How should a successful marketing initiative for a startup operate? It’s possible to jump right into performance marketing immediately after launch, optimizing conversion funnels and squeezing every cent out of ad spend. But I think there’s an important step that precedes performance marketing: community development. Yesterday, I met with an entrepreneur who was researching how best to build a marketing team for her business. After having spoken to many other founders, she decided to prioritize community management before traditional marketing.
Most of us were taught at an early age that double negatives are a bad thing, because they are unnecessarily complicated and increase the chances of miscommunication. It is with this principle in mind, that I propose that we permanently ban the ridiculous term “negative churn” from the SaaS metrics vocabulary. Churn is negative growth. Negative churn is simply growth.
Many of my esteemed SaaS colleagues have casually adopted the negative churn idea without issue, such as this post by David Skok, and this one by OpenView Partners, and this one by Lincoln Murphy, and to my knowledge the very first one by Daniel Drucker who attributes the origin of negative churn to the folks at Bessemer Venture Partners. A very prestigious group of SaaS metrics experts indeed. So, what’s got my goat?
SaaS Growth vs. SaaS Churn
Negative churn implies that the economics of SaaS growth are the same as SaaS churn, only reversed. This is not the case. The business processes and customer decisions that drive SaaS growth are fundamentally different from those that drive SaaS churn. For example SaaS growth might be driven by a sales process that targets a customer need, whereas SaaS churn might be driven by a customer going out of business. As metrics, these numbers are intended to measure those processes. When they are commingled, they lose their value.
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Crowdfunding platforms solve three key problems for startups, two of which are obvious. Kickstarter and Indiegogo, among others validate demand and provide short term financing by marketing product ideas and accepting pre-payment for future delivery. Consumers vote with their dollars to catalyze product development.
The third, less obvious benefit, is the platforms cajole startups to follow a product management process similar to Amazon’s process, described below by Ian McAllister in his Quora post What Is Amazon’s Product Management Process?
From time to time, entrepreneurs ask one investor for referrals to other investors. After all, investors network frequently, work together and have long term relationships with each other so a referral should go a long way. But not all introductions are equal.
The most successful investor-to-investor referrals are those where the referring investor is investing in the business and is seeking to fill out the round with complementary capital. By investing, the referring investor sends a strong signal to others about his/her excitement about the company.
In 2005, I started as a customer support rep in the AdSense team at Google. Over the next few months, I was trained in the art of handling hundreds of emails per day.
My training focused on using a customer service tool called Trakken that Google had acquired and heavily modified to enable AdWords and AdSense teams to manage the torrent of inbound support emails from customers. In AdSense, a team of fewer than 100 people supported a few hundred thousand customers almost exclusively through email with customer satisfaction scores consistently above 90%.
Sales pitches ought to frame a product in a way to maximize the chances of success of a sale. One trend I’ve been seeing in pitches is to talk about how software can save costs by reducing a customer’s head count. A pitch that focuses on cost savings by reducing staff should be delivered only after much consideration because of a few objections created in these pitches that might slow or halt the sales process.
Atul Gawande, the American surgeon known for his book “Better”, wrote an article in this week’s New Yorker called “Slow Ideas: Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t?” He describes the challenges faced by healthcare institutions all over the world: despite the advances in research, the most difficult part of improving care isn’t availing doctors and nurses to these breakthroughs, but changing their behavior. Some doctors simply won’t wash their hands no matter how many times they are told it reduces infection rates.
This week, I visited a startup whose office had a very unusual feature: a usability lab. There I was in a soundproofed room with a table in the center flanked by two chairs, one for a user and one product manager or UX researcher. On the table, a constellation of web cams record a user’s facial expressions and interactions with a mobile phone or laptop while a microphone captures the user’s voice.
Earlier this week, I met an experienced head of sales. During our meeting, the candidate shared a simple way of thinking about a startup’s sales process that resonated with me.
A startup’s sales evolution contains three phases: beta, reference customer, ROI calculator.
Beta: A founder of the startup develops relationships with a handful of customers who will work in tandem with the company to design, tune and improve the product.
With more than 80% of venture capital investments occurring in enterprise and with the public markets disproportionately rewarding SaaS companies with huge enterprise value-to-revenue multiples (median is 7.6), it’s no surprise that interest Software-as-a-Service is booming. After meeting quite a few SaaS companies, I’ve compiled a list of my ideal characteristics for a SaaS business below.
Characteristic 1: Product Is Core to the Operation of the Business The product is essential to the operation of a customer’s business.