Start-up Marketing: Some Insights from UppingSticks
Post date: Sep 09, 2010 1:56:20 PM
Since the current theme is entrepreneurship in line with the Accel REE roundtable, I would like to take the opportunity to look at a few issues start-up companies are facing, particularly on the marketing front. I have asked a friend of mine, David Hilary, who recently co-started UppingSticks, to give some insights into his experience. His answers to my initial questions were so fresh and intuitive that we decided to make them available in their entirety below.
1. You started your own company recently (congratulations by the way). What was your background prior to this and what business area did you choose?
My background was IT consulting with a large global consulting company (Accenture). I specialised in programme and project management for retail companies - usually within their supply chain departments. The business area I chose was only partially related to this. A friend of my wife's had the idea to start an online estate agency so the opportunity to join coincided with me taking voluntary redundancy from Accenture. So I joined to do all of the IT for the start-up company.
2. From a marketing point of view what was the most challenging for you? How ‘strategic’ do you think you were with your marketing planning? Is there anything you would do differently if you could start again?
All of it! I knew nothing about marketing and sales (or estate agency) - this was one of the reasons I didn't just take another job after Accenture. I wanted to do something different. So, my advice would be to find someone who knows something about it to help - don't fumble through it on your own. My business partner has an MBA and years of finance & sales experience, so that helped and I learned from him. In terms of the list of tasks you named above, there is a lot of science you can apply to website design (by tracking leads and conversions generated), advertising (by measuring expenditure & ROI), communication channels (by monitoring inbound leads/communications to track the source and effectiveness). So if you follow some simple rules and read the current thinking out there, no matter how wrong you get it you can self-correct. Name/logo/branding are less easy to track how effective they are. Our company is called UppingSticks and was originally a B2C offering (consumer estate agency - we're doing something different and more B2B focussed now), so the one thing I'd maybe do differently is probably pick a simpler or more familiar phrase as a name - we ended up having to spell it out to most people. On the plus side, once people have seen it, it's more memorable. Pricing is hard to measure, especially if you're entering a new niche or a completely new market. If you're not getting the right amount of interest, you don't know if your pricing is too high/too low...is timed wrong (e.g. pay up front vs. pay later), or if people just aren't interested in your product. Then you don't know what to change it to. Surveys help - but what people say about their behaviour in a survey is very different to what they actually do (we have proof of this!). So I'd say that's pretty hard. I'd also have a few backup pricing models in your back pocket that also provide decent returns, and be ready to implement them quickly if necessary.
3. Since you are rooted in a software/IT and marketing environment, what new trends are you observing and what advice or recommendations would you give to others?
I have a few summary points here in terms of advice:
- a good, well designed, and well converting website - there is no excuse for any company not to have a quality site these days. It's the first place anyone looks, so is critical.
- the "cloud" - you don't really need any software or indeed an office. Google Apps is a good example for combining your email, calendar and website. Other “cloud” services include email follow-up systems (Infusionsoft), CRM systems (Salesforce), servers/hardware/storage (Amazon Web Services), and many more.
- outsourcing - you don't really need a staff any more either! If you need some work done (say, your calls answered, or a website built, or some repetitive tasks like marking surveys or checking data), you can go to sites like odesk.com or mechanicalturk.com and get them done for significantly lower cost than finding someone in Europe to do them.
In terms of trends, the main ones I see are:
1) social – e.g. Facebook and the like, as well as the continuing but slightly hidden influence social media has on things like search results in Google);
2) location – e.g. Foursquare, Facebook Places and other ways to leverage positional information of people and devices, and;
3) mobile – e.g. how more and more content is being delivered to mobile devices, the impact on infrastructure to support this, the fact that in certain countries the information age has skipped landlines and gone straight to mobile, the growth of apps and mobile advertising on devices and apps, and the influences these factors will have on all of us.
A simple example bringing all of these together is you're walking in an unfamiliar city and you use an app on your phone to find restaurants near where you currently are, you use another app to read the reviews to find one that looks recommended, then you use another app to search for discount codes/vouchers to use there.
David Hilary studied Chemical Engineering and then spent 10 years working in IT with Accenture, helping clients like The Gap, PepsiCo and Sainsbury's improve their internal IT systems and processes. He took a change of pace by joining a friend to help start an UK online estate agents called UppingSticks, and spent his time focusing on online marketing; improving the website, conversion rates, SEO, email marketing, SEM/PPC; as well as everything else to do with technology. Another opportunity then arose and UppingSticks is now developing some niche estate agency software using Force.com for release in the UK in early 2011. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.