Where Do Startups Start?
It goes without saying that startups are tricky in every stage! From coming up with a solid idea to trying to understand your target market, and beyond to actually managing a successful business, it's hard to know how to make the wisest decisions and go about things!
Recently, our CEO sat down with a seasoned individual in this area of expertise. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to effectively and efficiently grow a startup with Hamlet Azarian, CEO of LinkSignal.
A Little More About Guest
Hamlet Azarian is the CEO of LinkSignal and uses his marketing technical and operational skill sets to deliver long-term scalable growth to companies of all sizes. Over the past five years, Hamlet has worked as a senior growth advisor to pre-seed, seed, and series A venture backed startups for which he has developed playbooks, hired and trained the marketing and growth teams and helped with execution.
Interview Transcript Highlights
Question: How do you deal with people and how do you get them set on the right path from day one?
Answer: What we do is we basically focus on for them to understand that this is the biggest challenge. They all want to build something, they all want to build this tool, they want to build this product, they want to build a service or whatever it might be. What we say is, "Hey, let's take a step back, let's sit back a little bit and let's really understand what is the pain point that we're trying to solve for, and let's learn from the market before you actually build." What we'll start doing is we'll do very micro experiments where we're basically trying to run small ads or small content pieces, or whatever might be through social, and we'll kind of grab the customers into our funnel, and we'll start having either talks or chats or conversations with them, and really understand what is the pain point that this product is trying to solve? Does it mirror or does it match?
The reality is 99% of the time, what the idea was that we wanted to build that we initially started engagement with, completely changes. It evolves and becomes something completely different, but it becomes a better product or a better service that we know that we can go to market with much more efficiently. This early customer discovery is I think one of the most critical one in the super early, early stage of any business.
Question: What is the first thing you're going to do when you sit down with a client? What is your strategy? How are you going to unbundle all the things that you can do for them, and start you dating off? If you can give our listeners an idea of their startup stage, or maybe their businesses a few years old or even older, what do they need to actually do to come and look at their business with new eyes to figure out how to do what you're saying?
Answer: We humanize them. The first, first thing that we do, as we kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, is we'll sit down, we'll say, "Who do you think your customer is? What do you think your product or service is trying to solve for?" Then, we actually humanize that. We'll build a customer persona, or an ideal customer profile, based off of what they're telling us. Then we'll actually go find these people. We'll go find more and more of these people and we'll actually get these people on the phone with them. They'll sit there and they'll talk to them, they'll showcase their demo, their product to them. We'll record this for them in most instances where they'll be having this conversation. At the tail end of this, when we've done like 20 to 100 of them. That's kind of usually what we try to strive for. We'll pull it back and we'll analyze all of this video for them. We'll say, "All right, what do we learn? Is this really your customer at the tail end of this? Did you actually build something that they want? Did you really think you were solving the problem?"
Once we've done this process with them, what we'll come out with is, okay, how do we iterate? How do we evolve the product? Are there things that we need to change or improve? At the same time, we learn a lot. We learn really what the motivators for the customer are, what is the true pain point? What is the messaging that we really need to make sure that's clear on both the landing pages and all the content that we're going out with? How do we approach them? Where are they? Are they on Facebook, Instagram? Where are they spending most of their time? How are they doing their research? How are they even getting here? What are the steps before they've even thought about the problem that they want to solve? Do they even think this is a problem? Like, "Hey, are they even aware of this? Is this something that even bothers them?" Whatever it might be, all of these different elements of data that we gather through these interviews is what really helps to define the go-to market strategy.
Question: When they're going to market, are you dealing with a lot of startups and since you work on seed and tech and things along those lines, you're doing GoFundMe and Kickstarter and all the different campaigns out there that they're also trying to say, "No, I'm creating a product and a brand, but I also want money. I'm going to go and take this cool thing that everyone's talking about," which requires a total different approach?
Answer: No. We don't focus on that group. In the pre-seed before they've even raised, we're really, really focused on, hey, let's identify the persona. Let's identify the problem, let's make sure what you want to build. What you want to build is going to solve this problem. Let's figure out how we can find these people at minimal costs. We're not going to spend thousands of dollars on Facebook running ads. Where are they living online, and how can we go and approach and find them?
Typically, what we normally do, at least on the tech side is LinkedIn is a great tool for us where we're able to kind of identify and target and do outreach programs for them. That's one avenue that we use. Another one we use is finding blogs that are industry experts in this space. Finding the different influencers online, either blogs and doing outreach to them, because we know they are hubs that can help us find other people that we can do outreach on. Then, finding similar type of industries that are also online and finding the people behind those organizations and beginning outreach process for them. Those are the two or three typical go-to tactics that we always do.
Question: Once you figured out there is indeed a need for this business, that you're not just going to go out there and try to raise money, invest your own money and be left at the end of the day selling your house, and you've validated all of that. What you will do then?
Answer: Are we given the green light? Let's do this. At this point, we're now trying to figure out a go-to scalable market strategy while they're building the product. We have investor interest, we've raised a small round. Typically, it's between half a million and a million dollars. That's kind of what they've raised at this stage. Now we need to figure out, all right, how are we going to build a go to market that scalable strategy, and typically what we're looking here are in the paid media side, we're looking at Facebook to kind of lean in a little bit there. We're also looking at Google search, Google Display, YouTube. Those are kind of the paid platforms that we're typically looking at. On the organic side, we're starting to think about SEO.
We're starting to think about, all right, what type of content can we produce that's going to humanize the brand, that's going to be able to talk to their customer persona, that's going to turn them into thought leaders. It's not what everyone else kind of wrote and has actually a unique point of view that is setting them apart from the noise and all elements of that, but it's searchable. There's actually volume there. This is a true pain point that most people are talking about that people are going to come to their site, and it's at consideration decision making of the process for their particular customer persona. We're helping them think through all of that. Then, the last funnel that we look at is affiliates. Who are other partners that potentially can drive traffic to them and bring overall quality people that would be interested in potentially buying their product or service.
Question: What are some things that people need to remember?
Answer: I would say, we didn't talk about this, but I think it's very, very important. I think a lot of people get stuck on having the perfect content. They're worried about not even producing content. That's the fear. "Oh, my content's not going to be great. Oh, no one's going to read it." Don't be scared. Just write the piece, get it out there, you can always go back and edit it and revise it and make it better. I think a lot of people forget a lot of content production is that. Like hey, you're always going to iterate, you're always going to improve it, you're always going to be making it better. That's the first and foremost.
I think that's a big blocker for most people. We've seen it over and over again. It's like, "Oh, they're not going read it. Just produce it. You'll figure it out. That's the first thing I would love people to remember.
The second thing I would love to remember is, you have to have great content. You have to have a great site. You also need the backlinks. All three things are critical in the process of this. I know that a lot of people get lost in all three of these different things. Don't try to do all three at the same time. If it's overwhelming for you, focus on where you're strongest. If you're really good engineer, focus on that. That's what you're going to focus on.
If you're a really good storyteller, focus on the content production. If you're really good at social, and you know how to navigate and build relationships then that's kind of what you're strict on. Then, focus on building your authority in your domain authority. Wherever your natural skill strengths are, focus on that, and think about how you can offset the other two that you might not be good with through help. Hiring the right people hiring the right team members that can eventually come and do it better than you. No one can do all three. This is a lot. It's a lot of three different worlds with a lot of three different skill sets. Make sure you're focused on what you're good at. Make sure you hire the right team members that can help you in what you're not good at.
The third thing would be, if I had to go back and look at every founder that I've ever talked to is don't build. Please don't build your product. Really spend time and talk to the market. I've seen this so many times. They built it and they're not coming. This is not the Field of Dreams. You're not going to build and all of a sudden, they're all going to show up. It just doesn't work that way.
Check Out The Podcast!
Hamlet has SO MUCH more great information from his experience in growing startups, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from his advice and expertise!
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