Ep11: Why blogging is crucial for your Startup with Caroline McCullough

How can a startup founder create a blog that can compete against a large company with deep pockets?

What are the misconceptions about blogging?

You’ll find the answer to these and other questions in the first episode in the second season of my podcast.

This season I’ve changed the format and now I’m interviewing marketing professionals with the express objective of extracting advice and tips for founders.

In the first episode, I chat with Caroline McCullough from Writally 

If you’re a founder blogger or just thinking about starting a blog, then jump onto SpotifyStitcherGoogle Play or Apple iTunes

Do we need a better definition of a Startup?

Assume grade 7 debating team voice: “The dictionary describes a startup as a newly established business”

When you hear the word ‘startup’ what do you think of? Hipster workplace with millennials nursing a craft beer decked out in the latest tech? Maybe not quite that clichéd, but when I hear the phrase ‘startup’ being used in association with small businesses like restaurants or hair salons – my spidey sense tingles.

Am I wrong?

As Shakespeare would have it, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

But what makes a rose a rose?

The term ‘startup’ has been as maligned as the word millennials; being young doesn’t make you an ungrateful avocado monster with no work ethic, and being a young new business doesn’t make you a startup.

Maybe it’s semantics. But then again, maybe it matters.

But what is a startup, really?

As has been said by many: A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed

But couldn’t that be any business? Surely, a startup and traditional new businesses differ in several ways.

And if so, why try and claim yourself as a startup if you’re not one?

Remember when there were only a handful of supermodels? Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova, Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson. (And yeah, I had to google all of those names). Now, whether the annoying progeny of a Rolling Stone or a Hollywood love child, the term ‘super’ seems to apply to anyone who’s paid a lot to model.

It’s the same thing with startups. If it’s at all possible for a business to be ‘sexy’ then perhaps we can see how startups are the supermodels of the entrepreneurial catwalk. And when you look at how those supermodels have progressed, it’s easy to understand why so many business founders are eager to describe themselves that way. I mean, why be a model if you can just brand yourself as a ‘supermodel’.

I often find myself (irrationally) annoyed by some business owners describing their business as a ‘startup’ which has given me a reason to try and better define what I believe a ‘real’ startup is.

For me, a startup needs to be striving for the betterment of their customer with a business model that can scale. Better + Scale

Better

A startup is a business that makes something better. Not better for you the founder, but better for your customer. It disrupts, challenges existing practices and innovates.

Better can be more efficient, effective or equitable. (The 3 E’s of a better startup )

It is not a market opportunity. A market opportunity is a chance for you, the business owner to make some money through smart positioning. There is nothing wrong with this, but this is not a higher calling, and it indeed can’t be defined as being rooted in a better customer product.

For example, an exclusive distribution right for plastic zip ties is a market lead opportunity, a long time ago a when the zip tie was created it could have been a startup, but not anymore.

A new Mexican restaurant in an underserved region is a market-lead opportunity. A new flavour of a carbonated drink is a market opportunity.

Many existing definitions of startups focus on the opportunity to scale and even accept a market gap. I want to propose today that a market lead opportunity does not represent a startup. That is not to say that there is not a gap in the market, it is just that the market is defined by the problem and the solution first.

Solution based products are designed to solve a problem, and the people with this problem are your target market.

And herein lies one of the core attributes of a startup, its culture. You see, evangelistic employees join a company because they align with the company vision. That vision is connected to a better world which the company will help to create by creating a solution to a customer’s problem.

And at the heart of this culture, is the startup founder.

Where supermodel Linda Evangelista famously wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day; a startup founder will stop at nothing to see their vision realised. Startup founders don’t track billable hours, or clock off at 5. They have a fire that motivates to keep going in the face of uncertainty. And what I’ve found is startup founders tend to be open, honest people keen to share their experience for the common good. They talk openly about their failures and their plans, driven by a sense of a greater purpose.

Without this greater purpose, you can’t be a startup. In my experience, this is why startups feel the way they do when you’re inside, yes you’re a business, but you’re a business that is creating efficiency, effectiveness or equality.

There are many startup definitions that try to quantify startup culture as part of the definition of a startup, but this approach is looking at the resulting culture rather than the cause which is the high purpose of the startup’s problem-solving mission.

Now, because a startup is solving a problem, it means that the path to success is unclear. You need to explore and discover this new path to success. This is a critical characteristic of a startup, they are exploring new groups, creating new standards and rules.

Just like Edmund Hillary climbing Everest, he knew to pack, food, water, shelter and seek as much local advice as he could. A startup founder has basic rules they need to follow, but the core of their business, the problem they are solving is uncharted territory.

And here’s the kicker. Once you’ve found the path, it will be easier for others to follow you. So if the core proposition of the new business has already been mapped out, then it is not a startup. If you’re an Uber clone, you might be a new business, but you’re not a startup. This is also the reason why a startup seeks venture capital and not a bank loan. If the path was well documented then a Bank would be willing to lend against known risk variables.

Scale

The second factor is scale. The second half of my definition is generally accepted by most people who have defined startups.

A startup founder does not trade time for money. The more time you put into your problem’s solution, the better your chances, but there is not a direct relationship between time and money.

This is the second reason Venture Capital is required and attracted to a startup. Not just because a bank won’t lend, but because the solution needs to be scaleable.

It is possible for a Startup to outgrow its status as a startup and for me; this is when the business has proven their ‘better’ solution at ‘scale’. The business has ‘solved the problem’ they set out to fix.

I believe a true startup founder sets out to create a new scalable business that at its core solves a problem that has not been solved before making life better for the customer, thus disrupting the status quo. ‘Better + Scale’.

A quick legal checklist before starting an online business

You have a great idea for a product or service, you have your website up and running, and you’re getting ready to go to market online. It’s an exciting time and the last thing you want to think about is your company’s and your website’s legal compliance. But it’s an important step to take to ensure that disputes over the use of your website and the purchasing of your products/services don’t arise, or if they do, that you have the right protections and agreements in place to protect both you and the consumer.

There are many legal considerations when it comes to creating an online business and below the team at Cubed by Law Squared have pinpointed some of the most important to ensure that you begin your startup journey on the right foot.

 

USE OF YOUR WEBSITE BY CUSTOMERS

You might have a very clear idea of what your website and products or services will be used for but this is not always obvious to the people who visit your website. A well-drafted Website Terms of Use (WTOU) is integral as it allows you to articulate the purposes and the permitted uses of the website. It also gives you the ability to indemnify yourself in the instance that someone uses your website for an unauthorised purpose.

 

ENGAGEMENT WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

Terms and conditions are also a useful document to put in place for your website particularly to govern any monetary or service exchanges. Website Terms and Conditions create IP rights, and impose rights and responsibilities on both the user and the owner of the domain. A Terms and Conditions document ought to contain details about how a commercial transaction unfolds. How do your customers pay for and receive your goods and services? How much do they have to pay for them? Having these details set out in black and white helps to prevent unnecessary disputes arising and allows for speedy dispute resolution.

 

PRIVACY OF YOUR USER’S INFORMATION

If throughout the course of your business you are collecting, using or storing your customer’s information you need to have a privacy policy in place to govern these processes. Privacy Policies should be bespoke and tailored to your business, the way you handle and collect data and the purpose for which you collect that data. Your privacy policy needs to be compliant with Australian Privacy Laws and also may need to contemplate the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) applying to all European Union citizens. It is critical to understand that if your business collects sensitive information (as defined by the relevant laws), then your data handling and collection needs detail attention.

 

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

On a website intellectual property (IP) can encompass anything from the name of the company and its logo to the source code in the background. Protection of your IP is important to a company as it preserves your rights to those elements now and into the future and stops others from using them unnecessarily unless permission is given through an IP Assignment or Licence Agreement.

Protection of IP often is a process of trademarking your designs, logo and name (among other elements of your website). If you are looking to commercialise or protect your IP for the benefit of your business, you can contact the team at Cubed by Law Squared for more information.

 

RETURNS AND DEFECTS FOR ONLINE PRODUCT SALES

Return policies and product defects often arise in the area of consumer law when online businesses selling goods end up in trouble with consumers and in serious situations, with the ACCC. It is often tempting, or seems logical, to exclude returns or exchanges on items or goods purchased more than three months ago; however, ensuring you are compliant with consumer laws is important. Some key areas where businesses get it wrong on returns:

  1. ‘We do not provide refunds’ – this is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law and should not be written anywhere on your website;
  2. ‘No refunds on sale items’ – same as above
  3. ‘Major faults vs. minor faults’ –
    • If MAJOR – the consumer can elect to have a replacement or a refund for the goods or services
    • If MINOR – the consumer has a right for the fault to be repaired without a refund

 

— Grace Cue, Legal Project Officer, Law Squared

5 Tips to get your Startup ‘Investor Ready’

Nearly one-third of all startup failures result from running out of cash, according to a survey by CB Insights. Let’s assume you have a good product (so you’re already ahead of 42% of those who failed because they built a product that wasn’t needed). What can you do to avoid running out of cash and succeed in securing some solid backing from investors? Let me run through 5 tips consistently used by successful startups.

Resilience is your greatest resource

As the majority of investors reject most opportunities pitched them, perseverance and resilience are essential to you seeing through the long-term success of your company. As a founder, you should ultimately be positive and optimistic about your offering. However, it pays to be realistic about the challenges that lay ahead in realising your vision. Only about 10% of founders succeed in making their first startup a success. As an entrepreneur, you’re in this for the long haul. Don’t let failure deter you — interestingly, research shows that a larger proportion of founders have success in their second venture. Most likely, this is because of lessons learnt and resilience built along the way. If this is your first startup, the odds are stacked against you. Give up too soon and you’ll be left wondering what would have been. On the other hand, being resilient will give you the best chance of succeeding through this and later challenges.

Research who will be interested in your idea

It is a common misconception that pitching your idea to the broadest possible audience will typically generate the highest degree of success — often termed “the numbers game”. This approach generally results in founders pitching to people outside their industry who aren’t strategically interested in what they have to offer. This leads to unnecessary rejection. With the right teasers, investors will look for insights into your business through your website, social media platforms and other publicly available information. You should take this time to be active in conducting due diligence on the types of investors you want to bring on board. This forces you to consider investors in terms of what they will contribute to your company other than funds alone. An investor whose only contribution is money is a liability. Seek to foster a strategically beneficial relationship.

Attract the right people to your team

Investors look for three main things in a business: the team, the product, and the market opportunity. Therefore, to build a solid foundation for future success, you should prioritise from the outset building a team with passion, compatible personalities and the right technical expertise to help your business grow. It’s worth noting that outsourced “founders” may not share your same strategic vision which can ultimately put your company at risk — ensure each founder is incentivised to support the company’s long-term strategy. On the point of executing on your business strategy, it is invaluable to have a knowledgeable mentor in your team with a wealth of experience in scaling businesses. These mentors can also help build your network and connect you to other individuals who can bring value to your business. Additionally, since investors will inevitably turn their attention to the company’s financials, it is important to have financial and accounting experts on board who can explain your business financial model to other stakeholders.

Have your business plan and financials in order

A business plan goes a long way in painting the picture of your vision to potential investors along with demonstrating the lifetime value that your business holds, irrespective of its current profitability. The plan should indicate to investors that the leadership team behind the business has thought through their personal strengths and weaknesses and has a plan in place to acquire the talent necessary for the business to succeed.
Investors will be reluctant to provide you with funds based on your ideas and vision alone, as they want some objectivity about potential returns on their investment. This highlights the importance of preparing financial data to inform investors in their decision-making process. Having secure and reliable software in place that can pull high-integrity financial data about your business will instill confidence in a potential investor. Work with your accountant and banker to ensure that they have access to all the necessary data. A nice touch is to create a direct-bank feed to guarantee that investors are viewing the most up-to-date financial information.
The most convenient means by which investors may access documents of a strategic or financial nature is through a data room. Whilst using a simple Google Drive or Dropbox is a good start, ideally your data room should allow end to end encryption at the document level (like the one provided through PEF Capital) and be separated into various ‘vaults’ for each stage of the transaction process.

Begin thinking about how you will execute your plan

Even for investors easily caught up in your business’s team or idea, ensuring there are sound processes in place will be crucial to getting them to sign on the dotted line. This generally means talking investors through step by step the key processes on which you will rely to implement your solution. Usually, this will be at a high-level but be prepared to talk details if required.
An example of this is risk management, as severe consequences can arise for all stakeholders if adequate measures are not in place. It would be insufficient to address risk from a high-level, and detailed risk management procedures should be put in place from the perspective of the specific type of risk, such as key-person risk or operational risks.
A startup’s sound processes should be well-documented with key ones accessible in the company’s data room, targeting areas such as business work streams, strategy, operation, action planning and evaluation.

Key Takeaways

We see all too often founders who begin attracting investors too early. Sometimes they believe investors will be sold on a good idea without the steps mentioned above. Other times it’s because they aren’t aware that they are not ready and could benefit from external guidance. If you are considering seeking out potential investors and have any questions, get in touch with us at [email protected]

Startup Pitch Deck Special – Podcast Episode #10

In this episode, I discuss pitch decks for startups looking to raise funds.

A few quotes from this episode:

  • Everyone is a pitch deck expert, some of the advice will even be good
  • You can get some real confidence when you see how basic YouTube pitch deck was
  • Pitch decks are designed to be “pitched” not emailed
  • A great pitch deck has very few words on it
  • A pitch deck is not a business plan
  • If you don’t win an investor’s heart you’ll probably never convince their head
  • You want to start your pitch deck with a story
  • When you pitch you need to create both ‘fear’ & ‘greed’ within your potential investors
  • Create a vision for the future with your pitch deck
  • Make sure you add the ‘secret sauce’ to your pitch deck
  • Please don’t ask investors to sign an NDA before you present your pitch deck

pitching your startup

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Here are the pitch decks I talk about during this episode.

Ep9: SEO for Startups Part 2

Choosing the correct SEO keywords, asking for those links and the importance of deep links with a focus on accounting sites. Plus I discuss dogfooding.

 

 

  • As an SEO you can tell when a page is built for SEO gain – 3:05
  • It’s Google’s job to work out if your page is offering value or is just there to collect traffic  – 4:50
  • If you’re ranking #1 but not seeing any traffic, it is possible that people are not searching for your target keywords – 4:55
  • Use Adwords to make sure the keywords you’re targeting for SEO actually have demand – 6:40
  • Creating lots of keywords targeted pages without much SEO authority will not win you much traffic – 8:00
  • Hotlinked images can be an easy way to pick-up some easy links – 8:20
  • Embedded videos will increase your visitor dwell time and therefore give an SEO boost – 10:00
  • Make sure you optimise your images to reduce your homepage loading speed for an SEO boost – 11:25
  • SEO is like an F1 car, onsite SEO is like your aerodynamics and your links are your engine – 12:50
  • Once an article on a 3rd party website has had it’s ‘day in the sun’ the long-term value to your business is the link – 14:45
  • To me, it is counter-intuitive for journalists to reference a website without providing a link – 16:10
  • You don’t lose SEO power by linking out, if you don’t link then it is like not voting – 16:49
  • To not add a link to an externally referenced website is just bad internet Etiquette – 18:15
  • Getting social signals to your website pages send Google good ranking vibes – 19:30
  • The title of your page is more often than not what appears in Google results in blue – 22:20
  • Matching your page title to a user search not only increases your ranking but also the click-through rate – 24:20
  • Dogfooding is using your product just like your customers would  – 27:12

QUT bluebox podcast – featuring Gerard Doyle

A real honor to be invited on to Episode 2 of the QUT podcast Podcast.

At the start of the episode, Tim and Yotam talk about the QUT Bluebox Robotics Accelerator for 2018 Applications are open now and you can find out more and apply at www.qutbluebox.com.au/robotics

Tim and I discuss ‘growth hacking’,

You can listen to the episode here

A few quotes:

  • ‘Growth Hacking’ is often a buzzword that annoys marketers
  • Growth Hacking is really about making short sharp measurable marketing tests for your business
  • For startup marketing: Tie your product in closely with your marketing
  • I like to think that a degree still counts these days
  • Growth hack teams often resemble a hackathon team with a Hacker, Hustler and Hippie.
  • People try to re-invent the wheel, without knowing what a wheel is first
  • Growth hacking sits well with startups because a startup does not sit in a room writing a business plan, they get out and test
  • A founder actually wants to know if they are spending money and not getting a return
  • You can’t run an experiment if you don’t measure anything
  • A startup a temporary organisation looking for a repeatable business model

 

 

Ep7: Should you outsource your social media?

In this episode, I look how, and if you should outsource your social media. I discuss how to think about your social channels and recommend a great new tool I’ve found to extract the value from your quality content.
For the second question, I look at how to win over a target market that is expensive to engage and also look at how to use content to drive the more protracted sale.
In my end of episode rant, I talk about how the competition can’t just copy your brand authenticity, and how you generally don’t need to be afraid of the copycats out there.

 

In this episode, I discuss missinglettr.com as a SAAS tool I ‘m testing for re-publish my content, you can grab a free trial here.

Key Quotes:

  • You really can’t have your brand authenticity stolen by a competitor, so don’t sweat it
  • I’m not a fan of outsourcing social media – this is your digital voice
  • Are you really important enough to ask somebody to speak on your behalf
  • Always try to insource your social media before you try to outsource
  • pitching for a search account is about the most boring thing a brand marketer can do
  • have a vision, mission and desired outcome for your social channels
  • Too many companies are just on social media because they feel they have to be there
  • Social Media Idea: Post less, comment more
  • ebooks are great, but if you’re hiding too much content, bring it forward and drip feed it into a campaign

Ep6: Can you do too much split testing?

In this episode, I look at split testing and consider if it is possible to do too much. I also look into the boom that was location-based shopping apps that have since seemingly disappeared.
At the end of the episode, I pay homage to the íce breaking’ founders.

Thanks so much stopping by, your subscription to my podcast really helps me to reach a new and bigger audience.

If you’re an Apple user then you can subscribe to the podcast here Apple iTunes Podcasts

If you’re on Android then you can find us on Stitcher here

If neither of these work then you can just use Sticher through your browser

and remember, if you do have any questions you’d like me to answer on the show please just leave them in the comments here http://fractal.com.au/questions

cheers,

Gerard

Do you sell out of sizes too quickly?

In this blog, I am going to talk about how you can learn the tricks of savvy eCommerce stores, and get some tricks for size analysis and how to determine the life of a product.

I love to shop. It’s in my DNA, I like the frill of the chase. The feeling of getting a bargain, the feeling of winning, of saving money, or of getting something unique. I like to abandon my cart with new eCommerce websites that I find, to see if they retarget me & offer me a discount to make my purchase. Another thing I enjoy is predicting when something will go on sale. My strategy for this is to review the availability of sizes, then to check if there is an abundance of the same thing in the rest of the market. I’m usually pretty good at determining if it’s going to go on sale or not, I am also freakishly patient at shopping, so will happily wait. I have been known to wait for 12 months for a product to drop to my price range. My favourite stores are the ones that can beat me on my strategy. The ones that have managed to balance their risky fashion purchases vs. their core everyday purchases. The ones that I know I will have to buy at full price because I can tell that the products they have brought will sell out in 1 day, 1 week, 1 month; whatever the life of product they have decided. That smart buying makes it tough for me. But it also drives demand, and for me, respect. In order to keep these savvy shoppers, you need to understand the life of products that you stock. Is a product going to last the test of a trend? Is a trend going to be done in a month, or is it more sustainable? You need to know how to pick it. Sites like WGSN, Refinery29, High Snobiety are great for inspiration & details on trend.

As a professional working in inventory management the number one complaints that I hear, is that my clients are selling out of certain sizes too quickly, and they are left with broken inventory or random sizes. As a former Merchandise Planner, Buyer and Merchandiser, key to my success were optimizing the size curve for the buyer. You’ll never get this 100% accurate, as you don’t have a crystal ball. But you can get this to around 90 – 95% accuracy by using historical data & learning when and why to look at the data at these points.

My first tip is to look at the history of a product at around 60 – 70% sell through. Look for the balance by size in the sell-through; i.e. are they all at a similar sell-through rate? If the answer is no – read on. If you have an average rate of 70% sell through, but you have some sizes at 40% i.e. too low, or some sizes at 90%+ i.e. too high.

Look at the below example of the buy:

All sizes were bought quite flat; assuming that they would sell at the same rate.

But as you can see; in this case, Large was the key size, but was only the second highest buy-in units.

So the sales rate of sale differed to the buy curve, you can also see that the liquidation or sell through varied by size:

The large size picked up sales of nearly 10% more than the buy, therefore this will sell out much faster than the other sizes & eventually lead to broken inventory and disappointed customers.

I would, therefore, review these factors – Liquidation and the actual sales curve to get the below buy curve for future buys:

I calculated this =((Ordered Stock * % Sales)*Liq %), I would then look at this and decide if I was happy with such a heavy weighting in favour of the size large, and what this would mean for units ordered. I would also review other factors historically, such as colour. Darker base colours might be preferable in larger sizes, whereas lighter colour bases could be preferable in smaller sizes. Data is your friend when making these choices or decisions. Also reviewing promotions that you had during any of the sales periods, that could have falsified data, or if you sell via multiple channels such as Amazon, Shopify and a Bricks & Mortar store, were any of them over or understocked. Factors to the sales are your friend when making decisions.

You need to have a good look at multiple SKUs or styles to make the call. Eventually, you’ll be able to rely more on gut feel, combined with sales history to make an informed decision. It’s also not a bad thing to seek outside help in making decisions on inventory. Remember that people make complete careers out of inventory management.  Speaking of which; I now run a Retail Consulting business, I specialize in Inventory Management and OTB – or Open to Buy maximization. Helping businesses to get the most out of their stock to maximize sales.

This Post was written buy Zoey Hopkins, you can find Zoey’s site and contact details here

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