10 highly practical startup marketing tips

10 traffic sign

Sounds like clickbait, right? A “listicle”, questionable facts loosely stitched together only to get you to visit. But what this really is is ten solid, if I say so myself, marketing tips based on almost a decade of technology marketing.

I wrote them down because each of them has proven valuable in conversations with people that are marketing startups in one way or another. Here they are, in no particular order.

#1. Talk to lots of customers in a short period of time.

Talk to customers” is the piece of advice that has probably the lowest ratio of awareness to real usage ie. everyone knows it and no-one seems to do enough of it. Let me one-up this: speak to a couple of dozen of customers in a short time at least once when you start working with a new company or customer group.

I spoke to nearly 40 customers in 3 weeks for an hour each about 1,5 years ago as part of a customer persona exercise and while the result was useful, the process of having gone through this was even more useful. This dramatically increased my ability to create connections between Pipedrive’s offering and our customers. I can now relate new features we announce to specific places in the day-to-day of customers. When I look at product usage stats or market research slides, particular pieces of these conversations spring to mind and help to bring data to life. (There was also the practical added benefit of finding three really insightful case studies for our blog.)

And here’s a practical tip. The answer to the question how many customers should I talk to is: keep talking to more customers until the stories you hear back start to resemble each other. If you have a homogenous user base the right number may be 10, but in most cases it’s safe to aim for 25 or so.

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From hand to hand combat to a Bond villain – how you evolve as a startup marketer

I’ve worn so many different marketing hats it’s surprising I have any hair left. But heading marketing of Pipedrive from zero to more than 30,000 paying customers, and from writing copy for the first marketing site to managing a team of 15 on two continents, gave me a front row seat on how your role as a marketer evolves as the company grows, and the opportunities you will miss if your behaviour doesn’t match the phase company is in.

I’m not a fan of military doings but weirdly there is no better analogy to the evolution of marketer’s role than war. I must stress that this does not mean I treat customers/users as enemies – in fact, I’d like to think the opposite is true.

how you evolve as a marketer
This image will make more sense when you reach the end of the post. Alas, it won’t become any prettier to look at.

Stage 1. Hand to hand combat

Back in 2010 Pipedrive had an idea, a multi-skilled group of founders, one hired engineer, a lot of enthusiasm and … not much else.

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The Two Hedgehog Model, perfect for marketing early stage startups

Before you begin, I’d like to mention that you’ll find an advanced version of the same model/concept in this post. (Mar 2020).

One thing that doesn’t hold you back in startup marketing is the lack of options for models, frameworks and opinions on what to spend one’s time on. There’s Dave McClure’s AARRR model. The Bullseye framework. The “Throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks” approach. The list goes on.

So why this post? If you have little data and time, as many early-stage startups do, these models don’t help you focus on the 1-2 things that can make a difference. And so many spread themselves too thin between too many channels.

I think there’s a simpler better model for early-stage startups. (It’s so simple in fact that you might already be using it and I was the last person on Earth to stumble upon in it.)

Two hedgehog marketing model
The Two Hedgehog marketing model, focusing on Recommendations and Findability

About a year ago I did a customer persona exercise for Pipedrive and spoke to about 35 customers for an hour during an intense two-week period. (Something I recommend any startup marketer to do). One of the slightly off-piste questions I asked was: how did you first hear about Pipedrive? Most people replied “from a friend or colleague” and others said they searched the hell out of the internets. I dutifully marked down the answers and continued my persona work.

Only some months later it hit me. What I had gotten from those good people was not just an idea of who Pipedrive’s customers were but a highly practical marketing model.

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Keyword Research for Startups [Free Template Included]

Post updated in July 2019.

Keyword research. These two words sound about as sexy as an empty milk carton in a windy car park. But, unlike said piece of packaging, keyword research is insanely useful. It helps to identify big content marketing wins without relying on trial and error only.

And the good news is that on early stage startup scale it relatively simple and quick to do.

Keyword research is based on 2nd-grade mathematics. The more monthly searches a keyword has, the better. The less competing blog posts and pages are about the same topic the better. And finally, the more relevant that keyword is to the service or product you want to promote, the better.

High number of monthly searches + low competition + high relevancy = content you should be creating.

Let me give you an example from the world of sales and CRMs. Which one of the following four keywords would you start producing content for?

Keyword volume

“customer relationship management” sounds like a huge opportunity, and “sales pipeline report” kind of pointless, but it might be a mistake to start by creating content for the former and dismissing the latter.

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What happens when a post hits #1 on Hacker News? Here are my stats

My latest post about the Pipedrive story to 10,000 customers reached the top spot on Hacker News for a couple of hours. Here’s what followed numbers-wise.

The Hacker News effect

The post has been seen by 20,038 unique visitors to date, and counting. Counting in the sense that for nearly 3 weeks now, blog traffic has been 5-10 times greater than before.

I’m pleasantly surprised Hacker News traffic didn’t immediately die down and the site has sent a couple of dozen visitors per day ever since the post got published. Direct source has held up even better – I guess the link is making second and third rounds in various IM apps and gets found many an over-flooded inboxes.

Long tail traffic sources

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

There’s a newer and updated post published 3 years later on a similar topic: How Pipedrive reached 50,000 paying customers

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 dashboard

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.

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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!