How many startups launched last year? How many of them succeeded?
Some data suggests that up to 95 percent of startups fail, but it’s difficult to exactly pinpoint why it happens. Some of them fail simply because they didn’t create something people want, while great many vanish due to the wrong execution of their growth and marketing.
Growth is key, yet growing a startup is really hard and most founders struggle with it.
What makes it even harder is the overwhelming amount of tactics and the “one size fits all” hacks that dictate how we should be running our own growth and marketing efforts.
Usually these tips are meant to be an inspiration, but a lot of founders take them too seriously and apply them directly — regardless of the context of their product or customers.
I think this happens because many founders love “short-cuts” and fantasize about hockey-stick curves. Stories we’ve heard about Dropbox, Airbnb or other unicorns have led us to believe that growth is about chasing this one silver bullet that will magically change the course of our history.
However, we forget that what these startups actually did was to ask a single question: “What marketing channel(s) will help us find our dream customers?” This led them to establish a growth process that involved lots of experimentation, measurement and learning to get their growth machine up and running.
It might seem easy and appealing to talk about building a growth machine, but how can you start this process from scratch? These are the five lessons I have learned:
1) Don’t take hacks out of their context
One thing is clear, there is no silver bullet. No unicorn you’ve ever heard of made it overnight.
Dropbox was doing Google AdWords before introducing the “Refer a friend for more space”.
Hotmail was considering billboards and doing Radio ads (yes, believe me!) before introducing their wildly glorified viral loop “P.S. I love you, get your free email at Hotmail.”
They didn’t sit around and spend their time trying to come up with the one ‘hack’ that would save their buisness. What worked for others won’t work for you simply because your audience, your model, your customer decision process are different. Your business is different, plain and simple. To make the most of what you read, always try to understand the context of the hack that’s being discussed: What was the audience? What was the business model? What’s the customer decision process?
By answering these questions, you start making assumptions of why this might work for you as well. Comparing your business to the context of the hack is important in prioritizing what you work on.
For the hacks to work, your competition might be a good starting point to identify the patterns of success.
2) Don’t experiment with many acquisition channels at once
Focus always wins.
Almost all successful startups or companies get the majority of their scale from a single channel.
However, with so many channels to consider, most founders are tempted to try a bit of everything instead of going all in on one thing
Yet, doing so is equivalent to shooting yourself in the head, because it will require more time to learn from your experiments, therefore taking longer to decide whether to kill a channel or double down on it. As a result, you end up with no focus.
3) If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it
No startup can find a sustainable business model without occasionally pausing to get directions, and these directions are derived from examining the right metrics.
As Head of Growth at my company, a big part of my job is to regularly check upon my metrics. In fact, we have a big screen in the center of our office hall that shows our growth metrics and their progress on a daily basis.
This sounds a bit stressful, doesn’t it? I might have been sceptical at first, but it turned out to be extremely helpful. Measuring my performance makes me accountable. I’m forced to confront inconvenient truths and always look for ways to improve the results.
It’s very important to define your growth metrics and measure them constantly. Customer acquisition without a clear set of objectives is just a random activity.
You’ll always track and review multiple numbers, but pick a minimal set of key performance indicators (KPIs), which you’ll track and report everyday. Capture everything, but focus on what’s important.
In the book Lean Analytics, the authors introduce the concept of OMTM — the One Metric that Matters. The OMTM is the one number you’re completely focused on above everything else for your current stage. It could be N° of customers per week, churn, N° of new active users, N° of paid subscribers, cost of acquisition — basically anything that has a direct impact on your company performance.
4) Do things that don’t scale
When your startups is taking its first step, by all means get your friends and family to use the product — and don’t stop there. Email your local community groups, get those blog mentions and engage with potential users over Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News or other niche forums.
Most founders know about this tactic, but they usually refrain from unscalable strategies. The reason is that the numbers seem so small at first and they start thinking “is it really worth it?.” This can’t be how the big, famous startups got started, they think. The mistake they make is dismiss the power of compound growth.
When you have a small user base, little things can drive a high percent growth. As Paul Graham, Y Combinator founder explains: “If you have 100 users and keep growing at 10 percent a week you’ll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you’ll have 14,000 users, and after two years you’ll have two million.”
The other benefit of using methods that don’t scale is the ability to get in close contact with your users. And everybody knows how crucial it is to engage with potential customers directly, especially if you are still working on a product/market fit. Getting in direct contact with the user can be an essential step way to learn if you have the right product.
5) Focus on a small niche
Who do we actually want to work with?
Most of us start with a product idea, never thinking about who we want as ideal customers.
Many investors give startup entrepreneurs this terrible piece of advice: “Your ideas are too small. You need to think bigger and go after a larger market.“ When you’ve found the unusual idea to base your startup on, don’t go too broad too quickly.
This may sound counter-intuitive because most founders fear that if they start small, they will lose potential customers on the way. Startups are more likely to accelerate growth by narrowing their target demographic, better understanding customer needs, building more focused products, and tailoring their marketing message to their specific audience.
Later on, after getting initial traction with a small audience, startups can grow their market and expand product offerings to go after bigger market segments.
The Walking Dead Producer Responds to Crossover Fan Theories
The Walking Dead executive producer Greg Nicotero has been listening to fan theories about the coming crossover between the venerable AMC zombie series and its sister show Fear the Walking Dead, but though he admits some of the guesses have been intriguing, he says fans so far have missed the mark. That the two series would finally be converging, if only in small way, was confirmed to great excitement by comic book creator Robert Kirkman at NYCC.
Kirkman would not give away which character would be swapping series, leaving the door wide open for fans to make their best guesses on the matter. One popular theory has the character of Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), who spent several seasons on The Walking Dead before dying at the hands of Negan in the season 7 premiere, showing up on Fear the Walking Dead (which takes place at an earlier point in time) when the show switches its location to Houston. Another theory holds that one or more FWTD characters will show up as Whisperers when, at some point in the near future, The Walking Dead introduces that particular group of long-awaited comic book characters. Yet another theory has the character of Morales, who disappeared during season 5 of The Walking Dead, re-emerging on Fear.
Speaking to ComicBook.com, Walking Dead executive producer and frequent episode director Greg Nicotero addressed all these fan crossover theories and claimed that so far none of them have been right, though he does admit to being intrigued by at least one of the bigger ones.
“Nope, not yet. I love the fan theories. The Abraham one was certainly intriguing and definitely my favorite. I’m not sure when it’s gonna take place. I don’t know when we’re actually introducing that. Listen, the fans come up with some great ideas. Even if they were on point, you know I can’t tell you that!”
Though Nicotero appears to have shot down the Abraham theory (simultaneously admitting that he couldn’t confirm the theory even if he wanted to), all signs still point to that character being the logical candidate to pop up on FTWD. The show we know is moving to Houston, which is where Abraham was before the character hooked up with Eugene and made his way north to finally encounter Rick and the main group. It would be easy to plop Abraham into at least one episode of FTWD and therefore create a fun, welcome little crossover moment for a fan favorite character who many were sad to see die.
The Abraham theory at this point seems so natural that it might almost be too obvious, opening up the possibility that the Houston clue was dropped into FTWD as a deliberate misdirect. If Abraham is not the one crossing over, who then will be making the jump? The theory that has Fear‘s Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and/or Madison (Kim Dickens) showing up on The Walking Dead as a Whisperer is less obvious and therefore more interesting, but also happens to be very far-fetched for a number of reasons, timeline issues being the least of these.
Given the way the two shows’ different timelines work out, the easiest and most logical thing is still for someone from The Walking Dead to show up in a brief appearance on Fear the Walking Dead, and the most logical character to make that leap is still Abraham (regardless of what Greg Nicotero says).
David Fincher’s Directing Trick You Never Noticed
A new video essay analyzes David Fincher‘s camera movements, and one seemingly obvious detail may have unnoticed by practically everyone. Fincher is one of the most critically-acclaimed filmmakers working in the industry today, having made well-known films such as Fight Club, Gone Girl, and The Social Network, as well as Seven, The Game, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, among others – all of which has been universally praised by critics and audiences alike. He’s even dabbled in television as well, directing and producing Netflix’s Mindhunter and House of Cards.
While many moviegoers would have at least seen one of his movies over the years, those who haven’t would still be able to tell they are watching a David Fincher movie simply by analyzing the details. Aside from his constant use of muted colors, Fincher’s camera movements are what makes his films identifiable. Of course, the average moviegoer may not be to determine which camera movements Fincher utilizes, but this new video essay may be able to help with that predicament.
The YouTube channel Nerdwriter1 recently published a video essay, titled “How David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes,” that explores David Fincher’s choice camera movements, and the result is quite obvious, yet easily overlooked. Fincher, apparently, moves the camera – either by tilting, panning, or tracking – along with characters’ emotions and movements. For instance, if a character sits back in his chair, the camera will move with the character, no matter how small the movement may be. You can watch the video above for more detail.
Fincher revels in creative freedom. After all, the adverse experience he had working with 20th Century Fox on Alien 3 – going through principal photography without a completed script, plus having his cut of the film sliced and diced and reworked by the studio – significantly affected his career, convincing him never to make another movie without the ability to control each and every aspect. That’s, in part, why his fans will never see him direct a comic book movie.
The filmmaker’s style of directing may not be unique, but it’s certainly something that he has mastered, while also appearing noticeably different from other auteur directors. For instance, while Fincher captures emotion through movement, someone like Denis Villeneuve – who’s becoming more and more recognizable thanks to movies such as Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 – captures emotion through silence and, particularly, the lack of movement. Where the two directors meet, though, is through their long shots, something that’s becoming increasingly more common nowadays.
Na Zdorovie: Doing business with Russians explained
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once famously said: “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Even though Russia has undergone extraordinary political and cultural transformations and successfully embraced Western-style capitalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many people in the West still regard Russian business culture as very mysterious, incredibly intricate and difficult to understand.
I am originally from Russia and currently live in Moscow, although previously, I studied, worked and lived in France and the UK. I now work for a Russian tech company and mostly deal with foreign colleagues from all over the world. Often, the people I meet seem surprised that I am Russian.
Given my own experience, I can admit that Russian businessmen have to deal with a lot of myths and stereotypes about Russians. These may be true sometimes, but a lot of the time these myths turn out to be completely wrong.
Despite the tense political and complex economic situation, Russia still remains an important player on the global stage and undoubtedly does have massive business potential. In order to be successful in negotiating and establishing relations with Russian business partners and embrace all the existing opportunities, one needs to learn some valuable tips about getting along with Russians.
Myth 1: Russians do not smile
While smiling is usually seen as one of the most important communication behaviors, Russian people are often accused of being gloomy. However, contrary to popular opinion — Russians DO smile, but only when there is an appropriate reason to. We smile in specific social situations, for example, when something is really funny or a person is very happy. Russians never just smile out of simple politeness, but when we do — one can be sure these smiles are sincere.
Surprisingly, sometimes smiling in a work or study environment is not seen as appropriate in Russia – except for employees of a Western corporate environment who are expected to follow the Western style of communication. This is because ‘serious contexts’ are not considered to be a place to smile.
Not smiling to strangers is thought to be a cultural norm in Russia, since it is assumed that there is no special reason why we should greet a stranger that way. Some Russians are a bit shy when speaking English and when they see someone who doesn’t speak their mother tongue, they can get frustrated.
Myth 2: Russians are rude and aggressive
Sometimes it’s quite hard to understand Russians because of their high level of emotionality. Compared to their Western colleagues, business partners in Russia can be more direct, critical and challenging. In fact, they are not impolite, just not playing the so-called ‘small talk’ or ‘mind games’. Russian can say straight to your face everything they think, which is often seen as rude in the West. On the contrary, in Russia, that means people are actually interested and they want to know more about what you are delivering to them.
Russians value everything real, true and honest. They can fight and argue with you at the beginning just to understand who you really are and what you stand for. If you act sincere and play real, they will like you and eventually become your true friend. Keep in mind that good business relationships in Russia are always personal and in many cases business and its outcome depends on how well you can get along. In this sense, Russian culture is similar to Oriental cultures.
Myth 3: Russians never plan ahead and do not set long-term goals
From time to time, Western partners tend to be surprised by Russians missing or even ignoring deadlines. It is partly true: small Russian enterprises and startups are not keen on planning, putting emphasis on the present rather than the future. However, large Russian companies are nothing different from the West: planning is necessary and employees have to set long-term goals and stick to deadlines.
That being said, a good part of the Russian mentality is a high level of crisis mobilization: in urgent situations, Russians tend to unite under pressure and mobilize. They may eventually deliver impressive results under tight deadlines or stressful circumstances.
A good example of this could be the so-called Singles’ Day, the annual global shopping festival organized by Chinese online retailers on November 11th. According to Yandex.Checkout, last year’s stats from the sale saw the YTY 31-fold increase in orders from Russia. All the Russian and Chinese employees demonstrated impressive results and personal dedication to work.
Myth 4: Russian companies are not competitive with Western companies
Contrary to popular Western opinion, there are many Russian companies that have accepted and embraced international standards of business etiquette. Those Russian businesses are very well aware of international trends and that ensures the flexibility of business process and make them strong competitors for many Western companies.
Let’s not forget that 40 percent of US Fortune 500 companies were founded by either immigrants or the children of immigrants, many of whom have Russian origin.
Even though Russia’s economy has been tumultuous, a strong technological and entrepreneurial culture has developed in the country over the last five years and produced a number of fast-growing businesses. For instance, Russian tech is big, powered by programmers and developers who are able to solve non-trivial tasks and want to change the world with the help of cutting-edge technologies.
Some companies of Russian origin have already gone global and proved to be successful internationally (Telegram, Kaspersky Lab, AnywayAnyday, Abbyy, Game Insight, Xsolla to name a few). Other tech companies with Russian roots are just about to make their first big step onto the international scene but are already considered promising.
Myth 5: Russians are not aware of international trends and innovations
I travel quite a lot and was pretty surprised to discover that some things in Russia are way more innovative compared to Europe and even the USA. In the US, additional features are often provided by separate startups, Russian banks prefer to keep this functionality in-house as it gives them more control and room for development.
In constant pursuit of new clients, Russian banks have been moving more of their services online, merging Internet and mobile technology to bank the unbanked in Russia and other CIS countries. As a result, Russian banks and PSPs are ceasing to be ‘banks’ in their pure form, and are becoming more of ecosystems with a full range of services, available online.
The most important banking advancement in Russia is mobile banking which can be used by customers to carry out most necessary transactions independently without the need to visit the bank in person. According to the Global Finance Magazine’s 2016 list, the best banking app in Central and Eastern Europe is Sberbank’s mobile banking app.
Russian banks and PSPs are offering a wide array of additional instant services in apps, such as online payments for utility, parking, taxes, traffic fines and so on. Yandex.Checkout was the first in Russia to provide peer-to-peer money transfers via iMessage and also to enable online stores to accept payments via Telegram Bots, allowing their customers to pay for goods and services directly in the messenger.
Furthermore, contactless payment systems, such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, are quickly gaining popularity in Russia, being used mostly for online shopping, food delivery, housing services, cellular networks, and money transfers.
Myth 6: When entering the Russian market, it’s better to partner with international companies
There is a widespread belief that it’s easier to partner with international companies when entering a new market. However, the specifics of the Russian market prove it’s wiser to work with local leaders, who have much more business expertise and knowledge of the market.
In Russia, just like China, localization is the key to business success. Thus, try to invest more time and effort into finding the appropriate local Russian partner who you can trust, and build a good relationship with them.
Overall, the Russian market is quite unique: innate cultural beliefs and traditions mingle with new business attitudes and prosperity. Having boundless natural resources, with a highly educated population, aspirational and consumerist in nature, Russia offers tremendous opportunities for international players who know how to navigate the business climate. Therefore, do your homework properly and try your best to see things through Russian cultural lenses.
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