I don’t usually follow startup stories, but I was intrigued by this one. With so much going for them – an interesting idea, interest from partners, interest from users, some PR, even some funding – they still had to fold.
And then I read Flowtab’s own account of how it went down. I am hardly qualified to criticize (but of course, I’m going to do so anyway), but some things leaped out at me. And these aren’t particular to this company (I don’t mean to pile on), but attitudes and activities I have seen in other startups as well.
Careless erosion of goodwill
Goodwill isn’t a trendy buzzword, but let’s talk about it anyway. Here are some of the tactics this company tried out.
Flowtab was an app that let you order drinks at bars. The founders spent months building the app, launched it on iTunes, and it was the #1 featured app for one week. But there was no service to back up the app. There’s no mention of how many people downloaded the app, but it must have been a good number. Many startups would be thrilled at having their app featured by Apple. But this one squandered their opportunity by letting users download an app they couldn’t use. That’s like having a big store launch, inviting customers, and then not showing up to open the store. If a thousand customers came to your door, that’s not a success. The fact that you couldn’t serve them is a failure.
I wrote this about my entrepreneurial journey, especially how we got started. I titled it somewhat provocatively, but the point is that I needed to reduce the distractions in my life to think clearly, to figure out what I really wanted to do.
The TV had filled our lives with noise. In the silence, we could hear our thoughts, our dreams.
Mistakes happen. Someone mixed up a customer order or made up a bill wrong. You send out an email to the wrong list. There’s a bug in the rice. (This happened to me not so long ago.)
No matter how hard you try, how good your employees are, or how rigorous your quality-control process is, some things slip through the crack.
It’s how you manage after the mistakes where your company’s culture and customer support shows. How you handle the customer after she complains, or after you discover the mistake, determines whether you can manage to retain her.
When I got that tiny bug in my rice, the restaurant manager apologized profusely and when I refused another serving of rice, offered another dish as replacement. We were at a lunch buffet, but for the rest of the meal, we got served at the table. It’s been some months, and I still remember the incident, but I have mostly good feelings about that restaurant. In contrast, I’ve had many experiences at other restaurants where the wait staff made a mistake but were quite blasé about it.
So I found this recent email from the CEO of PowToon both amusing and admirable.
Are videos part of your content marketing? If not, they should be. Be it a quick product demo, a walk through your facility or office, a testimonial from a happy customer, a training video for some complex feature of your product or an introduction of your team — videos are a great medium for all of this.
But getting professional videos done is so difficult and costly that most of us shy away from it. We recently created a bunch of videos of our product and team, and in the process, discovered that it’s not as difficult as it seems.
There are a number of easy and mostly free tools that you can use to create different kinds of videos quickly. Don’t expect the production quality to be really great, but this will serve the purpose for the most part.
Take a look at the videos we created here, and below is the list of tools we used.
We’ve been feeling like imposters for the last few weeks. You see, whenever we talk to a small-business owner or startup founder, we advise them to focus. To go after one customer segment. To highlight one benefit. To talk in one voice across their marketing channels.
How can you “focus” on more than one thing at a time? How can you “highlight” 37 services? How can you, with the constraints of a small business, manage more than one brand and ensure that your audience doesn’t get confused by conflicting messages?
But we’ve been doing all of this ourselves. We’ve introduced ourselves as “marketing consultants, and we also have a product” or as “we’re building a product, and we also do consulting services.” We’ve been dividing our time between servicing clients and working on the product.
If your feet are on two boats, what happens when the boats gather speed?
If you want 1% of a market, you need to get everyone in that market to at least visit your website.
This ties in with the marketing funnel in our “measuring marketing” presentation. Start from the number of customers you want to meet your revenue targets and work backwards to the number of prospects you need to reach out to. You might be surprised.
We chatted with three of the Co-founders: Aniket Awati (CEO or Happy Co-Founder), Ratnadeep Deshmane (Geeky Co-Founder), and Amit Yadav (Business Co-Founder). Check out the videos below. (The audio isn’t good, I’m afraid, but I’ve added annotations that should help.)
Leo Widrich offers ten myths about startups. I found #1 particularly eye-opening: but it makes sense that deadlines don’t work “when you’re trying to do something innovative and new; when you don’t have a manual to refer to on how to perform your tasks.”
It’s a pleasant delusion to believe that all our problems require hard solutions. This way we feel interesting, get to do challenging things and become more attractive to members of our preferred sex. If you’re constantly feeling tired it’s tempting to become concerned about your iron levels, consider painting your ceiling a relaxing shade of ochre and look into buying a new pillow that fits your personality better. But you probably just need to go to bed a bit earlier. Perhaps on some level of consciousness we find it hard to believe that anything simple could possibly make a dent in our problems, which as we already know are of course really difficult and can only be solved by a super-genius such as ourselves. But there will always be simple things you are doing badly that you should look at first, especially in a startup where you deliberately ignore 90% of things so that you can do the other 10% really, really right.
I had done a bit of coding more than 10 years back, but since then my exposure to the technical side was limited to managing software projects, data analysis, and occasional experiments with SQL or Excel macros. Building a SaaS product of our own was a task I had never imagined taking up.
Outsource or build in-house
We didn’t have a lot of money to hire a great outsourcing vendor or to hire a senior technical lead. We did try looking for someone who could be a technical co-founder but that was not going to be easy.
Unmana and I had both worked in geographically distributed teams for a long time and understood the communication overheads and leakages that need to be dealt with in such a setup. So we were very clear from the beginning that we wanted to have a local team and dedicated developers who can work closely with us. Apart from the cost, culture was the biggest driver behind this decision.
Contribute to the community you want to be part of. There are many ways of adding value – you don’t have to be in the organizing committee to do that. Reach out to the people who are running things and they would be more than happy to get a helping hand.
Find things you can do well – we knew that we would not be able to help much with organizing community events and we like more focused conversations than open ended gatherings. Office hours gave us that opportunity and filled an important gap.
We have a few slots open for the second session, so if you want to come, apply here. Participants who haven’t attended either the first or the second session will not be invited to the third. You won’t get much out of just the third workshop without the context of at least one of the other two.
Buffer is one of my favorite tools, but it’s not just the application itself I like, it’s the company. So well, let me count the ways.
Simple App That Focuses on One Benefit
I love how simple and easy Buffer is to use (in fact, I liked the earlier interface even better, because it was more simple). I’ve tried a few social media scheduling tools, but this is the only one I stuck with.
One click on the text box, type in or paste your tweet, and you’re done.
Unmana is out of action for a few days due to a small accident so I am bringing you this weekend’s reading. This one is going to be a mix of personal and business: hope you will find it useful and enjoyable.
I liked Joel Gascoigne’s post about how working with a partner makes you more productive. I’ve found that I’m much more productive when Nilesh is in the same room, partly because I am ashamed to be goofing off when someone is around, and partly because I can get quick answers to questions or get responses when I think aloud and it makes me move forward immediately instead of tabling the issue and starting on something else. Do you prefer working with a partner or colleague to working alone?