Reflections on startup life: Week 61

Wow, I'm not sure what happened this week – the weekly reflection completely slipped my mind!

I mentioned last week that we had to take a break.  It's been so good for us! Although we haven't pushed a lot of visible features in the last week, we've had a chance to do a lot of house keeping and tidying up.  Alex has been hard at work nailing bugs and implementing a lot more regression test coverage to make sure we stay bug free.  We migrated from SVN to GIT for easier branch management of the code and most importantly we did some non technical things like continuing to look at where we are going, what we'd need to get there and how we will manage that.

We got some more tech blog coverage (I did some press releases) and this drove some sign ups.  We've decided we need to seek investment and have started down that path again as well.

So what are the reflections from last week?

It gets easier

We are doing and redoing activities now that we've experienced several times before (writing a press release, contacting investors etc, preparing a pitch).  You do get better at these things, you learn what's important and what's not.

Relationships count

I've spoken about this previously – what I call my "3T'S" for investment:
  • Team – You need to have the right people to execute on the idea
  • Technology – There needs to be something interesting and differentiating about the idea.
  • Traction – You've got to be able to show something exciting about it (sign ups, press, growth, revenue…)
  • Social Proof – Who you are, who are your supporters and who knows you are critical.
If I look at what we've pitched previously (Twendly and Tribalytic), the team is consistent.  From a Technology point of view it's an interesting idea with some interesting (and well proven for us now) technologies. It's the Traction and Social Proof areas where we have made significant headway.

This blog post http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2010/11/15/invest-in-lines-not-dots/ is a great summary of what some investors are looking for.  (As an aside, I found that link in Trunk.ly within 5 seconds of thinking I needed it here in this post – open Trunk.ly, search "talk to VC" it was the second link).

By having met a range of people now, we've been able to reach out to them more easily second time around.  Actually, we should of done better here – I think that we should of been updating them on a three monthly basis, but we're back there now and I think that counts.

So the Traction is the user sign ups and coverage, but it's that Social Proof – the fact people have spoken to us before and that 10 months on we're still here, still fighting the startup fight that counts a lot.  I'd also describe the approach as less pitching, more fishing… the advantage we have now is a better idea and contacts where we can cast our line.  We think what we are doing is exciting – but if it's not obvious to an investor VERY early on in the process, trying to convince them differently is not how we are approaching this (that's a very time consuming and generally poor reward – although it has other benefits like experience, making contacts etc.).

Press coverage is hollow calories

Coverage in a major tech blog is sweet like sugar! It will drive a traffic surge that's addictive and you can actually kid yourself for a while that it's going really well.  In fact it's dangerous early on, because unless you know what you need to measure, you're driving the wrong metric.  We're really excited about the number of people signing up, but we've realised that we need to do a lot more to ensure that they keep coming back.

We've now set up measures on how individuals are returning and using the site.  It reveals interesting areas for us to work on and try to improve. For example, 25% of users don't ever create a connection into a Social Network (which kind of defeats the purpose of Trunk.ly), they'll never find it useful.  25% of users are returning to Trunk.ly every week, but only 8% do so more than twice a week – how can we improve the experience to ensure that you come back more frequently (the big danger of being too set and forget is that you might set us and completely forget about us!),

What! You didn't have a funnel! Of course we did, but each site has specific and critical things for your business which you need to get right.  High level metrics like "return visits" are fine, but you need to be able to get more fine grained than that – it's the "on what do you focus" question that's challenging.  We've found this has revised, sometimes very quickly, over time.  Sometimes a metric isn't telling you very much, sometimes it's not the right problem that you're measuring.

Highlights
  • Press coverage – ok, hollow calories, but I still like my sugar :-)
  • A necessary 'down' week to consolidate, improve and think about some different things.  We're ready to start pumping out the features again and in a more constructive way.

Lessons Learnt
  • Sticking with press coverage is hollow calories here!
Goal this week
  • What's left of it… starting to really focus on ways of delivering more value and engagement from the existing users.  That could cover some very focussed features, or just dealing with some of their frustrations.
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