The full-stack approach to building a startup is the idea of being a game-changer rather than fitting into an existing market. To do that, you have to begin with the end in mind — thinking through every element during the build, including your plan for revenue and acquisition.
How will you acquire early adopters? How will you get users excited about your product or service? How will you sustain that excitement, keep them active and engaged over the long haul?
Your product needs to be built around the answers to these questions.
Acquiring Early Adopters
On the journey to building a full-stack startup, capturing users prior to launch can mean the difference between success and startup fail. Building a base of early adopters enables you to establish a test ground for proving or disproving assumptions you’ve made about your product, create a better solution, determine cost of acquisition, bake in features to activate and retain customers, and demonstrate you have a solution people will give a damn about. And all of this makes you more appealing to potential investors — if that is your goal.
Are you more investable if you launch with a 100 users versus none? Probably. What if you had 10,000 interested users excited about and ready to try your product? Moz (then SEOmoz) spent a year building content and acquiring beta users. They had tens of thousands of followers at launch — not to mention a built-in marketing engine.
How do you acquire early adopters? Build the brand, the product and the funnel.
Get your brand and prototype built early. You need to capture eyeballs and email addresses. Your branding and prototype will be used to market to potential beta users via a landing page and other lead-generation assets like videos and social media marketing. Promote that landing page everywhere:
- Link to it from blog posts
- Post it to early-adopter sites like http://betali.st/, http://startuplift.com, http://erlibird.com/, and http://ratemystartup.com/
- Seek guest blogging and contributed content opportunities that allow you to link to your landing page
- Share it in your social networks and encourage your network to share it
- Run small ad experiments on Google Adsense, Adwords, and social networks (particularly Facebook and Twit, all driving back to that landing page
Focus on building a community around high-value content relevant to your product. Then convert that community when you launch. (Hat tip: Sites like Medium are easy places to start building a following.)
If you can determine your cost of acquisition for an email address before you’ve launched, you’re in the top 1 percent of startups.
Build a Smart Stack
Marketing and sales are essential ingredients to the full-stack recipe. They need to be added to the batter and baked into the stack rather than the syrup poured over after.
Your marketing and sales system should be in place before your product is done, but be smart in your approach. Chances are you’re not ready for a robust system like Salesforce and bloated marketing automation software. Study what is out there and learn what works for startups. For example, use:
- LinkedIn for data sources and finding potential buyers
- Socedo for social media lead generation
- Hubspot’s free CRM to track your users
- Outreach.io for lightweight automation
- AutopilotHQ for email marketing
- Unbounce for landing pages
- Hootsuite or Buffer for social sharing and scheduling
- Google Analytics for tracking data
One of our clients (and later, an investment of Tallwave Capital), Picmonic, an audiovisual learning community for med, pre-med and nursing students, was able to grab 30 percent of their target market and $1 million in revenue during their first year. This was because their marketing and sales infrastructure was strategized and developed prior to launch so they could explode out of the starting gates.
Keep Them Craving More
Activation, engagement and retention are three other key ingredients to the full stack. These growth metrics need to shape the design of your product or service.
- Activation: You need to prove you can convert users to use your product (i.e. sign-up, download, complete a first task, etc). Focus on features and UX principles that either drive activation or eliminate barriers to activation. Test prototypes with users while you’re building so you can identify which features to highlight in your marketing copy. Example: An activation feature of Instagram is the ability to share across multiple social networks. When your Facebook or Twitter friends see your post originated from Instagram, they are more likely to activate with the platform themselves.
- Engagement: You need to prove users are willing to engage with your product over time. Daily Active Usage (DAU) and Monthly Active Usage (MAU) are the percentages you need to track. Focus your minimum viable product (MVP) on features that drive regular engagement. This includes use of push notifications, email and other ways of bringing them back to the app. Also, your “core loop” needs to be simple and repeatable. Example: Instagram’s core loop — take a pic, apply a filter, add a comment, share — is simple and effective, and they spend a lot of time keeping it that way.
- Retention: You have to prove that users want to stick around for the long term. If 100 users engage, but 99 disappear after a month, you’re not investible. Your MVP needs to include ways of retaining users long term. Example: For Instagram, simply showing you your follower count is a long-term retention tool. Who wants to quit something you invested so much to grow over time?
To achieve this, analytics must be built into the MVP. It will be the only way to identify the problems that need solving. Remember, building a full-stack startup begins with the end in mind. How are you going to get, activate and retain your customers?
To learn more about building a marketing and sales strategy check out Springboard.
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Written by Tallwave