Sunday, June 2, 2013

Get Your First 1,000 Users: Messaging and User Acquisition For Startups | Betamore Class

Image from
Starting a business is hard, especially if you've decided to go without the "brick and mortar" and launch your business completely online.

But as a web-based service your competition for consumer attention increases exponentially. So how do you get the user-acquisition ball rolling and keep it rolling?

For this question, I turned to another class at the co-working space, Betamore. The class "Get Your First 1,000 Users: Messaging and User Acquisition for Startups" sounded like a good place to start.

With his suit and minimal PowerPoint, Len Markidan (Marketing Consultant and Copywriter extraordinaire) was ready to bestow his knowledge onto a diverse classroom of nine students.

With only a couple small slip ups, Len eventually found his rhythm as a presenter. You could see people in the class shift from the leaned-back-and-crossed-arms position the leaned-forward-and-tell-me-more position in a matter of two slides.

Len did a great job getting specific. He spoke about actual methods he himself uses when copywriting in a pinch or helping a budget-conscious client get email subscribers. Kudos to Len!

Below are my notes from the class. But first, some key takeaways!

Leah's Top 3 Takeaways

1) Don't re-invent the web wheel.
We've all heard this before, but do we really consider it when planning for our own online business? Len suggested piggybacking onto the research of successful companies/competitors.

Learn from their website interface design decisions and then move on. Choose to focus on research that will directly impact your business, not just your color choices. Ditch the "which button color?" experiment and focus on a question like, "Is my offer right for my target audience?"

2) is a copywriting tool.
No, we're not buying a book off of to teach us how to write. We are actually searching out the top selling books that are related to our business and reading consumer reviews. So a company that sells tax software to small businesses would search for the top-selling tax books for small businesses on

Once you've found your top-rated books, read the user reviews to see what your target audience is saying. What do they like best about these books? Why did they rate these books 4-5 stars? Also, be sure to make note of the words they are using. In other words, use their words in your copywriting.

Make sure to also check out the bad reviews. These will help you anticipate the reservations consumers will have about your own product.

3) Research is cheap.
OK, not all research is cheap, but there are ways to do it on a budget. Make a simple survey (three questions max) that collects the valuable information for your business (we'll talk more about this below) and learn things that challenge your assumptions. 

Send this survey to 40-50 people in your target audience and see what you get. There are cheap and free online survey tools that make it easy. The small amount of time and money spent on research can save you tons of time and money in the long run. I've listed some survey tools at the end of this post.

Now for some class notes:

Do your research
Len started the presentation with some points on researching your target audience. Basically, you won't know how to market your business unless you know your target market (Hint: your target market is not "everyone").

Len cited the example of They had a list of competitors that provided online money management services, but through research they found, "their biggest competitor was apathy" and a close second was Microsoft Excel.

Surveys are a great way to get this research done efficiently and cheaply. So how do you build a good online survey?

Crafting a good online survey
Of course we can all agree that "good questions" are a key component to any online survey. But can you identify a good question? To start, it needs to:

1) Be non-leading
2) Require more than a "yes" or "no" answer
3) Compel the participant to speak freely

Len suggested three questions for an ideal survey. Wow that is short! But you have to understand that you are asking for someone's time. And the more questions you ask, the less survey responses you get.

I once took a survey from an airline that will remain unnamed, and it was the most awful and drawn-out survey experience I have ever had. Page after page of mindless rating scales, and I got nothing for it in the end.

Getting back to the good survey example. Here are some questions that Len suggested:

1) Tell us about your experiences with __________.
2) What have you tried and failed at?
3) What is your biggest frustration with _________?

You will need to craft these questions to relate to your product or service, but be sure not to lead the participant. These questions allow the consumer to speak freely and the third question compels them to answer with an emotionally charged word like frustrated. "People are willing to pay to eliminate frustration," stated Len.

In-Class Question
Question: But what about measurable data? There is no way to sort the data if it's all open-ended.
Len's Answer: This survey is only for about 40-50 people. We want to look for trends in the responses. We aren't necessarily looking for measurable data as much as we are looking for practical insight.

Also, don't forget to introduce the survey! Tell your participants why you are conducting this survey and how they can help by providing feedback. Ideally, your product or service looks to improve something in their lives. It's a "help me help you" scenario.

Bad survey questions 
Len also provided bad survey questions, he stated that "they do not provide real/practical insight":

1) Anything that starts with "On a scale of 1 to 10..."
"People suck at grading things," and they all have their own opinion of what each number on the scale means. Focus on the real responses from your target audience.

2) If I told you that you could get ________, would you want that?
This is leading and doesn't really provide an unbiased opinion. You may also not get the answer you anticipated and end up questioning your product/service all together.

3) How much would you pay for ________?
If anyone tells you how much they are willing to pay for something, they are lying. This will not help you find out what you should get paid for your product.

Build an Email List
Set it up. Build it now. Yes, NOW!

Your email list will be one of your most valuable assets. Even if you do not have a website, there are easy ways to build landing pages for your emails subscription form or surveys.

Mail Chimp is a great place to start if you are on a budget. This email marketing program is user-friendly and robust. And your account is free up to 2,000 subscribers! Pretty sweet.

If you're looking to build landing pages "pre-website launch" you can also try a service called Unbounce.

Use Facebook to help build your list

"I love Facebook Ads"
Len loves Facebook ads. Why? Because you can:
  • Target based on interest
  • Target based on location
  • Target people that are fans of your competitors
  • Target customers that read specific trade publications
"I recommend Facebook to all start-ups," shared Len. He believes that Facebook is the easiest to use and test, especially if you cannot afford an advertising manager.

Getting Traffic.
There are many methods you can use to get traffic to your website. Here are Len's top three:

1) Follow your (successful) competitors.
If they are successful, they probably spent money on research. Look at where they are advertising, where they are speaking, where they are visible... Piggyback on the research of other successful companies.

2) Facebook Ads (again)
Great for generating traffic.

In-Class Question: 
Question: What is the right Facebook budget?
Len's Answer: It depends on your target audience. Start with what's comfortable and test it. It all comes down to statistical significance - are you seeing a return on your investment or not?

3) Partner up.
Sometimes there is a mutually beneficial relationship that can be established with a business who shares your audience (not your direct competitors).

But be careful! When considering a partnership, you need to think of long term value, not short term sales. Len wouldn't offer something to his audience that isn't going to improve their lives significantly.

What can you offer/barter to your partner?
Often this may include something free, discounted or a maybe a seasonal offer. The great thing about a partnership is that they (your partner) will successfully sell your product for you because their audience already trusts them.

Content (is king).
Content is great because it builds your audience through the sharing of focused, value-driven information. This type of strategy is a great way to build trust with your consumers. "You are already giving them value before they make the decision to buy from you, and that makes it that much easier to buy from you (when the time comes)," shared Len.

This content can be shared with your email subscribers along with your website visitors.

Len presented an example of creating and testing email content. The tech startup Groove came to Len with a need to increase subscriptions. So they started to strategically test emails that would encourage subscriptions. They tested different content in their emails and looked at the analytics to see what was shared. By the time launch day came around, their list was 15,000 strong. A good percentage of these subscribers became conversions and many of them provided referrals.

Again, testing is key. Try different subject lines or types of content - see what is shared and what is effective.

In-Class Question:
Questions: How much content should I post?
Len's Answer: Targeted content shouldn't take more than a few hours a week.

Here is a great example of value-driven content for an online business:
This blog also provides additional advice for your business! Boom. Two-for-one.

Convert Traffic (Wahoo)
Targeted Landing pages are essential to your online business. Again, services like Unbounce make it easy to build custom landing pages.

"People are going to tell you a lot of best practices, but there is only way to do it right. You need to create something, test it and optimize it" Len shared with the class.

Avoid looking at design that "looks cool". Instead, look at websites that have spent a lot of money on landing pages that convert.

What is the number one mistake that a lot of start-ups make? 
Spending time and money testing things like font sizes or button colors. These type of tests may get you a 2%-10% increase, but leave those kind of tests to Test things like your product offer. This is more likely to give you 40%-200% increases in your conversions if done correctly.

Speaking of conversions...
When you are looking to convert, you have to go deeper than just stating the features of your service.

Here are the three elements that give you the biggest wins (in order of importance):

1) Your offer
What are you promising to people?
Is it interesting to them? Is it compelling?
"They don't care about your app, they can about how you are going to solve their problem(s)."

2) The Headline
Don't make it too abstract. You want this to state your objective clearly. Sometimes we can get too abstract about the mission of our business. An example: "A hassle-free desktop solution"

3) Copy
Len openly stated that he might value copy this more than others with his background as a copywriter, but regardless he wants to know, "Are you using the words that your customers use?"

When writing, Len will print out his copy and ask someone (in the intended target audience) to read front of him. Yes, it sounds weird, but it's important to watch them. Are they nodding? Smiling? Are they furrowing their brow?

Long copy vs. short copy
It's trendy now to have minimal copy and a lot of white space. Len would absolutely recommend testing long copy. Long copy in this context simply means going into detail and being descriptive. You can break it up with headlines and bullets, but what it provides is that extra nudge to those that don't already know everything about your product. These types of customers will read everything before they decide to buy your product.

Are you testing testimonials in your copy?
P90X has a good examples of testimonials. When you go to the "stories" section of the website, you'll see that they have based all of their testimonials on their consumer personas. They use these personas to create relatable experiences and address any doubts that each of these personas may have about the product.

After the conversion.
Engage your users! Buyer's remorse is natural. We all feel it right after a purchase. Did I make the right decision? Could I have spent my money more wisely? Maybe I shouldn't have ordered that after my third glass of wine? 

To help solidify the idea of a "good buy", make contact quickly and thank your customer. Make them aware of things like support options. Go beyond just sending them a copy of their receipt.

Here is an example. Bugsnag is a bug-tracking software. 10 minutes after signing up for a Bugsnag account, a user gets this email:

Hey ___,

I'm James, CEO of Bugsnag....[ENTER CEO's MSG HERE].



This email receives a 22% response rate. As a business owner, you get great insight (with people responding with their issues or comments) in addition to reassuring your customers of their purchase.

With this simple automated email, Bugsnag customers now feel that they have a direct connection to the CEO of the company and they gain confidence in their purchase.

One of the biggest conversion tools for a company is referrals. If people are referred by someone they trust, they are more likely to convert. Try offering an incentive for both parties.

One of the most well-known referral offers comes from Dropbox. Their referral campaign offers 200MB of free storage for every referred user that creates a Dropbox account. After launching, their referrals went up 60%. They also make it very obvious in the sign-up process that users can refer their friends to get more space.

Get Great Referrals.
This is the only time Len would recommend an yes-or-no survey question. Just ask the question: Would you recommend this product/service to a friend or a colleague? And then provide them the opportunity to refer.

That's it for my notes! Thank you again to Len Markidan and Betamore for this highly informative class. This blog was just based on notes, so be sure to look up Len for his next teaching appearance. He provides a detailed handout of his presentation after his classes. So helpful!

Looking forward to applying these strategies as I build my new business (more to come on that...)

Len Markidan - Follow him on Twitter @LenMarkidan!
Survey programs: Survey Monkey, Google Forms (available in Google Drive)
A great blog for more business info:
Email Marketing: Mail Chimp
Build custom landing pages: Unbounce