Category Archives: Startup Marketing 101

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel

Have you got a startup on the side and you think you’re disrupting whole industries? Think that you’re unique? I’m here to say you’re not. Let’s face some hard truths together, I’ll hold your hand through it.

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel.

Writer Once, twenty-somethings, usually men, felt they had enough life experience and good ideas to fill pages, inspire a generation, and write the next great American novel while selling millions of copies. Now, they quit school, learn to code and think they have the ideas that will retain millions of users and sell for billions of dollars.

But how can this be? Anyone can write a novel, right? Well now anyone can also start their own startup. With advances in tech and the democratization of the internet, owning a computer, a smartphone and/or a tablet has become commonplace within the same demographics that yearned to pen the so-called “unique” stories that lived within their souls. The same demographics who would have once been prime candidates for pulling out their hair while staring at a blank page are now pulling out their hair learning to code instead.

bug-featureThink about it: aside from coding (which isn’t always necessary anymore – there are plenty of non-technical founders), writing a novel and starting a startup are almost one and the same. They require tenacity, determination, and a beautiful cross between self-delusion and self-confidence that the founder will be part of the minute percentage that makes it. It also requires a lot of self-motivation, selling to get the novel/startup off the ground, and both types to get involved in these types of projects are usually quite clever and intelligent.

Often, a novel or a startup begins on the side while trying to turn becoming an author or becoming an entrepreneur into a full-time gig. Both types commonly require large cash advances and require large amounts of time, energy and concentration to make it. They also require a huge amount of focus, sophistication and expertise – more than most people posses or expect. Both dream of being able to quit their day jobs to pursue their dreams full-time (oh wait – who doesn’t?).

And the failure rates are quite similar too, most people fail in both cases – most writers never finish writing their first manuscript, and if they do, the majority won’t get book deals, while approximately 90% of startups fail within the first year.

So if young people writing semi-autobiographical novels is considered frivolous navel-gazing, how would you categorize the current slew of cute, cool startups? Because let’s face it, the vast majority of startups aren’t changing the world.

Brendan & Brendan’s Beth Thouin Mentors at Montreal’s NEXT

Next MontrealHosted by Google for Entrepreneurs, NEXT is the world’s top ranked pre-accelerator program geared at getting startup companies ready for the grueling schedule of an accelerator program. Teams come together for three hours every week for 5 consecutive weeks to plan, pitch and test their ideas to a team of mentors consisting of industry experts. NEXT events happen simultaneously across the globe with the best teams from each conference gaining the opportunity to converge at the Next First Look Forum.

For this year’s event, our very own Beth Thouin was invited as a mentor to participating startups. A self-described validation queen, Beth reinforces to startups that they cannot build a solution without validating that a problem actually exists for a specific customer segment. She guides entrepreneurs on how to find potential customers, how to ask them the right questions and how to measure results so that teams make an educated decision to pivot or persevere with their idea. The name of the game was getting startups to reevaluate their customer recruitment methods, and to bring a new perspective to the way they expanded their customer base.

“Many of the startups had to go back to the drawing board and re-validate because they realized after our workshop that they were asking leading questions – giving them the answers they wanted.”

As the teams work on their business models and getting the most out of their unique ideas and strategies, Beth will be there to guide them on building their marketing plans based on validation and their validated value propositions.

Here at Brendan & Brendan, we wish each and every team the best of luck; we’re behind you!

For more info on the NEXT, read what organizers Sergio Escobar and Gabriel Sundaram had to say in the press be sure to stay tuned for Montreal’s winner coming up in the next 3 weeks.

Keep Marketing Fun 101 Workshop – Back by Popular Demand!

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Back by popular demand!

Come learn from experts on how you can easily inject basic marketing strategies into your business plan from day 1.

This past summer Brendan & Brendan hosted a fringe event for the International Startup Festival – Startup Marketing 101. The event was a success with over 100 tickets sold and an after party that attendees are still talking about. Since this event we have had tons of requests for an encore.

So here it is!

We’ve decided to put together an intense and FUN 3hr workshop covering the original topics: Customer Validation & Acquisition, Building Brand Narrative, and Community Management & Building in more detail geared to a broader range of “students” – whether your an entrepreneur, startup, or a brand – we got you covered.

Seats are limited and early bird pricing ends Oct 10th so register now!

What you’ll learn

Customer Validation & Acquisition

Don’t need customer validation? Think again! Beth Thouin will walk through, in detail, what customer validation is, how to choose your customer segments and how to validate your problem/solution fit with them. Beth will outline a scientific approach to gathering and measuring validation as well as the tools you need to set up unbiased questionnaires and a mini pop quiz that will help you assess if you are asking the right questions in your validation process.

Building Brand Narrative

So what’s your story? For existing and emerging next-generation brands, there’s never been more opportunity to leverage the power of their brand story – if only they knew how. Your brand story will outlive any advertising or promotional campaign. Brand storytelling is not a tagline, ad campaign, media strategy, copywriting, marketing communications, or visual images. It’s a narrative that guides the relationship between a growing brand and its audiences. Brendan Tullly Walsh will walk through all the necessary steps involved in learning to understand what your narrative is and what’s involved in building it.

Community Management & Building

Is anybody out there? No matter what stage your online community is in, there are basics of community management to be followed. Building communities takes patience. Communities are fragile and need to be nurtured. If you follow some very basic steps you can build a loyal following that can increase brand equity and business growth. Brendan Sera-Shriar will carefully outline all the necessary methods, tools, and steps involved in building a community from the ground up. He will also demonstrate how to increase the visibility, engagement and growth of your current community. Once the seeds have been planted you need to water it. Brendan will show you how to manage your community for sustainability.

Excited? You should be! Seats are limited and early bird pricing ends Oct 10th so register now! If you missed the last event make sure to check out the blog recap and video.

Hope to see you all there!

5 Elements Startups Can Validate Using Landing Pages

guinea-pig---tanLanding pages, for those who do not know, are one-page websites with minimal content and one sole call-to-action such as Buy Now, Book Now, Download, etc… Startups usually use landing pages pre-beta for lead generation. I say stop! Or at least hold off. Pre-beta, pre MVP, and even pre-coding, use a landing page to test your idea.

Validation is a tricky for startups. Commonly and unfortunately so, startups validate their idea and product too late, when the code is done and the time has been invested only to realize that the problem they are trying to solve is not great enough.

To save all that time, money and heartache, validate your idea early on and keep on validating every step of the way. The best and cheapest way to validate is with face-to-face interviews. However, this requires time and hustling. If you have a small budget, a landing page and fake pay-per-click (PPC) campaign is a fast and efficient way to test interest and willingness to buy. Eric Ries did exactly this. You can see in his blog post just how. Here are 5 key elements that you can validate using landing pages (in this order).

1. IDEA

You have an idea! Brilliant. Don’t build it because they won’t necessarily come. Yes, I made a cheesy Field of Dreams reference. Instead, build a landing page as if your business already existed. I would talk to 5-10 potential customers (not your mom) to do a base validation of your idea. Does it bring value to them? Would they pay for it?  As with many aspects in life, actions speak louder than words. Put together a small PPC ad campaign and see if people click through to learn more about your business idea. This small investment can save you thousands of dollars down the line. If you are getting clicks on the ad, that means there is a genuine interest. The ROI metric in this campaign is interest. You might not necessarily get signups or click-throughs to buy at this point, but interest is a start.

2. VALUE PROPOSITION

If visitors are not clicking on your call-to-action buttons on the landing page, perhaps the value proposition on your landing page is unclear or misguided. Now, the value proposition is usually (and should be) described loud and clear in the header at the top of the page. Again, talk to potential customers first to understand why they would use your product. The why might be completely different from what you thought. Is it cool? Does it save them time? Does it solve a problem? How exactly? Switch out your value proposition on the landing page, keep the same ad campaign running and track the difference.

3. PRICING

What price point makes the most sense to your target audience? Now is the time to email anyone who has already signed up to better validate your pricing. Segment the mailing list in two. Create two different price points. Determine which price point attracts more potential customers. Finding that sweet spot between profitability and scalability is delicate. Be mindful to offer the product to that visitor at the advertised price when the product becomes available.

4. MESSAGING

Messaging is what your copy (text) is saying on the landing page. In the case of a landing page, less is more. Visitors need to ‘get’ what you do in under 30 seconds. No thinking should be required. What you understand of your product might not be what others understand. How to explain it? Well, ask someone who would use it how they would describe your product.  For example, a programmer might see his CMS startup as a ‘CMS for beginners’. Whereas an actual beginner sees his product as ‘a website that builds websites’. The messaging is very different. Test it out.

5. DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT

Now it’s time to build your landing page. Some may argue this, but I believe that copy sells more than design. By this I mean that the power of words influences and inspires action more than the design of a page. But second to copy is design. Try different designs on your landing pages to see what speaks more to your audience. Design is usually the ‘wow’ factor.

Is This a Scam?

You are wondering at this point if your ‘fake’ PPC campaign and landing page is a scam? Not at all. It’s a stepping stone to growth. Be mindful to not false advertise. So do not use call to actions such as ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Download Now’ where you are setting an expectation that cannot be met. Rather, a ‘Learn More’ call to action is reasonable. We have also seen advertisements that call out for validation. Tweets, Facebook shares or forum discussions asking for help. This is another approach, and can be an efficient one if you set up a live feedback or survey to capture the feedback.

The Guinea Pig Page

Finally, for the visitors that click through to your call-to-action or ‘Pricing’ link, create a secondary page with a likeable message such as, “Hey There! Thanks for wanting to purchase. You just helped us validate our product. We are going to go build it now. Sign up for company updates and a huge discount when we are up and running as thanks for being our guinea pig”. If you put a cute guinea pig picture on the page, you’ll make the visitor feel that s/he contributed to the beginning of something. Warm and fuzzy works 🙂

Have you ever used a landing page to validate your startup?

Startup Marketing 101 recap

sm101-recap

You’ve heard the words, seen the stickers and postcards, and even tweeted “KEEP MARKETING FUN” which is exactly what we did last Friday!

We would like to thank everyone who attended our sold out Startup Marketing 101 workshop and our micro-sponsors who helped make this event a success: Ernst & Young, underlabs, Pub De Quartier and HappyBoxCMS. We would also like to thank all the residents at the Loft266 for their support: I Can Go Without, Weroll, HappyBoxCMS, and Sun Masters Group, and of course the Brendan & Brendan Team.

To say we Kept Marketing Fun on Friday would be an understatement, we ROCKED the marketing world ’till the wee hours with knowledge, food, beer, wine, and our resident DJ “The Attic’s” party anthems. Many have asked “How do we Keep Marketing Fun?” well if you were in attendance last Friday – now you know!

Make sure to check out the full set of photos on flickr.

Video Credits: Guillaume Legacé – Videographer, Olivia Layaert – VideographerMo HamadPhotographer, Natasha IzRostova – Photographer, Brendan Sera-Shriar – Editor.

We’ve received a ton of great feedback on all our social channels and in person and we thank you for all the kinds words. This is only the beginning! We’ve decided to host more Startup Marketing workshops in the future that will cover a broad range topics and we hope to see you all there.

SR&ED 101

Guest post by Mark Maclean

Do I qualify?
The best place to start is with the basic question “Do I qualify?”. For most companies I meet, in any industry, the short answer is “Yes!” Don’t be scared by the name of the program. The title can actually be broken down into two separate parts, Scientific Research and Experimental Development. Most companies will qualify for the experimental development aspect. Experimental development is essentially attempting to better your business or product(s) through a technical means. Bottom line is that if you are trying to develop or improve a part of your business process or one of your products then you should be taking a closer look at the SR&ED program.

What’s the value to me?
Once you’ve determined that you have projects in your business that might be eligible, the next question is, inevitably, what can be claimed for a credit? You can claim a tax credit on salaries, subcontractors and materials related to the SR&ED performed by your business. An amount for overhead cost is also included, but that is calculated through the use of the salaries. For the purpose of these numbers, I’ll use an example of a small private company that is eligible for the maximum credit rates in Quebec. These percentages vary across Canada, but if you are operating in Quebec you can get a tax credit of up to 80% of eligible salaries, 40% of eligible subcontractors and 35% of eligible materials. The bottom line on what qualifies is that you can get a refund of up to 80% of the costs associated to an eligible project. You should be aware that as your company grows the tax credit rates can be reduced, however if you are operating in Quebec you will always be entitled to at least a 17.5% cash credit.

How long does it take to get the cash?
When I get asked this question I tell people not to expect their money before 6 months of submitting the claim. For example, if you have December year end, your accountant has up to 6 months to submit your taxes. Let’s say he submits them at the deadline at the end of June. In my experience, the federal government will give you an answer in 3 to 4 months whether it’s accepted or under audit. If accepted, you should receive a check from the federal government within the next month and a check for the provincial amount in the following month. These timeframes can vary significantly but as a first time claimant I wouldn’t count on getting your money any sooner than this. We have seen claims accepted within two weeks, but this is more the exception than the rule.

You mentioned the possibility of an audit. I’m scared!
Don’t be! An audit is not a bad thing. As long as you make sure your projects are documented and are eligible under the criteria of the program, you should not be worried. Normally the same auditor is assigned to your file for every year it is submitted, so if they think you don’t know what you are doing or trying to claim projects that are not eligible, they may have to come back year after year to verify your claim. On the other hand, if you are able to defend your claim to the government and justify your SR&ED costs you will be in good standing for future claims.

SR&ED sounds great, where else can I get money?
It’s true; the SR&ED program is a great program. There are also a number of other programs for which you could be eligible depending on your industry. For example, another program that many IT companies apply for is the E-Business program administered by Investissement Quebec. The goal when combining different tax credits is to claim them in the most efficient manner so that you are maximizing the total amounts you could possibly get.

Overall, the SR&ED program is a great program to help support your development activity. There is no limit on how small or how big of a company you need to be. The only restriction to getting any money back is that you have to spend money on eligible work. If you are not claiming yet I would suggest you at take a close look to ensure you are not missing cash refunds. Any good business should be attempting to get better every day, and many times these activities can be eligible for some money from the government. Imagine what you could do with an extra 80% of your development costs each year.


MacleanMarkAbout Mark Maclean

Mark works in the Business Tax Incentive and SR&ED department for EY in the Montreal office. As a Manager at Ernst & Young, Mark is responsible for working with companies of all sizes to identify and prepare any business tax incentives that they would be eligible for.

Speaking at Startup Weekend Montreal – July 12-14, 2013

We love startups and startup culture!

As entrepreneurs and ex-startup’ers ourselves we know the community and culture as well as, if not better than most. We spend a lot of time working with startups helping them shape their businesses, raise money, build their pitch decks, make connections, and of course, get the “marketing” ready.

On July 12th we’re organizing and hosting a fringe event at International Startup Festival – Startup Marketing 101 – where we’re going to be going through the basics of customer acquisition and validation, content marketing, and community management and building.

But it doesn’t end there!

That night Startup Weekend Montreal begins and the following day, Saturday July 13th, Beth Thouin COO and Partner at Brendan & Brendan will be speaking at Startup Weekend Montreal.

Best Practices for Customer Validation

8 out of 10 startups fail for many reasons. One of the most common reasons is lack of customer validation. In this talk, we’ll go over how to find your potential customers, validate your solution/problem fit, pivot if necessary and validate and measure again. Customer validation is about building a product that people will buy. Let’s find the right customer and the right solution for them!

If you’re a startup in the Montreal area, we highly recommend registering for Startup Weekend Montreal and if you already have we’ll see you there!