About Will Isenberg

Posts by Will Isenberg:

StartFast’s 9 Tips to Build Strong Investor Relationships with a Stellar Weekly Email

Entering StartupAn essential part of entrepreneurship is integrity, especially with your investors. Keep your investors up-to-date with your company by sending them weekly summaries of your business progress. StartFast Managing Director Chuck Stormon recently related the following tips in a seminar at the The Syracuse Tech Garden.

1) Include any requests at the top of the email. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so if you need help fixing a problem, it’s completely acceptable to ask your investors for advice or suggestions.

2) Be consistent. Send your weekly email on the same day each week. Also, use the same heading for each email.

3) Your email is for only your investors. It likely contains confidential information that would be inappropriate to discuss with others.

4) BCC the recipients. You are not starting a chat forum, you’re sending a confidential email to multiple recipients, and their identities are confidential, too.

5) Mention three best highlights of the week. These can be positive sales results, new developments, improved service, etc.

6) Mention three lowlights of the week. This may be uncomfortable, but it maintains transparency with your investors. If there was a problem you solved, also mention that it was fixed. If the problem is unresolved, be honest about that.

7) Know what to keep to yourself. What things should you not be transparent with your investors about? Anything personal, like martial strife or emotional instability. Your investors are not your therapists.

8) Include metrics from the past week. Focus on a measurable metric. For most businesses, there’s one metric that really matters, and that’s the one you’re spending most of your time driving. Report that to your investors.  

9) Remind everyone that the email is confidential. You may think you don’t need to remind your investors of this every week, but it’s important for your recipients to see it in writing.

Remember, weekly emails are a great way to keep your investors in the loop. While the purpose of the email is primarily to keep in touch with your investors, it’s OK to include prospective investors and advisors as well. In addition to keeping these important players appraised, these emails help keep you accountable to your responsibilities and goals.

Comedians’ Best Advice for Entrepreneurial Success

Comedians are famous for entertaining us, but many times they are often the ones to offer the deepest insights about life. Clever and creative, these entertainers have many excellent observations about effort, failure, and success.

Jim Gaffigan“I love sleep. I need sleep. We all do, of course. There are those people that don’t need sleep. I think they’re called ‘successful.” Jim Gaffigan

Obviously, everyone needs sleep, but the ability to work late into the night is very important when you are starting a new company.

Dave Chappelle“I’m cool with failing so long as I know that there are people around me that love me unconditionally.” Dave Chapelle

 

Having close friends and family is crucial when beginning the daunting adventure of founding a company.

Tina Fey“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

 

When starting a business, there will be moments when you have to make important decisions quickly.

Amy Schumer“The moments that make life worth living are when things are at their worst and you find a way to laugh.” Amy Schumer

Laughter, even during difficult times, can give the entrepreneur enough morale to push through to the end.

Richard Pryor“You work your butt off and somebody says you can’t have your record played because it offends them. Tyrants are made of such stuff.” Richard Pryor

Disappointment is a large part of the enterpriser’s life. The key to success is prevailing even through the hard parts.

Amy Poehler“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it.” Amy Poehler

When starting a company, you will be tempted to wait until you have a perfect product. The reality is, your product will never be perfect, although you can be sure you won’t improve if you don’t start selling.

Louis CK“The only road to good shows is bad ones. Just go start having a bad time, and if you don’t give up, you will get better.” Louis CK

Don’t expect to be perfect when you set out on your journey to founding a company. Trying will always make mistakes at first, but you’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

About the author: W King Iceberg is a StartFast associate, an author, and humor writer. 

 

Growth Hacking through Peer-to-Peer Advertising

tree bulbAs the focus on gaining traction continues in the second third of our program, Managing Director Chuck Stormon led another workshop on growth hacking, this time with a focus on how to encourage your users to advertise your product to their friends. As a refresher, growth hacking is the art of rapidly finding new users and, like any art, requires creativity, effort, and a little luck.

Personal Touch
The first way to expand your user base is by directly working with the people who already use your product. Who better to spread the word about your product than the people who already love it? Engage your most dedicated users on a personal level: Invite them to a Google hangout, take them out for coffee or tea, or perhaps host a happy hour so all your innovator-promoters can discuss your product, give you valuable feedback, and be encouraged to spread the word to their friends. Since you have customers, you should demonstrate customer appreciation.

Crowdfunding
Another way to acquire users is to make use of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. This is an excellent way to gain visibility, and can bring money from unlikely places. Consider the example of GraFighters. Eric Cleckner and Dave Chenell, of the Syracuse Student Sandbox, developed a website where people could sketch a cartoon character and then match it in virtual battles against other fighting doodles. While they initially failed to reach their crowdfunding goal, they did catch the attention of a venture capital firm that invested the amount they needed in their idea. Even though their crowdfunding campaign failed, it grabbed the attention of a different source of funding. The lesson here? The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Email Campaigns
Anyone with an email account has been a target of an email campaign at one point or another. This type of advertising consists of a mass email sent to hundreds or thousands of potential customers. Chuck shared a campaign he ran for his company RushTera. A service called Zoho Campaigns allowed RushTera to to email 643 film festival attendees, of which 256 opened, sixteen clicked, and one accepted. Even though this was only one out of 643, this email chain accomplished exactly what it was intended to: acquire another customer.

innovation

Exclusivity
Email campaigns and crowdfunding promotion can be improved by fostering an air of exclusivity for your product. By awarding a t-shirt or other swag to anyone who refers a certain amount of friends, you create an exciting challenge that attracts people with a competitive spirit. You can even offer a discount to both the customer who refers the product, and the person whom they referred it to.

An excellent example of a company which makes use of exclusivity in promotions is Fandalism, a social media site for musicians. The way it attracts users is very unique: In order to sign up, you need to post to a musician friend’s Facebook page complimenting their skills. Thus, even before someone signs up they are already spreading the product among their friends, and these requirements to join help add to an air of exclusivity around the product. This can be a risky approach, but certainly creates a viral loop.

No Silver Bullet
There is no one best way to get users, because every product and service appeals to a different set of customers. While some users will want to share your product with all of their friends, many will never refer anyone at all. Since having customers is essential to turning a great idea into an awesome business, don’t be afraid to try as many methods as you need to attract your next wave of users.

 

 

Images mattwalker69 and jarmoluk 

7 Must-Know Tips for Starting Any Company

Grant Kirkwood

Serial entrepreneur Grant Kirkwood has been founding and working on startups since 1997. Currently founder and CTO of Unitas Global, he has a love for new innovations, currently trying out a watch whose faceplate transforms into a bluetooth earpiece. “Both features suck equally,” he quipped. As a StartFast mentor, Grant flew from Los Angeles to visit the accelerator in person to meet with the companies and share his entrepreneurial journey.

Grant launched his first company in college thinking, like many entrepreneurs his age, that startups were a one-way ticket to private jets and free caviar. However, through the various ups and downs of the four different companies he’s founded, he learned what really makes a company successful, offering seven pearls of wisdom to us:

  1. Sales forgives all sins. When a startup is selling, making money, and building the customer base, it can survive many mistakes. If not…
  2. People are your most valuable asset. So hire them carefully and treat them well.
  3. If a prospective employee is just ‘good enough,’ don’t hire them. Unless they are ‘definitely a yes!’, they are a ‘no.’
  4. Fire quickly. No employer ever wished, ‘Gee, I wish I had waited longer to fire that person.’
  5. If you are not learning and growing, you are dying.
  6. Be direct and transparent with your investors, even when you don’t have good news for them. Investors expect setbacks, so respect them by being honest with them, and don’t dance around difficult conversations.
  7. Don’t spend money needlessly. It should go without saying, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because you have money, you should spend it. The paradox is needing to spend money to grow. Knowing when to be frugal and when to go for it are marks of a great CEO.

Grant also suggested three books that he has found to be particularly helpful: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.

It’s because of the dedication of mentors such as Grant Kirkwood that StartFast companies can grow so quickly. We’re very grateful to Grant and the advice he and other mentors have shared with us.

Here are some bonus tips from Grant:

How to Get Your First 1,000 (or 500,000) Users

With StartFast’s fifth week already rushing by, the 2015 cohort is solidly in Phase II: Traction and Growth. While the teams are still meeting with mentors occasionally, the majority of meetings are now led by a very special mentor: StartFast Managing Director Chuck Stormon.

Here are his strategies for growth hacking; or, how to get your first significant amount of customers – fast!

Know your audience

The most important about GrowthHacking is knowing who your customers are. There are five basic types of customers, characterized mainly by the order they sign up in, but also by their motivation for signing up. They are: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards.

curve

 

Innovators are the semi-crazy adventurous types who like to try out unfinished products, solely for the thrill of being on the razor’s edge of technology. If your business was a volcano filled with sharks, they would cut through the admission line and dive in, just to tell you how hot the lava is. They don’t care that the metaphorical volcano hasn’t been debugged, but actively seek the newest inventions, offering feedback and encouragement.

Even more important are a special subset called innovator-promoters. Promoters can be found at any part of the technology adoption curve, but innovator-promoters are especially important, as they will be willing test your product and tell their friends about it. To find this group, consider running campaigns offering exclusive access or free swag, and be generous with your love and attention. They will give you feedback, support, encouragement, ideas, and suggestions. If they were a plant, they would be the sunlight of encouragement, the soil of stability, and the water of creativity.

After innovators, the next group to embrace new technology are the early adopters. Like innovators, they love being the first to try new products, but they want to see some clear benefit or value. When the general admission line to the launchpad opens up, they will be the first to fly to the moon, but only once they’re sure the spaceship is safe and that moon rocks pay good dividends. This group will be first major wave to adopt your newly polished service.

DCF 1.0

After the early adopters arrive the early majority, who will try things out only if the perceived benefit is much greater than what they currently use. This flood of people is where the first large stream of revenue comes from, so let us not disparage the early majority. Nor shall we look down on the late majority, who only latch onto your product after carefully scanning reviews for several quarters. Essentially, the late majority waits until all the cool kids are on board. Together, the early and late majority comprise the largest influx of customers, and they are the final reward for all your sleepless, coffee-fueled nights.

There is one last group to mention: The laggards. This group will adopt your product in about 20 years, when they finally realize that steam-powered technology is not sufficient to power their Windows 95 computer. They are the ones who called you on a rotary phone to ask why ‘the google’ is down, or why they are unable to burn a 45 record onto a floppy disc. Let us all take a moment of silence in respect for the laggards.

Reach your audience

Now that we’ve discussed the five phases of technology adoption, we should probably consider tactics for finding that most important group: the innovator-promoters. The buzz word here is ‘campaign,’ which refers to any attempt to get a response from a customer by moving them down the so-called ‘campaign funnel.’ The campaign funnel consists of six steps: awareness, acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral.

  • Awareness: Getting people to realize you exist
  • Acquisition: Convincing your customers to download or pre-order
  • Activation: Persuading people to actually use your product
  • Retention: Getting customers to continue using your service, or ordering more
  • Revenue: Finally receiving money from your audience
  • Referral: A true sign of success – your customers are now telling friends how much they love your product

You can run campaigns for any stage of the campaign funnel. How do you run one? Excellent question! Here is an equally excellent answer:

The first step is find out where your target demographic hangs out on the internet. Using a website like Alexa, compile a list of websites your customers visit, and with what frequency. Once you have this list, advertise your campaign to them. Good campaigns might offer freebies or exclusive access to an early version of your product, or even create a sense of urgency with a limited time offer. If you’ve ever seen an infomercial you’re aware of what these campaigns look like in real life.

At the early stages in your startup, you should focus on traction. You might not have a viral product (yet), but investors want to know that you are going places. As more and more innovators examine your product, you can build, measure, learn, and iterate until you create the next viral loop.

StartFast companies move quickly! Watch our weekly wrap-up video below, and make sure you follow us on YouTubeTwitterFacebook  and LinkedIn to keep up with their growth.

*Images by Jurgen Appelo and Nate & Tilly Ritter 

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