Category Archives: Marketing

Dont remind me that I am “stup*d”. I know that already. SaaS Application User Experience

I had a teacher in 6th grade who disliked me. Not sure why. He was both our class teacher and taught us English literature. I was the new kid in town and new to the school and (worse) I was from Bombay (Mumbai to you younger folks). That automatically meant my Hindi was way better than my English.

He’d point out every mistake I’d make in front of the entire class for the first few weeks. Grammatical errors, misplaced pronouns, adjective modifiers, were all mentioned in every essay, every book report and composition for everyone in the class to mock. Seemed to me he liked picking on me. In fact since this was the ’80’s even calling my “stup*d” was par for the course.

What’s he got to do with SaaS applications?

Many of the applications I use are like that teacher. I hate them. I have to use them, but I hate using them.

I make mistakes. Every user makes mistakes. As humans we are all prone to making mistakes.

Your application does not have to make me feel stup*d each time I make a mistake. We all have significant others who perform that role very well thank you.

Your application has to help me recover from that error. 

Let me give you an example:

I was trying to setup an account with a new SaaS app.

Username, password (twice) and 3 seconds later:

“That username is taken already” in BOLD RED.

10 seconds later, new user name, password (twice again) and again:

“That username is taken already” in SCREAMING BOLD RED.

15 seconds later, new user name, password (twice) and:

“Your passwords dont match” in BLOOD (mine) RED.

I gave up with the signup.

What you could do?

1. Give me username suggestions that you believe dont exist in your database already.

2. Check after I have typed the password the first time and give me some responsive feedback before I submit the 2nd time so you can see if the passwords match.

3. Use my email address as a user name.

But dont remind me that I am “stup*d”. I know that  already.

P.S. That teacher from the 6th grade. Turned out to be my champion by 8th. The trick – my mom’s bisi bele bath. Two days a month I’d get mom to cook rich, flavorful and finger-licking BBB and suddenly he was my “protector”. The way to a man’s heart is absolutely through his stomach.

A new trend in pricing pages at SaaS applications

<Wordpress has eaten up 4 versions of this post, so I am removing all images and only providing links, apologies>.

The pricing and signup page of any SaaS application is the most critical part, which is the main reason companies spend weeks and months, A/B testing and validating pricing, options and packages.

A new trend I have noticed in 2 particular websites – Highrise and GetBallPark is something very different from most websites.

If you did not go to the links above and notice the change – they have put their highest priced offering on the left and the least priced offering on the right.

This was counterintuitive to me at first, since “everyone else” does the exact opposite. Progressively expensive options should go from left to right.

Most website heatmap track research suggests users read from top to bottom and left to right. So, I guess there are higher chances of getting someone to sign up for your highest priced offering if you put it on the left.

Any other reason others might think of designing the price offerings the “opposite” way?

Why developers will make the best marketers in this and the next decade

When you have a hammer everything is a nail. Imagine you are a developer (or higher form being – a hacker). Every problem is a script or a tool or a side project you can build (including marketing or sales problems). That’s because that’s how developers think. Which is awesome since the focus is on creating something “useful” that prospects will use. When you can develop a tool or a script which consumer / customers can use instead of just read or consume you engage them more actively.

The next two decades (and quite possibly beyond) is all about being an engaging marketer.

So how does one become a marketer that “engages” their audience or consumer?

Some background: For the longest time, marketing meant advertising. So the “ad guy” who was a two-martini lunch, cigar smoking, creative director would come up with this brilliant “idea” and execute the TV ad, Print Ad and Radio ad. Accolades will follow. The ad campaigns that bomb would be forgotten.

The trouble with TV, radio and newspaper is that they are “passive” mediums for the consumer / user. They are recipients of marketing messages or propaganda.

Consumers were required to consume useful content (sitcoms, music, news) and interruption content (ads) with not much ability to ignore the interruption content.

Then came the Internet. Suddenly the consumer was more “active”. They were not waiting and passively looking at what was being fed, but were active in seeking useful content and equally active in ignoring interruption content. Note I am not saying useless content (some ads are useful, but they still are an interruption).

To actively engage a consumer or user, you have multiple choices but the biggest of those right now is gaming. This includes useful consumer tools, games, contests, polls, etc.

Although “content marketing” is being touted as a key part of inbound marketing, it is still “passive”. Content marketing is no different than newspapers. Imagine content strategy = editorial calendar, content producers = editors and content = news / editorial.

Here are some examples of how developers are building marketing tools by adding value to their prospect / consumer / user.

a) Website Grader tool is a useful tool, (but very complicated) that tells you how good your website is on multiple factors. (link)

b) Look at many opensource versions of hosted products (one of the companies I have invested in Plivo is an example) which are “free” to use and still provide marketing. (link)

c) Free starter versions of hosted products (such as Mailchimp) are also a form of marketing.

I could give you a lot more examples, but you get the point.

Developers need to think about their user / consumer, figure out what tool they can build which will make their life user’s easier and still keep their users engaged (as opposed to passive observers).

This is absolutely easier said than done, but its an easier bridge to cross than getting a “marketer” to build tools.

The hacker, the hustler and the hipster. A modern day startup fable

And they all lived happily ever after.

“Why would you begin the story with the end” asked my daughter. “That’s because, that’s how all stories begin – with an end in mind”, I replied, very seriously.

From the corner of her eye, Shawna glanced at the nondescript clock, at Rosie’s coffee shop. Whipping out her most trusted friend from her clutch, she knew the buzzing sound either meant, “mom calling” (again) or her appointment was late (again). It was neither. “Dont these guys value time? Or do they think of themselves as gods?” she wondered. It had been nearly 4 weeks of “looking for the right cofounder”. She had faithfully attended multiple hackathons, a meetup on big data and the “perfect one” was still elusive.

InvalidURIError; URI,split

Time to hit StackExchange again, was Jake’s thinking. 2 and a half hours wasted, he thought. Not sure if its a OAuth problem or a path error. Who ever said Ruby on Rails is simple, has a pretty sick sense of humor. He’d spent all afternoon trying to get a OAuth working on rails 3. Not much luck. ‘A lesser mortal’ (just a programmer, not a real hacker) was how he felt after the failed interview at a hot San Francisco startup. The rejection was reason enough to spend time implementing a new “idea” he had from last week. “When it gets big, they will regret not hiring me”.

Where’s the RGB color chart when you need it? What the code for Ceil Blue and what’s the difference between that and Cerulean Blue? Why is my client asking for the 14th version of the logo when their requirements were “Cool. Youth brand. Innovative”. Seriously, who gives requirements like that to design a logo, thought Trip. Being a much sought-after UI designers has its perks I guess, with the endless work that I can charge a premium for, but the downside is expectation of “Rockstar” that comes with it.

Trip, Jake and Shawna met at Google I/O and I guess you can say they hit off well.


I was bored last night and thought there’s really no good fiction fable that’s been written about the modern day (read Ramen noodles, Red Bull and Social, Local and Mobile) startup. Except if you consider “The social network”. So I thought I’d start to write on. Its a fable, not a book. I am also trying my hand on this crowd sourcing bit, so I’ll only write if there’s interest.

Please drop me a comment if you think this fable’s worth pursuing.

“Professionally friendly” – a trend I am noticing in Indian startup entrepreneurs

I used to think this was a great tactic followed only by young women (read: single, good looking, and smart) in India, but Indian entrepreneurs are now catching on to this new form of relationship. So my fellow entrepreneurs, if you want to be successful selling in India, talk to your good looking women classmates from college and learn how to be “professionally friendly”.

Professionally friendly” to me is a business relationship with a person who you want to do business with, but realize that you might have to build trust with to get it done. If you get too friendly they will take advantage of the relationship (like friends do, but you like your friends not business acquaintances) and if you are too professional, they will negotiate very hard and likely delay your deal.

Let me tell you a story first:

I have a good “friend” who’s an entrepreneur. He sells end-to-end software and solutions (his words) to hotels, restaurants and spas to manage their bookings and inventory. His company has been around for nearly 2 years with some decent traction (over 100+ customers). He’s built his business mostly through word-of-mouth.

Initially he found that most of his customers were taking too long to evaluate his product (30 day trials went to 90 or 120 days) and were negotiating very hard to reduce his already thin margins. He realized that his 2 initial customers were friend who were more than willing to pay fair price.

So he changed his sales process: Step 1) Cold call and get appointment. Step 2) Initial meeting and demo. Step 3) Invite prospect to Bangalore Club for a lunch / tennis, etc. – essentially grease the skids.

He found that it reduced sales cycle’s dramatically but obviously all that eating at Bangalore club did a number on his waistline (actually it made a dent in his wallet, but he raised his prices to cover the cost of the meal obviously). Second, this lunch thing clearly did not scale.

So he tried selling 2.0 – now he’ invite 3-4 people together for a double’s tennis match or a group networking lunch and figured they’d meet each other and talk. Worked better in terms of scaling up.

Meanwhile, his first few customers became good friends. Two of them were late on payments and asked for a 3-4 month extension (we are good friends, so please help) since they were “having to fight fires” or were renovating their spa or had some issues at their Chinese restaurant. The 3 month non-payment turned into 6, 2 free licenses turned into 5 and outstanding receivables were slowly approaching 72 days.

He’s found it very difficult to confront “friends” for overdue payments. They invite his family for lunch during weekend (Had their wives call my friend’s wife and told her about the new “diet” version of American chopsuey, which she had to try at the restaurant).

Bottom line – his “lets be friends first and then business partners” is not exactly going on track.

So how can you maintain a “professionally friendly” relationship? <Please> first stop laughing, since I did that for close to 50 seconds, when he told me this story.

I had 3 suggestions for him and I’d love your feedback:

1. Go prepaid – payments need to be made upfront for usage of software, services.

2. Separate selling function from payment collection so you can always say – “I am the nice guy but my finance person asked me to switch off the service till payments were received”.

3. Ensure business contacts are not involved with family – removes the “emotional atyachar” factor.

What all does a non-technical co founder do in a SaaS / Mobile application startup?

If you are non-technical co founder at a startup that’s primarily a consumer web / SaaS or Mobile application company, there’s only ONE thing you should be focused on:

A plan to acquire, nurture and grow users (customers) with as little money as possible.

With a caveat – you should not use any of your technical cofounder’s time (once a week update / meeting to discuss progress is okay) to achieve your goal. If you do that, it takes away from building the product.

Dont waste your time on “legal paperwork”, “office space hunting”, “attending networking events” or “talking to lots of people to get advice”.

User acquisition involves multiple steps that you need to do in a disciplined fashion:

1. Understand, document and verify your user segments / audience / customers (demographics, usage patterns, usage behavior, etc.)

2. Put a plan to create awareness with as little budget as possible. Make the assumption that as a startup you will have some time but no money.

3. Document who are the key influencers (bloggers, reporters, analysts, etc.) you need to get in front of and when / where you plan to meet them to talk about your product.

4. Plan a content marketing strategy (blog posts, infographics, surveys, slide share presentations, videos, etc.) that will consistently help you build lots of content to help grow your organic traffic from search results.

5. Learn how to build, manage and grow a community of users to help build a great fan following for your company.

You can call this anything you please – Marketing, Hustling, Selling, Community building, User acquisition, etc.

Each of these are very measurable.

1. How many visitors came to your site?
2. What were the sources of your visitor traffic – blogs, organic search etc.
3. How many are repeat visitors, versus first time?

Nothing else matters. In fact if you do a great job at this, you will be as valuable as your technical co founder.

How does mobile marketing change the spend on Paid, Owned and Earned Media?

If we were to revisit paid, owned and earned media and the impact on mobile marketing.

Most marketers are now building custom mobile applications (owned) for Android / iOs and will soon start to build them for Win Phone 7. Most are already ignoring the Symbian and Blackberry RIM.

During the days of television, print and radio paid was the choice of campaign spend, whereas earned was relatively small (less than 10%). Meaning, you paid for advertising alone and worked on your PR strategy to get your message out alternatively without paying for placement.

The days of the web changed that mix from only paid and earned to spending on your website (owned) which I think reduced the percentage of paid to 70% (from 90%) with 15% being spent on owned and earned slightly increasing to remaining constant.

With mobile applications being developed by marketers and social media engagement the owned portion of marketing spend is increasing even more to close to 25% of marketing budgets, and PR at a constant 15%, the spend towards paid media has further dropped to 65%.

The challenge with every marketer trying to develop their “owned” media channels is that they need

a) more resources (social media analysts & marketers and app developers) instead of campaign spend and

b) more “viral” techniques are being adopted to promote the owned properties.

Lets assume the viral techniques are getting more ineffective as more people try them.

Marketing budgets are increasing at a pace of about 5-7% annually for large companies and more marketers are being asked to spend more money on “owned media”.

What impact does this have on the future of marketing and more specifically mobile marketing?

1. I see the mobile advertising (both display and search) largely being used for promoting marketers “owned” applications – the main reason for that is the instant gratification that comes with an ad to download an application that possibly helps you more than just an ad for branding purposes. It is a lot more measurable.

2. I see many marketers being asked to “get more technical” and start building more “owned” properties since in the long run they are cost effective, easier to control and provide measurable value to the company.

3. Mobile ad networks such as inMobi, Google Admob, etc. will start to focus on helping marketers build, deliver and then promote these owned “applications and properties” since its in their best interest to get marketers to spend more money and make it a lot more accountable.

Update: Nick Burcher has written a book on this topic, and the except is available to review.

Facebook open graph API and new apps

After facebook timeline we now have apps on the timeline, which leverage open graph API to post actions that you performed on other websites to your profile. Here is a complete list of apps (60) that are participating in the facebook timeline capability.

“Once you’ve added an app, you can begin updating your timeline with your activities as they happen.”

I personally have 6 apps that I have used / authorized and most of them post to facebook (twitter, wordpress, etc.)

I dont really use any of the other apps. Dont see a need yet. But this might just make me change my mind. (Deep sarcasm).

Do you use any apps? I am curious which apps are really used by other entrepreneurs.