Category Archives: Marketing

How to A/B test your startup’s positioning statement

I had a chance to talk to 2 of our startups at the accelerator yesterday and we discussed positioning. One of the first things that we focus on is to ensure you position your company and product well. That may seem like “fluff” and “soft” to many folks, but we find that to be critical to ensure that people who you interact with – customers, partners, potential recruits, investors, etc., get it quickly and accurately.

What I have found is that depending on the background of the entrepreneur, the positioning statements tend to be very long, mostly filled with buzzwords – (no, really 99% of the people in this world dont know ARM, resin-conductors or DevOps, and most likely 90% of your target audience does not either) or overly complicated.

The positioning statement should at its simplest help explain who you are at your core.

Most folks will try to explain their positioning by using the framework below.

For (specific customer description):

Who (has the following problem):

Our product (describe the solution):

That provides (the following difference):

Unlike (your competition):

Now, for most parts this was 15 years ago. This is still a valid exercise for you to come up with your positioning, but most of this may be not as effective in our Twitter driven world.

There are 3 more manifestations I have seen for this statement:

1. Position your company / product in less than 8 worlds so that someone coming to your website can get it in less than 5 seconds

2. Positioning by successful similarity – We are XYX (an awesome product, e.g. Uber) for ABC (a very large market, e.g. school kids needing rides)

3. Retweet ready positioning – A positioning statement that is retweet worthy, so it should be less than 100 characters – so you can still provide a link to your website

The important thing to note is that your website should reflect positioning for your biggest audience – target users or customers, not potential investors or employees.

I am also not a fan of using multiple positioning statements by audience – so you should avoid telling investors you are a disruptive solution for ABC market, and tell potential employees you are X for Y.

It never adds up and wont scale.

Instead, I’d recommend you start with first making a list of segments of your customers. Preferably you are able to segment a small niche customer segment to start.

Then write down the list of problems your customers have. For example. a) the existing products are too hard to use b) the existing solution is too expensive c) the existing solution is to do something manual d) potential customers are unable to be successful since no solution exists to help them with this pain, etc.

Then you have to document the features of your product that correspond to solving the problems you listed above in the problem statement. For example: a) Our export to excel feature allows customers to get the data via API’s b) our API based mechanism lowers cost of delivery. etc. This is also sometimes the “how you do it”.

Then you have to record the differentiation associated with the features. How do you do something different to enable that feature(s). For example: our algorithm for ranking generates a proprietary score for each customer segment.

The next step (which you may not need for the positioning, but will later on) is to document the benefits of the feature / differentiation. Benefits are fairly easy to document based on cost savings, revenue generation, etc. and are based on the feature list. For example, if you have X feature and Y differentiation, that results in a reduced cost compared to existing competitive solutions for customers,.

This should suffice for you to start A/B testing. Now, use these in your web copy, presentations and when you are describing your company to others at events, meetups, etc.

Keep a log of the first 100 people (or some good enough sample size) of people you to talk to, and get a sense for which statements resonate.

Test different positioning statements until you get to the minimal set that gets people exited enough to ask you to tell them more.

Until that point, keep testing.

What to do the day after the launch of your company or announcing new features

There is always a sense of euphoria after a “launch” of any sort. Especially if you have been working on your product / service for many months and are not particularly sure how it will be received. Then you get a chance to go “public” with your features / product or company. It tends to be exhilarating, but brings its own set of things to do after the launch.

There are 3 major buckets of items that you will encounter the day after the launch.

They fall into the “do now”, “do later” and “do never” bucket.

First the “Do Now” bucket. I would put thanking people that supported you on the top of the list. Send personal emails to the reporter, initial users, advisors and mentors with a list of links (combine all coverage instead of sending multiple messages) that indicate the coverage your received for the launch. Even if all you did was launch it on HN, it helps to take a screen shot, or even provide a link to the comments. If you have a team, I’d highly recommend you collate all the links, and put them into a document to share and discuss when you meet. It helps to set context to something you have all been working on. Even if the feedback on the launch is negative or “meh”, I’d still recommend you put it together.

I’d also immediately put together a spreadsheet with the major items of feedback and perspectives, and put them into feature requests, comments, questions and general feedback. Some of them you can action and others likely not. Either ways, it is quicker and more helpful to capture all the feedback just after the launch rather than go back and revisit it later.

Finally I’d spend quite a bit of time providing customer support - helping answer user questions, addressing their issues (without coding new features immediately) and also documenting the bugs they encounter – maybe you might want to even fix the blockers or P zeros (priority zeros).

Second, for your “Do later” bucket. I’d write a blog post to collect your thoughts, and write about your experience overall – what were the highlights when you got your start, what the low lights were, what your journey was and how you made critical decisions. In that blog post I’d also add the links to the launch coverage.

I would also spend some time after day 1 on your traffic analytics - where did you users come from, where they spent time and finally what they did. These will help you prioritize the key elements of your go forward plan and help you target the right press or channels going forward.

This is also a good time (do later, not immediately) to check all your social channels – Quora, FB, Twitter etc. to capture your feedback. I dont put these in the do now bucket, because while you might get some feedback that needs immediate attention, they tend to be a big drain and time sink. You will end up responding to some of the feedback, but most of the response from your side will be emotional – either happy, because your launch was well received, or sad because you were panned.

Finally the “Do never” bucket. You will get a lot of email from potential recruiters – who have “a rock star ninja” who wants to join your team and mentioned your company by name, or potential partners who “want to set up time over coffee to talk about potential ways to partner” or other principals and associates at investment firms who “followed” your launch or were tracking you on angel list or tried your product and would like to setup some time to learn more.

These waste the most amount of your time. I’d highly recommend you push them all out by a few weeks and use it as a technique to buy some time and gauge their interest after 3-4 weeks. While I have learned that there’s some truth to the “strike when the iron’s hot”, these are rarely hot irons, but more “flat coal”.

I’d love your feedback. What’s been on your do now, do later and do never bucket after launch?

The transition year of 2014 – from developers to customer acquisition specialists #startups

Here’s a prediction for the year 2014 based on talking to over 1400 startup entrepreneurs in 2013.

2014 is going to be the every entrepreneur will start to focus on hiring a “customer acquisition” specialist. This could be someone who can be called a hustler, a growth hacker, a marketing developer or any other title.

What I have realized after looking at over 2800 applications at the Microsoft accelerator and interviewing over 300 entrepreneurs is that they have little idea about how to acquire customers that pay for their solution.

They can do the first 10 customers, but after that, it is a slog or a stall.

They dont have a way to scale their customer growth.

Many developers who stall in their careers will take up growth hacking courses and classes. The reason they will do well is because developers will make the best digital marketers in the next decade.

The #1, #2 and #3 questions I get from entrepreneurs, is trying to find a way to get paying customers.

The #1 question last 2 years was around funding.

That has dropped dramatically this year.

The years prior to 2011 I got most questions around hiring good quality engineers and finding and hiring good engineering talent for startups.

Maybe it is the maturity of the ecosystem, but this is the transition I am seeing.

Guest post: How I Used Setback as a Setup for (PR) Success

Ever hear that saying…

“when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?”

Now, what happens if the lemons you get are covered in poop and smell like rotten milk, AND you ran out of sugar?

What then? Drink muddy, bitter lemonade that smells like durian?

Exactly. Believe it or not, it might turn up better than you imagined.

2011 was a really crappy year

  • I started a pet website that wasn’t doing so hot. I already pivoted a couple of times, and they all tanked.

  • I was down to my last few dollars in term of my bootstrap fund

  • I broke up with my ex a couple of months ago.

If shit is how you describe how you feel when you’re down, down I was straight doo-doo.

Now to make things worse, i lost my dog. A bunch of people came into my house to fix a broken door without calling me. My dog spooked and he ran for his life.

As a bachelor living by himself in a loft with his own dog and with his family thousands of miles away on the other side of the country, this was like losing a child.

I mean.. a grown man, crying alone in the dark.. drinking two buck chuck, lamenting over his lost dog.

If you never lost a dog before, you’ll never know the feeling.  Especially for me because my dog was the one real “family” that I had (in California), cared for, and loved.

I read somewhere that if you lose a dog and don’t recover it in the next 24 hours, your chances of finding it are pretty in, never.

The odds were against me.

  1. I didn’t have family who’d help me look during the day (when he’s visible). I had to ask friends for their time after they get out of work.. which by then, was too late.

  2. My dog didn’t have a pet tag on because his collar was being washed, which means no one can ID him even if they found him.

  3. My dog is completely black, which means he’s quite hard to see at night.. especially for car drivers

Of course, as an entrepreneur, i was used to fighting the odds and hoping for miracles.

So in span of first 40 hours of losing my dog, I was superman. I managed to

  1. call every vet, animal shelter, pet businesses in 3 mile radius

  2. (with help from my ex and a friend) posted 250+ flyers, dropped off 150+ posters in people’s mailboxes

  3. place ads on every possible place you can possibly think of, including Facebook ads and Google display ad network ads.

…all this on no sleep.

I even tried hashed up a simple auto dialer software using Twilio and a database I bought off the web, and called everyone in 4-5 zip codes.

Yes, I was on a mission.

I must’ve had 2-3 leads every couple of hours with my ads and with my auto dialer, but they all turned up to be all junk leads.

Until.. I got a phone call from a lady nearby. She told me that she saw my flyer at a nearby park in Willow Glen (San Jose, CA).

At this point, I wasn’t even sure if my dog was still alive. So many false leads, and people were telling me different things as far as where they thought he was heading. On top of that, he probably hasn’t eaten or drank anything. Maybe worse.. he got hit by a car or got attacked by a big dog.. and he died.

Funny how your mind plays all these crazy movies in your head when you’re in dire need.

But I told myself I can feel depressed any time i want. Let’s see if this lead takes me anywhere.

And in fact, IT WAS MY dog that they found…thanks to this awesome couple:

If you don’t know who he is, he’s a NHL San Jose Sharks team player Joe Pavelski.

At the time, I didn’t even know who he was or what he did.

All I noticed was his insanely big house in the middle of Willow Glen (a very posh neighborhood).

So I casually asked him what he did… and he replied “oh i play hockey.”

My initial thought: “What? there’s a hockey team in San Jose? NO WAY. When was this?”

<insert clown music here>

Yes, he was a celebrity. But at the time, I didn’t really think much of it

I just was so grateful that he found my dog that i just wanted to kiss the man.

(But I settled for just a picture with him.)

When my dog and I were reunited back home, I gave him a bath and fed him two HUGE bowls of his favorite dog food. After that, both of us hibernated for 14 hours.

Seize the Moment

When I woke up, I started wondering how I can use this story for my pet website.

Of course, I could’ve just posted this and shared with my Facebook fans and email subscribers at the time.. but I felt I could’ve gotten more of a BANG, so to speak.

So? I decided to email journalists, hoping that it would get covered… and it DID.

If you Google “joe pavelski dog”, the story got covered on NBC sports, CSN Bay area, and BUNCH of other sports sites that have page rank 5+.

Then voila.. i had a HUGE surge of traffic to my site, and because of that surge,

  • my email list increased by factor of 95%

  • i had 50+ backlinks to my funny pet picture website PawshPal

  • i had all these new men Facebook fans for PawshPal (99.9% prior to that were women)

If this were a link bait tactic, it sure as hell worked well.

So did it save the PawshPal business? Nope. It didn’t.

The people that opted in were more interested in Joe and/or sports.. and opted out.. and all those backlinks didn’t help much at all in terms new traffic. Indeed, not all traffic is good traffic.

But I learned a WHOLE lot about PR.

Key Lesson in PR

1) “Rub Off” Popularity

If you are not famous, you can “get” famous just by being next to them.

This is the basis for celebrity endorsement ads.

People seeing your product or service next to a celebrity gives (instant trust.

2) Don’t fight, instead praise

There are SEO and marketing “gurus” that claim that you should pick fights with journalists and bloggers to get some attention.

If not, spam them in the comment section.

Ugh.. here’s a better way.

Instead of fighting popular people, praise them and their fans will praise you.

Negativity can only get so far. On top of that, news is inundated with bad news.

Why join them? Try being positive for once. (Heck, try meditating.)

3) Promote yourself.

Your efforts don’t mean diddly squat if no one knows

Fundamentals of marketing – no matter how great you (or your product) is, if no one knows about it, you might as well have never done it.

Stop staring at the screen.

Start connecting. Start sharing. Start teaching. Start giving.

Then the world will give back.

4) Copywriting matters

If you do any marketing whatsoever, you know about copywriting.

Copywriting is about selling with words, conveying who you are, what you do, and why they should read your stuff.

Copywriting is probably THE most important skill for any marketer these days.

If my copywriting sucked, I doubt anyone would’ve read my story, including the journalists.

Without an interesting email subject line, the email would’ve never gotten read.

Without an interesting email body, the link would’ve never gotten clicked.

Without an interesting story, the journalists would’ve never linked back.

Without the journalists linking back, I would not be here telling you this story.

5) When things are bad, there’s usually a reason.

Like Steve Jobs said, you can connect the dots only looking backward, never forward.

If something bad happens, as long as you don’t stay down and depressed, you can use that story as a way to set yourself back up for something great like all great entrepreneurs do.

You just won’t know unless you fail, dust yourself, get back up, and try something different.

But don’t forget step #1 – dust yourself off and get back up.

Without step #1, there is no step #2.

Most importantly…

If all your marketing fails, “accidentally” lose and find your dog at a celebrity’s house.

Take your dog to your nearest celebrity’s house.

Call him and ask him if he’s seen your dog.

Of course, your dog is magically there.. then you cry.. give him a big hug.. take lots of pictures.. and send them to the press.

And voila! Free PR!

<insert evil laughter here>

Hell, my dog teaches me about business everyday.



TaeWoo Kim is an entrepreneur, a growth hacker, a speaker, and a blogger. You can follow him on Twitter (@TaeWooKim), Google+, and on his blog

A/B testing your email messages

I have about 30,000 friends who follow my blog on email, and the open rate is about 8% (which according to Mailchimp is very low) on each blog post. Besides this I have another 9,500 friends and acquaintances that I send an email update to once a month on key blog posts I have written during that month. That has an open rate of 17%. Roughly about 5000 of my friends read a blog post, which gives me a fairly good sample size to do some serious A/B testing on my blog post titles.

My email friends are about 61% from India, and 25% from the US (largely the valley). This was inverse just 5 years ago in terms of %, but the number was about 3200. So a nearly 10 times growth in 5 years. 

Since wordpress does not allow me to segment the email by friends, everyone gets the same blog post and title as soon as it is published. But the email acquaintances is where I have a lot fun.

Here’s what I found last week in 3 sets of 2000+ subscribers.

I had the same body of the message but changed the Subject of the email.

First subject (Sent on a Thursday at 10:30 IST): Where is analytics headed in 2020? An insight gathered from 25 top #startups – 14% open rate

Second subject (Send on a Friday at 10:30 IST): The future of analytics is in offerings based on derived insights – 11% open rate

Third subject (Sent on a Saturdaya at 10:30 IST): How analytics companies are making 92% margins compared to software companies – 21% open rate

I am shocked that the Saturday message had best open rates, since weekends have been consistently low on my open rates.

The message though was one of margin – which I think appeals to Indian entrepreneurs a lot.

What do you think is the reason that the first subject got a better open rate than the second? Is it more specific?

The least action principle applied to the “call to action”

I met with an entrepreneur who has been looking to gain traction for his new SaaS application for payments. Having talked to a few of the top notch marketing and conversion experts in the Bay area to learn about drip marketing, which allows you to set a set of messages over time I was eager to help him figure out how to apply that to his problem.

The problem he had was that his “call to action” – what he wanted his prospects and customers to do was creating a “very high barrier” to prospects going to the next level with the website.

I find this often the case with many startups and SaaS applications in particular. The “barrier” for a prospect to become a customer is very high, so while you generate a lot of traffic and visits to your website, the number of conversions is abysmally low.

While you could offer better design, clear case studies, A/B test your pricing, there’s another technique that’s fast gaining traction among those that believe in a sales term called “lead nurturing“.

Its is the least action principle applied to prospect behavior. Before you “riff” me on this, yes, I believe physics gives the answers to most marketing problems.

The summary of this principle is

 “Nature is thrifty in all its actions”

So this principle applied to conversion marketing is to make users do the least amount of work to get to the “next logical step” in your progress to convert them to be a customer.

Instead of asking users in the first page to “Sign up”, which may well be your ultimate goal, ask them to view a video instead. Then sign up for a newsletter. Then send them 3 emails (over time, drip marketing, remember) to get them to review a case study, provide them with ROI analysis and finally ask them to sign up.

This entire set of steps can be done in days or in 2-3 minutes with a “guided” website interaction, instead of just a single call to action.

If you remember that most people want to do the least amount of work to get the maximum benefit, then you will appropriately break down your final call to action into multiple “Least User Interactions” each of which gets the user to commit some more (time, energy, etc.) to your application.

This is similar to the method FB for example applies to its interactions. You might just be a viewer of content, then your path to least action is a “like”, then you might comment, then set your status and finally upload a picture. There are more actions no doubt, but the path to least action is a like.

So when you look at your call you action, think about how you can break it down into multiple steps to get users to interact with your website without having to “commit” to marrying you before your first date.

How to do very bad marketing – an example

<Being rant>

The latest trend among US marketing folks is to put a blog post of 50 sentences into 50 slides. Not sure why a simple one page blog post wont cut it – actually wait, I do. Its to get “multiple outposts” which all say the same thing in “different ways”. Some viewers prefer SlideShare as the way to read stuff instead of text.

So what ends up happening is to read something in 2 minutes you will end up clicking 50 slides to read 50 sentences.

The part that makes no sense is that its just text in those slides. No images, no visuals, not storytelling.

Which makes it look like a Word document pasted into a PowerPoint deck.

Rather lame. Dont you think? Or am I missing something?

</End rant>