How To Make It as a
First-Time Entrepreneur

How to Make it as a First-Time Entrepreneur

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

From a PR perspective, I like to think of the internet as an ocean full of schools of fish. There’s the TechCrunch school, the NY Times school, Lifehacker school, HackerNews school and thousands of others.

When one of these services feature your startup, their respective school of fish will suddenly and dramatically swim directly towards your startup. And, as fast as they come, they will swim by you even faster.

You are a fisherman, your startup is your net and your goal is to catch as many of these fish as possible.

If your net (your startup) isn’t well-built and ready for them, the fish will swim right by you and they’ll never come back. It’s tragic and a huge blown opportunity. It happens to so many startups and you can see it in their traffic.

But, some startups have built a good net and they overnight acquire thousands of new happy users.

Here’s how we made sure Yipit, a daily deal aggregator, had a good, strong net to catch as many of these potential users as possible.

“Net” Strategy Depends on Your Stage

Startups are generally in one of the following four stages.

  • Stage 0: Visitors Come But Leave
    • They might click around but they don’t activate into a real user. For Yipit, that means they don’t subscribe for our daily email
  • Stage 1: Visitors Sign-Up But Don’t Come Back
    • A visitor will like your site enough to create an account but they con’t come back. For Yipit, they pick their city and provide us their email but don’t open / click on our emails.
  • Stage 2: Visitors are Retained
    • Not only does a visitor sign-up, but they are coming back regularly. For Yipit, they either come back to the site to see new deals or, for most of them, they receive our email recommendations.
  • Stage 3: Visitors Refer Others
    • They either like your service so much they tell their friends or the service itself encourages them to refer others. We didn’t have a great way to track referrals though we could see it with google searches for “yipit” and direct navigation.

Stage 0 and Stage 1: Create Splash Page

Most startups are in stage 0 or stage 1. You should not be actively seeking PR.

Before Yipit pivoted to focus on just aggregating daily deals, we were at stage 1. Users signed-up for our service but they weren’t clicking on our emails, they weren’t using the deals we were recommending and they weren’t referring others.

So, we would direct new visitors to a splash page where they would sign-up for our waiting list. We would then invite them to the site and see if they signed-up and came back. When they didn’t, we would offer them $10 to get on the phone and explain why they didn’t like it.

We got visitors to Yipit in a bunch of different ways: meet people, google ads, facebook ads, some current users would refer new users, friends, people googling us. The fortunate thing is that you don’t need that many users to figure out what’s wrong with the service.

Every startup in stage 0 or stage 1 should build this splash page today. It’s a great source of early test users and, more importantly, you get their emails so you can follow up with them.

I recommend you use Unbounce to build it.  You don’t have to have any technical background to do it.  We didn’t use it because it wasn’t around but would use it today.

Some tips for the splash page:

Stage 2 and Stage 3:  Ready For PR “Launch”

Based on our all our conversations with users, we pivoted to focusing on aggregating daily deals in February of this year.

Right away, we knew we were in stage 2. Our early users liked the new service, we liked it, they were buying deals, they were telling friends. We were ready to launch.

We made a PR push and got TechCrunch, Wired and a few other companies to cover our launch. When those users came, we converted them into our first five thousand users.

The only caveat for not launching in stage 2 is if you can quickly do a few things that will dramatically increase your referral rate (like integrating with Twitter or Facebook). If that’s the case, implement the low hanging fruit before launching since it can potentially double / triple the impact of your PR efforts.

Had we grown impatient and tried to launch before we were at stage 2, we would have crash and burned after launch.

(For more on the stages of a startup, I recommend Dave McClure’s amazing Startup Metrics for Pirates.)

Vinicius Vacanti is co-founder and CEO of Yipit. Next posts on how to acquire users for free and how to raise a Series A. Don’t miss them by subscribing via email or via twitter.

  • http://jessema.com Jesse

    Yes! Lifehacker has a school :)

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      They have one of the biggest schools around. Seriously.

      • http://jessema.com Jesse

        That’s what I like to hear! I hope Lifehacker has cool tropical fish.

  • http://jessema.com Jesse

    Yes! Lifehacker has a school :)

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      They have one of the biggest schools around. Seriously.

      • http://jessema.com Jesse

        That’s what I like to hear! I hope Lifehacker has cool tropical fish.

  • http://technbiz.blogspot.com paramendra

    Great tip.

  • http://technbiz.blogspot.com paramendra

    Great tip.

  • Anonymous

    Another great article. Something but I was aware that needed to happen you have managed to articulate it so well.

    My startup is still in a private beta, but I am certainly going to hold off on a full scale launch until I have reach stage 2. I always knew I needed to hold off, now I actually have metrics as to when.

  • Anonymous

    Another great article. Something but I was aware that needed to happen you have managed to articulate it so well.

    My startup is still in a private beta, but I am certainly going to hold off on a full scale launch until I have reach stage 2. I always knew I needed to hold off, now I actually have metrics as to when.

  • http://www.hopecookie.com Eunice Chen

    great article – love your blog. however, im still a bit confused on the line between stage 1 and stage 2. it sounds like stage 1 means you have a splash page without a functioning site, so people can sign up but not actually use the service. and it sounds like in stage 2 you have a functioning site where people come back to the site to check new deals, etc. so what if i am at stage 1.5 where I have a functioning site (not just a splash page) and people can sign up, but theyre not coming back? does that mean i just need to market it to gain more visitors til i reach the right target audience who will keep coming back?

    • http://www.hopecookie.com Eunice Chen

      I’m probably answering my own question here, but I suspect i jumped the gun and launched a working site without doing the pre-launch marketing/buzz . But hopefully with a functioning site now it’s just a matter of marketing and trying to gain traction.

      • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

        If your users aren’t coming back, there’s something wrong the product. You have to talk to them and understand why. Getting more users won’t help.

      • John

        Was hopecookie the site you were referring to above?

  • http://www.hopecookie.com Eunice Chen

    great article – love your blog. however, im still a bit confused on the line between stage 1 and stage 2. it sounds like stage 1 means you have a splash page without a functioning site, so people can sign up but not actually use the service. and it sounds like in stage 2 you have a functioning site where people come back to the site to check new deals, etc. so what if i am at stage 1.5 where I have a functioning site (not just a splash page) and people can sign up, but theyre not coming back? does that mean i just need to market it to gain more visitors til i reach the right target audience who will keep coming back?

    • http://www.hopecookie.com Eunice Chen

      I’m probably answering my own question here, but I suspect i jumped the gun and launched a working site without doing the pre-launch marketing/buzz . But hopefully with a functioning site now it’s just a matter of marketing and trying to gain traction.

      • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

        If your users aren’t coming back, there’s something wrong the product. You have to talk to them and understand why. Getting more users won’t help.

  • http://about.me/AaronFranklin Aaron Franklin

    This is one of the most important startup posts I’ve ever read. I don’t think most startups understand this concept, and you’ve explained it very clearly. Most startups don’t realize that you only get to launch once, and I’ve seen too many startups do it before they’ve established a good net. Seriously good stuff.

  • http://about.me/AaronFranklin Aaron Franklin

    This is one of the most important startup posts I’ve ever read. I don’t think most startups understand this concept, and you’ve explained it very clearly. Most startups don’t realize that you only get to launch once, and I’ve seen too many startups do it before they’ve established a good net. Seriously good stuff.

  • http://www.GetDateIdeas.com Will

    Awesome post Vincius!

    Will keep this blog post handy when my startup is ready :)

    Cheers,

    Will

  • http://www.GetDateIdeas.com Will

    Awesome post Vincius!

    Will keep this blog post handy when my startup is ready :)

    Cheers,

    Will

  • http://www.startupaddict.com/blog StartupAddict

    Excellent article. It is so important for startups to test their product with live users and listen to the problems customers want solved. Most startups will inevitably miscalculate the original business model. Pivoting like you have described and knowing when to launch is where the startup will get the most mileage.

  • http://www.startupaddict.com/blog StartupAddict

    Excellent article. It is so important for startups to test their product with live users and listen to the problems customers want solved. Most startups will inevitably miscalculate the original business model. Pivoting like you have described and knowing when to launch is where the startup will get the most mileage.

  • http://twitter.com/aledalgrande Alessandro DalGrande

    Where did you get your first 10 users?

  • http://twitter.com/aledalgrande Alessandro DalGrande

    Where did you get your first 10 users?

  • http://twitter.com/GregHertzke Greg Hertzke

    Great advice, especially like the points about not seeking PR too early. Thanks Vinicius!

  • http://twitter.com/GregHertzke Greg Hertzke

    Great advice, especially like the points about not seeking PR too early. Thanks Vinicius!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Vinicius – lots of knowledge put into a concise and readable format – will be recommending this to a few guys to look at :-)

  • Anonymous

    Great post Vinicius – lots of knowledge put into a concise and readable format – will be recommending this to a few guys to look at :-)

  • http://profiles.google.com/adamfraser0 Adam Fraser

    Great post. I would love to know more about how you go from stage 0 / 1 to stage 2? If for example your starting a new company and you have a splash page which is getting a few hits, how do you know if visitors are being retained or if they just entered their email address and moved on?

    I guess my question is how do you keep customers involved and how can you see whether they like your product before actually launching?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      The splash page just “activates” the user. You have to then invite them to use your actual product and see if they become “retained” they come back.

  • http://profiles.google.com/adamfraser0 Adam Fraser

    Great post. I would love to know more about how you go from stage 0 / 1 to stage 2? If for example your starting a new company and you have a splash page which is getting a few hits, how do you know if visitors are being retained or if they just entered their email address and moved on?

    I guess my question is how do you keep customers involved and how can you see whether they like your product before actually launching?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      The splash page just “activates” the user. You have to then invite them to use your actual product and see if they become “retained” they come back.

  • Dand Ward

    I just learned more in 2 minutes then the last 30 days! My startup will benefit enormously from these words of wisdom. Absolutely fantastic!

  • Dand Ward

    I just learned more in 2 minutes then the last 30 days! My startup will benefit enormously from these words of wisdom. Absolutely fantastic!

  • http://twitter.com/chrisgoward Chris Goward

    Very good advice, Vinicius. I recall Sergey & Larry saying something similar about their early days. They weren’t worried about all the people that hadn’t tried Google because it was getting better every day so the longer they waited to try it, the better their first impression would be.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisgoward Chris Goward

    Very good advice, Vinicius. I recall Sergey & Larry saying something similar about their early days. They weren’t worried about all the people that hadn’t tried Google because it was getting better every day so the longer they waited to try it, the better their first impression would be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tonimanolache Toni Manolache

    http://LaunchSoon.com would have saved you a lot of time and energy for launching a coming soon page fast. There’s also a gallery for inspiration: http://LaunchSoon.com/gallery.php

  • http://twitter.com/kullar pardeep kullar

    Good post dude. I find that the messaging is so damn important. We’ve had the same functionality but it can be described in so many different ways and the conversion rate changes radically according to the words used.

  • Anonymous

    I’m curious what tools you used to measure these stages. All Google Analytics?

    Also – Another way to save time with a viral launch page is http://www.kickofflabs.com.  We do measure conversion rates as well as integrate really well with other services like KissInsights.  

  • http://www.vinayjain.com/ Vinay Jain

    Terrific post — thank you.

  • http://www.omnidk.com/ omni

    Vinicius, you’ve cleared up several things I was wondering about in the launch process. I’ve read other places the importance of using a landing page to catch the initial beta users, and I myself was wondering about paying ten or twenty dollars to get the folks who entered the front door but didn’t sit down at the table to tell me why they chose not to sign up after showing interest. This is one of the best articles I’ve read about getting beta users. Many thanks! After reading this, I found ubounce to be a bit pricy for my budget, searched around a bit and found many great landing pages at themeforest.net bought one for twelve bucks and setting it up now. Perhaps my favorite line in your article “Have one concise, huge phrase that explains what problem your startup is addressing” Cheers!