Onboarding and retaining customers never end. For startups, it is perhaps the biggest obstacle they face when they enter the market. The friction that exists between the value of the product they are delivering and the potential customers they are trying to reach, is inevitable.
To eliminate this friction and make onboarding a smooth process for both the startup and the customer, the first and foremost thing that is needed is to change the way you see it.
What does it mean?
It means, to start looking at this process as a life-long and ever-changing activity rather than an event that happens only in initial days.
The whole onboarding and retaining process is a tall order to fill, and there are many little pieces that make up the whole experience.
This article will share some tips on how you can successfully onboard and also retain your first hundred customers.
From a Dozen to a Hundred
- Building a personal connection: First dozen customers hold a key position in your startup journey. Unlike later users, these initial signups get to benefit from the degree of personal and hands-on attention from the team. As a startup, it is crucial that you build a reputation by personally handling each issue that a user might encounter, solve it step by step and making sure that it won’t occur again.
- Focus on the Tribe of people you already know: In initial days, focus more on networking to find out people who would benefit the most from your products. This should include past clients, former co-workers and people who showed an interest in your vision or idea. A demo call or free trial can help them understand how your product is a better or a new solution to their existing problem. You can also consult fellow-founders and join startup support communities to announce what you are building and attract potential customers.
- You may have to go manual: When you attract and onboard your first dozen customers, you will be required to do some non-scalable activities for them to score a position in their heart. This can include things like manually setting up login credentials, or to call them to provide customer support.
Daniel Long, Co-Founder of Clearabee also endorse the idea of providing personal and manual touch in initial days to scale better in the future. “There is no doubt that our first dozen customers received levels of intense personal handling that would never have been scalable. However intensive handling is vital to achieving those first parts of a track record after which it’s a snowball effect”, said Daniel.
Onboarding the next Hundred Users to build Success
The way you will approach and target the next hundred users will be radically different than the personalised attention given to the dozen users in the beginning. As the company’s user base expands, the scope of performing manual, non-scalable tasks decrease.
The following points aim to highlight how a startup should handle its next hundred users to build success.
- The first priority should be to incorporate the feedback received from the onboarding of the dozen users, to build a self-service system.
- Huge financial resources should not be invested in the development of the system past a minimum viable product. Following the lean methodology in processes is always a good idea.
- After identifying the unnecessary steps taken by a user in the whole onboarding process and taking their feedback about those, you can look at how other competitors are eliminating those steps which are not necessary.
- Tools such as tutorials, tooltips, etc, that are used to guide users during their onboarding process, should be kept at a bare minimum. This is because, without the data from actual users, entrepreneurs cannot guess what assistance new users require.
- Adding the above tools in the wrong place would result in the generation of increased friction. Instead, using information from previous user testing sessions would be of more help.
Retaining Your First Hundred Customers
After the onboarding process of the first hundred customers has been completed, focus on retaining them by building a relationship. For starters, stop looking at them as a number now. Referring to them as a Ticket #12345 isn’t going to retain them rather push them away. If you know they are your customer, talk to them by their names.
The following points are necessary for customer retention:
- Looking at Unhappy Customer feedback: The feedback can also be obtained from customers who are not willing to do business with your startup anymore. First of all, that’s okay. What you can learn from their exit is the feedback as to why they decided to quit. Learning if they are unhappy with the service or quality of the product received or they just don’t need the service anymore is very important for your future steps.
- Using Net Promoter Score: Net Promoter Score is a kind of survey that helps the company ascertain the status quo of the customers. Important information, such as the chances that the customers would recommend your product to friends or family can easily be found out.
- Sales Referrals from Loyal Customers: A startup can ask its loyal customers to produce some unbiased, positive referrals. Business referrals do wonders when re-engaging with “leaving” customers and compelling them to stay. It is also helpful in garnering more new leads.
- Fixing Up Customer Experiences: Poor customer experience is a direct threat to startup’s growth and brand awareness. Customer service is required to show customers that the company cares about their problems and is willing to listen. The best way to provide a stellar experience to customers is to introduce a chat solution.
- Offering Better Upgrades and Other Rewards: Surprising customers by offering them upgrades, discounts and other small rewards, such as discount coupons, extra free features, extra subscriptions, etc. can help you retain your most early and loved customers. Investing in programs such as a customer loyalty program may seem expensive at first, but the return on investment far surpasses the spending.
Your customers need a reason to keep choosing you as their service provider. A good product offering, combined with a satisfying onboarding process, is a good start, but an authentic relationship and learning from their feedback is the ultimate key to retain them.
CB Insights reports that 42% of startups fail because there was no market need.
This statistic explains the assumptions founders make about their idea, market need and product/market fit.
As Laura Klein mentions in her book UX for Lean Startups:
Now that you’ve picked your specific market, find five people who are in it. If you can’t do this fairly easily, either you’ve picked too small a market, your market is too hard to reach, or you’re just not trying hard enough.
When you are building something new passionately, you make assumptions. A lot of them. Sometimes, these assumptions are about the need for your product in the market, or about the purchasing power of your customer and sometimes even about the production and vendors as well. These assumptions can go wrong when you get your hands dirty and that’s when you realize that you are not going to be in the business very long.
That’s not uncommon.
Entrepreneurs all over the world build amazing products that work flawlessly but still, nobody buys it. If you ask entrepreneurs who have been through a journey of a failed startup, they will tell you how they miscalculated a lot of things.
What you can learn from it is to know those expected miscalculations at the right time and validate it. So, if you are headed down the wrong path, you know if you have to take a u-turn and pivot.
Let’s learn the core philosophy of idea validation and the ways you can validate it.
What are you validating?
Mainly, the overall idea. But, you validate multiple things throughout. Such as:
- Customer Need Validation
- Market Demand and Size Validation
- Product Validation or Product/Market fit
1. Validating Customer Need or Pain Point
Does the need exist?
Are my customers ready to pay to solve it?
Customer need can only be validated by talking to customers. At this step, you will find out if your idea is solving a ‘real problem’ and if your customers face it just at the intensity of what you assumed.
Many times, the need exists but when you ask someone if they are ready to pay for it, they say No. Why? Because it may not be a really big problem for them.
Customer need validation will also help you find out if your customer is ready to pay extra for convenience and comfort.
Do customers like the idea of calling a cab at the convenience of their smartphones right at their doorstep? Yes.
Do they prefer to pay extra for it? No.
Do they prefer to pay extra when they get cashback on it? Yes.
This will help you revisit your business model in ways you may not have imagined before.
How do you do it?
Go where your target customers exist, observe their behavior, purchase patterns and talk to them. In the digital world, you can start a discussion on forums, communities and social media to collect their opinions.
Another way to do it is to do paid research, incentive-based surveys or focus groups to collect opinions and feedback. Ask them open-ended questions about the problem they are facing. Give them a chance to explain the pain point first-hand and how desperately they want it to be fixed.
2. Validating Market Demand and Size
Does the demand exist?
Is this market profitable enough?
Validating market demand is the first step to know if you are being realistic with the demand projections. If you are building a product for a very small market with very less demand, you may be in trouble.
At this step, you have to collect evidence that assures you that market is big enough with your target customers are ready to pay for your product. During this process, you will have a clear picture of the industry size, your projected profits and as well as areas where you can expand in the future.
Some times, a small market doesn’t mean fewer profits. Your market size may be small but the problem you are solving matters a lot to them.
In contrast, saturated markets with no specific focus should also be tested. If you are doing what everyone is doing, it’s tough to take the market share.
For example, ‘movie lovers’ is too broad; ‘senior citizens who love classical movies’ is better.
How do you do it?
Market demand can be validated by being out there in the market and gathering relevant data about the industry.
Here are two interesting ways to do it in the digital world:
- Is there any competitor? If yes, go and check their site traffic. For example, if your competitor’s site has more than 1 million visitors, it means the market is big enough for you to attract and the demand is high.
- Are people searching for it? Check Google’s searches about the relevant keywords and you will get the estimated number of people worldwide interested in your offering. If the number is big enough, the demand exists.
3. Validating and Iterating the Product
In some cases, the problem exists, customers want to solve it and the market is profitable as well. But, the way you are solving the problem is wrong or difficult to use.
During this process, you continuously ask yourself this question: Does the product I am building solve the problem? If it does, am I doing it the right way?
According to David Britton, CEO of Prodrocket,
“There are two degrees stress-testing your product: the first is offer validation (the ‘what’); the second, prototype validation (the ‘how’ or product UI/UX).
The offer should test whether your value proposition and key delighters resonate with your target audience. You can do this by pre-selling your product (e.g. B2B pitch deck, a B2C landing page) or pitching a Beta test.
Once your offer is proven, build and validate a codeless prototype. Is the actual product delivering on the value proposition (time-saving, efficiency, joy, etc.)? Is there too much UX friction that is negating the product’s value? This comes down to raw design execution, which requires deep empathy for user needs and existing alternatives.”
How do you do it?
Create prototypes and show it to your customers. Prototypes are not an actual product but they give a teaser of how your final product is going to be. You can show prototypes to your actual customers and ask them what they think.
Another way to validate your idea through A/B testing digitally. Design two ways your product can work and A/B test to know which one works better is easy to use and has the potential to scale faster.
Another smart way to do is to find out the loopholes in your competitors’ product and evidently yet smartly fill those loopholes in your initial product.
Product validation is a process. You release, learn, change and release again. This iteration cycle continues until you end up with a validated prototype. The same cycle would then have to be done for the end product you are building as well.
Validating your idea is a continual phase. It helps you learn from your industry and customers and allows you to adapt until you find a way to your product/market fit. At every step of your startup journey, you will learn from your customers, from the industry trends and most importantly from your past mistakes. It doesn’t end.What’s important is to make learning a habit so you take a calculated risk and do not dive all head in. After all, as Eric Ries said, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”
According to Statista, the total installed base of the number of IoT devices connected to the internet is projected to amount to 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025, a fivefold increase in ten years.
Since the inception of smartphones, millions of devices have been connected to the internet performing numerous tasks for people. These days, it’s no more about people to device communication. Internet of Things (IoT) has changed the game to bridge the communication between the device to device, device to people and people to the device. The concept of IoT-based devices like a robotic vacuum and smart kitchen appliances, which was shown as a sci-fi fantasy in the movies has now come to life.
Bonus tip: Based on IOT’s future, IKEA released a catalog in 2015 to sketch the future of IoT and what role IKEA might play in it. Today, in the year 2019, smart homes are a reality.
In this blog, I am discussing some smart home improvements, advancements and its application in our future homes.
The Surge of Voice-enabled Digital Assistants
Hey Siri, what’s the weather?
Hey Alexa, switch on the main light.
Hey Google, tell me the recipe of Baked Salmon.
These voice commands are common in every home these days. What appeared as a science fiction a few years ago, is now a living reality. According to a study, by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. This means more and more customers will be using voice control to access the most basic information on the internet.
In the future, with the help of these voice-based searches and data points, the digital assistants will start talking with more emotions. It’s not wishful thinking if you imagine Siri to ‘react’ on your query based on the tone of your voice. If you sound terrified, the matter will be dealt with more urgency.
Robots to Robots Ecosystem
Floor washing, carpet cleaning or garden mowing ––There’s a robot for that!
The International Federation of Robots says that there will be 3 million industrial robots in use in factories around the world by 2020. While robots are always in controversy to create or eat jobs at work, they still have made a place in our homes.
In the near future, the race of having a robot for all your tedious tasks at home will be faster than ever. There may be a robot to wash those dishes, to help you fold your laundry or maybe to just give you a company? While we discussed the language of emotions for digital assistants, there is a bright chance that your robots will be able to detect your mental or physical well-being.
Another really good use of robots at home is for security purposes. In the future, you will most likely find a robot guarding your home and reporting any suspicious activity to cops directly.
Smart Refrigerators and Smart Kitchens
Hundreds of dollars spent on grocery items every month and not enough time to use all of them –– We all have been there.
Smart refrigerators connected to cloud are already a talk of the town with their offered conveniences such as: use your smartphone to see what items you have inside, use your refrigerator screen to read recipe or watch it on youtube while you cook, send and receive notes and calendar entries that will appear on the fridge’s screen; send you a reminder if the grocery items are near to expire, and even send alerts if the refrigerator’s door is left open.
In the near future, smart refrigerators will have more in-depth integration of voice digital assistants and inside cameras, so you can look for the items inside and also control the temperature with voice controls.
It’s not just refrigerators, the future of all your kitchen appliances is automation and robots. We have already seen a glimpse of smart ovens and smart grills and it will get more intelligent in the near future.
Also, how about ditching food delivery? You will have a personal robot chef in the future programmed to cook a variety of dishes for you every day.
In your bedroom?
While none of us want to have a couple of robots in our bedroom, it’s completely fine to use a smart mirror every morning while you get ready for work. Also, Mood sweater to a new addition to your bedroom closet as an emotive technology.
In the future, Smart beds will go mainstream to help people get the sleep they need. Smart beds will provide conveniences like controlling the mattress comfort from a smartphone and ways to change your daily sleep routines in the best interest of their health. They can also provide reports about your sleep performance and give you control to monitor your sleep patterns so that you can improve upon them.
Another interesting addition to future smart bedrooms is the devices to prevent nightmares. Lully sleep is already releasing a device that uses only vibrations to reduce night terrors drastically, and eventually stop them from occurring altogether.
Did you like the ride to the smart future with these smart home future view? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are working on any other idea about the connected home.
It all started as a side project in order to win a free t-shirt. Seriously.
In 2009, Google was celebrating the release of their Analytics API, and they held a contest looking for use cases in the Google Developer Forum. At the time, Mikael Thuneberg was a web analyst at Finnish social network Habbo Hotel looking for a way to make his own work less redundant.
He wasn’t even a coder – just a Google Sheets user with a problem to solve.
But shortly after his submission, Thuneberg logged into work from a vacation to see that Google had featured his solution on their blog, calling it the simplest one of them all. A flattering mention in Social Media Metrics for Dummies didn’t hurt, either.
Since then, Supermetrics has evolved from a simple solution, to a sustainable side hustle called Google Analytics Data Grabber, to what is now a thriving Google partner and one of Europe’s fastest-growing software companies.
It’s about so much more than the t-shirt.
Starting With a Problem to Solve
When you study the most successful startups, most of them have one thing in common: the products exist because the founder was fed up. They were customer zero, simply aiming to solve a problem in their own life, not setting out to start a world-changing business from the beginning. The bigger thinking comes later.
That’s certainly true in this case.
“I didn’t even think about becoming an entrepreneur or setting up a business at this point. I had built the solution mainly for myself,” Thuneberg remembers. “I thought it was just cool that I was contacted by Google and that I got to work with them. I thought that this could lead to a job opportunity at most, certainly not a business opportunity.”
For that first iteration of what would become Supermetrics, product development had nothing to do with market trends or revenue projections. It was focused on solving a problem in his own life.
Thuneberg’s job as a web analyst included a lot of exporting, importing, and copy-pasting data from Google Analytics to Excel. He imagined there had to be an easier way to move this data, but couldn’t find any ready-made solutions available. So despite being a novice coder, he decided taking on the challenge would be worth it.
“I am not a fan of manual repetitive work,” Mikael explained. “I rather take a bit more time to figure out how to automate something, than keep doing the work manually. I had been writing scripts previously here and there in order to automate processes in my work. And that is how I learned to code, solving one problem at a time, script by script.”
Experimenting to Find the Right Business Model
Successful businesses also are willing to experiment with different business and pricing models. The right one needs to equally serve the company and its customers.
The early days of Supermetrics were focused more on helping people than running a profitable business. Thuneberg provided advice and implementation help for free, offered worksheets for using his Excel solution, and sold access to his script as a one-time license for $49. But as he focused on building it into a scalable, SaaS-based product, he knew things needed to be simplified and refined.
For example, he let go of the one-time purchase model for his Excel solution early on. “It didn’t take long for me to realize [that] was not going to work. Customers needed support after purchase as well, and I pretty quickly switched to a SaaS pricing model,” he recalls.
Similarly, when Supermetrics became part of the Google Sheets add-on gallery in 2014, it was initially free to use.
This time, it was part of a longer-term marketing and product strategy. “I wanted to get a good user base for the connector from the get-go in order to take over the market, and to get as much user feedback I could right from the start,” explains Thuneberg. That initial traction has continued to benefit the company through rankings and discovery in the add-on gallery.
Even within the different business models Supermetrics has operated with, Thuneberg has run smaller pricing experiments to find the most sustainable and scalable model. His willingness to experiment and embrace change is one that every entrepreneur needs, along with resilience for when the early experiments fail.
Know When to Get Help
Finally, the last key to Supermetrics’s early growth is Thuneberg’s willingness to look outside himself for help. Perhaps because he was just learning to code as he built the first product, he’s always embraced a learner’s mindset in growing the company and has looked to other people for that when necessary.
The form that help has taken has varied over the years, from development help to growth hackers to investors. The first person he hired in 2015, for example, was another developer.
“It was very stressful being the only person constantly on standby in case any technical issues emerge,” recalls Thuneberg. “Also not being a professional developer, there were lots of areas where my skills were very limited.”
His next few hires were development help as well, before bringing on a growth hacker who would go on to lead the company’s marketing, and a customer success specialist to support the company’s growing audience for its products, which now allow users to connect data between additional platforms like BigQuery, Facebook Ads, Bing Ads and Data Studio.
But Thuneberg hasn’t just hired the right people below him, he’s also brought in a group of investors to support and advise the company as well. Supermetrics announced closing its Series A financing round in November 2017, and more recently, has brought on private investors from relevant industries to serve as advisors.
The smartest part? The company was growing quickly, and with a healthy profit margin, so it didn’t need funding to survive. It was simply a strategic move to bring advisors and resources into Thuneberg’s network. The results have been significant, with Supermetrics having grown from 3.3 million euro ARR in 2017 to 8.8 million euro ARR in 2018, with an impressive profit margin of 35%. Thuneberg believes that the firm is on pace to hit 20 million euro ARR by the end of 2019.
“The funding gave us additional resources to accelerate technology and product innovation and to expand quickly into new markets,” he said. “But the main reason for this funding round was to get onboard experienced and skilled people to guide us at a strategic level, help us expand to new markets, open doors and help in hiring.”
Indeed, the headcount at Supermetrics continues to boom. Supermetrics headquarters recently moved to a new high-concept office in Helsinki’s city centre, while expansion into Lithuania and New York is already underway. Nearly half of the company’s 50 team members have been hired in the past six months, and Thuneberg is aiming to double the staff again by the end of December.
Learn From Supermetrics’s Path
Because of Supermetrics’s accidental beginnings, Mikael has truly been focused on problem solving before revenue since day one. This prioritization can be hard for a founder to embody, especially when the startup is struggling.
But continuing to think and focus long-term instead of chasing revenue can ultimately lead to bigger growth.
There is one huge problem with the internet: it’s not secure and probably will never be.
Since the beginning, the world wide web is prone to issues related to cybersecurity, privacy and data breaching. When the internet was first designed, the major focus was to create, transmit and share information easily. There were lesser viruses and fewer data breaches, but, as I am writing this in 2019, my identity theft over the internet is easier than ever. From login spoofing to ransomware to data leaks (and everything in between), we are living in an era where every user on the internet is unsecure and vulnerable to attacks. Hackers are stealing financial records and credit card information even from the major websites that spend millions on cybersecurity. A week ago, British Airways faced a penalty of £183m for a data breach in which customers’ credit card data was stolen. Just not at this level, Governments are also accused of eavesdropping on their citizens and other criminal minds are just spying over and waiting for you to make a mistake.
How do you keep yourself secure?
You must have heard this advice before: Use a VPN.
Is VPN an answer to all your privacy-related concerns? Is it a one-stop solution that fixes everything? In this article, I am digging deep on this question.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network which provides a layer of security and privacy by masking your identity as you communicate over the internet. It encrypts and obscures your personal information as we browse or connect any smart technology that uses the internet. The use of VPNs at the organizational level has existed since long but due to recent data breaches and discussions around net neutrality, individuals have also put forward their trust on VPNs as a measure to protect their data and personal information.
Why VPNs for Personal use?
Whether you are sitting in a cafe or waiting at an airport, unsecured Wi-Fi networks are everywhere. In many situations, it’s the only way to get connected to the internet. All these public Wi-fi networks, whether open or password protected, are red flags. One really common threat on these public wifi networks is called Man-in-the-Middle attack (MitM attack). MitM attack is another form of eavesdropping where the attacker gets between the data you are transmitting to the internet. The attacker, then, can read it and misuse it in a hundred other ways.
Even when you are connected to a network which is secured or in a household, the internet service providers (ISPs) can see the traffic.
VPN works like a security layer that provides privacy and security by disguising your IP address and geolocation and protect your identity from all sorts of prying eyes. By using VPN, you are in a secret tunnel where no one can see you, so you can access sites which are blocked in your region, check your bank account and no third party can see your activities. Everything you do is encrypted.
But, should you trust VPN itself?
So, the internet is unsecure and VPNs protect you from it. This sounds great so far, right? But, even if VPNs are protecting you from all the attackers, there is one company that can still access what you are doing on the internet — The VPN company itself.
Does that mean that all individuals are swapping their data instead of protecting it? Maybe, yes or no! But, the good VPN companies that are doing the business to protect you won’t sabotage their business by selling your data or making your internet activity unsecure.
For example, a good VPN service can help to make sure that you are not being eavesdropped on when you are using the internet. But, no VPN can protect you from a website that tracks your cookies and tell other websites about you. All those websites that record your activities for retargeting and then sell your email addresses to advertising companies, cannot be stopped through a VPN service
In any case, don’t expect a VPN to work like a magic wand and remove your every footprint off the internet. There are many, many ways your security can be compromised and data can be leaked, and a VPN will be of only partial help.
Finding a good VPN that you can ‘Trust’
It is easier said than done. Just do a quick search on Google or App store with the word “VPN service” and you will be bombarded with the choices. Although there are a lot of review sites that provide one-to-one comparisons a better choice is to look for detailed reviews that explain what does the VPN offer, platforms it is compatible with, logging policy and tariff, etc. This detailed review of Private Internet Access is a really good example, to begin with.
For a non-technical person, it can be really confusing to sort through names when every company is promising the same. Every VPN service promises security and privacy better than others but as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has warned, promises do not mean that the VPN is trustworthy. So, what does?
Instead of typing ‘Best VPN service’, here are a few questions that you should keep at the top of your mind while doing your search:
- Who owns the VPN service and its credibility?
- What is their business model and how do they earn money?
- What does the VPN service claim about its ‘logging practice’?
- What do their existing customers think?
- Has there been any legal case against the company in the past?
These questions will help you do your initial credibility search and then reading more about their logging policy will help you make your final decision. For example, a good VPN company will always be very upfront about its logging policy and what data it keeps over time, even if it is aggregated or anonymous.
The bottom line is, using a VPN to protect yourself on the internet is definitely a really wise step but it is not an answer to all your privacy concerns. Despite their claims to be a one-stop solution for your online safety, they do not make a person absolutely anonymous online. They only disguise your traffic for some third parties. As I mentioned above, it’s not a magic wand but just one tool among many to protect your online privacy.
Since the inception of this business world, there is one document that all business founders use as a tool to explain their business model, set the direction for the business and also to craft their brand messaging. That document is called a business plan. There are some business experts who argue that business plans are dead. Are they? A business plan is the first document you create after you lay down the basics of your company. It serves as your mean to explain where you are right now, where you are headed and where you want to be.
Creating a solid business plan is the need of every business and it takes time and energy to make it exactly the way you want to. The language and format can become a tedious process if you lack resources and expertise.
I had a chance to sit with Alex Silensky, CEO, and Co-founder of OGS Capital who understands this gap. His company has assisted thousands of entrepreneurs with business plan development, consultancy, and analysis. According to him, he has helped his clients secure more than $1.5 billion in funding so far. How Alex come this far, let’s read
How did the idea of OGS Capital come to your mind?
Alex: We started off by creating business plans and providing business consulting services to companies from TOP1000 Fortune list during our careers in the world-known consulting companies like Deloitte, PWC, Bain, etc. At some point, my partners and I decided to start our own consulting company focusing on startups and small and medium businesses to implement the best practices we learned throughout our careers. OGScapital was then established in 2006 to serve this purpose.
Why do you think business plans are necessary for businesses in this age?
Alex: The business plan helps build a roadmap of your business development efforts and also helps to structure your business model. In addition, it also helps to access the market and forecast the financial results and returns of your organization. At this age, with the dramatical development of modern technologies and new types of businesses, it is very risky to start a new business without preliminary assessment of the market potential and developing an approach for running the business. This is where our services can help. Our clients are also using our business plans for fundraising purposes. It is a common practice to show it to investors nowadays.
Keeping in mind all the hats that entrepreneurs wear, when do you think is the right time to finalize the business plan?
Alex: The outlining of a business plan should be initiated when the business idea is formulated so it can help to check its viability and attract the funding. The business plan is a live document and it should be updated/revised in the due course.
Do you think business plans play a vital role in raising investment for a startup? If yes, how?
Alex: Yes, it is critical for fundraising. All investors/lenders require the business plan before taking any investment decision. As per OGScapital experience, different investors have different specific requirements about a business plan and it’s our job to meet their expectations.
Do you also consult startups with their existing business plans?
Alex: Absolutely, we provide full-scale support to startups, not only for creating the business plans but also reviewing the existing document, developing the business strategies, marketing plans, conducting due diligence, mentoring and as well.
The business plans are template based or you customize it as per the needs of your clients?
Alex: Our philosophy is not to use any templates and software. We create all documents from scratch as the quality of the tailored business plan is much better as compared to templates and it will increase success in fundraising. Our project team consists of a project lead and three MBA consultants: one is responsible for financial modeling, another one – market research and the third one takes care of business strategies and marketing.
Tell me about your secret sauce? What are the main components you always prefer to include in any business plan?
Alex: The structure of the content is decided case to case, but it should include at least the market research, description of the business model, goals, mission/objectives, marketing plan/mix, management team, use of proceeds. In my opinion, the secret sauce is the content and style of presentation 🙂
What more services are you planning to offer through OGS Capital?
Alex: We are planning to expand our services to help the startups from initial fundraising to future exit of their businesses. Our service offering will cover all business support services to businesses for achieving their goals and become successful.
Where do you see OGSCapital in the future? Any expansion plans?
Alex: Our short-term plan is to create a platform where different service providers can offer their services to small and medium businesses. We want to help the businesses become more successful with the support of those who have the expertise. We see a lot of cases where people want to start their business but they do not have enough experience in setting the building blocks. So our vision is to support them by sharing our expertise and wide experience in various business aspects. Together we will make our world better.
The global economy has been in a record shape for the last decade, with technology and digitization fueling growth in business markets globally. What has resulted, is an environment where the average person can casually accrue a huge variety of services, products, and devices that they want but do not need.
A superfluous selection of products mirrors the content on these devices as well, which are overflowing with applications that were once trending or downloaded on a whim—but now waste memory and screen real estate as they clutter up our attention.
Businesses often suffer a similar fate. These days it’s easy for a startup to build its foundational workflows on a series of apps and software products, using licensed enterprise software, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), open source, and frequently all the above in tandem.
Together, this precarious collection of software may contain the functionality required for a business to operate, but a startup’s tech stack is often haphazardly managed without much consideration that its complexity may undermine output.
With today’s startups often using dozens if not hundreds of apps and tech systems, it’s no wonder that minimalism has taken off in recent years.
Get a Visual on Your Stack
An obvious consequence of too many applications in your software stack is “context switching,” which is a type of productivity fatigue that comes from a lack of interface continuity. To be continually switching between tasks and environment means that employees work harder for a lower quality of work, and might lose up to 40% of their productivity as they hop between platforms.
These days that’s the status quo, with people bombarded by notifications from Slack, text, email, Asana, Trello, social media platforms and more. Though it’s true that modern workers are bred multi-taskers and seem to thrive on it, confining the tech stack to a certain size is vital.
To appropriate minimalist theories and apply them to the workplace is easy because less clutter promotes thought and creativity, whether we’re reducing the physical objects surrounding us or the many digital environments we jump between. It’s an ROI-positive endeavor.
To start, it’s crucial to “zoom out” and gain a broad perspective on all the applications your employees use every day, just as you would organize the items in your home before determining which ones aren’t necessary. Organizational tools like Torii help in this regard by enabling your IT administrators to audit, connect, observe, and manage all your SaaS products from one dashboard.
IT professionals are some of the most qualified in any organization to identify which apps are “one trick ponies,” and this is simple with full visibility of the software stack thanks to SaaS management solutions. It could be that you have six different apps that do six different things. Each might add value in some way, but context switching, elements of redundancy, and integration obstacles make for a bumpy workflow.
Employees are able to do the same amount of work and at a higher quality when this multi-system chaos is quieted.
Mixing Minimalism and IT
Translating minimalist theories to a startup’s technology stack is difficult, but the opportunity cost of not doing so is great. A global study found that workers at firms which are “tech laggards” are five times more likely to experience frustration on the job, and if the technology is clunky, outdated, or haphazardly deployed, they are six times more likely to want to quit. At organizations which are proven to be agile and lean in their deployment of tech, only 7% of workers feel this way.
Accordingly, any workplace that wants to boost job satisfaction, keep employees more focused, and control the inevitable complexity of growth should take a page from Marie Kondo’s book—metaphorically of course. The KonMaridecluttering method can be interpreted for apps just as it can article of clothing or old toys.
After you’ve established which apps are part of your stack, you should observe employees using these tools, and make them a part of the conversation to determine which are “sparking joy” and which take their head out of the game.
It could be something as small as an app that doesn’t export into a format recognizable by the next, requiring manual work that represents a bottleneck and detracts from the context surrounding the task. You might discover that some utilities are missing, that apps are outdated, or most commonly, able to be folded into fewer interfaces without sacrificing functionality.
The goal of any decluttering endeavor is to establish highly integrated systems that feel as though they’re one.
This sometimes means adding, removing, or rearranging layers of the stack with the goal of taking the fewest steps from point A to B, regardless of the business flow. It’s usually the “biggest” solutions that are most highly integrated, such as Google’s G-Suite, Salesforce, and HubSpot, so migrating business flows to these platforms from others may benefit scalability over the long-term and reduce worker stress levels medium-term. (Because short-term, switching tools prompt an accompanying learning curve).
Purge Your Apps, Gain Peace of Mind
To reduce app clutter in the workplace is to empower your employees by listening to them, getting down to their level and understanding the pros and cons of each application they deal with every day.
The lesson learned for most companies, often too late, is that adding a new application to your tech stack should be considered more carefully. Will it fuel context switching and distraction, or seamlessly integrate with the tools employees are already using every day?
Making important decisions and staying focused on the task at hand is easier when your workers aren’t harried by a tech stack resembling a Rube Goldberg machine. Instead, encourage clear-minded creativity and concentration with a well-defined application stack, and watch as employees reap the rewards on your behalf.
In the past few years, with crypto being the hottest thing in the town, we saw an up-rise in security tokens as well. The potential of security tokens is just in the cradle phase of being realized. These tokens are now facing what utility tokens had faced during their introduction; to be taken seriously by investors.
I had an opportunity to sit with Antoine Tardif, CEO of a platform, Securities.io, which lists security tokens and publishes news about the tokens. The platform is focused on adding innovative, functional security tokens and bringing them in front of the mass. As per Antoine, the security tokens have a long way to go and have plenty of scopes to improve. The objective of the news platform and token listing site is to help security tokens attract investors.
How did the conversation go? Let’s read.
- How did the idea of launching Securities.io come about?
As a cryptocurrency investor, I could see a transition in the marketplace from utility to security tokens. I was witnessing first-hand the evolution of the marketplace, but I was becoming frustrated with the lack of resources that focused exclusively on tokenized securities.
Seeing this void in the marketplace we set out to fill it.
- Why is the focus only on security tokens?
Serious institutional investors are not taking utility tokens seriously, and that’s because of the lack of financial transparency when it comes to utility tokens, the lack of regulated exchanges, and the risk of getting hacked.
Security tokens will be regulated, and they will be trading on supervised exchanges. The tokens will also have KYC baked in, meaning if there is a hacking, the tokens can be returned to the originally designated token holder.
Token holders also have ownership rights which can include dividends and revenue sharing.
- How do you think the security tokens will benefit real-world applications?
This will most benefit venture funds and regular investors by increasing liquidity. This will, in turn, increase the amount of funding available for start-ups.
Currently, there’s a problem in the marketplace where angel investors and venture funds need to wait for an average of 5 to 7 years to exit an investment. On average it takes 5 years for a company to be acquired, and it takes 7 years for a company to go IPO.
Often this timeline can exceed a decade, and sometimes a company just wants to stay small and will never be acquired or go IPO. In this case, the investor has no option except to avoid investing in non-scalable small companies.
With a security token, even with a mandated 12-month holding period before you can liquidate the tokens, the token offers significantly more opportunity for the investor to exit an investment.
With this opportunity for exits, investors will be better positioned to invest in new start-ups or other types of securities.
There’s also the tokenization of real-world assets such as real estate. This will open the door for smaller investors who are currently locked out of specific markets. For example, an investor in Dubai who think real estate in New York is going to increase can easily buy tokenized real estate and become involved in that market without having to fly to America.
- Are there any specific criteria for listing the security tokens on Securities.io?
Currently, there are not many tokenized securities so we are able to manually review each STO to reach out directly to these companies. Once the volume of STOs increases we will only list STOs which launched by using a token issuance platform that has partnered with us.
- Till now, which security token exchanges in your opinion are leading the market?
The marketplace is new, there’s only one current exchange which is getting any sort of traction which is the OpenFinanceexchange. I personally believe this market will only take off once the tZERO exchange launches which is scheduled for August 6, 2019.
tZERO is a subsidiary of overstock.com and is the brainchild of Patrick Byrne. This is the exchange all the institutions, family offices, and serious investors are waiting for. Once tZERO launches we should see a rapid increase in market adoption of tokenized securities.
- What steps does Securities.io take to prevent scams and fake news on security tokens from being published?
Fake news is a serious concern. Currently, all press releases are personally reviewed by our team prior to publication. We’ve had several unregulated ICOs attempts to get listed by pretending to be STOs. We’ve also had fraudulent websites attempt to get us to profile them.
We carefully review requests. The first thing we do is review the team, followed by the project, and we perform extensive due diligence which may include reaching out to our network to vet new projects.
Since we expect an influx of new STOs in the 1st quarter of 2019, we plan on partnering with market-leading token issuers. Token issuers perform their own due diligence prior to approving the launch of an STO, and we will be able to piggy-back off this to only list reputable STOs.
- What benefits will an STO receive on partnering up with Securities.io?
We have ambitious goals which include becoming the market leading resource for tokenized securities. This will increase the exposure that STOs receive.
STOs that partner with securities.io will receive several benefits including free press releases which will be permanently attached to their token listing page. Partners will also receive an enhanced listing which includes details about institutional investors, and a competitive analysis. We will also enable investors to communicate with the STO directly from the token listing page.
RockHer Haute Jewels is meeting the future generation with the first AI-based virtual gemologist, Rosi. Situated in Los Angeles, the luxury brand had collaborated with IBM Watson to enhance customer experience and offer them high-end diamond rings. With the world’s best designers, craftsmen and diamond experts, RockHer is changing the way you purchase diamond jewelry. Their compliance with ethical sourcing and the use of recycled metals have also grabbed attention worldwide.
Let’s meet the CEO and founder of RockHer Haute Jewels, Jim Vernon. He is an esteemed member of the Diamond Club West Cost, Inc. since 1984 and has brought in many changes in the jewelry-making industry. On that note…
- You have been in this industry for a long time. What made you choose diamond jewelry-making business?
Jim Vernon: I have been in this industry for over 34 years, in fact, I was raised in the Diamond Industry, my father, Frank Vernon, started Frank Vernon Fine Gems and Jewelry, I have been infatuated with diamonds ever since.
- How did RockHer Haute Jewels come about? I am intrigued to know the background story.
Jim Vernon: I had been servicing Private VIP clientele my entire life, making custom jewelry, finding rare stones, and helping people with custom engagement rings. One day through a mutual acquaintance I was introduced to Adam Stein, Adam was looking to purchase an engagement ring but Adam is one of those people who really want to understand everything, he’s a genius, and much to my dismay really didn’t like the diamond choices I offered, he said I lacked the data to ensure he was getting the best deal. He respected my experience and he thought the diamonds were pretty but something was amiss for him. I sort of challenged him to come up with a better way! That’s what started our friendship and started the path that became RockHer and more importantly our Diamond AI ROSI. Adam is a nanotech guy purifying water using nanomagnets and such; he’s really a little-known hero when it comes to water purification. So in a way only Adam can explain he just walked off and came back 3 months later and said “I want to interview you and all your colleagues, everyone you know, who knows how to buy diamonds, and, I am going to make an algorithm using the latest tech to pick better diamonds than you in about 1 millisecond”. That’s exactly what he did much to my surprise! I was shocked and as I continued to work with Adam the diamond picks became better and better, the computer could analyze a million stones and started saving us an inordinate amount of time spend on finding diamonds for clients. When the computer out picked me, (I spend my entire adult life understanding diamonds and how clients think) I knew we had something we really needed to bring to the customers, we could not keep this tech for ourselves.
- Please tell us a little bit about how RockHer makes these magnificent beauties…
Jim Vernon: We take a drastically different approach than other Online Jewelers and extremely different than other retailers. We make each and every order from scratch. When you place an order on our site you not only pick the ring style you love but the center diamond as well. From that point, our team of CAD designers start from scratch and computer customize that ring to both the center stone size and the finger size. We make sure each ring is proportionate in its original design, and that each piece has balance. From there our amazing 3d printers print that one of a kind model just for the client. Then we create a mold of that one of a kind piece and we use a well-known process called lost casting to fashion that mold out of gold or platinum. From there the diamonds are all hand set under a microscope to ensure a perfect fit and our team of polishers and finishers finalize the piece. From there it’s off the to the QC department where each one of the pieces is inspected for 20 different parameters, once the piece passes QC it can be shipped. This method varies greatly from others who manufacture in a one size fits all method and stretch and or cut the rings to make their shipping timeframes smaller, this leads to poorly made jewelry.
- “RockHer only uses recycled gold and platinum.” Can you please elaborate on this?
Jim Vernon: Tracing precious metals back to their source to confirm they have been mined responsibly is too difficult, so, we have decided to work only with recycled gold and platinum.
- What are some of the advancements or changes the diamond jewelry industry is going through these days?
Jim Vernon: Massive change, massive consumer habit shifts, and an influx of manmade diamonds are all overwhelming the industry. We have decided to remain true to the origin of engagement rings and diamond romance, we only use natural diamonds, and these diamonds are billions of years old and really represent the longevity of the love for all eternity two people may be lucky enough to share.
- How different is the customer’s approach from when you had started in this business?
Jim Vernon: We initially started by just really focusing on our diamond AI, but we later realized that the diamond was only one piece of the puzzle, granted, a very important part in terms of dollars for the clients but bottom line they needed help with the ring itself. We found that customers were tired of going to retailers and simply picking a ring off the shelf, almost feels anti climatic to them; they want something special made just for them. We changed the sites focus to made to order engagement rings, everything is custom made just for the client, and the AI ROSI really helps them find the best diamond. We will be launching ROSI with a ring builder soon so she can assist you with finding the best ring for your budget, we do have over 5k styles so it can be overwhelming.
- In a world where people are becoming more and more budget conscious and at the same time look at high-quality, how does RockHer as a luxury brand operate?
Jim Vernon: We use the latest tech to accomplish this feat, from 3D printers, to AI, to the latest CRM technology, Rockher is lean, and we pride ourselves on having the highest quality jewelry in the business, plus, when your factory is next door we get to really make sure the team is being over ambitious on quality.
- What more can you tell about ROSI? How does it function and what has been the reaction or feedback of your customers?
Jim Vernon: The customer’s love ROSI, almost 90% of the users query ROSI, only about 10% go right to the regular manual diamond search, the reason is the users need help. ROSI also has a fabulous compare function, she can compare any GIA certified diamond found online to what RockHercurrently has in inventory, and she will give you a real answer on which stone is the better deal.
In terms of how ROSI works, obviously most of it is proprietary, however, users need to know that we have a direct backend API to the GIA, the foremost lab in the world for grading diamonds, and we pull a lot of data to ensure ROSI’s results are spot on. A lot of other sites simple don’t have authorization to even be connected to the GIA. In terms of how she grades, we deploy a little machine learning market prediction plus over 30 different diamond specifications per stone to determine the best value. ROSI calculates approximately over 1M computations per query to find the user the best diamond for their budget. We also use query information to change the preferences of ROSI, so as time progresses she will understand what users want more and more.
- As you have already implemented AI and created a virtual gemologist, what do you think about the changes AI is bringing in customer experience?
Jim Vernon: Bottom line, we try not to get lost in the weeds of AI or ML where one is simply pushing the limits of that tech, that is not our forte, what we simply want is the user to have the simplest experience getting a real unbiased diamond pick for their budget. Tech that helps the customer is what we are about.
- Lastly, what is your ideal diamond ring and to whom would you like to present it?
Jim Vernon: That is too tough a question to answer; in reality, my ideal diamond ring is whatever makes the client happiest….each and every client is treated with equal love no matter their budget, that’s what makes Rockher.com great.
When your startup doesn’t have an audience yet, creating content can be frustrating. Many formats, like in-depth blog posts or YouTube videos, don’t get seen until promotion takes off – if it takes off.
Take a piece of “skyscraper content,” for example. You’ll need to put in hours and hours of effort to create the content. But no matter how good the result in, you still need to put in just as much time finding people to read it.
But what if you could gain an audience before your content is published?
It’s validating your content as you would a product. While that might mean creating a waiting list for your app, in marketing it can mean partnering with influencers for webinars.
Influencer webinars let you build an audience and validate your topic before the content is delivered, generate high quality leads, and quickly grow your audience by leveraging others in your niche.
To start successfully working them into your marketing strategy, here’s what you need to keep in mind.
It’s all about the right partners
First of all, partner webinars will get you nowhere with the wrong partners. When it comes to collaborating with influencers to get real growth and results, relevance and engagement always trumps audience size.
To start, look for existing customers and advocates of your products who have a platform for collaborations like webinars. If both they and their audience are your ideal customers, it’s a relevant enough fit that you don’t need to reach a million people to get results. This “microinfluencer marketing” works because the partner’s audience is engaged and interested in your product.
For example, ClickMeeting conducts webinars with influencers who reach other customers in their target audience: entrepreneurs, small businesses, etc. Their recent webinar with Andrea Vahl, an author, coach, and speaker, reached businesses and entrepreneurs with online courses they want to use webinars to promote. Every attendee is an ideal customer.
Trust converts like crazy
Because influencers have built a lot of trust with their audience, the simple fact that they’ve chosen to work with you puts you at an advantage from the start. Attendees show up to the webinar with residual trust for your brand already built based on your mutual relationship with the influencer.
But if you actually combine that immediate trust with a free webinar full of value, engagement, and building on that trust, you create an incredibly warm audience for marketing your product to. This can earn you the high conversion rates that make it possible to speak to smaller microinfluencer audiences and see so much success.
The best promo is all about them
Your webinar co-host is your biggest asset in pre-webinar promotion. Before someone sees your landing page or actual content to see the value you’re promising, the influencer’s name will be what people are most interested in.
Help attract an audience wider than your own by featuring recognizable guests most prominently in promotion, as opposed to talking more about the topic or your own company. In promotional graphics, blog post titles, social media copy, and more, make sure people can see a recognizable face and name.
For example, Quuu makes sure that all promotion for their influencer collaborations really appeals to the influencer’s audience. When they partner with someone who largely works with women, for example, they announce the collaboration on International Women’s Day.
You can even work together to create better promo content: collaborate on a social media video, target their audience with paid ads, and more.
The easier marketing is, the more influencers will do it
In addition to optimizing your own promotion, you want to help the influencer promote it too. They’re busy, often working through multiple in-process collaborations at one time. The easier you make it for them to share it and talk about it to their own audience, the more they’ll be able to with their limited time.
Provide as many assets and resources for them as possible, so they can easily put together things like social media posts. You can provide swipe copy for different marketing channels, cite talking points, and provide promotional graphics for them to customize in their voice. You can even send them links to your own promotional posts so they can reshare easily.
As TopRank’s Ashley Zeckman recommends, “It doesn’t matter if your content is great, you still have to entice your influencers to amplify the content they co-created. Many experts (especially those that do this professionally) have very limited time. So, to make it easy, send along pre-written social messages and image bundles so that they simply need to copy and paste the messages you’ve written to their social networks.”
They’re great for breaking into new audiences
Finally, because of all the reasons listed above, influencer webinars are amazingly effective for breaking into new audiences. A successful partnership doesn’t require an existing audience in that niche – the influencer is connecting your content with their audience.
This makes it a perfect strategy if you’re breaking into new audiences or verticals. When you’re getting ready to launch something new or shift positioning, you need to find new leads. Marketing to a small, but relevant and engaged, audience lets you expand your reach while still keeping focused on your ideal customer.
For example, when ConvertKit was first growing their email marketing platform, they used influencer webinars to “stake a claim” in the blogging niche.
Find your first webinar partner
If you’ve been struggling to grow an audience through content marketing, seriously consider influencer webinars. You get to build an engaged audience and generate leads before you even deliver any content, and once you do conduct the webinar, that audience can become eager to buy.