The Perfect Startup

#SaaS #GrowthMarketing

An interview with five startup heroes giving tips and reflections on how to get your SaaS (software as a service) startup off the ground.
by Morten Sørdahl, Co-Founder getleap.io
 (7 min. read)

Introduction

Starting a company has never been this easy – or this difficult. So how do you make it and set yourself apart?

We have gathered a dream team of passionate individuals from the Danish startup scene, each with an amazing track record in each of their fields. Look at this as your “advisory board”.

They all received the same framework, to ensure the feeling of collaboration. They had to imagine they were part of the founding team of a SaaS company and answer questions related to 3 stages in the first year of the company's existence. They wouldn't be able to read each other's work but rather give personal input from their work-life and previous mistakes.

We would like to thank all five for helping out with this content piece, and to give their work the maximum limelight, we have decided to split this content into five-pieces.

I hope you'll like it and feel free to reach out if you have any feedback.

Quick disclaimer: No company is the same, and our goal is not to give you a fact sheet to work from. On the contrary, we want to entertain and hopefully, on the way give you some valuable takeaways.




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👋🏻 The Team

Growth Marketing

Malte Cats-Abildgaard is killing it as Growth Marketing Manager. He has experience from great startups such as Dixa, Peakon and Gomore and holds a master's degree from Copenhagen Business School MSc in Business Administration and Organisational Communication.

Initial phase
Before launching a prototype, what would be your focus?

First, it’s all about research, getting an in-depth understanding of your market space, possible competitors (enemies and frenemies) and customers/users + finding out how you as a business can succeed in these conditions. Basically, this is the time to be curious about your business identity and to build your go-to-market strategy.

Understand your position in the market

If I were in this situation, I would focus on the following questions about the market and my position in it:

  • Does my product/service already exist?
  • How many competitors do I have?
  • How big is the total addressable market? (And what is a realistic market share for my business?)
  • Whom do I want to help with my product? (Meaning: What are my ICPs = Ideal Customer Profile(s)?)
  • What is my USP? How am I different from the rest, and why is my product worth investing in for my potential customers?
  • Do I need funding to make the dream come true? (If yes, do I want to crowdfund or rely on seed-stage investors/angel investors?)

This list can (and should) go on. But these questions can at least help you start your research as the answers you find most likely will lead to new questions.

Build your business

Once I’d done a proper job understanding my space, I would use the information to build my initial strategy and business model. Until I was ready to launch my platform, I would focus on the following considerations and actions:

  • What is the purpose of my business and product? What do I want to achieve? This can, of course, be translated into: What is my vision?
  • What kind of business do I want to be? This translates into how I want to look like to my potential customers.
  • Do I want to build a playful and colorful brand that uses humor and wit to show friendliness and freshness?
  • Or is my brand sleek and minimalistic with a more exclusive look and a more professional tone of voice?

Once you figure this out, you can start building your brand and identity around that and streamline all your visuals and external communication. It leads back to your USP but is also important for how potential customers experience your business even before buying your product.

Start promoting

Though you don’t have a product yet, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start with certain marketing activities.

Remember that you are only giving yourself an easier start when launching the platform for everyone if you build interest early on.

Again I would start thinking about these initiatives (that don’t have to cost a fortune):

  • Whom you can rely on for help spreading the message once you are live
  • Start building a buzz in your network that your product is coming soon (Social media is great for this)
  • Create relevant and interesting content and post frequently on your social handles
  • Build a list of people who want to sign up for early access
  • Figure out if you want to hand out your product for free (once it’s ready) to certain users you think can help you improve your product and be good advocates.

By getting a deeper understanding of both your market, your own business, and by starting to let others know about it, you will probably be in a better position when you launch the platform.

Launching the first product
What would be your highest priority when launching and onboarding your first customers?

You are ready to launch the platform, and this is where it’s all about acquisition. But how do you do that with only a small (but dedicated and smart) team? Truth be told I don’t have the answer. I don’t believe anybody does. Otherwise, it would be up to the quality of the product, and you would see a lot more startups making it big. But there is no doubt that some things are more important than others in this very critical stage.

Be present and never stop buzzing

Building awareness is key for potential users to even know that you're out there. You might suffer from the ‘spotlight effect’ because you know that your product is valuable and that your brand is cool - so why wouldn’t other people feel the same way? The problem is they might not even know that you exist. It’s harsh, but you can do something about it. It’s called: Marketing! Remember that you’ve already started building your brand, so leverage that.

Continue producing great content, which you already started with before you launched the platform. Share it, make yourself relevant, and become an expert on a topic (related to your business) that people find you interesting and trustworthy. Go to the right events, speak on stage, create your own cool events or Friday bars, host and partake in webinars, podcasts, articles, and so on. The possibilities that can work for your business are endless.

You’ve probably heard (a lot) about digital marketing. If you have room in your budget for it, which you should prioritize to have, regardless, you should start advertising online.

Grow your platform

Your budget will have an impact on your wiggle room, but no matter how large or small it is, you can always experiment with how to best acquire new users to your platform.

One way to do so is through referral programs. If you have a larger budget that you are willing to spend on generating a lot of users fast (and it is aligned with your other activities, so you don’t burn your budget), you could offer incentives as cash, gift cards or discounts to the referer and/or their friends. If you can’t afford just handing out cash to everyone who joins your platform through referrals, you can instead give them advantages inside the platform, such as feature unlocks and upgrades (maybe even for a limited time).

If you are in B2B, which a market growth platform is likely to be, you can also collaborate with your customers and hand out their products/services as prizes for referrals. You should probably make sure that they are in on it though. Not only because they will have to help you, but also because it is a good way to nurture your relationship with them.

Referral programs are, of course, far from the only growth initiative you can execute to acquire new users, but I personally think it’s an interesting one. 

Build bonds with your customers

While acquisition is key to the quick wins (because good numbers are always nice to show to your different stakeholders), focusing on retention and referrals is a very useful strategy when building a loyal customer base (with a long term effect on the bottom line). Never forget your customers. Their experience with your company and product is important - every time without exceptions. They are not just a source of revenue, but they are what makes your product evolve and live every day. If they feel that you value them, chances are they will value you more as well.

Scaling the business
What’s your take on must-haves to include to make organic growth happen?

Organic growth can be achieved through different initiatives - many that are similar to the ones that I described in the sections above. But there are also other specific ways to strategize towards organic growth.

When scaling (and focusing on organic growth only) it is crucial that you are:

  • Visible when people are looking for something similar to what you offer
  • Making sure that you are optimizing your assets for conversion
  • Not only focusing on current user metrics but also making them advocates that can lead to referrals
Visibility

You want to scale your application, but this is not necessarily where you start. Essentially, this is the place where you’d like your users to end up (and stay).

One way to start is through SEO. This can be an important and very powerful way of making sure that people even find you in the first place. Focus on keywords in your copy, keep adding content to your website, create landing pages for your assets, and so forth.

Partner up with other companies and make sure that they mention you in their copy. It’s going to be a great help for your organic growth if you get the hang of this.
Reviews

Make sure that you are featured on relevant comparison sites. For SaaS this could be: G2, Capterra, GetApp, SoftwareAdvice, ProductHunt, and many more. Having a product/company page on these sites is just additional free visibility for you. Ask your existing customers to give you reviews, and you have additional top quality marketing materials as well. Review sites can help you grow, so you might want to pay attention to this type of channel.

Optimization

Imagine that a potential user just found you online and visits your website. How do you now attract and engage with this individual so that he/she will try or buy your product and become a user of your application?
The answer is optimizing your assets, such as your website, towards conversion.

This can be done in different ways, and the best way to approach this is putting yourself in the shoes of your users. How would you behave on a website of a similar tool and what would be interesting to you on the website?

Of course one of the most important things here are your CTAs like “Free trial”, “Book a Demo”, “Talk to us”, “Subscribe” or whatever you’d like.

Customer Advocacy (Referrals)

What is the best way to get more users to your application when only using what’s right in front of you? The answer here is your users. Remember that your users are human beings that have daily lives outside of your application. This means that no matter if you are in B2B or B2C, you can leverage this fact through customer advocacy and referrals.

If you are in B2B, you should focus on making sure that your users are adding their colleagues to the app as well. Slack is a great example of this. When a company that uses Slack, hires new talent to the company, a designated colleague will add them to their workspace - helping Slack grow organically and scaling without doing a lot of heavy lifting.

Measuring growth

You can measure growth in many ways. Some measurements will be more insightful than others. Here’s a list of essential product and revenue-focused growth metrics for your app that you should be looking at:

  • User growth rate
  • Sessions
  • Retention rate
  • Churn rate
  • Average revenue per user
  • Customer Acquisition Cost
  • Customer Lifetime Value
  • Return on Investment


You can also add the following measurements to your general growth tracking:

  • Subscriptions (these are leads that you can nurture and try to convert to users)
  • Website traffic (This is more in the category of vanity metrics, but still useful)
  • Social Media Followers
  • Number of (positive) reviews/ratings

Growth metrics don’t change much when you include an application; it just adds an extra layer of things and places to track. Your goal is to scale and grow your user base either way, which is why I believe that this way of looking at growth can be adopted by most.

Extra
Which three vital 3rd party solutions/products would be most important to you/the team?
  • You need analytics to track performance, the market, and understand the effects of your initiatives (Google Analytics or other services)
  • You need advertising platforms (Like Google Ads, Bing, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Twitter Ads)
  • You need a CRM system to help you become more data-driven and organize and understand your customers better (Preferably one that can help you with other stuff as well - Like Hubspot)
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