How we overhauled our product in 5 months at Techstars
After spending 5 months in the start-up accelerator Techstars, I realized that most tech start-ups actually sell experience.
We completed the Techstars accelerator in the United States in May 2017; we decided to join this adventure for 3 reasons:
- We were looking for constructive criticism and needed to step out of our comfort zone.
- We knew we were going to solve the problem faster by having access to Techstars’ network and acceleration program (more than 5,000 founders, mentors and investors worldwide).
- Export our product to a foreign market, scale and automate our product to make it pure SaaS.
We simplify the PR process (for companies / agency) and provide targeted content (for journalists)… In fact, that’s what we thought we were doing before launching with Techstars…
If you look back 6 months and aren’t embarrassed by your startup, that means you’re not learning fast enough.
Listening and humility as fundamental values: there is also at the entrance an “ego basket” inviting everyone to leave their pride at the entrance.
During the first month at Techstars, we started with what they call ‘Mentor Madness’, the next month is dedicated to execution and the 3rd month to investor pitch:
A meeting with a mentor every 20 minutes for 20 days! A kind of speed dating of mentors from different backgrounds.
You then spend 20 minutes with each of them: 5 minutes arguing and 15 minutes collecting their feedback. I met a total of around 110 mentors in less than 3 weeks.
We have collected more than 250 feedbacks (marketing, technology, product, finances…). That we had to sort and prioritize to retain the essentials.
We all agreed that we had put our finger on a real problem to solve: press relations have become complex to manage and no suitable technology or tool exists on the market, journalists are drowned in press releases poorly targeted press releases and companies spend hours trying to get a response, hoping to retain their interest in a possible article…!
However, our solution had yet to deliver on its promises due to poor UX / UI and entrenched traditional behaviors that characterize the PR industry.
If your users waste time figuring out how your product works at onboarding, it will be difficult to get them to use it correctly and consistently afterwards. All they will take away from the experience is that it was long and tedious… even if your product saves time when used correctly!
Lesson # 1: Stop selling products and start selling the experience
No matter what your product, the technologies exist to make people’s lives easier, faster and simpler. For example, I use Uber rather than regular taxis because the driver arrives in less than 5 minutes, I don’t need to have money on me or pay by credit card, I know in advance how much will it cost me and who will be my driver. So why should I switch back to standard taxis? Switching to Uber and changing my habits then seemed obvious to me and since this service was easy to use, I started using it more and more often.
What makes the difference is the experience that the product, service or software gives us. If the experience is worth it, then I can change my behavior without friction.
The solution to the problem you are trying to solve in your industry should be obvious, but also easy to understand to ensure fast and effective adoption. This therefore means that you cannot introduce a new use in a market if at the beginning, the experience turns out to be more difficult or longer (UX UI, time to get started).
Limit the number of features and design a SIMPLE interface to ensure:
This is why UX is the key to sales and product adoption.
From the simplicity of integration to the user interface and navigation.
As Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber, puts it:
“Uber embodies efficiency and elegance. This is why I bought an iPhone rather than a standard cell phone and why I go to good restaurants even if it means paying a little more. I do it for the experience.“
For Gary Vaynerchuk, companies are selling an experience that saves the customer time and / or gets more convenience:
“In the distraction market, the company’s time-saving products and services will win out. This is why Amazon is one of the market leaders. That’s why Prime Now triumphs. They have simplified their buying and selling process. They saved you a lot of time.“
Lesson # 2: Focus on key KPIs to achieve!
What is your value proposition?
Focus on a problem to solve, related to 2/3 features max and run it perfectly. Excel at one thing, do it right, and then users will start using it.
When redesigning the UX with our key features, we removed the ones that weren’t among the most used and implemented VueJS as the front end to align design, experience and performance.
In our case, each side of our marketplace has its own expectations for the product: companies come to us to contact journalists and get issues; journalists come to us to access targeted content as part of their upcoming articles.
So we had to create more conversations (inbox, sent messages) and activate journalist user engagement by providing them with stories to cover (news feed views, stories collected / covered).
How we got doubled interactions between users:
By simply adding a contact button on the press releases web page, button to open a conversation from the inbox.
How we got doubled the scroll rate from our news feed: after changing the search system, it now displays more content and a simplified search system (instant search).
How we increased our NPS (Net Promotion Score) by listening to our users:
Lesson # 3: Iterate until you see a break in the growth of the target KPI!
Iterate means repeating a procedure based on the result of a previous version. Optimize, improve and further improve the derivation of knowledge from previous versions.
This means you have to define a hypothesis, establish a little product functionality to test that hypothesis, then find out what is going on and make adjustments accordingly.
This simple method offers quick results: it allows short cycle optimizations, the results obtained will then determine the ideas to keep.
“Always judge the design by the impact it has on the behavior of your users.”
Evolution of the form and the editor “post a news”. It ranges from the short article with an attachment to an article editor with accompanying templates and tips.
Lesson # 4: Limit your burn rate as quickly as possible
The burn rate is essentially the rate at which your business “consumes” its available money. It is usually represented in terms of months.
The “burn rate” indicates the amount of money that a business loses during a given period. In the language of start-ups, we call it “burning cash”.
“Money is fuel for start-ups: it propels your business on the path to growth. If you use your fuel inefficiently or consume it too quickly, you may not reach your goal or destination. ”
The length of time that you can keep spending money is called the “Runway”. It indicates how long your cash will be able to cover your losses. Here’s how to calculate it:
Runway = Cash balance / Burn rate
If you have a 6 month runway, for example, it means that if you stay on the same growth and expense level, in 6 months you will be in need of financing.
To reduce your burn rate and increase your runway, you don’t have a lot of options: you have to sell more for less money.
We reduced our costs by 63.6% (HR, Tools, G & A, etc.) and automated sales (inbound marketing + freemium funnel).
Lesson # 5: kill your pitch!
The Demo Day pitch is held on the closing day of the program and it is an opportunity for you to present the best version of your business in 2 minutes in front of more than 150 mentors, start-ups, investors, friends, family members and partners.
Pitcher in 2 minutes, it’s an art (especially when English is not your mother tongue) and the Americans have mastered it perfectly.
Here are the best tips I got from this experience:
- Tell your story when you show off your product: they’re all there to hear a story they want to see the next chapter of. Don’t focus on the features, but rather on what they make possible for your users as well as your vision.
- Use facts and data: there is no room for it bullshit, you need to gain public trust and convince. Show that the problem you solve affects a lot of people (market size, studies), demonstrate that your solution is getting traction from users (growth in product KPIs) and that it is already making money ($ ).
- If you don’t believe it completely, no one will believe it! Speak with conviction and the passion you have for your project. Be yourself and come with your energy!
And make sure that your speech be clear.
Bottom Line: Expect the Unexpected.
Make assumptions, but never forget to validate and challenge them constantly.
There are no rules to be successful at Startup Land!
Creating a start-up is one of the most humble and amazing experiences in the world.
I’m happy to have been a part of this promo and now to be part of the Techstars community.
Amos Schwartzfarb, thank you for this opportunity.
Hannah oiknin is the co-founder of Babbler.