When it comes to marketing channels, the early bird gets the worm.
Entrepreneurs who wrote blogs in 1999 were among only a handful of voices on the web. By 2006, there were 50 million blogs. Telemarketing hung around for years for one reason: it worked. Now there are more than 200 million Americans on the Do Not Call registry and landline phones are becoming an artifact of a bygone era.
The companies who benefit most from a given marketing channel aren't necessarily the best, they're the earliest. Like comedy, timing is everything.
It's impossible to say where the next big wins in marketing are going to be. But we wanted to wrap up the year by talking about a marketing experiment we tried in 2015 that we think is going to be a bigger part of our how we and the startup community as a whole think about marketing in 2016.
It's called Engineering As Marketing.
When’s the last time you got a handwritten thank you note from a business?
Not some email thank you thing, or some automated, photocopied thank you letter. A real, handwritten, ink and paper thank you card.
Once? Twice? Never?
If you said never, you’re not alone. The humble thank you note (along with the cursive penmanship it carries) is a dying breed in business communities. Sure, send someone a toaster on their wedding day and 8-40 weeks later you’ll get an obligatory chicken-scratched thank you letter.
But give a business your hard-earned money, or award them with a business account, and you’re likely to never see any sort of analog gratitude.
And that’s too bad, Because if you pride yourself on customer service, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Not only will a handwritten thank you make you stand out, but there’s some real science supporting the practice. It’s one of the easiest ways to ensure a lasting relationship with your customers. All it costs you is a small amount of time and a few cents in stamps and paper.
A lot can go wrong on a new hire's first day.
That’s why, here at StatusPage, we put a ton of effort and thought into how we’re onboarding new hires. Because as the business grows, we need more people. That means more people to be introduced to the team, learn their jobs, learn our product.
It’s a huge responsibility. There’s a lot to learn on the subject. Great employee onboarding is so much more than “fill out these forms and find your desk.” Great onboarding can have compounding effects for decades in the company, helping make sure the employees you hire (and eventually the employees they hire) are as effective as they can possibly be.
But it’s not easy. To help us learn more about how great companies handle onboarding, we were joined by friends at BambooHR and Asana. Bella Kazwell is a senior engineer at Asana and Rusty Lindquist is VP of HR Insights at BambooHR. Both have extensive experience with onboarding best practices. They joined us for a live chat recently in our new series of Startup Roundtable discussions. Check out the video below for the recording of the talk.
You hear it from companies all the time.
“We want to tell our story.” “We have a story to tell.” “Listen to our story.”
Funny thing is, this is almost universally followed by something that hardly resembles a story at all. At least no story you’d pay to see at a movie theater, or crack a book to read. No story you’d stop and listen to at a party.
What follows is typically a lot of corporate advertising baloney. Self-aggrandizing and back patting is not a “story.”
Even if done humbly, simply talking about a thing — or stringing together a list of events — is not story. Story has certain elements in place. Humans know, and react, to story when they hear one. Successful companies have known and capitalized upon this for years.
“When it comes to marketing, a company like Coca-Cola gets this. They know that, deep down, they are much more a story factory than a beverage factory. No matter what they’d like us to believe, Coke’s success isn’t due to some magic in their fizzy syrup water (at least not since they took the actual cocaine out). Coke excels because they’ve been clobbering the opposition in the story wars for more than a century. People want to see themselves in the stories Coke tells.”
We launched in 2013 with 2 plans, one free and the other $49/mo—so to get to $1 million annual revenue run rate, we would need a whopping 1,700 customers.
Today, we have just over 1,700 customers, and we’re running at a $2.49M annual revenue run rate, more than 2.4x what we were originally on track for.
It’s been a slow ramp, but over the last 2 years, we’ve methodically raised our average revenue per user (ARPU) from $49 to $116 and climbing.
Not many people talk about it, but raising our ARPU has made it possible for us to achieve so much more with less.
It’s increased our margins which has allowed us to bootstrap the business post-Y Combinator. Rather than focusing on how to raise money from investors, boosting ARPU has been our process of raising money from our own customers—by building the right product and building value.
There’s an old Western movie, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” where John Wayne plays an army captain on his final mission. The mission goes south and the commanding officer’s niece blames herself. That’s when John Wayne’s character delivers his famous line.
“You're not quite 'Army' yet, miss... or you'd know never to apologize... it's a sign of weakness.”
It’s a very John Wayne thing to say, right? You can almost picture the toughened soldier staring off toward the horizon, eschewing apologies. It’s part of a masculine charicature in popular culture. Arthur Fonzarelli could power up a juke box with his fist, but couldn’t get the word “sorry” past his lips. Sorry was for wimps and sissies, not John Wayne. Not The Fonz.
Somehow, something about this sentiment grew beyond the screen and became ingrained in generations of business leaders, athletes and politicians. Apologies are for the weak, the thinking goes, and should be avoided at all costs. If you must own up to something, make it as flimsy as possible.
It’s why very few public apologies leave you feeling like the messenger actually feels sorry. It’s why so many of them feel scripted and insincere.
NOTE: This is the second post in a series of posts on workplace communication. Check out part one: “ How To Communicate Better With IT Colleagues.”
There was a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch around the year 2000 starring Jimmy Fallon. Fallon played “Nick Burns, your company computer guy.” Cue the jingle:
Nick Burns, the computer guy. He'll fix your computer, then he's going to make fun of you. Cause he's Nick Burns, your company computer guy.
The sketch consisted of Fallon as an arrogant corporate tech support employee bullying and pushing around his colleagues.
It was a pretty mediocre sketch. And the jokes are pretty dated now. But the bit played off a lot of stereotypes that are still very common today. And there was some truth behind the jokes. The communication barrier between tech- and non-tech colleagues can be pretty grueling.
As I start to write this, the sun is setting over Las Vegas and the expo hall at the Venetian is bursting with energy and music. It’s opening night at AWS re:Invent. The first waves of nearly 20,000 people are showing up to check out the action. Some of the most exciting companies and ideas in the web community are together in one building.
And our company has the awesome opportunity to be part of it all.
Too bad I’m missing it.
I’m actually outside the main room and downstairs on a small couch in the corner. I’d like to be upstairs, but our booth is so damn crowded. I’d honestly be getting in the way up there.
We brought our whole team, currently 11 people and growing, and there's not enough room to squeeze us all into the 100-square-foot space we’ve reserved.
And that’s not all. Now that we’re here, I’m noticing some other things. Our one-pager is decent at best, our backdrop is non-existent, our pitches are sloppy and disjointed. In general we’re just kind of lacking the polish a lot of the other booths have.
What do they have that we don’t? Experience, for one. Some of these companies have been around doing conferences for years, before we even existed. But despite our stumbles this year, we’re actually a lot better at these things than we used to be.
There’s a lot you can pick up after a few rounds of taking your startup to a conference. There’s a lot I’ve learned after two years of doing these things. And a lot of things I wish I would have known two years ago, things I’d change if I could jump into a DeLorean and travel back to 2013.
Here are a few lessons we learned the hard way. Along with some tips from conference veterans who joined us in a live webinar last week.
NOTE: This is the first post in a series of two posts on workplace communication. Next week we’ll publish part 2: “IT Teams: Communicate Better With Non-IT Colleagues.”
When StatusPage.io first started out, internal communication was simple. Steve could talk to Scott. Scott could talk to Steve.
They were both working on launching the company. They both have a web development background. They’re related.
For the most part, they knew how to talk to each other.
But companies grow. At least that’s the plan. And with almost no exception, communication gets harder. Now that StatusPage.io is at 11 people (and growing), communication is trickier.
There aren’t just more people to communicate with, there are different types of people to do the communicating. We’ve got people doing sales, operations, marketing. We’re working on hiring our first full-time customer advocate. In other words, it’s not just two brothers punching out code anymore.
When Steve Jobs took the stage in July 2010, it wasn’t for the usual reasons.
There was no beautiful new Apple product to announce. No industry-changing innovation to unleash.
There was a problem to address. Something was wrong with the new iPhone. Something that had bloggers and tech reviewers up in arms. Critics were howling that the iPhone 4 was a flop. Financial analysts worried the problem could sink the company’s presence in the smartphone market and bruise stock prices.
What was so wrong with the phone?
The antenna was fussy. Some users were reporting that holding the phone a certain way caused it to drop calls. Many users barely noticed, others swore off the device altogether. Competitors and critics were circling the scene like sharks smelling blood. The company had to respond.
Dressed in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck, a noticeably somber Jobs took the stage. Gone was the smile seen less than a year earlier, when Jobs announced a product that was "beyond a doubt the most precise thing, one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever made."
The familiar white Helvetica letters popped onto the screen behind Jobs. The words were unlike anything Apple had ever communicated to the public.
“We’re not perfect."