early, how to approach the work, and how to get everyone on board to boost efficiency.

Management and Company Building

The 5 Early Mistakes That Almost Killed This Founder’s Startup — and How He Survived

After Clark Benson sold his company eCrush in 2007, he had two choices: He could either take a sabbatical or he could jump right in and start building his fifth company, Ranker, a site that would crowdsource rankings of everything from movies to athletes. Feeling self-inflicted pressure, he chose the latter — and, in his words, it turned out to be a colossal mistake.

“I didn’t take nearly enough time off to unwind after 12 years of an all-in entrepreneur lifestyle. I also didn’t take enough time to think in much more detail about the team I needed to hire and the resources we’d need before the pressures of overhead came into the mix,” says Benson. “I had this great concept, and I just couldn’t handle the idea of seeing someone do it before we did.” 

This was the first of many mistakes he admits to — despite having nearly 20 years experience as an entrepreneur. Yet today, his company Ranker draws 19 million unique visitors a month, is considered a consumer data insights treasure trove, and is solidly in the black. So, what made the difference? In this exclusive interview, Benson shares the five biggest mistakes he made — that he sees other founders make all the time — and how he overcame them to turn things around.

Management and Company Building

A Counterintuitive System for Startup Compensation

When Molly Graham joined Facebook, the company already had 400 employees, but there was no official performance or compensation system in place. There had been attempts, but nothing stuck. The result: Very little transparency, a lot of one-off compensation decisions, frustration and confusion. Working closely with Sheryl Sandberg and HR chief Lori Goler, Graham set out to change this by going back to the basics.

“It gave us a chance to start from the beginning and say to everyone, ‘Okay, here is how salary works. Here is how equity works. Here’s how bonuses are calculated. We’re using formulas for all salary increases from now on. Here are the multipliers based on performance,’” she says. “People frequently find compensation and performance management overwhelming or bureaucratic, but we got such a positive response when we implemented this first system and explained it to the company. People were grateful. A system that was relatively simple, clearly communicated, and fair made a huge difference.”

Graham emerged on the other side realizing how valuable a solid, standardized compensation system can be. Today, as Head of Business Operations at Quip, she believes that there is a simple, scalable, transparent compensation system that will work for almost all startups. Here, she shares some of her golden rules for compensation and the system that she thinks strikes the fine balance between a startup’s needs and keeping employees happy.

Management and Company Building

This is Why People Leave Your Company

When Carly Guthrie was running HR for Per Se, one of the hottest restaurants in New York, the General Manager gave her a piece of advice: “You know, Carly,” he said. “If we’re doing our job as leaders, a performance review should only be two columns: Column A is what you do great and Column B is what you do not-so-great. Now, here’s how we move things from Column B to Column A.”

This approach stuck with Guthrie as she left the restaurant world to head up people operations for tech companies. It shocked her that these types of candid conversations were hardly ever happening, and people left as a result. “There’s a mercenary mentality in tech right now — an idea that there’s always going to be something hotter, faster, more groundbreaking,” she says. “And yet, there’s very little internal discussion about how to keep people.”

Guthrie has been watching employees take and leave jobs for over 15 years. Turns out, the reasons people love and hate their work are largely the same across sectors. Step one to retention: Understanding why and how it fails. In this exclusive interview, Guthrie shares what she’s learned about why people quit, and what startups can do after an employee’s first day to make sure they stay happy, engaged in their work, and committed to your company (and to deleting every email they are most certainly receiving from recruiters).

Product and Engineering

When It Comes to Market Leadership, Be the Gorilla

Andy Rachleff is Executive Chairman of Wealthfront, an automated investment service. Prior to Wealthfront, Rachleff co-founded and was general partner of Benchmark Capital. He also teaches courses on technology entrepreneurship at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Follow him on Twitter @arachleff.

In their outstanding book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema argue the only way to achieve market leadership is through a singular focus on one of three strategies: Product leadership, cost leadership or customer intimacy leadership. The most common of the three strategies pursued by technology companies is product leadership. Here's how you can achieve it, and why you need it to win big.

Management and Company Building

What Eventbrite Did Early to Create ‘Sustainable’ Success

By early 2009, Eventbrite had been turned down by practically every venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. The economic downturn had taken its toll, and Co-founders Julia and Kevin Hartz and Renaud Visage had a choice. They could give up, or they could continue to bootstrap and grind as the only three employees — like they already had for the previous two years on less than $250,000.

Ultimately, they chose to stick it out. And while things have turned around, and the company has seen explosive growth, the founding team came out the other side with a battle-tested commitment to efficiency, a healthy sense of paranoia, and a plan to turn their competitive advantages into sustainable advantages.

Recently at Stanford’s Entreprneurship Corner, the Hartzes shared what they learned from this experience, the qualities they believe enduring startups must have, and how founders should capitalize on their early days to secure long-term success.

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