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Facebook’s former PR chief explains why no one is paying attention to your startup

At TechCrunch Early Stage, I spoke with Coatue Management GP Caryn Marooney about startup branding and how founders can get people to pay attention to what they’re building.

Marooney recently made the jump into venture capital; previously she was co-founder and CEO of The Outcast Agency, one of Silicon Valley’s best-regarded public relations firms, which she left to become VP of Global Communications at Facebook, where she led comms for eight years.

While founders often may think of PR as a way to get messaging across to reporters, Marooney says that making someone care about what you’re working on — whether that’s customers, investors or journalists — requires many of the same skills.

One of the biggest insights she shared: at a base level, no one really cares about what you have to say.

Describing something as newsworthy or a great value isn’t the same as demonstrating it, and while big companies like Amazon can get people to pay attention to anything they say, smaller startups have to be even more strategic with their messaging, Marooney says. “People just fundamentally aren’t walking around caring about this new startup — actually, nobody does.”

Getting someone to care first depends on proving your relevance. When founders are forming their messaging to address this, they should ask themselves three questions about their strategy, she recommends:

  • Why should anyone care?
  • Is there a purchase order existing for this?
  • Who loses if you win?

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When you need content to build links, use social proof of concept

Before tackling a new content idea, it’s comforting to have evidence that it’ll go off without a hitch.

Of course, that’s not possible.

You can never know 100% that a piece of content will meet your objectives. But you can get a better sense of whether it’s likely to succeed.

We call it “social proof of concept.” This strategy is often used by marketers as a way to gauge the promotional viability of what they’re going to create.

Let’s examine what it is and how to use it to create compelling content.

What is “social proof of concept”?

“Social proof of concept” is one of the many ways you can come up with content ideas.

It essentially means a similar piece of content has performed well in the past, meaning it’s likely that something in the same vein that’s better will perform even more impressively now.

By exploring content examples that got a ton of social engagement, you can ask yourself:

  • Are people talking about the topic?
  • What was it about this content that might have made it so successful?
  • Is there something missing that we can add/improve upon?
  • Is there something about the methodology/design we can learn from?
  • What conversation is happening around the topic that you can contribute to now?
  • Is there an idea that complements this content and contributes to the discussion?

When you can identify what’s been successfully engaging in the past, you can start with a much higher chance of creating something that really resonates with people.

Where do I find social proof of concept for my ideas?

My favorite places to look for social proof of concept is on Reddit, Twitter, YouTube and others. I’ll walk through my process for vetting potential topics and methods of finding inspiration for new, related ideas.

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How Moovit went from opportunity to a $900M exit in 8 years

Private investor (and former Moovit president) Omar Téllez shares the inside story

In May 2020, Intel announced its purchase of Moovit, a mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions company known for an app that stitched together GPS, traffic, weather, crime and other factors to help mass transit riders reduce their travel times, along with time and worry.

According to a release, Intel believes combining Moovit’s data repository with the autonomous vehicle solution stack for its Mobileye subsidiary will strengthen advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and help create a combined $230 billion total addressable market for data, MaaS and ADAS .

Before he was a member of Niantic’s executive team, private investor Omar Téllez was president of Moovit for the six years leading up to its acquisition. In this guest post for Extra Crunch, he offers a look inside Moovit’s early growth strategy, its efforts to achieve product-market fit and explains how rapid growth in Latin America sparked the company’s rapid ascent.


In late 2011, Uri Levine, a good friend from Silicon Valley and founder of Waze, asked me to visit Israel to meet Nir Erez and Roy Bick, two entrepreneurs who had launched an application they had called “the Waze of public transportation.”

By then, Waze was already in conversations to be sold (Google would finally buy it for $1.1 billion) and Uri was thinking about his next step. He was on the board of directors of Moovit (then called Tranzmate) and thought they could use a lot of help to grow and expand internationally, following Waze’s path.

At the time, I was part of Synchronoss Technologies’ management team. After Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank took us public in 2006, AT&T and Apple presented us with an idea that would change the world. It was so innovative and secret that we had to sign NDAs and personal noncompete agreements to work with them. Apple was preparing to launch the first iPhone and needed a system where users could activate devices from the comfort of their homes. As such, Synchronoss’ stock became very attractive to the capital markets and ours became the best public offering of 2006.

After six years with Synchronoss while also making some forays into the field of entrepreneurship, I was ready for another challenge. With that spirit in mind, I got on the plane for Israel.

I will always remember the landing at Ben Gurion airport. After 12 hours traveling from JFK, I was called to the front of the immigration line:

“Hey! The guy in the Moovit T-shirt, please come forward!”

For a second, I thought I was in trouble, but then the immigration officer said, Welcome to Israel! We are proud of our startups and we want the world to know that we are a high-tech powerhouse,” before he returned my passport and said goodbye.

I was completely amazed by his attitude and wondered if I really knew what I was getting into.

The opportunity in front of Moovit

At first glance, the numbers seemed very attractive. In 2012, there were roughly seven billion people in the world and only a billion vehicles. Thus, many more people used mass public transport than private and users had to face not only the uncertainty of when a transport would arrive, but also what might happen to them while waiting (e.g., personal safety issues, weather, etc.). Adding more uncertainty: Many people did not know the fastest way to get from point A to point B. As designed, mass public transport was a real nightmare for users.

Uri advised us to “fall in love with the problem and not with the solution,” which is what we tried to do at Moovit. Although Waze had spawned a new transportation paradigm and helped reduce traffic in big cities, mass transit was a much bigger monster that consumed an average of two hours of each day for some people, which adds up to 37 days of each year*!

What would you do if someone told you that in addition to your vacation days, an app could help you find 18 extra days off work next year by cutting your transportation time in half?

* Assumes 261 working days a year, 14 productive hours per day.

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Accessing social groups through referrals

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of startup founders and heads of growth. You can participate by joining Demand Curve’s marketing training program or its Slack group.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.


Accessing social groups through referrals

Excerpt from Demand Curve’s Growth Training.

A surprising benefit of referrals is how they often lead to social partnership opportunities.

Consider this process:

  1. Find your happiest users.
  2. Figure out what social groups they belong to. This could be anything from a female founders group, to university alumni networks, to a restaurant management trade association.
  3. How do you find out? Just ask them what groups they belong to. Don’t be afraid of conversation.
  4. Ask the happy user to connect you with the heads of those groups. Solve a problem they collectively have — even if it’s only tangentially related to your business. What matters is that more of these ideal customers know and trust you. You can also refer speakers, offer deals, write content for them or offer free office hours.
  5. Down the road, these people inevitably send you referrals.
  6. Reach out cold to people in other, similar groups. Reference the endorsement of the original group and provide a case study (with their permission).

Going through groups can be a high-leverage way to land and expand into ideal audiences.

Pixel-sharing tactics

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Y Combinator President Geoff Ralston shares actionable advice for startup founders

Running a startup accelerator comes with a number of occupational hazards, but “skepticism is the easiest thing to fall into when you’ve seen too many companies,” said Y Combinator President Geoff Ralston, “and it’s the thing you have to avoid the most.”

Ralston joined me last week for an hour-long Extra Crunch Live interview where we talked about several topics, including how YC has adapted its program during the pandemic, why he has “never stopped coding” and what he sees changing in tech.

“We try to not be too smart, because great founders often see things beyond what you’re seeing,” he said. “If you try to be too smart, you’ll miss the Airbnbs of the world. You’ll say ‘Airbeds in peoples houses? That’s stupid! I’m not going to invest in that,’ and you could’ve bought 10% of Airbnb for like nothing back then… 10% of that company… you can do your own math.”


Extra Crunch Live is our new virtual event series where we sit down with some of the top founders, investors and builders in tech to glean every bit of insight they care to share. We’ve recently been joined by folks like Hunter Walk, Kirsten Green and Mark Cuban.

To watch the entire interview with Geoff Ralston, sign up for ExtraCrunch — but once you’ve got that covered, you can find it (and a bunch of key excerpts from the chat!) below.


Advice for getting into YC

I prefer it when an Extra Crunch Live conversation starts out with actionable advice, so we kicked things off with any suggestions Ralston had for folks looking to apply to YC. And he had plenty! Such as:

  • Mind the deadline, but all hope is not lost if you miss it: “If you miss the deadline, it’s not the end of the world,” says Ralston. “Don’t tell anyone on the admissions team that I said this, but it’s a little bit of a soft deadline. We would never turn down the next epic company because you missed the deadline… although your odds go down of getting in if you don’t make it in by [the deadline]. Why shouldn’t your odds be as high as possible?”
  • Don’t change things up for YC’s sake: “Do whatever you can do to make your company as successful, as real as possible… but don’t try to like, pretty up your company for YC,” he says. “That’s never smart [to do] for an investor. Don’t make bad short-term decisions because you think there’s a deadline that you should do wrong things for. Instead, build your company for the long term, and do the best you can possibly do to find product market fit, to build the right product, to build the right technology, to build the right software or whatever it is you’re building.”

Later in the video (around the 40:55 mark), a question from the audience leads Ralston back to the topic, and he has a few more pieces of advice:

  • Stick to the instructions: “The instructions are fairly clear. It says: do a one-minute video, have all the founders there, and talk to us. That’s a good idea! Don’t give us some marketing video, we’re not interested in that. That’s not how we’re making our decision.”
  • Hone your pitch: “Think about expressing yourself concisely, with great clarity. It does not help to write a book in the application. Be kind to us! We’re reading, you know, hundreds of applications. Get your idea across as clearly as you can. That’s actually a really good signal to us, if you can describe what you’re doing with a minimum of words. That helps us a ton.”
  • Tell your story: “Do not skimp on talking about yourselves!” Ralston notes. “We are super interested in you, who you are, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

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Funding in an uncertain market: using venture debt to bridge the gap

While a handful of tech companies like Zoom and Shopify are enjoying massive gains as a result of COVID-19, that’s obviously not the case for most. Weaker demand, slower sales cycles, and customer insistence on pricing concessions and payment deferrals have conspired to cloud the outlook for many tech companies’ growth.

Compounding these challenges, a lot of tech companies are struggling to raise capital just when they need it most. The data so far suggests that investors, particularly those focused on earlier stage financings, are taking a more cautious approach to new deals and valuations while they wait to see how individual companies perform and which way the economy will go. With the outcome of their planned equity financings uncertain, some tech companies are revisiting their funding strategies and exploring alternative sources of capital to fuel their continued growth.

Forecasting growth in a pandemic: a difficult job just got harder

For certain businesses, COVID-19’s impact on revenue was immediate. For others, the effects of slower economic activity and tighter budgets surfaced more gradually with deals in the funnel before the pandemic closing in April and May. Either way, in the second half of 2020, technology CFOs face a common challenge: How do you accurately forecast sales when there’s very little consensus around key issues such as when business activity will return to pre-COVID levels and what the long-term effects of the crisis might be?

Unfortunately, navigating this uncertainty is just as daunting a challenge for investors. These days, equity investors’ assessment of a company’s growth potential, and the value they are willing to pay for that growth, aren’t just impacted by their view of the company itself. Equally important is their assumptions about when the economy will recover and what the new normal might look like. This uncertainty can lead to situations where companies and their potential investors have materially different views on valuation.

Longer funding cycles, more investor-friendly deals

While the full impact of COVID was felt too late to have a material impact on Q1 deal volumes, recently released data from Pitchbook and the NVCA suggest that 2020 will see a significant decrease in the number of companies funded, possibly by as much 30 percent compared to 2019 among early stage companies. And, while it often takes several months to see evidence of broad trends in investment terms, anecdotal evidence indicates investors are seeking to mitigate risk by demanding additional protective provisions.

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More thoughts on growing podcasts

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of startup founders and heads of growth. You can participate by joining Demand Curve’s marketing training program or its Slack group.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.


More thoughts on growing podcasts

Insights from Harry Morton of Lower Street.

Podcast growth is all about relationships. To increase your listenership, consider partnering with:

  1. Other podcasters. Do an episode swap where you play an episode of your show on theirs, and vice versa. Make sure the two podcasts share similarly minded audiences.
  2. Curators. Every podcast aggregator has someone responsible for curating their featured content. Look them up on LinkedIn. Reach out via email. Be their friend. Send them only your best stuff.
  3. Subscribers. You rise in Apple’s podcast charts (which account for 60% of podcast listenership) by having a subscriber growth spurt in a concentrated period of time (24-48 hours). So, when you release an episode, immediately run your audience promotions aggressively and all at once.

Increasing referral incentives might not increase referrals

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The essential revenue software stack

From working with our 90+ portfolio companies and their customers, as well as from frequent conversations with enterprise leaders, we have observed a set of software services emerge and evolve to become best practice for revenue teams. This set of services — call it the “revenue stack” — is used by sales, marketing and growth teams to identify and manage their prospects and revenue.

The evolution of this revenue stack started long before anyone had ever heard the word coronavirus, but now the stakes are even higher as the pandemic has accelerated this evolution into a race. Revenue teams across the country have been forced to change their tactics and tools in the blink of an eye in order to adapt to this new normal — one in which they needed to learn how to sell in not only an all-digital world but also an all-remote one where teams are dispersed more than ever before. The modern “remote-virtual-digital”-enabled revenue team has a new urgency for modern technology that equips them to be just as — and perhaps even more — productive than their pre-coronavirus baseline. We have seen a core combination of solutions emerge as best-in-class to help these virtual teams be most successful. Winners are being made by the directors of revenue operations, VPs of revenue operations, and chief revenue officers (CROs) who are fast adopters of what we like to call the essential revenue software stack.

In this stack, we see four necessary core capabilities, all critically interconnected. The four core capabilities are:

  1. Revenue enablement.
  2. Sales engagement.
  3. Conversational intelligence.
  4. Revenue operations.

These capabilities run on top of three foundational technologies that most growth-oriented companies already use — agreement management, CRM and communications. We will dive into these core capabilities, the emerging leaders in each and provide general guidance on how to get started.

Revenue enablement

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VC Garry Tan shares 3 ways founders screw up their startups

There are many painful ways for a startup to fail — including founders who ultimately throw in the towel and turn off the lights.

But assuming a founder intends to keeps moving forward, there are a few pitfalls that Garry Tan has seen during his career as a founder, Y Combinator partner and, lately, co-founder of venture firm Initialized Capital.

During a fun chat during last week’s TechCrunch Early Stage, he ran us through these avoidable mistakes; for those who couldn’t virtually attend, we’re sharing them with you here.

 1. Chasing the wrong problem

This sounds insane, right? How can you be blamed for wanting to solve a problem?

Tan says people choose the wrong problem for a wide variety of reasons: Founders sometimes choose a problem that isn’t problematic for enough people, he said, citing the example of a hypothetical 25-year-old San Francisco-based engineer who may be out of touch with the rest of the country. When founders target the wrong problem, it typically means that the market will be too small for a venture-like return.

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Building your startup’s customer advisory board

A customer advisory board (CAB) can be an invaluable resource for startups, but many founders struggle with putting together the right group of advisors and how to incentivize them. At our TechCrunch Early Stage event, Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners, talked about how he thinks about putting together the right CAB.

“We encourage all of our early-stage companies to put this in place,” Motamedi said. The goal here is to speed up the process to get to product/market fit since your CAB will provide you with regular feedback.

“The idea here is [that] you have this feedback loop from customers back to your product where you build, you go get feedback, you iterate — and the tighter this feedback loop is, the faster you’ll get to product-market fit. And you want to do things structurally to make this feedback loop tighter, starting with a CAB.”

Motamedi said a CAB should consist of about three to six customers. These should be “luminaries or forward thinkers” in the market you are serving. “You add them to the CAB — you might give them small advisory grants — and they become stakeholders and give you feedback as you work through the early stages of product development.”

Image Credits: Greylock Partners

As for the people who you put on the CAB, Motamedi suggests first setting the right expectations for the board.

“There are three components. Number one, the most valuable thing you can get from these customer advisors is their time. So the first piece is you want them to commit to a monthly cadence, that could be 60 minutes, it could be 90 minutes, where you’re going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come to the meeting, I’m going to bring two of my teammates, we’re going to show you the latest product demo, and you’re going to drill us with feedback. We’re going to do that once a month.’  […] And then piece two is this notion of customer days, you could do quarterly, you could also do twice a year.

“The idea is you want to bring the customers together. Because if you and I are both CIOs at Fortune 500 companies and we independently react to a product, that’s one thing, but if we sit in a room together, we all look at the product together, there’s going to be interesting data amongst us as customers and the founder is going to learn a lot from that.[…] And I think the third piece is just an expectation that as the company progresses and product maturity increases, that folks on the CAB are going to be advocates and evangelists for the company with their customer networks.”

Motamedi recommends outlining those expectations in a short document.

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