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Learnings From 20 Early Stage Startups: Sales, Pricing, User Acquisition, Competition, Marketing, SEO, Apps & More


crossposted with permission from beingpractical.com

The 3rd #FoundersMeet happened in Mumbai on Wednesday 23rd Jan 2013 (a working day), was expected to go on for about 7 hours, the interaction continued for 13.5 hours (yes!) with some amazing insights discussed and shared. I’m sharing this post on behalf of all the startups (& their founders) who participated.

Selling a SaaS Product:

  • International Customers are more inclined towards using self-service products. Indian counterparts expect hand holding and need assurance of customer service at arm’s length even when not required.
  • Customers in India will insist even on customizing a standard SaaS product. This tends to be service-model trap, best avoided.
  • As long as the user-proposition communicated during sales pitch or on the product is fulfilled, International customers are satisfied. They will switch the product fast if they find another product delivering more value. On other hand, Indian customers take time to switch product if a good relationship is established.
  • If a competitor is offering a product for free, users will not like to pay you for that product.
  • Sell the product to the poster-boys of the industry, rest will follow by themselves.

Product Pricing:

  • There is a disproportionate value in the word ‘Free’. Use it whenever you can.
  • Over 90% of users will sign-up on the Free plan. When they move to the premium plan, they are most likely to use the plan that has the lowest value. Ensure that this low value plan has a disproportionate value for its price. That makes customers love you instantly.
  • When someone is making money because of your product, make sure you are making money out of it too.
  • Positioning your product / business is important. It can either be in Income side or Expense side. Always pitch / present your product on income side – “we help you generate money / your earnings will increase / your savings will multiply.”

Up-selling Product:

  • Acquire with freemium plans. Ensure enough hooks are in place that leads the customer to purchase the product post the free period or upgrade to the next paid plan.

Identifying Product Drivers:

  • A SaaS based product will not be driven by technical people, its driven by functional people. Build a product that can be installed by techies in less than 5 minutes, and can be driven by functional people without interference of tech people.
  • Sell the product to decision makers. Never pitch any product to a tech person. The tech person will always think that he can build it by himself.

User Acquisition Hacks:

  • For B2C products: Sell traction of existing users to new users. Create a feel that – Yes, there are people here, you’re not alone. That gives new users confidence about the product.
    Example – In Mumbai when you see 3 Vadapav stalls on a street, unknowingly you will go towards one that has maximum people eating and buy from there.
  • For B2C products: Show activity. Existing activities drive more activities.
    Example – IRCTC, startup folks and early adopters think the platform sucks and fails whiles booking; common people think of IRCTC to be a big corporation that there is always high demand. That leads to perception of credibility for IRCTC.
  • Use Associations for Endorsements - IRCTC mentions – ‘A Government of India Enterprise’. This is a big endorsement for IRCTC and brings credibility to it.
  • Bounce Rate Reduction – A transactional consumer site was featured in leading newspapers. When they mentioned ‘As seen on Newspaper A, B and C’ on their homepage – it boosted its credibility and reduced the bounce rate.
  • Social Proof for User Acquisition - The Facebook widget that displays people who have liked the brand also builds credibility.
  • Real People - A SaaS based startup focusing on product for Chartered Accountant features a local/prominent CA on its homepage. That quickly build credibility for itself in eyes other CAs. It was easy to acquire more customers.
  • Investor Hack - For SaaS startups, whenever any VC reaches out to you, get them to introduce to its portfolio companies. Its quickest way to demonstrate more traction and more importantly to add new customers.
  • Physical World - Example: Printed Coupons redeemed at Restaurants are social proofs in real world. Makes other users curious on how did a customer get discount / where did he get the redemption coupon from.

Ecommerce:

  • Thoughts on heavy discounting in current Ecommerce business in India, its like ‘Selling a Rs.100 note for Rs. 90′.
  • Potential in disrupting offline business is huge. All online businesses are not even 1% of the offline businesses.
  • Offline products are indeed cheaper than online. Consumers researching online and transacting offline is big. This market is ripe for disruption.
  • Ecommerce players are now less focused on doing marketing campaigns, but more focused on increasing conversion ratios of existing traffic.

User Experience:

  • UI is ‘relative’. Focus on User Experience.
  • Cleartrip is loved by all of us; but its clearly MakeMyTrip / Yatra that works with masses.
  • Make the product work 100% of time for what you promise.

Entrepreneurship:

  • Don’t fall in love with your product. Fall in love with being successful.
  • Things that work in west don’t work in India. Specially with funding and investments. Currency for investment in India is not traction, its revenue.
  • Be a salesman. Never miss a opportunity to make noise about your product.
  • Don’t focus on a niche market, there are very high chances of failure. Instead focus on a large market opportunity, its more likely to find success here.
  • Notice early signs if things are not going your way. Pivot fast.

Product Distribution:

  • SaaS products: Explore opportunities to integrate with large platform players – Domain Cpanels, or ecosystem creators like Shopify, BigCommerce, etc.
  • SaaS products: Label your widgets – ‘Powered by You’. They are most valuable for Inbound leads.

Product Scaling:

  • Don’t just design products for scale / growth; also ensure you design the business model for scale.

Essential Traits of Consumer Product:

  • Curiosity. Rely on Curiosity – (Example LinkedIn – 2 people have seen your profile today).
  • Build the – Theory of Reciprocation into your product.
  • Gamify some features, let users do free marketing for you before unlocking information. (Example – Tweet about something to show details).
  • Understand show-off value in your product. People love to show off on Twitter & Facebook. Capture such points to your product.

Social Media Marketing:

  • Twitter links have a CTR of 0.5% to 0.8%. Customer acquisition here happens in scale. Spend energy wisely.
  • Don’t spend time on talking to random folks on Twitter based on their conversations. Extremely time consuming and most unlikely to convert.
  • Facebook advertising does not lead to conversion. Its best suited for brand building.
  • Facebook Contests that involve sharing real pictures of users online brings lot of credibility to brand.

Competition:

  • Once a user has signed up for the product; make sure it works it. Don’t bother about competition. He has taken pain to signup to your product, make the promise work.
  • You’re the only one who know about your competitors; not your customers.
  • Many SaaS verticals are getting crowded to an extent that price remains only factor to decide. Only the ones that are able to innovate will survive.

Visibility:

  • Founders should be visible on Social Media. Talk about the product and should be able to convince their followers about their passion. Only passion attracts initial traction.

Market Penetration:

  • If you are doing something innovative (either B2C or B2B) – you will need to spend good amount of time on educating your users / customers. Its easy to get frustrated in this loop.

Content Focus:

  • Don’t get carried away by ‘Content Marketing’ or ‘Content Sharing’.
  • Building products that have content plays is difficult – content creators are few and content sharers are in plenty (Usually 1% to 99%)
  • Look for plays that involves sharing of content already created.

Building Relationships:

  • B2B: Build great relationships with your marquee customers. Keep them educated on new initiatives, new market dynamics and help them monetize better.
  • B2C: Continuously stay connected with your early adopters and take feedback from them. Keep them informed of new updates, they’ll love you. Whenever any suggestion is considered, incorporated into the product – communicate to users.

Driving Engagement:

  • Build features that would enable discovery of relevant / contextual information – that leads to higher engagement on the product.
  • Keep users involved… the trick is dashboard views. They create the “I’m in control” feeling for users.

Search Engine Optimization:

  • Figure out what you are optimizing for & the competition on that. Example., if you are trying to optimize now for ‘Apple iPhone’ – you would be the millionth website trying to do that. Get your own niche, it works best.

Mobile Apps:

  • Discovery of mobile apps is biggest challenge for them. Notice that many apps are trying a generic name for better discovery while users are searching for any other app.
  • Integrate app with key functions of phone. For example, on Android – phone book integration, and so on.
  • There are many hurdles in mobile app development cycle, best to understand from multiple startups who have built mobile apps earlier.
  • App Ratings matters, a big consideration factor for user to download the app. Get the initial ratings by distributing the app between family & friends.

PR:

  • A press release in India goes not get you much traffic. Its great channel for visibility, but don’t depend too much on this channel.
  • International Blogs & Coverage had a higher conversion ratio for products. International users give a try to product, sign-up, explore and use it.

Mobile Advertising:

  • Despite all the hype, Mobile Advertising is still considered as experimental budget.
  • Mobile Industry – one cannot be stuck in a region or one product for more than 18 months. Fast innovation required.

Venture Capital:

  • Stop chasing VCs or attending events that have VC meets or Demo Days. Hardly any investments happens that way.
  • A VC is most likely to invest in your startup when he is chasing you.
  • Indian VCs are yet to understand product driven consumer web-plays despite traction. Skip them and move to the west, it also brings lot of traction.

Biggest Learning of #FoundersMeet: Keep Plumbing. (Those who were present would understand this!)

Note

Background – I was fortunate to be invited for the #FoundersMeet 2; informal get-together of 7 startup founders last year. This time around AnirudhSidNischalDeven and I suggested to move it beyond our circle and extend it to 20 startups to come together and share our small success stories, failures and challenges. We also wanted to create a strong connect for ‘Mumbai-Pune Start-up Ecosystem’ which previously never existed.

Some of these thoughts/hacks listed above may sound very generic since we have decided not to mention the context / startup involved. Providing too much information in public domain would not be right for startups who participated. You can connect with any of them directly, the founders would be glad to help you.

#FoundersMeet 3 Participating founders: AnirudhDevenNishcalSiddharthKunalSahil,PravinKulinSameerTalvinderGargiGarimaShekharAvleshRohanSushrutSarang,RaxitNoelSoumNitinRonakPranayAnnkurDivyanshu

Many thanks to all startups who participated in the #FoundersMeet 3. Thanks to Nischal, Deven, Anirudh and Sid for reading/editing the draft of this post. Special Thanks to the wonderful folks at The Playce (a great co-working place for startups), Mumbai for hosting us.

Category : Indian Startups | Tags : ,

  • http://www.facebook.com/prashant.jain.33 Prashant Jain

    wonderful summary / captured excellent points that may sometimes get lost or overlooked

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  • http://twitter.com/snehalnimje Snehal Nimje

    This is one of the most useful posts i read ever. Thanks

  • http://softwarebuzzer.com/ Suresh Kumar

    I see lot of companies who create a great products, services but lack in teaching them how to use them efficiently. Really liked the whole points listed above.