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Inside the Startup

Author: with Anil Hemrajani

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Where the storytelling from experienced tech founders and executives provides you with real, actionable tips and advice. Our goal is to help make every startup successful. Join the SaaS startup community at Startup Sidekick.
36 Episodes
Learn about the inner workings of SportNinja, an amateur sport scoring and statistics platform, with insights from Moravek on how he manages his company and personal life.PEOPLEGuest: Ron Moravek, Founder & CEO of SportNinja Host: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTOPICSCOMPANY: Genesis of idea, target market, revenue model, customers acquisition, tracking metrics, and product development.PERSONAL: Finding solutions to challenges, getting help, constant learning, founder networks, daily tools, work-life balance, and lessons learned.
Learn about the inner workings of TagHawk, a mobile resale marketplace app, with insights from Ding on how he manages his company and personal life.PEOPLEGuest: Ning Ding CEO & Founder, TagHawkHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTOPICSCOMPANY: Genesis of idea, target market, revenue model, customers acquisition, tracking metrics, and product development.PERSONAL: Finding solutions to challenges, getting help, constant learning, founder networks, daily tools, work-life balance, and lessons learned.
Learn about the inner workings of Allobee, a one stop virtual business solution for entrepreneurs and small business owners, with insights from Markevicius on how she manages her company and personal life.
Learn about the inner workings of 360Converge, a text message marketing automation solution for automotive dealerships, with insights from Smith on how he manages his company and personal life.PEOPLEGuest: Todd Smith, Founder & CEO of 360ConvergeHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTOPICS02:20 – 360Converge’s value proposition06:12 – Genesis of 360Converge idea09:47 – Validating the idea with customers11:28 – Team structure12:26 – Funding structure (bootstrapped with some investors)13:00 – Target market13:42 – Competition14:30 – Revenue model (SaaS)16:57 – Customer acquisition and retention (content marketing, relationships) 18:01 – Target customer geography18:35 – Content marketing 21:30 – Metrics, dashboards and analytics24:39 – Product development (Agile sprints, staff, MVPs)26:54 – Tools used at 360Converge28:50 – Current priorities/challenges (time prioritization)30:25 – Figuring out solutions (e.g. mentors, books)32:38 – Fears35:08 – Staying current with trends (books, Medium, conversations)36:26 – Belonging to communities for support38:42 – Work-life balance41:35 – Advice for other entrepreneurs45:41 – Future personal and company plans
Learn about the inner workings of Salesflare, an award-winning CRM startup, including revenue model, customer acquisition, metrics, product development, overcoming challenges, and much more.PEOPLEGuest: Jeroen Corthout CEO & Founder, SalesflareHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTOPICSCOMPANY: Genesis of idea, target market, revenue model, customers acquisition, tracking metrics, and product development.PERSONAL: Finding solutions to challenges, getting help, constant learning, founder networks, daily tools, work-life balance, and lessons learned.
Masavage provides practical tips on how and where to tap into a global talent pool.PEOPLEGuest: Shaun Masavage, CEO & Founder, Edge Tech LabsHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSStart with Upwork — it provides lots of tools to make it easy (e.g. screenshots). Don’t judge people too harshly just by their ratings — give them a chance. Stay away from ones charging too much or too little.Use PayPal if you’re hiring someone who is not on Upwork; the fee is totally worth the insurance for any disputes.Google Translate works well if there’s a language barrier.
Batsaikhan provides advice on how to use your company mission to drive your product vision and development roadmap.PEOPLEGuest: Nomin Batsaikhan, CTO & Cofounder, FlickonicHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSWho you work with is very important, so choose your cofounder(s) wisely.Define what you’re working towards and ensure you 100% believe in this vision, since startups can become a 24/7 passion project; just wanting to be an entrepreneur isn’t enough because you can easily get discouraged along the way.NOTES00:53 – Can you provide us an overview of Flickonic? Flickonic is an entertainment focused social media. In this age of streaming, it can be a solo activity since it’s difficult to find someone who is watching the same show at the same time, as you. Our goal is to connect viewers with their show community, without the worry about a spoiler, so they can have meaningful discussions.01:38 - What is a company mission and why is it important? For us, the product we’re building is very personal to us since the idea came from us watching entertainment without knowing who to discuss it with, so we want to use the product ourselves. We want the viewing experience to continue beyond the screen, so you can have 02:44 - How is a product vision different from a company mission/vision? Our company mission is to bring viewers to their entertainment and their followers, to get value beyond the screen. Our product vision for the app and we see it as the goto platform to connect viewers with their show community; in the future, we might add additional apps that achieve broader company mission.03:40 - What are some of the benefits of having your product vision? Having a solid product vision really helps you to keep on track, overcome some obstacles along the way (e.g. user testing, pandemic), avoid worrying about the whole idea being derailed during adjustments. The journey matters but having a destination (i.e. product vision) comes first.05:13 - Do you have a short product vision statement you use with employees, investors, partners, etc.? For employees, we use the same product vision internally and often remind each other; as a startup it’s important for employees to believe in vision and work together towards the same goal. In our pitch deck for investors, we have the vision on the first slide. We also use this in our marketing campaigns and communicate it to our customers. Basically, we try to ensure everyone is on the same page.07:45 - Did you and your cofounder come up with the company mission and vision? My cofounder & I have known each other for five years and we always knew we wanted to do something together. We’ve always loved entertainment and the idea for Flickonic came during season 8 of Game of Thrones; we both wanted to discuss and find information online but we realized this wasn’t a great solution. 08:57 - How did this translate into your product roadmap? The basic idea for the app came from wanting a space to communicate with the community in a spoiler-free manner. We started with a MVP by having shows in a chronological manner. We user-tested it and people really liked it; however, we also realized that people wanted to add their own user generated content to it, which is how the idea of a social network came about. We use user feedback to prioritize our roadmap by considering how the experience for our users can be better, what will keep them coming back and how we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors. 11:06 - How do you handle user requests while staying true to your product vision? Since we’re a small startup, we r
Bohlmann provides an overview of UX along with practical tips on how to leverage it for your organization.PEOPLEGuest: Elisabeth Bohlmann, VP of Client Strategy, December LabsHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSDon’t get scared by potential challenges of UX, since there’s a way to do UX for everyone to get value.UX can provide a great return on investment; e.g. saving users time every day or freeing customer support teams from repeat issues. Never lose the focus on building products that solve a user’s problems; UX can help you guide the way.NOTES01:18 – Can you provide us an overview of December Labs? We specialize in design and development in customer software solutions, mostly with funded startups and growth stage companies (e.g. Google, Accenture). We help people build their products, their companies and their dreams.02:25 - What is User Experience (UX)? UX is a user centric approach to understanding the user’s problem and using research to solve the user’s problem. It starts with mapping out the user’s problem and designing the user solution.03:16 - Why has UX become a big deal? UX is founded in Design Thinking, an approach which puts users at the center of any design decision. Design Thinking has been around for decades but has become popular in software in the past decade and is the magic backbone that’s making software more sleek and usable but helping you solve a problem.04:50 - What are some of the challenges of UX? Many startups feel UX is too expensive, they don’t have a user base or it’s only for big companies. User testing doesn’t need to include a lot of users -- even speaking with just five people can identify 80% of the problems they might have with your product. Don’t get scared with UX and its challenges.07:05 - How is UX different from UI (user interface)? Both have the “U” in them for the user, so they are part of the same, user centric, journey to solve the user’s problems, in a specific way. UI is the visuals/end product. UX is more hidden, it’s the backbone/structure/architecture and is also divided into user research to understand what the user’s want and then the design tries to implement that (including UI); overall they are both part of the product design cycle.08:35 - How has UX evolved in the past decade? Has Agile/iterative development pushed it to the forefront? Users get more sophisticated and demanding over time with using products. Also, large organizations are investing a lot of money into their products, so startups have to compete with that and it becomes important to put the user at the center of that process.10:10 - How is being used in corporations and governments? With startups, you want to use UX to validate your ideas beyond just friends & family. With bigger companies, they do UX on every new feature in their enterprise products (e.g. repeat customer service tickets) to validate before spending money on product development. It’s sad that 90% of startups fail, so UX is even more important for validation of your product.12:50 - How do you go about setting up a new UX program in your company? It depends on whether you’re building a new product or improving an existing one. If it’s a new product for a startup, we might start with user sourcing if you don’t have a user base or if it’s further along, you could test the design before launching the beta. For bigger companies, you have integration with teams such as development, QA and customer service teams. It just depends on where you are with your product.15:00 - What are some methods/tactics you have used in UX? They vary from addressing a s
Essaid provides tips on how to iteratively grow a startup by focusing on customers, growth, prioritization, and cadencePEOPLEGuest: Rami Essaid, CEO, FinmarkHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSTry to break down your steps into as small time increments as possible. A lot of people think annual and quarterly, then realize they have missed the mark. Break it down into monthly and weekly -- that’ll let you get feedback more quickly to avoid big course corrections. Nothing you dream up will hit the mark the first time; the less distance you have to go to adjust, the better. Make sure you have a solid team you’re working with. Early on, it’s all about the core team. It helped us accomplish things at a much faster rate.NOTES01:15 – Can you provide us an overview of Finmark? Finmark is financial modeling software for startups; we want to make it really easy for companies to manage their  runway, hiring cash, understanding unit economics...just like Carta moved cap tables out of Excel -- we want to do the same for financial modeling. Most people outsource financial modeling and eventually they bring it in-house by hiring someone but even though it’s very easy to make mistakes. We made a painful mistake at Distil Networks when we thought we had more money coming in -- because of that mistake, we had to lay off 57 people. After selling Distil, I realized the problem still existed, so I decided to fix it.03:00 - So, how do you go about building a startup, one step a time? Essentially, you build something a small amount of people love, then iterate quickly. Start with the big picture, then boil it down to as small of a piece as you can cut off, then get going on it. Think of SpaceX, their mission is to get to Mars but they started with satellites, now they are carrying people to the space station and eventually will get to Mars. At Finmark, we spent two months building the MVP to get the product into the hands of people. Then we iterated on a monthly cadence since then, with milestones then measure and iterate.04:10 - Did you interview other startups before or after building the MVP? Yes, I wanted to have conviction in my head that this was as big of a problem as I thought it was. Before the MVP, I spent two months interviewing founders and investors. I spent a lot of time talking to founders of small and growth companies, CFOs, and investors, to get their perspective on this problem, before bringing a team of people in.05:05 - After raising money, how do you resist the push from investors to scale quickly? Depends on your measure of success. I set expectations with investors that early on we won’t make a lot of money since I’m focused on user growth. As a YC Alum, we’re indoctrinated with startup=growth, so you do want to create a North Star KPI/metric -- for us, that’s user adoption, not revenues, so that helps investors think of scale in a slightly different way.06:08 - What should founders focus on, very early on (e.g. MVP, growth)? The nice thing about focusing on growth as the North Star, it unlocks certain behavior that ties back into the customer’s problem. If the growth isn’t there, then your product might not be meeting customer’s demands or it’s not a big market. You could build a product just for a big market or build a great product for a small set of customers but then you don’t have a great opportunity. Using growth metric as your guiding star, you optimize for that and you solve all the other issues along the way.07:40 - How do you get started from ground zero? First step is to believe in the product then build a vision and thesis around it -- that’s when the customer interv
Sanzeri describes why market timing is critical for startups and how to get it right by talking to potential customers.PEOPLEGuest: Skip Sanzeri, CEO & Cofounder, QuSecureHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSStartups are typically tight on capital, so you have to be very careful on the advice you get. LinkedIn is a great tool to talk to potential customers. If you’re trying to reach CxOs, send a personalized request; don’t try to sell or ask for too much. You can get advice, they can become an advisor and/or a future customer. Get out there, find a group of 10-15 customer advisors to work, use all of their feedback, look for patterns, etc.; that’s about the best you can do for your startup.You can give equity to advisors, so it doesn’t need to cost a lot.TIMELINE00:55 – Can you provide us an overview of QuSecure? Quantum computers are coming at us very rapidly. They’ll be super powerful and are great for logistics, pharmaceutical, chemistry, etc. but they are also very powerful hacking machines. There will be a trillion dollar upgrade of computers, so someone needs to help enterprises and governments with protecting their data, cyber security, penetration testing, and so on.02:15 - What does market timing mean? At a logical sense, it means your product is timed, so the market is ready for it or you’re in a space where you can beat your competition. It’s really not without our control, since the market will dictate the timing but it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to determine if the timing is too early or too late.03:15 - What factors impact market timing? It’s based on where the market is, at the time you want to show your product to the market. For example, Bill Gross of Idealab, did an analysis of a couple hundred startups and determined that market timing was the most important factor out of ideas, team, business model, funding, and timing. Getting market timing right can be very hard to do.06:40 - What are some risks of being too early or too late? They can be fundamental. There are shades of grey -- it’s not all about giant successes or are a complete failure -- there are also many companies that have smaller exits or “zombie” companies that are chugging along without scaling much. Also, it’s not about the spectrum of startup failures/successes but how you can optimize your market timing -- do base this on feedback you’re getting from potential customers. For us, our customers were literally reaching out to us; those are the signals you need to look for. You need to do a ton of outreach also.08:45 - What about product-market fit? Market timing is about the market being ready; product-market fit is about your product being ready for the market. You need to talk to your potential customers, perhaps create a customer advisory group/board of potential customers, who are advising you on how to build your product. For example, we have someone who is literally guiding our product. You have to be careful to see whether potential customers would actually buy versus just interested. 12:09 - What successes and failures have you seen in startups? If you count outright/complete failures, then 9 out of 10 startups fail. If you only look at large/unicorn exits, then 999 out of 1,000 fail. I see companies fail for hundreds of reasons; early stage startups are fragile like egg shells. Startups fail because they don’t study the market by talking to customers; even when they do that, sometimes they don’t believe the feedback. There are times, you have to shift and move versus ban
London provides advice on how to develop a value proposition by falling in love with your customer’s problems, not your solution.PEOPLEGuest: Bob London, CEO & Founder, Chief Listening OfficersHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSDon’t do Customer Discovery to validate your idea; do it to learn about your target audience. Understand their 3Ps (problems, priorities and perceptions): Problems: What are the biggest things on the list? What are their top 2-3 must get done priorities? How do they perceive the world from their side?TIMELINE01:25 - Please give us an overview of your company and value proposition? I help technology B2B companies with a strategic narrative of how they want people to think of THEM, including positioning in marketing, value proposition, messaging, brand strategy, customer experience, etc.. I spend a lot of time interviewing my client’s current and former customers around the 3Ps: priority, problems and perceptions. You learn amazing insights when you talk about their business. 03:24 - What is a value proposition and why is it so important? Value proposition is an expression of the value your customers will receive from your product or service (e.g. we will increase customer acquisition, efficiency, etc. by X). It’s something that resonates with your target customer.05:20 - Can you describe what the Customer Discovery process is? There are some good books about it. It’s part of Lean Startup. You have to fall in love with your customer’s problems versus your own product. Speak with people in your target audience who might have problems you want to solve with your product. Customer Discovery isn’t about validating your own product, that’s called research/survey; it’s about getting to know the people that you think you might be selling your product to and getting into their minds to learn their 3Ps in their job (for B2B companies), so you can build a better product that resonates with them.07:00 - How would you describe the relationship between value proposition, customers and brand? Value proposition is your statement to the customer on how they’ll benefit. Brand is how they think of you and talk about you, when you’re not around -- it’s made of lots of touchpoints with your customer, everything from your website to backoffice (e.g. billing). Anyone dealing with your customers (employees or consultants), should know your value proposition. 11:00 - What does an organization do after figuring out the value proposition? That is a big challenge. The value proposition isn’t a sentence or two; it’s a description that fills the gap between what you’ve built and what the problem is out there. It’s not a product definition but why people would use it; it’s closely tied to the product. You can’t change external perceptions of your company, till you change the internal perceptions. Come up with a clear, concise message to the team, talk to them about what you have learned about the customer and why you came up with this value proposition. Then, present the new messaging, collateral, scripts...all of which reflect your value proposition in a relatable language...that’s a playbook. Each department should receive training (e.g. sales), so it could take a couple of months to fully rollout. While you’re doing that, you can be laying the groundwork with your customers (e.g. this is what we stand for, we are trying to increase efficiency). Let them know we’re listening to you...we’ve shaped our entire company around your priorities, not ours.14:48 - How would you advise startups without customers to do Customer Discovery? You can use a service such as  &
Levan discusses the myths of PLG and how to effectively implement it across your product, marketing and sales teams.PEOPLEGuest: Sam Levan, CMO & Cofounder, MadKudu, a lead scoring platform that helps you optimize your marketing by predicting expected revenueHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSBe very clear on the type of PLG motion you want (e.g. self-service, land & expand); it's difficult enough implementing just one.Redefine the role of sales in PLG, so there's no friction.TIMELINE01:09 – Can you provide us an overview of MadKudu? Our goal is to make every startup and marketer successful. Many CEOs don't trust their marketing team, often because the leads aren't qualified. The problem is marketers today don't have enough visibility into where the quality leads are in the funnel. We mostly help B2B SaaS startups.02:35 - What is Product Led Growth (PLG)? It's somewhat opposite of sales led growth, which makes the product available after you buy it. With PLG, you need a product as the main driver of revenue.03:22 - Why is PLG hot right now, even though the concepts have been around for sometime? For the past decade, we've seen freemium, free trials and so on. What's changed are financial successes (e.g. Zoom, Slack, Notion, InVision). Investors now see this as a fantastic, financial machine, growing from nothing to a billion dollar valuation.05:20 - What are some myths about PLG? PLG sounds great but it's a lot harder to make it work. It's not all self-service; there three sales models: low-touch credit card sale, land & expand (e.g. Slack) and more traditional models (e.g. content is for inbound leads with follow-up sales) -- companies must be clear on the sales model.07:15 - Does this mean you don't need sales people anymore? Absolutely not; you do need sales people if you're selling to the enterprise. Even companies that claim they don't have sales people, actually do (e.g. masked as product specialists). 08:20 - How do you achieve the virality that companies such as Slack and Zoom have? One of the mistakes product-led companies make is forgetting their customers. They have great analytics/dashboards (e.g. retention). When companies claim they are not getting the growth (e.g. activations), you have to remove the noise in all the signups by segmenting your leads (e.g. students versus buyers).10:30 - What are some of the metrics that you look at? You have to pick your metrics carefully, since they become your northstar. PQL and PQA (product qualified leads and accounts) are two we look at. These matter because generating revenue is a team effort. For example, when leads come in, sales people start calling the leads even if the leads aren't any good -- you have to identify the qualified leads to see which prospects are ready to begin having a conversation. It's important to have that agreement between product, marketing & sales on when a lead is qualified -- essentially a SLA between these teams. 13:55 - What are your thoughts on funnels versus flywheel charts? It's understanding the customer journey, different personas (buyers, users, stakeholders). The flywheel should include buyers and users, not just users.15:00 - Takeaways (see above)
Alphonse describes how private equity firms look for investment opportunities and how they help companies succeed.PEOPLEGuest: Philip Alphonse, Senior Partner and Cofounder at VistriaHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSFit: There are various flavors of PE firms out there (e.g. $2-5mm EBITDA versus $5mm+). Get to know the type of PE firm you’re talking to and their parameters (e.g. profitability, company stage, industry). Interview the PE firms to understand the “box” the firm plays in.References: Make your calls and do your reference checks, just like you would hiring someone important. You’re essentially getting married by forming this new partnership, so you want as much clarity on your partner. Talk to our CEOs and operating partners to understand the qualitative aspects.Learn: Always keep learning. We love learning from the different approaches our CEOs take.TIMELINE01:15 – Overview of Vistria. Private Equity firm, typically looking for business with $10-50mm EBITDA. Focused on three primary verticals: education, financial services and healthcare. We aspire to take a more strategic and partnership approach in how we invest; we get excited about investments where our network is uniquely suited to upgrade and support the business. How we can move the dial operationally, resource partners in the space (e.g. Blue Cross).03:15 – What is a PE Firm? It’s largely called “alternatives” — it’s a universe of investors looking to generate higher ROI, using vehicles such as PE, VCs, Hedge funds, etc. What we do differently is we invest in later stages of a company — we are not early stage through growth capital (e.g. seed through series B-D). Once a company is more seasoned/mature, then it has a different set of buyers. 04:45 – When should a “mature startup” consider a PE firm (versus VC)? It’s determined by the stage of the company; typically earlier stage companies aren’t profitable. We pull certain levers that require companies to have a positive EBIDTA and cash flow; hence we have different tools & drivers from VCs. Another driver is a matter of control; typically companies look to PE firms for partial/full liquidity events versus with VCs, it’s a minority investment. 06:40 – How active do you get in the operations? We’re fairly active but it’s a balancing act since we have to support the operating team and system but also give the CEO and management team space, especially if most things are working. Some businesses need a lot more of a lift (e.g. CEO change, improve sales productivity) but when we jump in, it’s in alignment with the management team. 08:15 – Can you share a story of how you worked with a company? As an investor, you look for tailwinds. One of these is in education, around workforce training and development since there’s a massive market (pre-pandemic) of working adults that need skills training. We looked at employees-to-opportunities matching or straight up skills training. We invested in a company called Penn Foster; it was a largely B2C play but we felt B2B would make for a powerful enterprise channel. We were helpful in supporting that business and getting them into several channels (e.g. hospitality), built relationships with staffing companies and helped upgrade their technology infrastructure. We bought a venture backed system and brought that in, which worked quite well — we doubled the EBITDA and had a great exit.13:58 – Are you always networking for talent? There’s a perception out there that PE firm employees only network all the time. When we identify a space, we spend a lot of time getting to know all the CEOs and relevant compa
Jain explains why and how to iteratively and incrementally build products that focus on customer value over viability.PEOPLEGuest: Piyush Jain, CEO & Founder, Simpalm and Cofounder, Ducknowl (Duck’n’Owl)Host: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSValue: Look at the “value” for your customer, not the “viability” of the MVP. For example, Instagram started with photo sharing to an entire platform.Design: Is crucial these days; if you have great features but not a functional and user friendly design, your product might not be successful.Learning: You need to constantly be learning and adapting, from the point you start with your MVP to building out the product; iterative and incremental building based on customer feedback, during the MVP and post-launch phases. Don’t be disheartened with setbacks — that’s what MVPs are intended for.TIMELINE01:38 – Overview of Simpalm and Ducknowl. Simpalm started in 2009 from Jain’s basement; now a full-stack software development. Ducknowl, a SaaS product, built in-house, launched in 2019, started with the same cofounder as Simpalm. Very hectic to screen candidates for hiring, no digitized platform. We’re getting interest from small and large companies.03:27 – What is an MVP? MVP should be Minimal “Value” (versus Viable) Product. Viability is something we (startups/founders) look for us (e.g. budget, timeline) but what gives value to the customer? For example, consider this: Zoom, Skype and others are all viable web meeting software but which gives you value? Try to deliver one or two minimal features that deliver value for customers. 05:55 – How big should an MVP be? It’s different for different companies, based on their size and stage but even for bigger projects, it shouldn’t be any more than six months. Get the product out there quickly to get customer feedback.07:30 – How do you know you have an MVP? It’s when your users are able to interact with your product and see some value by using it (e.g. downloading an app, logging into a website). Then, you 08:45 – What did the MVP look like for DuckNOwl? We had a basic feature in mind for our MVP; i.e. resume sorting and parsing. Resume screening, sorting and reading, since it’s a big issue for hiring managers. We went to recruiters and they loved it. We also only knew they needed things like video screening for assessing applicants. We wanted a lot but started smaller. 09:59 – Did you talk to customers or your own problems that made you launch Ducknowl? It started with our own problems (e.g. software developers, project managers) and it was taking time. We decided to build a product that digitizes the whole process. We’ve also done staff augmentation for clients, so we spoke with their recruiters and they liked it. So, we had our own company and customers (user base) to get initial interest and to test with.12:12 – How do you incorporate Lean Startup and Design Thinking best practices into MVP mindset? MVP is a core aspect of Lean Startup and Design Thinking is the first step. In the past, it was about code; nowadays, it’s more about design…something people will use. This is what we convey to our clients these days by educating them about the importance of design, using Design Thinking. You need wireframes and/or clickable designs. Create a focus group (e.g. customers) that can give you feedback.15:25 – What tools do you use? There are several tools but the three main tools we use for designing and design testing: InVision, Sketch and Figma.15:53 – How do you get stakeholders involved in MVP mindset? We ha
Caporale provides sage advice on how tech startups should acquire their first few customers using a focused approach.PEOPLEGuest: Franco Caporale, Founder & CEO, SaaSMQL (and Founder, DemandGen Cloud).Host: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSFocus on niche first; e.g. I want to help a certain group of people.Find the first customer — this will be the hardest part. Sell to them; do whatever it takes (e.g. free or heavy discount in exchange for a case study). Then, find the second one, another case study…repeat and scale. Map your lead flow, marketing and sales flow. Have a sales process on how to close leads.Find one or two good channels to match your business and then scale. You’ll have to invest in customer acquisition. Set a budget and goals. In the beginning, it might be bad till you can optimize.Be creative on the channel; don’t go where everyone else is going. You can also end up spending more money due to the competition.TIMELINE01:12 – Overview of SaaSMQL: We help SaaS companies scale their pipeline/demand generation, including account based integrated marketing.02:25 – What is your typical client? Startups looking to scale, typically series A-E companies, from 10 to 300, employees. Focus budget of marketing on targeted accounts using workflows and campaigns.03:25 – How early/late stage are your customers typically in? We work from later stage startups (e.g. ones with many customers but looking to scale) to very early stage startups (e.g. 5-8 customers, look for patterns in these, define unique value proposition). Very early stage startups tend to broadcast a very broad message (i.e. no product-market fit yet).05:12 – Can you share any stories or lessons learned about getting first customers? Try to sell to the first customer before even starting your startup, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time and money or have to pivot multiple times, later. Founders start with the idea/technology and then try to figure out who to sell it to, instead of starting with the audience. Figure out what’s a must have versus nice to have. Interview a lot of customers.09:15 – Do you follow any methodology or process to discover what a startup needs? We are very targeted since we work with startups that already have a product-market fit and are trying to scale. Customer acquisition costs money, so we help them create a funnel that works (e.g. spend $1 to make $3) and a system.11:20 – What are some of the challenges you run into? The hardest is the first customer, through referral, discount, etc. Great case study from the first few customers. Then, start selling your case studies; they have to be good and exciting. Then, begin marketing your case studies. Keep adding more case studies. 13:00 – Repeatable Patterns – Come up with a hypothesis of the niche, find the solution and then work on how you’ll deliver the solution (it’ll change over time). Deliver on one or two things very well. Find one (maybe two) channel that works very well for you. Market your case studies. Start engaging them and create a funnel (e.g. lead, accounts), convert them and create a mapping system (e.g. database of prospects, marketing to sales workflow, sales process) — map the systems very early.14:45 – What techniques/channels do you use for you clients (e.g. inbound marketing, direct marketing)? We do enterprise marketing…account based marketing, start with target accounts to see how we can engage them, instead of starting with inbound marketing and converting them to leads. This works for high ticket products. We use LinkedIn
Becsi provides advice on going from startup to a complete company with customers, employees, investors, partners, and systems.PEOPLEGuest: Stephen Becsi, Executive Director at Appellon (and CEO of Apollo Care)Host: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSStart thinking early about how you will raise money (e.g. VC, friends & family); start getting out there and begin building relationships. Working capital might be not enough for scaling a startup.Your idea must absolutely be unique to differentiate yourself from your competitors.In order to execute a strategy successfully you need systems/processes and culture.TIMELINE01:40 – Overview of Appellon: measure culture of organizations, hard measure of culture against performance using a SaaS platform.02:20 - The genesis of a great idea for Appellon. Besci didn't have a KPI ("hard number") for culture...even though "culture eats strategy for breakfast."04:25 - What does scaling up mean for startups? You need to build a scalable company: have a MVP, backers, surround yourself with the right people (e.g. fundraising). 05:33 - What about marketing timing? In order to execute a strategy successfully you need systems/processes and culture.08:45 - How did you pay for your product? We paid for our MPV with working capital, some money from CEOs and channel partners (e.g. Big Four accounting firms). It's hard to scale your startup with just working capital. Also, valuation of startups is an art, not science.14:25 - Takeaways (see above).
PEOPLEGuest: Mike Korba, CMO & Cofounder, User.comHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSDecide what your one source of truth is (for customer data); where are you tracking your whole customer journey.Align your three departments (marketing, sales, support) to work together towards common goals, using KPIs/OKRs. It helps each department to know what others are doing and what customer journey has been.Be human. On the other side of the screen are real people with real needs. Don’t treat them as traffic, leads, etc.TIMELINE01:40 – Overview of, a marketing automation software platform with unified data from several channels (e.g. email, chat), a CRM for an online businesses.04:20 – Why is it important to align marketing, sales & support? Aligning helps a company grow faster, in a sustainable way and prepare for scaling.06:30 – When to have one platform versus specialized products? The goal should be to deliver a great/unified customer experience via a single source of truth data.12:50 – What do you unify data using separate systems (e.g. Salesforce, HubSpot)? Treat them as sources of truth and integrate them (e.g. using Zapier). If you’re a smaller company, start with something smaller (e.g. Also, many startups are moving to an all-in-one solution approach (e.g. Zendesk).18:15 – Takeaways (see above)
Nagey recommends best practices for setting up a startup to financially and legally protect the founders and the startup.PEOPLEGuest: Stefan Nagey, Cofounder, CapbaseHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSIt’s never too early to get your house in order (legal, accounting, etc.). Consider the legal and financial protections you need for the next couple of milestones.If you’re going to be fundraising, set up your corporation as a Delaware C corporation, otherwise your investor pool will shrink due to lack of exemptions.Don’t give away too much equity; differentiate between founders and advisers.Think of incorporating your venture, just like you would register a domain, set up your social media accounts, etc.TIMELINE01:15 – Overview of Capbase (company formation to ongoing management cap table, employee, etc. - contracts, payments, record keeping)03:38 - Key things that make up solid footing: right company formation structure (Delaware C corporation), proper cap table, employee agreements 08:45 - Mistakes founders make (e.g. incorporating as LLC/S and losing exemption you reduce tax burden, shrinking investor pool, giving away too much equity). 10:37 - Delaware is popular due to familiar case laws and business friendly terms.11:40 - Founder mistake stories (40% to five advisors as cofounders, board authorization)15:35 - How much should a startup do early on? Think of next milestones. Also, ownership and control are never too early to think about.17:23 - Takeaways (see above)
Jauncey explains how organizations should be focused on objective versus personalization based employee wellbeing.PEOPLEGuest: Sue Jauncey, CEO & Cofounder, AppellonHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSCOVID-19 has presented us an opportunity to set new workforce standards.Stop asking employees for their views and opinions; this only increases stress and anxiety in individuals. Instead measure behavior outputs against performance improvements. Human beings like infrastructure, clarity and what’s expected of them.Replace personalization with objective driven management.Go for the win-win: improvement wellbeing and performance, simultaneously.TIMELINE01:40 – Overview of Appellon – first “culture tech” platform to measure behavioral outputs against performance goals, in real time.04:50 – What does a workforce include in an organization? It’s “skills” organization needs to achieve their objectives.05:47 – What has the past and present taught us about culture? Two topics executives are concerned about: employee productivity and wellbeing. Only two factors make a difference: sense of achievement and connection. Replace personalization with objectivity (working collectively to achieve shared goals), to address intrinsic values.13:20 – What are your clients asking about currently? One example: COVID-19 left no time for personalization yet they worked very well during this crisis. 19:10 – Takeaways (see above).
Quigley describes how his startup does focused, customer centric, product development and innovation.PEOPLEGuest: James Quigley, CEO & Cofounder, GoCanvasHost: Anil Hemrajani, Founder of Startup SidekickTAKEAWAYSStay prioritized on limits of objectives/milestones every year (e.g. 3-5) and put your resources behind them and get everyone focused. Be open to pivoting, if needed.Deliver an amazing user/customer experience (as your base offering).TIMELINE01:30 – Overview of GoCanvas (mobile form, workflow)05:18 - Single product vision, GoCanvas's "rallying cries" (e.g. improve conversion rates) and limit number of stated prioritized objectives (e.g. 3-5) for X period12:05 - Number of rallying cries and connecting to annual strategy16:10 - How GoCanvas innovates: Great user experience and always thinking of customers first; i.e. regularly interviewing customers, telling customer stories at meetings (e.g. link in mobile form for customer reviews). Also, innovation happens in how customers use their platform (as Lego pieces).24:35 - Takeaways (see above).
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