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I thought of multiple headlines before writing this article. One of them was Marketing mistakes made by tech entrepreneurs. I was all set to write it under this headline until I spoke to Sumeet Mehta, Founder, Cardpe, a merchant aggregator for physical transactions which helps small businesses to accept card based payments. His company went operational in February this year. When I asked him about his marketing approach till now, he said, “Marketing is needed only for products that don’t sell easily. There is a difference between marketing and selling. One must first try and sell the product to the customer. That is what we did. There is a problem if no one wants to buy your product. Then you see what is missing and fill the gap.” The selling process for Cardpe started in October last year, even before the product was operational and today it has 1000 merchants as customers using the product. The company spends zero budget on marketing.
I agree with Sumeet Mehta to an extent but I do feel that marketing becomes a necessity to grow for a business, once a product reaches a particular scale. Then marketing includes advertising costs and other digital marketing techniques. While you can have the first few customers on the basis of intimate selling, the big customer base needs the marketing tinge.
Over a span of last three months, I also spoke to a bunch of tech entrepreneurs who have built products and had great ideas. There was a common mistake they made- first building the full product and then trying to sell it. For instance, Sunil Patro, Founder, SignEasy shares his early days as an entrepreneur,
“We as engineers think that once we have made the product, people will discover it themselves and will pay for it. But that is not true. You need to create a user base and stay close to their feedback constantly.”
Starting up, building a product and putting it on Google Playstore is not as difficult these days. The catch is to have something that people want to pay for. Arpit Mehta, who is a part of the leadership team at Cleartax talks about his previous startup and agrees to the selling technique of Cardpe, “One must figure out the marketing /sales before building the product. Even sell the product before you actually build it. Someone paying for the idea or concept is the best validation. In my previous startup which was an e-learning company, we did our first sales pitch on a mere PPT. Then we developed high end animations and simulations, once we validated the product through the needs of the customer.” It is always useful to go and pitch your idea to customers and keep adding features to your product.
There are numerous ways through which you could start selling initially. The most common is through strategic partners and existing networks. Remember how most of us started using PayTm in 2014? The smart step by PayTm then was a tie-up with Uber which got so many of us as early adopters of PayTm. Automatic PayTm accounts were created for Uber users. Good idea to identify such strategic partners and then leverage through its user base.
Early adopters of the product are usually family and friends, and it is often word of mouth that spreads and makes others use the product. One of the most effective growth hack techniques is referrals where you incentivize the customer who refers another one. It need not necessarily be monetary incentives. It can be free use of your product for an extended period as an incentive. Sampad Swain, CEO and co-founder, Instamojo Technologies says,
“We have negligible spend on marketing and do not believe in a big sales team either. But yes, we do believe in helping business owners (customers) use our product and then spreading the word. It is very important for a product to have a network effect. Referral growth hack gets us the maximum customers.”
Test the waters before you go live
If you try a Google search, there will be multiple growth hack techniques and there is no fixed formula that will suit your business. This is where the role of AB testing comes into play. Deepak Malhotra, Founder Slicepay says that while offline selling is still very important to his business, the company runs around 15 experiments a month to get customers through online efforts. “We do data driven experimentation through AB testing on a regular basis. Initially, we spent 70 percent of our time and resources in offline marketing and 30 percent online, but now it is the reverse.” Since most customers for Slicepay would be online, it is a relevant platform for it.
While some entrepreneurs believe that marketing comes after you try to sell, Abhilash Pandey, Partner, Infisecure Technologies says that Marketing, Sales and Technology – all three are pillars to a company’s success – none can be neglected, right from day one. “At InfiSecure, we were always focused on the marketing front. In fact, we had started our online marketing efforts much before the release of our beta stage product. This was the prime reason why we ended up with a very successful beta with customer inquiries from seven countries, all within three months. From the moment we went live after the beta stage, we had our first two global customers within a month’s time,” he says.
Engineers/Techies as marketers
The skills often associated with engineering – analytical mindset, problem solving, long hours etc –give engineers a unique edge and the much-required skill set to be successful entrepreneurs. But building a product and doing analytics does not connect all the dots. As Himanshu Agarwal, Founder, Aspiring minds, rightly puts it, “We also need to connect with customers, acquire selling skills, communicate well and understand market dynamics. So, to succeed as an entrepreneur, engineers also need to be open-minded about acquiring skills that will propel their startup forward.”
While it is important for a marketing cofounder to understand the technical aspect of the business, the other way round is also much needed. Chetan Vinchhi, co-founder, Lifetape explains in detail how his technical skills helped in marketing, “Marketing has not really been difficult to understand. However, as a techie, I found it easier to relate to SEM (i.e. AdWords), SMM, SEO etc. as compared to more traditional methods.” He said that one area of difficulty was the different behavior of metrics that drive marketing campaigns, as compared to product development. In the latter, input metrics (such as effort, resources, time spent) are considered important. In the former, output metrics (such as CTR, conversion) are of paramount importance. These are not necessarily commensurate with the corresponding input metrics, certainly not in the same way as a product development mindset expects it. An extreme case of such a disconnect would be a successful growth hacking campaign. The results defy the parochial correlation between input and output, he explains.
Pandey from Infisecure concludes that most product techies focus so much on the product from the internal viewpoints that they end up neglecting the actual customer and external angles. This is why some of the fully functional products do not find a product market fit. It is critical to understand the marketing piece before starting the product development.