No Better Money Spent Than on a Domain Name – The Coupons.com Story


In today’s Internet-based world, naming your new business and selecting a domain name can have a huge impact – and may help lead to a billion dollar valuation down the road. A few days ago, Steven Boal, CEO of the hugely successful Coupons.com, sat down for a rare video interview with DomainSherpa to talk about his company’s experience with domain names.

On June 8th, Coupons.com announced a $200 million investment that valued the company at $1 billion. Not a bad payoff for low “seven figure” investment in the domain name just 11 years earlier.
Continue reading “No Better Money Spent Than on a Domain Name – The Coupons.com Story”

Pitching your startup: Learn how to use a “Hook” to get press.


News articles are all about stories. A great article creates a personification of raw data into digestible, story-sized bites. For example, a headline that read “Precipitation levels dropped 10%” wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as “Fearing drought, farmers resort to watering crops by hand”.

Data by itself isn’t interesting. It’s the story that the data tells that’s important.

These same principles apply when you’re pitching your startup for coverage. You should always have a “Hook” ready. Wikipedia defines a “Hook” as:

“a musical idea, often a short riff, passage, or phrase, that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to ‘catch the ear of the listener’.”

When I’m trying to figure out what startups I want to write about on TSF, I look for a solid hook I can work from. For example, when I interviewed Tim O’Reilly, I knew that he had a fantastic story on bootstrapping his company. This gave me a specific angle to leverage and helped me to know what sort of questions I should ask.

One of the easiest ways you can get noticed by writers (via email) is to have your hook be in the subject line. Let’s say you’re startup works with financial management. Instead of having a nondescript subject line like: “New web app launching soon”, you should write “How my startup allowed 10 users to retire 2 years early”. The second subject line provides a fantastic hook, and helps the writer know what sort of questions to ask you. Having a solid hook is crucial in making your startup stand out.

Stories with a good hook are incredibly easy to write about, are entertaining, and memorable. If you have a great product, data, and a solid hook, writers will be salivating to write about you.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

What startups can learn from a LivingSocial marketing misstep.


This is a guest post by Jason Lorimer. Jason is an entrepreneur @CulturaHQ, advocating on behalf of those with the ambition to do more than just entertain ideas.

Recently I was working out of one of my favorite Philadelphia coffee shops and I had the pleasure of meeting a young woman who works for the Adventures vertical of Living Social.
This venture, formerly Urban Escapes out of NYC was acquired by Living Social late last year.

This person who I very much enjoyed meeting and whose anonymity I will preserve herein, overheard me on the phone talking about an upcoming trip up to NYC to visit a client in the “Daily Deal” space. Naturally in working for Living Social, my chatter perked her ears. The conversation began with her asking me if I was running a deal with Groupon and having me explain that I work with early stage companies, some in the social commerce space. The discussion continued focused mainly on the shift towards experiences over discount vouchers and how that is being driven by two main factors:

  • Business owners are being inundated with pitches to host deals from dozens of daily deal companies each month. All of them with virtually identical offerings.
  • The widely held perception of business owners is that those who opt-in for a daily deal are simply discount hounds, never to return. I disagree but this is the perception.

I talked a bit about how I felt the industry was moving towards discount as a secondary motivator with experience as the thing that drives the opt-in. I also spoke of WAAG, a recently launched venture out of NYC that leverages this premise to connect those who wish to network themselves offline with small businesses and brands who want to host events at their locations.

My new friend was very enthused about the adventures Living Social was promoting. She made them sound like good fun. As we were talking, I ran a Google search to find the home page for Living Social Adventures. Clicking around a bit on my laptop, I could not for the life of me find a place to enter my email to be notified. Perplexed, I asked:

Me:
Where do I opt-in to get invited to the adventures?

Anonymous:
You don’t.

Hmmm….It turns out that you have to go to the main site and opt-in to receive the daily deals in order to get the adventures invites.

I have no way of knowing what was on the minds of the executives at Living Social when they acquired Urban Escapes and re-branded it as Adventures but it would seem to me they are missing a huge opportunity to bring new people into the fold. The much larger marketplace of people open to the idea of passively participating by opting-in to receive invites to cool new social experiences but are not so keen on the idea of using a discount voucher at their local pizza shop. Now, certainly the master list of email addresses should be leveraged for Adventures but why not market it separately? Send a few timely emails to all existing users asking them if they wish to receive adventures in their area but focus on driving new membership to adventures specifically and then cross market those people into the more profitable daily deal list.

Living Social trails Groupon, their biggest competitor at almost every turn. The Adventures play  is an opportunity to stand out to the larger portion of the public and businesses, both sick of the daily deal speak. Use some of that advertising budget to really push this new, experience based vertical and take a chunk of new market share in the process.

 

Inside LaunchRock- A behind the scenes look with co-founder Jameson Detweiler

Seemingly overnight, LaunchRock became a “startup darling”. LaunchRock is now the de-facto platform for pre-launch startups to start building some traction. I had the privilege to catch up with Jameson Detweiler (a LaunchRock co-founder) at Funded By Night in Detroit and we decided to bring him on TSF so he could share their story.

In this interview you will learn how LaunchRock hustled to gain some serious traction in the early days at SXSW, where they are going, and a few ways startups can increase their odds of going viral.

If you prefer audio only, download Inside LaunchRock.mp3

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

The easiest sale you’ll ever make is to the customer you already have.


Acquiring new users is hard. To close on a sale, you must build enough rapport with your customer that they trust you with their money. This is not always an easy task. It’s especially hard for startups who primarily interact with customers via the web. Going from “strangers” to having a business relationship is one of the hardest things to do.

Paradoxically I see a lot of startups put all of their energy into acquiring new users because they view it as the easiest way to increase profits. This simply isn’t true.

I’ve discovered that the easiest way to increase profits is by focusing on the customers I already have a relationship with and learning how I can make their business even more effective. When the customer already trusts you, it’s very easy to make an honest up-sell that will improve their experience while increasing your profits.

What a good up-sell looks like

A good up-sell provides value to the consumer. I would even go so far as to say that it’s an educational experience. The customer might not even understand what they need and it’s your job to help them figure it out. Even if they don’t end up buying anything, this will establish you as an expert in your field and you will have gained their respect. If the time ever comes when they decide they need the up-sell, you’ll be their go to person.

What a bad up-sell looks like

An up-sell shouldn’t be a removal of an arbitrary limitation. This is an abuse trust. People have strong BS radars and the worst thing you can do is abuse their trust. Never try to convince them to buy something that they don’t need.

Figure out how to properly monetize your current user-base before you try to grow rapidly. Otherwise you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Marketing HipMunk with hustle

Alexis Ohanian came on TSF to talk about marketing HipMunk with hustle. HipMunk is a travel search site that focuses on what travelers actually care about. Before Alexis joined the HipMunk team, he cofounded Reddit and created BreadPig. There are some fantastic lessons in here for startups looking to give their marketing a boost. I’ve included a summary of the interview below the video.

What is HipMunk?
HipMunk is an online travel site that filters trips by agony instead of just price.

There aren’t any ads on HipMunk. How do you make money?
Our profits come from referrals. Our goal is to help you find a great flight as fast as possible, not sit around on the site and click on ads.

When did you have your first “ah ha” moment with HipMunk?
The user interface came together a few weeks before launch. When I saw it I knew HipMunk was going to be special. It was incredibly easy to use and focused on what travelers actually care about, “agony”.

Fun Fact:
Before HipMunk launched they were using the word “Suckage” instead of “Agony”. They decided to change it because it “might not fly in some parts of the country”.

What makes the User Interface so compelling?
For most people it’s worth $25 to avoid a 4 hour layover in Chicago. Our user interface recognizes this and tries to find the balance between price and comfort.

Some startups have fantastic tech, but they still struggle to get traction. Do you have any tips?
Generate the “Ah ha!” moment. If you have something that is 10x better than the competition and you’re struggling to gain traction, you might need to make the benefits more obvious. Be relentless that people have a good experience with your brand. Make things simple.

What does a non technical co-founder do?
Grunt work. A non technical co-founder needs to hustle all the time. It’s time consuming, not glamorous, and incredibly necessary for your startup to succeed.

Marketing:
First you need to have an awesome product. It’s much easier to hustle for something that kicks ass. Second, you want to focus on making things personal. Be as genuine and as cheap as possible.

Find a few people outside of your company that love your product. They will be your best salesman.

Thanks to Alexis for coming on TSF. Be sure to checkout HipMunk!

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry

Make your Startup ridiculously easy to write about. Put Together a Great Press Pack

I’ve looked at close to 500 startups in the last month and a half that were looking for coverage and I thought I’d share some insight on what separated the good startup pitches from the great ones. I boiled it down to 5 things with the overarching theme being “Make yourself ridiculously easy to write about”.

5 things you need to have in a press pack

1. One sentence description of your startup. Place this at the beginning of the email. This gives context for the rest of your pitch.

2. A Story. It’s all about crafting a narrative. Stories are easy to remember and can help make the main points of your pitch stick. Just be sure you respect the readers time and don’t be too verbose.

3. Logo with background as a transparent PNG. Because you goal is to make it as easy as possible to write about your startup, it’s very important you include your logo with a transparent background so news sites can quickly make your logo fit in with their own branding.

4. Video. If you have a 2 minute video showing off how to use your product, be sure to include it (and make sure they can embed it in their post if they choose to write about you).

5. Numbers – When a startup leaves out numbers I assume it’s because the numbers suck and you’re trying to sound bigger then what you really are. If you’ve just started out and the only people using it are your friends and family, tell us. There is no shame in that. People love rooting for the underdog.

What has worked for you?

If you have any more advice for putting together an awesome “Press Pack”, please share them in the comments!

Stay in touch.

For more startup news and advice, follow us on twitter @startupfoundry.

10 Things Your Startup Should Know about Email Marketing Companies

App Sumo is a startup that focuses on deals for web apps. They send hundreds of thousands of emails each month, and Noah Kagan (The founder) Skyped in to share what he’s learned from the world of email marketing. In this 15 minute video Noah explains 10 things that you should know about Email Marketing Companies before you give them your business.

Summary:
1- You have weak control over placement of unsubscribe link. Your email should have an unsubscribe button, but you should be in control of it.
3- If a reader hits “Unsubscribe” you have no control over the unsubscribe page.
2- Setting up new campaigns takes 2 hours.
4- They require double-opt in. This is okay in some circumstances, but this decision should be left up to the company.
5- You don’t realize how many people need email confirmation. Email Marketing companies typically don’t handle this gracefully.
6- Hard to connect to your database for stats.
7- You can be banned from emailing if your unsubscribe rates are too high.
8- A/B testing consists of time, subject line and from, not body text.
9- Security is a big issue. Example: Aweber got hacked.
10- You should use two IPs – one for marketing and another for transactional emails.

For up to the minute startup news – follow us on twitter @startupfoundry

Facebook pages are worthless for your startup. Go where the early adopters are.


Facebook is an amazing tool, and is also great for businesses.  However, It’s a sinkhole for startups. Facebook pages will do nothing for you in the first 0-6 months of your startup post-launch.

We all know (or should know) that your friends are usually not your target customers, and in fact they are probably the worst people to consult on your business.  They usually won’t tell you that it sucks and they will always support your venture.  So when you create a Facebook page, what is the first think you do?  You post it on your Facebook wall, and send an email to your friends.  Now you have a Facebook fan page with a partial list of your friends (read: “people who are not your target customers”). This gives you a false indication of how people actually feel about your product  / service.

I would argue that the first 6 months of any startups should be used to get feedback on the product, build relationships with your customers, and target new customers with your marketing voodoo magic. Here lies the problem that almost every startup has (and why the response to The Startup Foundry has been so great): Marketing a startup is hard because the founders don’t have an extensive database of people that might be interested in their product, and don’t know how to reach them in an effective way.  The fact is, the first 6 months, any customer who joins your service, are usually early adopters.  Think of them as music hippies, but for startups.  Once Groupon got noticed, you just didn’t like them as much. Right?  If you agreed with that statement, then my friend I hate to break this to you but you are an early adopter.

You will not find many early adopters via Facebook Pages. Early adopters are all ON Facebook, but they will not find you via Facebook.  They will find you via twitter. More importantly, you will find them via twitter.  Facebook Pages are good for “pulling in customers”, but not good for “reaching out to people who MIGHT be your customers, or tell you what you need to do in order to convert them”.  The latter being the most important.

I hear this response all the time (and trust me, I’m guilty of it too): “Man, my product is amazing – but nobody knows about it.  How do I tell the masses about it without spending money on a Superbowl ad”.  Do you see where i’m going with this?  If I want to target my customers, I need to find them and build personal relationships with them via twitter, blogs, & in person.  Every customer matters.

We all know the importance of blogging and building personal relationships.  Twitter allows for building actual relationships and Facebook is good for building brand relationships. The first 6 months is about building personal relationships with people who might be your customer, or help you get to other customers via their network.  So why do you have a Facebook page again?

Authors Note: I took it a step further and deactivated my Facebook all together to focus on building this blog & my startup.  Because I focused all my efforts on other sites such as twitter and hacker news, I was able to make the right connections early on.