Lean Startup Ideas: How Etsy, Docker & Prezi Mobilized Networks to Scale

April 13, 2017

I recently had the amazing opportunity to speak at San Francisco’s Launch festival. In front of hundreds of talented entrepreneurs, I gave a presentation on how startups can scale their businesses and add more people to join their vision, all while keeping spend low.

In an age where growth expectations are demanding, and many times, unrealistic, the existing growth hacking tips and tricks are just not enough anymore. There’s only so much that the “share the love” button or a “powered by” footer can do.

It’s time for growth hacking to evolve. It’s time to grow differently. The power of people can have an everlasting impact, and it's time for entrepreneurs to focus on building networks.

You can watch my presentation here to get the gist of how Docker, Meetup, Prezi and Salesforce leveraged networks to scale faster:

A presentation only allows for so much information to be communicated though. If you’re curious to learn more about these networks and how they can help your business achieve big goals, keep reading.

Goal #1: Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is a key strategy for any business that wants to stand out in an overcrowded market. Traditionally, businesses invest in PR agencies, paid advertising, and marketing resources to scale brand awareness. But I’ve seen companies—like Docker—take a different approach and create an even greater impact.

Influencer Programs: An influencer program refers to partnering with a group of influencers in your space. Members are thought leaders— bloggers, analysts, experts, and evangelists—who understand what you’re doing. They want to join your journey and based on their reputation, spread awareness about your company within their networks.

Brand Ambassadors: These are your top users and customers who love your product and use it regularly. They’re huge fans and are the most genuine way to spread the love about your brand.

Journalist Relations: You don’t have to hire a PR professional to reach relevant media members and educate them about your value proposition. You can take it upon yourself to find journalists who cover your industry. If they believe that you’re doing something unique, this network of journalists can become your go-to group for company news, product launches, and updates.

Goal #2: More Leads

Traditionally, entrepreneurs invest in more marketing hires, and expensive demand generation programs. Successful companies—such as Wix and Scoop—leverage communities that already exist by creating the following groups to generate qualified traffic for them.

Field Representative Program: In-person connections are typically more powerful than digital ones. Never underestimate the power of getting people on the ground talking about your brand and spreading the love. For example, WayUP has an amazing Campus Rep program that allows them to tap into new and challenging markets such as students.

Referral Programs: Asking your customers and users to refer people by offering an incentive is a smart way to get your customers to drive your own leads. Uber and Lyft used referral programs as their main methodology to feed/accelerate the growth of their rider and driver communities. Meanwhile, Dropbox used two-sided referral bonuses to drive virality.

Affiliate Programs: Finding online presence with complimentary products, and engaging with them in a strong partnership can help you onboard the right audience. If you know of successful websites and blogs that engage the audience you’re looking for, you can ask them to embed links or offer a plugin that directs to your website. The affiliate is usually paid per generated traffic or leads.

Goal #3: Sales

Finally, all of the marketing goals I’ve discussed lead to the most important business goal: sales. You want to make a profit, and have people buy your product.

Reseller Program: A reseller program allows you to engage existing solution or service providers in your industry and provide them a platform to share and resell your product. Prezi is a great example of a company that has scaled immensely as a result of a successful Reseller Program. The presentation software company made the shift from a B2C to B2B model thanks to the amazing network of experts and consultants they built.

Franchiser Program: For offline businesses that want to grow into new markets and locations, building a franchise program enables you to scale globally, collaborate with local business owners. For example, Maker Faire held more than 150 fairs around the world in 2016 by empowering local innovators to create their own Maker Faire events.

Channel Partner Programs: No company is an island. In every industry there are existing consulting agencies or individuals—or complementary companies—that you can partner with. A good channel partner program allows you to partner with relevant agencies or manufacturers that can sell your product to their own audience and customers.

Goal #4: New Products

One challenge most businesses face is the need to balance a focus on their core competency while simultaneously expanding to new use cases and markets. Within that challenge lies a difficult and pressing question: “How can I do all of that without hiring more developers, consultants or service providers?”

Marketplace Sellers: This is an entire business model in which you can become the platform that connects between potential buyers and sellers that hold and create the products. Companies like Ebay and Etsy are good examples of the success that can come from an active Marketplace Sellers Program. It’s more scalable and cost-effective than being the manufacturer yourself. And you’re empowering the long-tail of the economy.

On-Demand Workforce: When you create an on-demand workforce, you’re the matchmaker between customers and the talent. This approach is relevant to companies in all industries at any size. Uber and TaskRabbit are good examples of companies who have succeeded at this approach. For example, some PR firms do it in a smaller scale when they introduce their own customers to qualified writers.

Developer Relations: Software products needs to be very robust. They need to be able to serve multiple use cases and match customers’ expectations. The most effective way to deal with this challenge is to open your API, and your platform, and allow more contributors to add more capabilities to your product. Through this approach, you can easily receive new plugins and widgets. Open-source companies like Docker, Automattic and WordPress are amazing examples of companies that have succeeded at this strategy.

Crowdsourcing Network: Wikipedia, Yelp and Yummly are great examples of the success that can come from crowdsourcing. Rather than hiring internal editors and contributors, they opened their products to receive contributions from everyone around the world. Other companies like GitLab have followed suit by opening up their API to crowdsource content and ideas.

Goal #5: Product Feedback

In addition to contributing to the product directly, receiving product feedback is critical for companies to stay innovative. This is usually equally hard for small startups and huge corporations to do internally and objectively. Many successful companies have relied on their own communities to receive feedback. Through this approach, not only do you receive valuable insights, but you also make users and customers feel valued and included.

Beta Program: A Beta Program is an external group of users who you can rely on to get feedback on new features and ideas. These people are typically your most active users; people who know your product the best. MeetUp is a good example of a company that has successfully launched and managed a Beta Program that helped the company rebrand in 2016.

Early Adopters Program: An Early Adopters Program is a strong community of people who are the potential buyers and users of your product and/or services. They believe in your idea and help you elevate it by providing feedback before a launch. This group can eventually turn into your Beta Program network once you’ve launched.

Goal #6: Customer Support

It’s crucial to provide valuable support for your customers on a regular basis. Good businesses invest many resources in creating Customer Success teams. However, you can’t be available to your network at all times. While internal teams are important, you can actually provide a better experience and amplify their work by building an entire support community of users.

Customer Communities: Customers helping fellow customers can be very impactful. Creating a customer support program where customers answer questions about using the product is highly scalable and efficient. A good example of an active community like this is the Salesforce Success community, a platform where customers and users can ask and answer each other's questions.

Integrators & Consultants: Sometimes the initial steps of implementing your product can be the most challenging. While your internal team can’t always help onboard all of the customers, you can collaborate with external consultants that know your platform from the inside out. These consultants are already working in this space, and are making a living by helping companies implement new tools like yours. HubSpot and WalkMe are good examples of companies that have created a strong bond with top marketing agencies and consultants to support their own customers.

Achieving business goals can be tough. It requires a lot of time and resources to reach all of your goals, but the best strategy is to tap into the communities that already exist, and want your company to succeed. They’re your best allies.

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