If you ask me to introduce you to someone, I’ll sometimes say: “Please write me an email I can forward to them.” You’d be shocked how often I get back something unusable. Here’s what I mean when I ask for a forward intro email. A good forward intro email:
1. Says why you want to be introduced.
2. Includes its own context — enough about you or your startup so that the receiver understands what’s being asked. Always helpful if it includes what’s special about your startup, increases the likelihood the person will want to meet you. Attach a file if you think it makes sense (a deck, longer summary, screenshot).
3. Uses only as many words as you need — the receiver is going to glance at the email, and decide whether to talk to you. A recap of other things we talked about when we met distracts.
4. Sounds like you — I really have zero preference about whether you’re formal or loose, so emoticon away.**
5. Starts a fresh chain, with a fitting subject line, for each introduction — if you write a forward intro email as a reply to a long string between us that costs me time. Subject lines like “Forward intro email for Karin” also cost me time to fix.
In our decade of work in transforming Asian companies, we found that the solutions to bring joy back to work are surprisingly simple and cost-effective:
Create clarity of purpose: Leaders should explain the rationale and the value of doing things on a regular basis and at all levels.
Design teamwork: Design policies and reward systems that recognize the team that made it happen. Identify moments when departments reached out to each other to solve a problem.
Manage differences: Have people trained in mediation and regularly intervene to address frictions in a calm manner with proper facilitation.
Put relationships first: Helping new employees to get to know others when they join the company, or allowing people to share three minutes on how their week went during weekly sessions can go a long way to establishing an environment that is joyful.
Create relationship-based HR: Create a separate HR department focused on relationship management.
(1) This advice seems to be designed for large Asian companies. Most of it can be applied to startups, with caveats: Training people in mediation seems excessive, as you probably don’t want to keep anyone who needs mediation to function. And creating an HR department to foster relationships seems overly centralized, as relationships should be built within teams.
(2) Cf. Practical advice on how to raise motivation.
From Growth is a Commodity by Charlie O’Donnell:
If there’s one thing we’ve basically figured out in the digital world, it’s marketing. It’s table stakes. You spend some dollars to get more dollars out. It’s not complicated.
That’s why I care much more about engagement–do people like what you built, versus whether or not more people used it today than they did yesterday. Plus, the startup world is littered with companies that grew exponentially without becoming successful–Fab, Turntable, Dailybooth, etc.
If people engage regularly with your product, but you can’t get more people to use it, you’ve got a marketing problem. Marketing problems, for the most part, are solvable by a very distinct set of best practices.
On the other hand, if people are coming, but they’re not engaging, you’ve got a product problem. Sometimes, it’s easily fixible. Other times, you’re just so way off on product/market fit that you’ve fallen into “bad idea” territory, and there’s really no timetable for fixing a bad idea.
From How To Sell Your Product If It’s a Vitamin and Not A Pain-Killer by Stuart Silverman:
In general, your product falls into one of two categories. Either it is a pain-killer that solves a very critical business pain, need, or crisis for your prospect. Or it is a vitamin that doesn’t really solve any major pain or crisis, but is a nice-to-have and is just a better way of doing something.
Vitamins are extremely hard to sell, because it is almost impossible to get the prospect’s time and attention, and it’s very hard to create urgency around the sale. So how do we sell a vitamin?
1. Focus on increased revenue
2. Focus on increased budget dollars
3. Show how your product provides a competitive edge
4. Point out that 1-2 of your prospect’s competitors are using your product
5. Tie the sale to your prospect’s boss’s needs
6. Tie the sale to helping your prospect with his/her career
7. Create urgency by using a specific date
There are two metrics aren’t discussed enough. The first is lead velocity rate. What rate are your qualified leads growing month over month? Your MRR growth is great, but really that just tells you about the present – how you’re doing now. But if your leads are growing faster than your revenue, I can see the future growth. Being able to quantifiably track the velocity of qualified leads is going to be your best possible indicator as a CEO of where you’re going to be in the future.
The second metric will help founders get from initial traction to scale: understanding revenue per lead and how that works across your company. Once you have a repeatable set of leads and lead velocity, you want to drive up the revenue per lead. That’s an area where you can help the sales team by measuring each individual rep – what’s their revenue per lead? How many leads can you give them before their productivity declines? Why do some reps make certain types of leads more productive than others? The earlier you can do this post-traction the better. Leads are precious for a long time in startups, and if you can get 20 percent more out of each lead, that’s magic. But if you don’t measure it down to the individual rep level and you just look at MRR, you’re missing an opportunity to improve things.
The investor-founder relationship is, by nature, out of balance. Founders are devoted to the most important (work) project of their lives; investors have the luxury of more than one such project at a time. Founders can do incredibly well personally, under circumstances where the investors may do fine though not great. Founders know much more about their company, investors know a little more about what’s happening elsewhere in the world (maybe).
The ingredient in the startup stew that balances the potential bitterness of these differences: trust. When founders believe their investors will do right by them, even when it may be against their narrow, short-term self interest, and investors believe the same about founders, it’s magic.
1. Define a “good” user for your product/business (which depends on the product, business, and stage you’re at). Be aggressive (aim high!) and don’t cheat yourself. Be intellectually honest.
2. Look for commonalities amongst those “good” users (it could be anything!)
3. Figure out how to get more “good” users (could include feature experiments to encourage more/different usage of your product based on what good users do, could be a shift in market / marketing strategy, etc.)
4. Rinse and repeat.
Getting product right means finding product market fit. It does not mean launching the product. It means getting to the point where the market accepts your product and wants more of it. The first step you need to climb is building a product, getting it into the market, and finding product market fit. I think that’s what seed financing should be used for.
The second step you need to climb is to hire a small team that can help you operate and grow the business you have now birthed by virtue of finding product market fit. That is what Series A money is for.
The third step you need to climb is to scale that team and ramp revenues and take the market. That is what Series B money is for.
The fourth step you need to climb is to get to profitability so that your cash flow after all expenses can sustain and grow the business. That is what Series C is for.
The fifth step is generating liquidity for you, your team, and your investors. That is what the IPO or the Secondary is for.
(1) Is achieving product-market fit limited to the seed stage? Not if you view product-market as a continuum, as something you’re always trying to improve.
(2) My personal view: while there’s a minimum level of product-market fit you need before you can scale, it doesn’t end there, particularly if product-market fit is defined more expansively.
(3) Fred’s description of company stage at each funding round is very different from Rob Go’s. See The real difference between funding rounds.
(4) Tren Griffen’s blog is terrific.
Whenever a company strays from its core market, message or mission, the results can be devastating, particularly for small companies and startups. Here are just a few common causes for distraction at the executive level:
– Waning confidence in current market position or pricing
— Overreaction to existing competitors or new, “hot” entrants in the market
— Sudden stagnation or rapid decline in growth
— Strategic partnerships with no clear metrics for success
— Pressure from investors or board members to change direction
— Internal politics overruling logical decision making
— Successful companies expanding model to markets adjacent to where they achieved their growth
It is dangerous to ramp up headcount and burn until you are certain that you have the right product and the right people and processes in the organization to support the product. And early revenue traction, often driven by a passionate founder, can be a nasty head fake.
(1) In Seeking Alpha, we talk about figure it out mode and scaling mode. “Figure it out” = “achieve product-market fit”.
(2) Fred’s point is that you shouldn’t add headcount (ie. move to scaling mode) until you’ve achieved product-market fit. In fact, figuring out product-market fit is easier with fewer people.
(3) The challenge of knowing when to scale is that product-market fit can be hard to spot.
(4) Re. Fred’s assertion that you also shouldn’t ramp headcount if you “don’t have the right people and processes in the organization to support the product”: Surely that’s a reason to add headcount?