In the last five years, I’ve been a part of two technology startups that were early days: Lucidchart and ZipBooks. I felt fortunate that I was able to watch Lucidchart grow to the number one diagramming app online with millions of users.
At ZipBooks, started just last year, we are already Google’s top-rated accounting app in the Chrome Web Store. I’ve learned a lot about marketing at a startup as I’ve worked to grow user adoption at both companies and I think a lot of these lessons can be applied to small businesses as well.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that what you save is just as important as what you spend. Starting a small business can be stressful, but with planning and forethought, you can set yourself apart from the competition.
Treating each decisions along the way as a resource optimization puzzle can lead to big gains in how much business you get through the door and how much you spend to get that business.
Time is invaluable in the startup stage; you don’t have a fleet of employees to take care of redundancies. So make sure you and whoever else is on the ground level with you aren’t bogged down by pointless meetings.
And be careful about salespeople, too. Do your own research and pick the products that are truly worth your time, then ignore everyone else. Every moment ask yourself, “Is this the highest, best use of my time?”
You’d be surprised how many people are rooting for you and are invested in your success. Many small assists can really add up and take something from good to great.
For example, on more than one occasion we’ve had users offer to beta test our apps, no incentive necessary. We’ve also had others make free support videos for us. And when it comes to getting reviews, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Particularly if you have are offering free software, many users will respond well to emails that ask them to rate the product. Create space for warmth when it comes to your friends and allies.
If you can save time automating, then set it and forget it. If it something you have to do manually, document the best way to do it so that when you start hiring employees that can jump right in without missing a beat.
Many support portals allow for custom canned responses that you can use to answer common user questions. You can also automate emails to help with onboarding. When you really crunch the numbers, you’d be surprised how much of your process is worth automating. This is a fun chart that provides some guidance on when to automate.
This next pointer is specific to software startups: Please find out if people want a feature that you are building before you start building it. I was talking to a friend that built a whole iPhone app before doing any market research. Long story short, they had to redo most of the app. Needless to say, you don’t want that to happen to you.
Speaking of careful decisions, sometimes it makes more sense to buy instead of make. For example, building your own customer service platform or analytics solution might be feasible if you’re a programmer, but it’s pretty costly when it comes to putting out new features for your own product. You should have a sense of what something would cost you in time and in money and pick the cheaper option.
I saved the best time saving tip for last. One of the most important things you can look for in candidates is a strong, self-motivated work ethic. In interviews, look for someone who has a solid resume. I even ask for transcripts if they are a recent graduate. Grades are important. It demonstrates their staying power and commitment to excellence.
For more experienced candidates, you are looking for a track-record of success and a wake of good feelings with previous employers. People with a “get it done” attitude will have a big impact on reaching your goals. A team getting more done in a day is the best version of effective time management around. Production velocity can cover a multitude of startup missteps.
Building and marketing your startup is a daunting task. Keep your processes simple, focused, and product-centered, and you’ll be amazed how quickly things will grow.
Brad Hanks is in charge of Growth at ZipBooks.