Saturday, June 11, 2011

Did we miss something? Startups and Customer Acquisition

A few minutes ago, I signed up for @TotalHealthHub, after talking to one of the team members on Twitter.

They are using LaunchRock, an excellent landing page creator for pre-launch startups. Below is a picture of the LaunchRock page right after I signed up and tweeted it out. As you can see, easy to share via Facebook, Twitter, and even email. The email includes easy-to-use address book integration. For the 2 people left I know on Orkut, there's a URL I can provide, too. Spreading the digital word could not be easier, but it still got me to thinking, have we over-focused on the social media and pre-launch phases as a startup industry?

When did we loose word-of-mouth? The thing that strikes me is there is no way for me to actually share this experience and participate in the virtual currency - in this case, early access to @TotalHealthHub - by telling my network verbally. It does not scale, but it's very powerful; looking someone in the eye and saying "you have to try this". The fact that there's no way to capitalize on that delivery mechanism is fertile ground for improvement.

The same is true post-launch. It's fantastic to have so many people signed up for your pre-launch and your VC/Angel/team wants to see that pop, so you can look at conversion rates and get real feedback from the community. It's critically important, even if you do not subscribe to the Lean Startup concepts on which it's based. But it's equally, if not more interesting, to see who is referring you after they have tried it. I have not seen many sites do a good job with referrals post-launch, which reflects who liked your execution (post-launch), not just your idea (pre-launch). There is a tool/solution gap here.

Last week I gave three presentations where I said "you have to try Earndit, it's a game changer for FitBit and the Wellness Market". I didn't stop to give everyone my custom URL - never mind reading it out, no way will I remember them all - it's hard enough to get EarndIt's name right. Yes, I could followup with a URL after the meeting,  but the conversion moment was right then, when I stood in front of them and told them they had to sign up or they were missing out.

These people represent your real users, who tried the product and want to tell people about it after the buzz settles. If nothing else, I want to be able to thank them - publicly, too - it's not only brands that like to see their mentions on Twitter and Facebook. Startups need to know these post-launch champions.

Can't I solve both of these the same way? Why can't I just put in the email of the person that recommended it to me when I sign up, be it pre-launch or post-launch? Or even their actual name, if I don't know the email - and I'm saying this as a guy whose name my mother still spells wrong sometimes, and she choose the name. Email and Names are still far more popular that Twitter or Facebook. You can find people without Twitter, and you may be able to find someone who is not on Facebook, but email is still the foundation that they are built on.

I'm not saying the current implementation misses the mark. It most certainly does not.  Twitter and Facebook are high-scale, low friction ways to get the word out to many people all at once. I also don't want to pick on LaunchRock. I know there are a lot of people that say they are selling picks in the gold rush, to which I say "thank god for them".

Creating a landing page, linking it to social media, and providing analytics are critically important to launching your startup and are exactly the type of activity that takes you away from your novel idea. LaunchRock makes this amazingly easy and productive. It's a good solution, along with others like it, such as Unbounce. Anything that helps you focus on your value add - be it AWS or LaunchRock, is a good thing. I was happy to see they are part of the latest 500Startups class, and I am sure they will tackle this issue - and many more - in the near future.

What do you think? Have I blown this out of proportion, or is it a gap in our customer development?

Update 6-13-2011: Although it's specific to Mobile Apps and the cycle of find-install-delete, I found this article  to be interesting, and if you are interested in on-boarding, may be interesting to you, too.