How to get from 0 to 10,000 paying customers in SaaS

Short answer: great product, some marketing and a bit of luck. These things got Pipedrive to pass the 10,000 paying customers milestone earlier in the year. The longer answer is below. This is the post I would have liked to read back in 2010 when I had started working with Pipedrive founders. And I thought I’d get it out of the system as we change gears to target getting to the 100,000 paying customers mark.

Get tailwinds working for you – build a great product (with great support)

Pipedrive could have grown to 10,000 paying customers without any marketing: by describing it as “it’s a piece of sales software” on an uncrawlable site without any design, without onboarding emails, without press mentions, without a single ad and blog post.

The main thing that got Pipedrive to first 100, 1000 and 10000 customers was having a great product. Our “inventory” back in December 2010 was: founders having a very good understanding of the pain in sales software, an MVP-level product used by 20 or so companies, plenty of ambition and no marketing budget. This wasn’t a lot, but because this included the critical component of having a product that solved a problem, it was enough.

There were two additional things that I’m lumping together under “great product” here: design and support. Both have earned positive feedback and social media shout outs from customers over the years. And I know that support is a completely separate topic but hey, this is a post from a marketing guy.

All in all, I’m not a sailor but marketing a great product is a lot like sailing with good tailwinds. You pick the best course, trim and continue adding sails and keep on adding engines that increase the speed (Add engines to a sailboat? Told you I was not a sailor). Whereas a mediocre product gets you a  motor boat that requires constant fuelling.

Get your product in the hands of the right people

As Pipedrive CEO Timo Rein has explained, having a great product and happy customers in the Baltics & Nordics wasn’t enough to get the company growing. It was only after Pipedrive founders had networked and hustled in Bay Area for months, graduated from Angelpad and expanded their early adopter reach with an Appsumo promotion that customers started to show up in any meaningful numbers. Call it an influencer strategy, opinion leader marketing or something else, you need to find a way to reach the people who matter in your industry.  And more often than not, this means doing things that don’t scale.

Invest more time in copywriting and brand than seems reasonable

Back in the end of 2010 we had a product that people in our immediate network found increasingly useful. We didn’t have a budget and company founders were running out of friends, clients and acquaintances to pitch Pipedrive to. We needed to start “marketing” as we were getting ready for a public beta launch.

Not having a budget forced us to look for ways to get the word out for free. One of the few things we could definitely afford was … words. More specifically, words we were planning to put into various kinds of emails and in-app notifications.

As makers of sales software we didn’t have to look very far. I wrote all emails as if coming from a slightly over-eager sales manager with some sense of humour and a questionable amount of taste.

For example, when you receive and activity reminder from Piperive, here’s what it might say in the footer

or

“Whether you think that you can or you can’t, there’s usually some wiseass that makes a motivational quote out of it.”

These quotes get tweeted more often than most automated emails. We also invested more time than is ‘practical’ into onboarding emails which have earned us tweets, email replies, write-ups in blogs and paying customers. So although we’ve invested more time into writing and tweaking these emails than is rational, the ROI on them is enormous. (If you’d like more examples, sign up to a free Pipedrive trial.)

It’s worth pointing out that not everyone likes Pipedrive’s tone of voice. But at least people notice, which is a good sign in communication.

Pipedrive humor quote

Customer comment about Pipedrive in NPS study reply.

Find platforms (before others do)

During 2011 Pipedrive got roughly 1/3 of new signups from Google’s Chrome Webstore. Not bad for the little amount of work required for the marketplace listing back then. As most competitors were slower to appear there, we enjoyed a period of very low competition there and so Chrome Webstore made a huge difference to the growth of the company at that stage.

Today the importance of Chrome Webstore has significantly decreased both in absolute and relative terms, but almost always there are new emerging platforms you can use to boost growth. In 2012-2013 it was very valuable to be listed on GetApp. While the volume was low it drove highly relevant traffic at high-ROI rates. It’s worth keeping an eye on and testing emerging marketplaces and directories. Which neatly leads me to the next thing that helped Pipedrive grow to first 10,000 paying customers.

Treat your marketing budget as an investment portfolio

Pipedrive has been managing marketing resources the way investment portfolios are managed. When you’re managing an investment portfolio for the long term and when you want to higher than average returns you want to find good balance between safe bets and experimenting with high-leverage bets that may flop or return money 100x.

In startup terms this means directing most of your resources to scaling things that work and following best practices. And depending on the business and stage you are in, setting 20-50% of resources aside for to testing new channels and “throwing spaghetti on the wall”.

Here’s an example of one of Pipedrive’s failed experiments: Sales Calculators has gotten Pipedrive about 2 new paying customers in about 3 years.  Sales Pipeline Academy on the other hand has worked reasonably well. And we’re still working on finding that web tool or piece of content that returns money 1000x.

It’s worth pointing out that because time = money this principle works equally well for allocating your budget and the time of your marketers and developers. More here.

Invest in content and SEO (and email)

In the race boat metaphor content marketing and SEO has been one of the larger sails, contributing a double-digit percentage of Pipedrive’s speed. In large part this is because we’ve been doing inbound marketing longer than working with other channels. And this in turn is due to the fact that producing content was one of the few things we could afford when we started out.

SEO is a very broad topic and there are great resources out there for learning the strategies and tricks. So there’s just one thing I’d suggest to everyone  - investing in keyword research as early as possible, and re-visiting it regularly. This doesn’t need to be complex – all you need to know is what keywords are popular and/or relevant in your domain and how difficult it is to get on Google’s first page with these. There are some free or cheap keyword research tools and methodologies out there, I’ve found that a combination of Google’s own Keyword Planner and search “autosuggest”, Moz and SEMRush does the trick on startup scale.

The return on keyword research is massive. Not only you’ll learn about the language you need to be using to drive traffic to your target group, you’ll gain valuable insight into whether you have a well-defined target audience at all. You’ll also probably discover some low-hanging fruit for landing pages or blog posts that will get you your first relevant organic search traffic. Google “how to build a sales pipeline” for an example of a long tail phrase that was easy to start ranking for.

And of course, if you’re going the content route start building a mailing list as early as possible. Work acquaintances, paying customers, freeloaders, churned customers, blog visitors, expired trial users – each of them can help you amplify that killer post you will write 3 years down the line. Unless you have a product that is inherently social such as Buffer, email is the best channel to help great content spread.

Find out your Life-Time-Value (LTV) per channel to know what to scale

Pipedrive started experimenting with a 500€ per month Adwords budget as early as there was a spare 500€ available. Despite having to turn off all paid advertising during some turbulent patches, by the time we had secured funding we had enough data to conclude that some keywords groups returned money in 3-4 months. We also learned that others that seemed equally attractive on cost-per-signup basis performed 2-3 times worse due to lower conversion to paid and/or higher churn.

Knowing what the LTV is from different channels and different ad groups taught us to scale some keyword groups and look beyond English language. This encouraged us to first start testing and now scaling our PPC efforts in countries such as Mexico, Russia and Brazil. Going back to the sailing analogy, this has added the Pipedrive race boat an additional little sail to trim.

Decide what you’re NOT going to do 

There was a time when I was trying to get company founders more active on social media. And to my great surprise I discovered it’s absolutely fine to ignore channels and techniques that don’t have a good fit for your company or audience. PR is another example of a channel we tried to get working and while there were some wins, the role of PR and social in getting to first 10000 customers was tiny. Same goes for guest posting, integrations, AB testing, onboarding emails, viral videos, tell-a-friend program optimization and many other things.

So the good news is that there’s no need to work on lots and lots of things. In fact it’s much better to decide which marketing channels and tactics to go “all in” with, to borrow a poker term, and which ones to park until you have more team members and/or money.

Localize – and make sure to “light the fuse”

Pipedrive translated the app and website to Spanish, German, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, French and Estonian pretty early on. While this worked well, it’s worth pointing out that it worked significantly better in some countries. Localization without communicating it locally is like adding gunpowder without lighting the fuse. For example, a prominent Brazilian blog mentioned Pipedrive in a post early on, and this in combination with a localized app and website sparked growth. Where we failed to get local coverage, the impact of localization was more modest.

Also, talk to people smarter than yourself

I tend to read a lot of books and startup / marketing blogs. Reading is useful but over the years I’ve discovered I get more out of 1 hour of talking to a fellow startup marketer than 10 hours of reading (reasonably well filtered) marketing blogs.

On that, it’s worth pointing out that almost everything described here was a team effort, mostly involving people from other teams while yours truly was the only marketer. And that during some point from 0 to 10,000 customers it’s also a good idea to start assembling a proper marketing team. Pipedrive is currently looking for a Digital Marketing Manager and Web Analyst, by the way…

Teaser: How to get to 100,000 customers coming (relatively) soon

Next up: a post about getting to 100,000 paying customers. It is difficult to say what date exactly and what the content will be, but I’m sure that apart from having a great product, very few things described here will still be relevant at the next milestone. What got Pipedrive to 10,000 customers is very different than the things necessary in the next phase. It involves more user insights and data, more processes, different channels and a shit ton of other things (it may even mean making email notifications less funny…). I can’t wait to read it.

Everyday work humour

The thing with everyday work humour is that it doesn’t happen every day. Work mate James made me chuckle so hard recently I couldn’t help but share a recent exchange of emails.

Prologue

I’m a bit of a word geek so when you sign up to a trial of Pipedrive and don’t log in for a couple of days we send the following email:

Subject: Can we help?

Every time someone signs up to Pipedrive and doesn’t immediately fall in love with it, our support lead Martin gets a little anxious. He refreshes the dashboard of our analytics widget every fifteen minutes and wants to give this user a call to ask whether everything is ok.

It’s been 3 days since you signed up to try Pipedrive (thank you once again!) and Martin’s analytics widget tells him you haven’t used the software too much. Did we not live up to your expectations? Any technical issues? Would you like help with getting started? Please reply to this email with any questions, comments or concerns.

We recommend adding a couple of deals, or importing your own data to get a sense of how Pipedrive can help you get more clarity over your sales results.

PS. Martin says hi.

Not punchline-funny but does the trick. This email has gotten a good amount of tweets, positive responses and, most importantly, new customers.

But one day we received the following reply:

customer responseWhat do you do? Get offended? Explain to customer there might have been humour involved? Compliment customer on his (highly unlikely but possible) super dry taste of the funny? Here’s what James replied:

james replied

Beautiful.

Toidublogi

Andsin Ekspressile oma toitumissoovitused:

Taskuhääling

Naljakas sõna, kas pole. Alustasin nende kuulamist juba siis, kui iPodid olid alles võipaki suurused. Nüüd kuulan hommikuti, kui pea selge, audioraamatuid ja töölt koju sõites podcaste. Vahel annan ennast vabatahtlikult üles mõnda ebavajalikku asja poest tooma, sest tean, et saan põneva jupi raamatust või eriti heast saatest ära kuulata. Ükski auto- ega rongisõit ei ole liiga pikk. (Lennud vahel siiski on).

Nali

Teadlased vaidlevad selle üle, mis tähtsus on naermisel meie liigi jaoks. Juba enne, kui me rääkima õppisime, oskasid ürginimesed naerda, näiteks näitamaks, et pimedusest kostev hääl polnud ohtlik. Kant väitis sarnaselt, et huumor aitab tõsiseid olukordi helgemaks muuta. Veel arvatakse, et huumor on lihtsalt  paabulinnu sabasulgede verbaalne vorm. Igal juhul tundub huumoril olevat tumedam pool. Kui sulle väga meeldib stand-up, siis mida see sinu kohta ütleb?

Jalgratas

Olukorras, kus autoteedel on ummikud ja bussiga sõitmisest on tehtud poliitiline akt, on jalgratas raudselt kõige parem viis saada punktist A punkti B. Vahel läbimärjalt või -külmunult, aga alati õigeaegselt kohal.

Elusad elamused

Odd Hugo meeldib mulle ka oma diivanilt kuulduna, aga kui näen neid live’is, siis ainult rinnahoidja puudumine takistab mul oma rinnahoidjat neile lavale viskamast. Komöödiaõhtute fänni ja korraldajana õnnestub iga paari kuu tagant kogeda mõneda sellist hetke, mil peale isegi kõikenäinud helimees puldis ennastunustavalt naerma hakkab. Konservide rohke tarbimise kätte ära ei sure, aga ainult nende peal elatud elu ei ole mingi elu.

4 Things That Are Broken with Internet Marketing Today – A Classic Example [Updated 24/2]

Update 24/2 : I got fooled. This post is about a Facebook ad for a nightclub. I kept seeing the ads and I examined the link later – it doesn’t link to Club Hollywood as one would expect but to a shady dating site. I wouldn’t expect meeting the love of your life on that site..

Rest of the post makes sense even with this ad being an example of a scam, not of a social media campaign, so I’m leaving it up.

 

I came across the following Facebook ad some days ago. At first glance, why make a fuss? People come across 3000+ marketing messages every day, there are many worse than this.

Club Hollywood Ad

But at closer look this ad is symptomatic of internet marketing in general. There are four five things fundamentally broken with this ad:

 

1. Bad targeting

Facebook knows my age (mid-30′s), but I haven’t specified things like my hometown and  relationship status. I haven’t “liked” the club’s Page. Surely an ad for a mainstream meat market vaguely in my geographic area, in English, is not a good use of anyone’s ad budget and my Facebook feed.

2. Zero authenticity

You’d think a nightclub would use a photo of a “local beautiful woman” here, perhaps even shot on one of their advertised club nights.

Not quite. When you do an image search on Google with that image you learn it’s someone called Mechelle Montes, and you learn that from a forum where guys with an IQ of a toaster are discussing MILF photos anonymously.

Local Beautiful Woman?

[Addition 24/2: Given the scam context, the photo makes perfect sense]

3. Irrelevant landing pages

If you click through you end up on a generic homepage which is sub-optimal to say the least. A hopeful clicker will find no reference to local singles there.

[Addition 24/2: I am almost sure I clicked through to the landing page when I first noticed the ad but I guess I didn't. Lesson learned: will click on shady sites more often in the future]

4. Poor grammar

… is poor form, no matter what the language.

So this harmless nightclub ad is a caricature of internet marketing. We’re in a hurry and often spending money that’s not coming from our own pockets. So we cut corners on targeting, steal images or – on a good day – use tried and tested stock photos and treat copy as an afterthought. I, too have made these mistakes. (With the exception of featuring Ms Montes on my ads).

Decent targeting, some level of authenticity, reasonable landing pages and grammatically sound copy are not rocket science. They save marketing dollars and make internet a tiny bit better. How about let’s get them right more often?

Love letter to comedy

On Wednesday Komeediklubi, my little comedy club, will celebrate its 3rd birthday with a comedy show. 3 years is a long enough time to realize that I don’t just like stand-up comedy. Looking back at these 3 years I cannot help but admit that I love it, for better or worse.

Sometimes I forget that love is in play. When you have to carry chairs up and down the stairs after a comedy event, tired and sweaty, love is not the main thing on your mind. And there’s nothing romantic about having to juggle startup projects and worry about ticket sales for the next comedy event at the same time.

Comedy will save the world

But then there are the moments when you gain a new perspective on something during a comedy night or laugh so hard it hurts, or have a post-gig beer conversation with someone who is equally intelligent and funny. These are the moments you realise that laughter, if applied right, is a very powerful force.

Comedy has an important task of entertaining us on our brief stay in this world, it makes us laugh. But laughter is only the start of great comedy, because great comedy makes you think, too. It helps you see an event or belief in a different light. It can build a bridge between two worldviews separated by dogmas, prejudices, propaganda and such. I can’t quote a study that laughter causes lowering one’s guard and boosts empathy but I’m sure if you google it you’ll find I’m right.

Comedy’s other role in addition to entertaining us starts with political and socio-economic commentary at comedy nights and ends with the clear realisation that comedy will save the world. (Editor’s note: with the exception Russia. Putin may have screwed that country up so bad, it’s beyond repair).

In that sense comedy is a much better hobby to love than riding a jet ski, some multi-player game, kitesurfing (that I fondly practice) or darts. Fun things perhaps, but they bring about as much world peace and happiness as picking your nose or eating a yoghurt.

Full disclosure is on order here: it’s fun combined with the world-healing property that I love about comedy. If I wanted to save the world only, I would need to do something with a more quantifiable effect and in very different conditions. At this stage I tend to prefer a semi-lit room and laughter to war zones and people dying of disease. That’s about on the 20% mark on the scale of ‘armchair revolutionary to real doer’. At least I have managed to stand up!

From Lia Laats to John Gordillo – how I fell in love

I can’t say I have always loved stand-up comedy. Growing up in Soviet Estonia, there was no stand-up. Seeing our summerhouse-neighbour Lia Laats entertain guests at the village midsummer-night as a 5-year old was the closest thing there was to seeing live stand-up. I can’t pretend I was “instantly hooked” but I still remember the feeling around the fire. It was fucking great.

Fast forward about 20 years and I’m studying in Amsterdam. Most people don’t associate this city with comedy, but clubs like Boom Chicago and Toomler opened my eyes to stand-up. I was instantly hooked. In 2007 I moved to London which is a comedy heaven if you’re into British humour (not humor, mind you). Which I was. So I made it my habit to visit the various comedy clubs, always bugging friends to come along. I started to write the really good acts and the really bad acts down into my little black notebook (a .txt file, actually) to be able to see great ones again, and to avoid serial disappointment.

This black notebook came handy when I started toying with the idea of organising a comedy event in Estonia. In February 2010 I sent a rather unprofessional Facebook message to John Gordillo, the first name in my black book and one of my all-time favourites, and was ecstatic when he replied. After some swings and roundsabouts that year, John headlined the first ever Komeediklubi in November 2010 alongside Erich McElroy and Brett Goldstein. Which was fun.

Conditional love: club comedy comes first

It’s worth pointing out I don’t love all comedy. I prefer live comedy to Youtube and DVDs, and I prefer an intimate club comedy night to a big concert hall or stadium any day of the week. What draws me to the club comedy scene is that club sets are not perfect. Every line has not been rehearsed and finetuned to perfection and you’ll often see inspiration, the divine force, at work in front of your eyes. A Big Show is enjoyable but it doesn’t don’t move you, because it is usually a repetition of a previous stroke of genius, not stroke of genius in action.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve seen my fair share of uninspired and uninspiring comedy nights, and dragged friends along to see them (sorry if this was you!).

In the end there’s only love

Komeediklubi doesn’t operate in vacuum. Kinoteater and Monoteater are creating Estonian-language comedy from their different ends, and there are other enthusiasts around. Comedy Estonia has done the most to kickstart the Estonian stand-up scene, but I don’t fully appreciate their zero-sum-game worldview. And putting aside my personal preferences, having just one flavour of comedy events is not good, full stop.

So if nothing else, Komeediklubi has added some flavour to the Estonian comedy scene during the last 3 years. A flavour of dry British humour, unfancy atmosphere and comedy for the love of comedy.

When you love something you’re invincible. You may lose out on an opportunity, or lose a bit of money and brain cells with an event, or you may be outnumbered or outsmarted – but if you’re not outloved, you’re still winning. Because love for comedy, like any other kind of love, lives forever. And when you reach eternal life with your time-wasting hobby project, things are not as bad as they sound.

Happy 3rd birthday, Komeediklubi! May you live a 100 years old and remain laughable even fully grown up.

 

Last but not least – Komeediklubi would be nothing without the performers, the audience, the venue, the people that helped to spread the word, design the posters and put the chairs in place, without supporters and sponsors. You know who you are (and I know who you are). Thank you!

Referral marketing dilemma: you can influence so little, and yet do so much

With notable tech brands I’ve worked with a large chunk of new business has come from 2 channels. One is what analytics software refers to as Direct, or people typing your web address to the address bar of the browser. The other is brand search, or people searching for your company name. It’s natural for companies with a long history or a big advertising budget, but how do young tech companies gain the gravity to start attracting people in such a way?

With Skype this was partially attributed to the great work of our PR team but these two channels drive the majority of new business for companies like Pipedrive, too. I’m pretty sure the two posts Pipedrive has gotten on TechCrunch and a bit of Adwords haven’t generated any significant brand awareness to speak of.

What’s behind brand search and Direct is your users interrupting each others’ busy lives to tell about your product. A sacred moment for any entrepreneur or marketer for sure.

You get what you measure, plus a lot more

The challenge for marketers is that referrals is a large blind spot for marketing analytics. It’s difficult to tell what’s behind Direct visitors and signups exactly: a press article, a link shared via Skype or email or a monkey with an online typewriter and an infinite amount of time. There’s even a suitable term for it – dark social.

Web analytics shows just a tiny sliver of referral activity – usually referrals originating from social media and any built-in tell-a-friend programs, which may account for 5-30% of total referrals. (Even less if tracking has not been properly set up.) This means you know very little about the majority of referrals: who is behind them, what is their motivation and the golden question: how to get more referrals.

The bad news: you can’t do much to influence referrals

When you can’t see referrals in your web stats or backend data, there are other ways to start understanding referrals. The simplest way is to ask them.

In a recent referral study we asked users of a SaaS product what had prompted recommending this software. We found out people had good reasons for spreading the word. The bad news (and the good news) was that around 60% of customers made recommendations proactively, without the company or people around the customer having direct influence. 32% had been asked software recommendations in that specific niche and 22% had been asked good software tips in general. At the time the company wasn’t very active in asking for recommendations, but it was sobering to see influence over only around 3% of recommendations.

And when we asked about the main motivation to recommend the software then 60% or more people wanted to help someone or they just “really liked the software a lot”. Just 1% of people had made referrals to earn free months! (but again, this wasn’t communicated actively back in the day)

But there are still many things to do to get more referrals

The flip side of the fact you can’t influence the majority of referrals is that you CAN influence the minority. Every company can, for instance:

  • Add a straightforward way for people to recommend you. If you’re building a web tool, make sure you have a tell-a-friend functionality that’s easy to find and that functions well end to end. If you run a hair saloon, print referral flyers/invites. Referrals happen naturally anyway, you can improve end-to-end conversion and improve tracking by doing relatively little. For example having a pre-written referral email takes a lot of friction away for busy people or people who can’t express your value proposition in 2 sentences (that’s 99% of customers and 60% of your whole team) and can make a huge difference.
  • Ask for referrals. Everyone in sales knows this already, but surprisingly few tech companies ask for referrals. You don’t need to develop an elaborate referral program a la Airbnb or Transferwise immediately, asking nicely in an email is a good start.
  • Get the timing right. Referrals don’t happen evenly throughout the user life cycle. For gyms, the best time for referrals is around week 6 when you’ve seen some results but routine has not kicked in yet. For software this may be anywhere from day 2 (simple games) to months 2-4 (elaborate software that take time to learn and make an impact). Once you’ve found the sweet spot, set up a triggered notification or email for that time.
  • Similarly, you can optimize rewards. If just a few customers care about a monetary reward, try offering a charitable donation or recognition in exchange for recommendations instead.
  • Oh, and don’t forget to build a great product, so people want to spread the word about it (you heard it here first).

In conclusion, the fact that you can’t influence the majority referrals is good in several ways. If you’ve built something notable, you can count on Direct and brand search traffic to arrive on your doorstep without you doing anything. But perhaps more importantly, you can optimise end-to-end referral flow, timing of asking for referrals and rewards. Any time and money spent on this is guaranteed to be among your most profitable marketing activities.

Self-promotional blurb: I’ve started RecoWorks to help companies (and non-profits) build better referral programs. This is a small consulting shop initially, with a view to build a product or two soon. If you’d like more referrals or would like a second opinion on any referral marketing activities, give me a shout.

Photo credits: John P

How to do a successful Kickstarter campaign: 7 tips

Click & Grow recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for the Smart Herb Garden, raising $625,851 from 10,477 backers. I had the privilege to look after the marketing side of thing for this project and I really mean ‘privilege’. Running a Kickstarter campaign is a marketer’s dream job: it’s highly measurable, the duration is finite and the playing field is more level than is usual.

Although running Kickstarter campaigns has been written about extensively, quite a few people have inquired about the topic, so I typed up my observations. Here are 7 tips for running a successful Kickstarter campaign.

1. Have a good story. 

Having a good story is a good idea anyway but on Kickstarter it is crucial. A good Kickstarter story answers three questions:

- What is it and how does it make the world a better place? The first part is obvious, the second part isn’t: there aren’t very many Kickstarter success stories of things that promise more of the same or marginal improvements.

- Who are you to make this project happen? There are many examples of failed or severely delayed projects, so credibility matters. And because you don’t yet have a product, your own face is a big part of the story. Like marketing in the good old days!

- Why are you on Kickstarter? It helps to be clear how much do you need and how will you spend it.

2. Read articles and talk to people.

Many smart people have done it before, so it’d be a crime not to read up on Kickstarter’s own resources, blog posts of creators and Quora threads. Here are three posts ( 12 and 3) I found really useful, there are many more. And you’ll pick up even more if your get on the phone/Skype and chat to a couple of people that have ran a Kickstarter campaign.

3. Be part of the community.

This is kind of obvious but backing a couple of projects yourself and lurking in the comments section of projects is a great start.

4. Video and project page.

There are people more qualified to advise on video matters but I know this much: you need one part video shooting and editing skills and one part of aforementioned story to get a good result. If you hire external help for getting the video done, write a tight brief and take the time to thoroughly talk it through with the video maker before the work starts.

You also need to present your story well without the video. Good web copywriting principles apply – best pages are made easy to skim with sub-headers, illustrations and tables, as opposed to long paragraphs of text.

5. Make yourself visible on Kickstarter.com

Here’s where it gets a little less obvious. Most backers will likely discover your project on Kickstarter, not via your own mailing list or media. So you really want to be featured in places like “Popular”, “Staff picks” and the page that’s shown after you’ve backed a project. And the way to get there is earning your place by getting lots of people to back you in a relatively short amount of time. If you get listed well, you can expect every backer you convince yourself to drive 3,4 or more additional backers.

Our two main levers with the Smart Herb Garden were the existing Click & Grow community and PR. To engage the former, we had prepared three different mailing lists to go out the minute the project went live as well as personal email drafts to individual networks of team members. We also used paid promotion of our early Facebook announcements.

On the PR front we had identified a short list of six publications we really wanted to write about the project. We had pre-briefed them days before the project launch, in addition to a longer list of blogs and news sources that we contacted as the project went live. This secured coverage in Techcrunch, Gizmag, Mashable, CNET, etc which trickled down to other blogs in the following days.

Focusing the effort in the first 12 hours off the project got us our first backers, but perhaps even more importantly it got us listed throughout Kickstarter for the whole duration of the campaign. In the end more than 75% of pledges originated on Kickstarter.com.

6. When in Rome. 

… do as the Romans do. And I don’t mean frequent visits to public baths or lavish festivities, but following the best practices that work really well on Kickstarter. Early bird offers and limited pledge levels give a reason for your loyal community members to back your project early (and help get listed on Kickstarter). Kickstarter-special reward modifications make backing more interesting for your biggest fans.

Kickstarted famously is not a store so if you’re running a hardware project, there are also some restrictions compared to traditional pre-ordering. For example, you can’t offer multiple quantities of the same thing. What you can offer is “reasonable sets” of different products, for example two console remotes. We introduced a set of two herb gardens, one with a green lid and the other white all around, which was reasonable enough for Kickstarter.

7. Listen and adapt.

Last but not least, Kickstarter is a much more “live” campaign than most marketing I’ve done previously. You’ll get a ton of questions and feedback in comments and personal messages, and you’re expected to not just listen, but take action too. We changed quite a few things as a result of feedback and this seems to be the norm on Kickstarter. The good news is that this feedback is much easier to act upon compared to most situations, as you haven’t yet started the production process.

Reading feedback, replying and making the necessary adjustments to FAQ’s or project description takes at least a couple of hours every day, which is a good reason to make sure there’s a dedicated Kickstarter “project manager” in the team.

What I would do differently next time

Getting more than 10,000 people behind the Smart Herb Garden was definitely a good result, but the campaign was by no means perfect. Here’s what I’d do differently in the future:

- Show more face. There were no have native English speaks in the team, therefore we made a decision early on to minimise talk time on camera. A good substitution would have been showing US backers and potential backers instead, and there was even a great opportunity to record this, but timing was too tight to organise shooting. Also, in hindsight I would also have organised a couple of meet-ups with existing community and new backers.

- Don’t rush the video. We had hired external help for the video and had a very tight deadline. This meant that script writing started before we had throughly talked through the brief, and filming started before we had thoroughly talked through the script. In the end it all worked out fine, but we would have gotten the video done quicker and smoother by not rushing the very beginning.

- When you get into stretch goal territory, be more ambitious. The success of the project had us set stretch goals twice which kind of worked but in hindsight I’d set them once and for all.

It’s all about the team

While I had a say in marketing side of things the brains behind the project belonged to Mattias Lepp, founder of Click & Grow. (My tip #8 would be to borrow some of Mattias’s entrepreneurial energy for any Kickstarter endeavours.) Liis and Priit from the Click & Grow team, people at Velvet & London AD (spacial thanks to Mari-Liis and Oliver!) and Max Borges Agency all made huge contributions. A good reminder that it’s all about the team.

Finally I’d also like to thank Peedu Tuisk of OCDesk for sharing his experience with me early on, and giving feedback later. Hope this blog post has gone some way in paying it forward. And if you have any questions, please add a comment or get in touch.

Venezuela reisikiri: Chavezi “avastamata pärlit” avastamas


Tänapäeval on üks korralik reis selline, millel on mingi kiiks juures. Näiteks läbid kontinendi CO2 jalajälge jätmata või siis sooritad rännaku käigus ekstreemsusi nagu üle lõunapooluse suusatamine või kaks aastat järjest Tätte laulude kuulamine. Meie reis oli hoopis vähem ambitsioonikas, läksime lihtsalt Kaasaga kuskile soojemasse kohta talve selgroogu murdma.

Reisi peamiseks sihtkohaks oli Adicora, tuuline kaluriküla Venezuela rannikul, ja pigem avastamata pärli kui turismimeka. Kuna miski kirjeldustes ei lõhnanud liigsete mugavuste järele, otsustasime reisile natuke väikekodanlikkust juurde pookida nii, et peatusime teel sinna mõned ööd ka Miamis ja Arubal.

Aruba

Aruba on üks parajalt väike, turvaline, mugav, mõne jaoks võibolla ka igav saareke Kariibi mere lõunaosas. Saar on oma loosungiks võtnud “One happy island”, mis iseendast sobis sinna hästi, aga “happy” on selgelt rahulolu, mitte õnnelik olemise tähenduses. Rahul paistsid nii Ameerika turistid, kes ühes paljudest headest söögikohtadest ennast suuremaks sõid või hotelli päikesevarju all lebasid, kui kohalikud, kelle tasku turistide raha ühel või teisel moel sattus. Aga südamest õnnelikke inimesi me eriti ei kohanud, nii et Aruba võiks kaaluda ka loosungi vahetamist “One island that looks like it’s on Prozac” vastu.

Saare suurust iseloomustas hästi üks reisijuht: äraeksimiseks on vaja erilist annet. Kui sa ei tea, kas oled õigel teel, siis jätka samas suunas sõitmist ja statistiliselt on tõenäoline, et jõuad igal juhul õige pea sinna, kuhu vaja. Suurem arv suunanäitusid oleks sellegipoolest saarele ainult kasuks olnud. Ringisõitmiseks oli põnevam saare tuulepealne külg koos Arikoki rahvuspargiga, edelarannikult leiab ainult rohkem või vähem rahvarohkeid randasid.

Ööbisime rendikorteris Noordi piirkonnas, suurtest hotellimürakatest veidi eemal. Otsisime rahu ja vaikust, aga kohe esimesel ööl oli katuselt kosta müra, mis oli selgelt liiga vali ka priskemate kasside või lindude kohta. Hiljem saime korteriomanikult, et katusel elavad kuus iguaani, koertest ja muudest tüütustest ohutus kõrguses. Verandaservale ronides oli iguaane vahel ka päikese käes peesitamas näha. Mõttega harjusime varsti, aga kolinaga mitte, ja nii mõnigi kord ärkasin selle peale keset kõige mõnusamat und üles.

Minu kättemaks oli magus, sõna otseses mõttes. Ühest kohalike roogade restoranist leidsin iguaanisupi ja tellisin selle kõhklemata. Kuidas iguaan külale…

Nelja päevaga saime söödud, ringi sõidetud ning esimesed surfitriibud tehtud ja oli aeg edasi Venezuela poole asuda.

Venezuala: Adicora ja Coro

Kui mõni päev enne reisi Välisministeeriumi kodulehele sattusime, ei teinud rõõmu Venezuela kohta öeldud “vältige võimalusel riiki reisimist”. Sama soovitas ka Miamis kohatud sõbra sõber, kes oli Venezuelast pärit. Röövimised ja mõrvad olid tema andmetel viimastel aastatel enneolematult sagedaseks saanud, ja just sama päeva hommikul oli uudistes juttu olnud kellestki saksa turistist, kes oli röövimise käigus tapetud. Sellest hoolimata otsustasime saatusele püstipäi vastu astuda ning ikkagi Venezuelasse sõita .

Tiibadega trolli meenutav lennuk viis meid Arubalt Punto Fijo lennujaama, sealt edasi Adicorasse oli tunnise autosõidu tee. Esmamulje Adicorast tõi meelde hulgaliselt lapsepõlvemalestusi, aga mitte helged perega Kloogarannas veedetud päevad, vaid poistekambaga Mustamäe tee garaazhide taga tühermaal mängimise. Kuigi pilti olid lisandunud palmid ja meri, andsid dominantse tooni hoopis halvasti ehitatud majad ning veepiiri pitsina palistav prügiriba.

Ehk siis avastasime end “avastamata pärlist”, mis oli väidetavalt ohtlik, aga selle eest kole. Isegi see osa minust, mis on koduks seiklusejanulisele rändurile, laiutas osavõtmatult käsi ning ei teinud vähimatki katset lohutada seda teist osa, mis otsis mõnusat rannapuhkust Kaasaga. Nimetatud Kaasa tegi küll vaprat nägu, aga oli selgelt aru saada, et ta pidas sel hetkel Välisministeeriumi usaldusväärsemaks allikaks kui mind.

Juhuslikult olin samal päeval Daniel Kahnemani “Thinking, fast and slow” raamatuga jõudnud sellesse peatükki, mis kirjeldab läbi mitme psühholoogilise eksperimendi värvikalt, kuidas nii elulugude, valusate meditsiiniliste protseduuride kui puhkuste puhul loeb kõige rohkem lõpp, mitte kestus ega kogetud ebameeldivuse hulk. Meil oli veel 12 päeva puhkust ees, ja oli veel aega lõppu mõni puhtam ja sõbralikum sihtkoht sokutada. Mul oli veel lootust!

Praktilise poole pealt on Venezuelasse vaja kaasa pakkida kaks asja. Esiteks hispaania keele oskus, sest inglise keelt rääkisid seal üsna vähesed. Ja teiseks sularaha. Kuigi kaardiga sai siin-seal maksta, oleks see elu pea kolm korda kallimaks muutnud. Nii nagu soome markadega mehkeldamise ajastu alguses Eestis, kehtis seal paralleelselt kaks valuutakurssi. Lennujaamas oli küll olemas ametlik valuutavahetuspunkt, aga sinna polnud isegi vaevutud inimest tööle võtma. Raha sai vahetada teise korruse söögikohas, mida naljatamisi restoraniks kutsuti. Vastavalt sellele, kas su näoilme oli näljane või küsiv, tõi ettekandja lauda kas menüü või bolivaride paki. Ühte silma uksel hoides (ju siis oli lennujaamas ka paar “määrimata” politseinikku) korraldas ta tehingu kiiresti ära, väike närvikõdi oli klientidele kauba peale.

 

Jahedale esmamuljele Venezuelast ja Adicorast lisandus puhkuse jooksul ka positiivset. Rand oli küll kasimata, aga tehnilisest küljest üks parimaid lohesurfikohti, mida näinud olen. Lai, liivane, inimtühi, ja nii ühtlase tuulega, et vabalt oleks saanud üksi vastu tuult sulgpalli mängida.

Tahaksin siia juurde öelda ka “ning inimesed olid jutukad ja sõbralikud”, aga see ei oleks päris tõsi. Jah, kohtasime tõeliselt toredaid inimesi, ja pidasin oma vigases hispaania keeles maha nii mõnegi lõbusa vestluse. Aga leidus ka neid, kes meiesuguseid turiste vaid pika altkulmu pilguga kostitasid. Teistsuguse pilguga, kui seda mujal Ladina-Ameerikas kohanud olen. Ilma Venezuela ajalooga tutvumata oleks olnud raske mõista, millest tuleneb selline ebasõbralikkus ja miks kuritegevust on nii palju. Aga kui riiki ikka peaaegu kogu selle ajaloo vältel juhitud sama hoolsalt nagu põrkeautot lõbustuspargis, on igati loogiline, et muutuvad väärtushinnangud ja osa ühiskonnast läheb tsivilisatsiooni vääramatut teed mööda vales suunas.

Ka süüa sai hästi ja rohkem või vähem ametlikumaid söögikohti oli päris palju. Küla parima roa otsing viis meid kord ühte sellisesse, kus toit oli sööklatoidu väljanägemisega ning tugevalt üle soolatud. “Kokk on vist armunud”, arvas Kaasa lustakalt. Nõustusin, ja nentisin, et mulle on tööalaselt kõvasti liiga tehtud. Kui toit on soolane nagu jeekim, siis on põhjuseks koka hästisujuv armuelu. Kui aga mina mõne arusaamatu kampaania korraldaksin, ei ütleks keegi kelmikalt, et “näe, turundusinimene on vist armunud”. Kahtlustan, et samamoodi tehakse iga päev liiga ka poliitikutele, arstidele ja ilmselt ka sulle, hea lugeja.

Vahetasime oma põhjamaise dieedi vist liiga kiiresti ja täielikult mereandide vastu, ja reisi teisel poolel kimbutasid seetõttu kõhuhädad. Tundsin ennast nagu läbikukkunud luuraja – ei suutnud midagi enda sees hoida. Huvitav seik oli asja juures see, et meie posada-pidaja, kes meie vaevustest kuulis, soovitas leevenduseks pepsit sidruniga. Esimest korda kogesin kultuuri, mille rahvameditsiin ei soovita kanget alkoholi. Kuigi võib ka olla, et see oli lihtsalt Pepsi erakordselt efektiivse reklaamimise tulemus.

Meie puhkuserutiin oli umbes selline: ärkad, jalutad merre ujuma, ostad puuvilja-veoautost imemaitsvad banaanid ja ananassi, surfad natuke, kirud elektri- või veekatkestust, sööd, ruttad kohe peale sööki tualetti, loed võrkkiiges, vaatad tähti. Päevad olid nii sarnased, et isegi sääski teadsime reisi lõpuks nimepidi.

Sellisest tihedast graafikust hoolimata õnnestus veidi ka lähiümbruse vaatamisväärsustega tutvuda. Vähem kui tunnise autosõidu kaugusel asus Venezuela kunagine pealinn ning ühtlasi riigi vanim linn Santa Ana de Coro. Coro koloniaalarhitektuur oli ilus, suures osas korda tehtud ja vanalinna osas oli igati mõnus jalutada.

Meil oli plaanis reisi lõppuossa paar päeva midagi helesinist ja mugavat plaanida (mul olid veel värskelt meeles Kahnemani raamatust loetud tarkused), aga seoses läheneva karnevali-nädalavahetuse ning lennufirma Tiara graafikumuudatusega, mis jättis ära kõik lennud 3 päeva järjest, jäime Adicorasse sisuliselt puhkuse lõpuni.

Hüvastijätt Venezuelaga oli intensiivne ja emotsiooniküllane. Peale check-ini tegemist käsutati kõik reisijad väikeste gruppide kaupa ruumi, kus pidi pealt vaatama, kuidas pahurad mundrimehed kogu su korralikult kokkuvolditud pagasi pahupidi keeravad. Proovisin alguses sellise hooletu tegutsemise vastu protesteerida, aga siis peatus pilk pikemalt mundrimehe kummikinnastel. See siin võiks ka palju hullem olla, mõtlesin ja lasin kaosel sündida. Viis lendu hiljem olime tagasi kodus.

Epiloog. Maailma Majandusfoorum valis Venezuela äsja maailma kõige ebasõbralikumaks riigiks turistide jaoks. See tundub liialdusena, aga kui keegi reisisoovitust küsib, siis ma ootaks veidi Venezuelasse minekuga. Las see riik puhkab end Chavezist korralikult välja, enne kui sinna minna.

Ilmus ka Ekspressi Kohvris.

What you know, doesn’t matter

The Achoo autopsy post has gotten good feedback and resulted in many good conversations. It wasn’t always pleasant to talk about the failure, but it helped to cement the learnings and, in a way, “get over it” faster.

Among other chats I did a largish Q&A session at a co-working space where I could go into more detail about the different mistakes we had made. Another thing to point out is that most of the time, we were aware of the mistakes we were making. We knew that focus is key to startups and that any successful social products always grow out of a tight small groups. But we thought “our product is so great, this doesn’t necessarily apply to us” and went with several target groups anyway. Same with our other mistakes. Just like a smoker knows that smoking is bad for health, but lights the next one anyway.

What you know, doesn’t necessarily matter, for startups and for other walks of life.

Closing Achoo, or how I learned that it’s all about the team

After around 18 months of (non-full time) work we’re shutting down Achoo. 13542 unique visitors, 1000+ users and one pivot later it’s a good time to move on to other things. Achoo won’t become the professional social network that shows what one has accomplished, and with whom. Mark my words: someone will crack that nut soon, and probably a startup not LinkedIn.

We made many popular startup mistakes but if I had to pick one I’d say the main reason we failed was that our servers kept crashing under the load. I wish:) The real reason lies in the words non-full time. We, and I should really say I, failed to get to a setup where the team can focus and take lots of shots at the goal. We were 3 people: a designer, a coder and a marketer, all good at what we do. And though we put in lots of hours, too many of them were evening hours away from each other.

All team members had other commitments of various levels, and our thinking was to moonlight until first signs of traction, and then go full time. Sounded good on paper, but this setup slowed us down and mostly working in Skype chats and Google docs limited our creativity. On a different level co-founders are also co-believers and if the team is not there for each other emotionally, you won’t get the 101% output necessary to bring a world-changing idea to life.

At this stage it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a dramatic divorce. We have the same view on closing Achoo and we might work together again – just not on another 18-month moonlighting project.

If the resourcing wasn’t enough we also got the process wrong. I fell in love with the idea rather than followed the process of getting user feedback before starting to build. Our comprehensive piece of market research was a month after our public beta launch, not before. And while I talked to lots of people about Achoo, I didn’t do enough of talking to our target group. Which neatly leads to the next mistake.

We lacked focus. Our go-to-market plan didn’t focus on one particular group of people. We had freelancers in mind but we also wanted to target a couple of other types (“let’s throw some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks”), and so we never properly penetrated any one target group. Which is not how you grow a social product.

Despite all this there are several things to be proud of – the design of Achoo, our hackatlon-like periods before major releases with intense pace and high spirits, our PR results and a couple of smaller wins. It’s just that in this day and age you need to get more than a couple of things right. You need to get almost all things right, and you definitely need to get all hands on the deck for a good while.

Big thank you to my co-founders for the journey, for mentors at various stages and to Ajujaht (the prize money we won there greatly helped to cover our outsourced development, marketing and travel costs)! The outcome isn’t great and it wasn’t always pleasant, but all in all it was fun and I learned how not to build a startup.

What next?

Not 100% sure yet, but I know I won’t be hoping to be the exception whose idea doesn’t need validation before building and I’ll work in a motivated team. I’ve started customer development for a marketing tracking tool, but for a month or two I’ll be keeping my ears open (as well as take my first long holiday in 2 years). You’re welcome to share this post and/or get in touch.