What I’ve Learned From My First Month at a Startup

I have been part of the startup ecosystem, working with and mentoring startups for around 10 years now, but I have never actually been part of a startup before. Until recently that is, when I joined Colu to lead the company’s marketing efforts as the Director of Marketing.

One month into the fast pace of startup life and having done more than I thought was even possible in such a short period of time, I wanted to share my experiences and everything that I’ve learned in my first month at a startup.

(In order to better understand the story, you might need some context: Colu is a digital wallet application that supports buying local. It’s an easy and convenient way to pay from your phone while empowering local businesses in your city).

You’ve Got to Keep Asking Why
My first week at Colu was dedicated to meeting and interviewing as many people in the company as possible. I spoke to the founders and the executive team, the product and operation teams and some of the developers. I wanted to hear the company story as they see it, and get different perspectives from different people. I think I ended up with 10 different descriptions of what the company does, which made it clear we needed some consistency.

I also set up interviews with users and asked them similar questions — how would they describe the product, what it does for them and why they use it. I spoke to 10 users and read previous interviews with another 10 to make sure I had enough data to work with.

Based on this information I wrote an initial communications brief that explains who we are and what we do. It is important to have one consistent description across all of our channels, as well as making sure it’s a story that the users understand and can relate to. I am well aware this is just an interim version of the story, but we needed something quick and dirty and it worked.

Key takeaway: nail the story or at least a story. You need all of your communications to be aligned and deliver the same message.

Know Your Product
It’s not enough to know what others think about your company’s product. You need to experience it to understand it. I made it my mission to go out and use our app to make a real purchase. During my second week I joined the operations team on a field day where I got to talk to business owners and use the app to buy myself lunch. There is nothing like that first experience. I can compare it to my first Uber ride — that ‘wow’ moment you have when you do something new and completely enjoy it.

It also allowed me to see what was not working well for me and might be a challenge to other users. Looking at the product with fresh eyes was something I could only do once, and only while I was still new, so I tried to do it as quickly as possible.

After my first experience with the app I sat with the product team and reviewed every page on the app to better understand possible use cases and share my feedback on the flow and the user experience. I also used a tool called UXpressia to map out the user journey through multiple scenarios in order to understand where we might need to communicate with them and what tools we can use to do that.

Key takeaway: know your product inside and out. Outline different journeys for different users to identify different ways to communicate with them

Market Research
Now that I had some information about our product (honestly all of these processes happened in parallel), I needed to learn more about the market and the competition. From reading articles about local currencies and digital payments to using tools like App Annie and Sensor Tower to do keyword research and find out how other digital wallet apps are describing what they do.

I also took my own advice from my e-book on how to find your brand essence and worked on a SWOT analysis, our RTBs (reasons to believe) and user personas. I dedicated about two days to this process — definitely not enough to completely understand the market, but good enough to get me started.

Key takeaway: do the research. Don’t assume; validate and compare. Start with assumptions about the market and your users, and then validate them.

Numbers and Dashboards
I strongly believe that you shouldn’t do anything you can’t measure, and it was time to test this belief. I reviewed the website analytics, specifically looking for conversion rates and users journeys through the website. I looked at the traffic and bounce rate to try and establish whether we were fully utilizing the website to encourage registration.

In addition, I checked the stats on our app store pages and our internal dashboards to learn about usage and retention. This information was gold. I won’t go into details about cohort analysis and the importance of measuring stickiness, but it’s sufficient to say the numbers help you understand which stage of the funnel you should be focusing on.

Once I understood where our biggest challenges were, I was able to set KPIs and goals so I could build a plan and track improvement. Three to five KPIs are enough in my opinion. I decided it’s better to focus on making big improvements to a few channels than making small improvements everywhere.

Key takeaway: numbers don’t lie. Set up KPIs from the start. You need a goal to work towards in order to improve. Work towards what makes sense to your company (something that will get you to positive unit economics), not necessarily towards something based on industry benchmarks.

So, What Did I Actually Do?

Once the research was done and I had a basic understanding of who we are and where we stand, it was time to start executing on some action items. Here is the list of my first action items:

  • Wrote a new communication brief (about us, mission, vision, messaging).
  • Used this copy to update our website, the app and marketing materials.
    Looked at the numbers and set up KPIs for the next 6 month. Came up with tactics that will allow us to achieve those KPIs.
  • Did some basic calculations like user LTV (lifetime value), weekly and monthly active users, along with user acquisition costs to estimate the required budget to reach our KPIs.
  • Tackled my biggest goal to improve retention by setting up automated email campaigns. We need to continue our communications with the users after they download the app. There are several ways to do this — through the app itself with push notifications, through emails and SMS. We decided to focus on the activation part of the funnel, so now we reach out to users after they have downloaded the app to encourage them to use it. We know that our most active users use the app within the first week, so we set up an automated email campaign designed to activate users during their first week.
  • Reworked our install process on the web (desktop users) by building a dedicated landing page and adding a “text me the app” option (if people find out about us on the web, they will be redirected to a page that explains what they need to do in order to download the app including an option to send an SMS to themselves with the download links. This way when they get back to their phone they won’t need to start searching for the app or even remember they wanted to try it, they just click on the link in the SMS).
  • Worked with our PR agency to support a massive wave of PR in Israel and in the UK.

This is just the beginning of the process, but these first priorities and actions are key and I’m sharing them here so that others can learn from my experience and adopt some of those tactics. I hope you found this helpful. If you want me to get into more details, explain the processes or even share real numbers let me know.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Maya Sagi Grossman’s story.