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.

Note: This post is loosely based on our experience 2 years ago when TechCrunch covered Yipit’s launch.

You wake up earlier than normal, grab your iPhone which you slept on top of and do a twitter search for your startup name.

Boom. A tweet every 5 minutes.

People are re-tweeting the TechCrunch article covering your startup’s launch. TechCrunch just said you might be the next big thing. You even see a few random people recommending your startup to their followers.

You giddily open your email and you’ve got a bunch of messages from your friends at the co-working space congratulating you on the TechCrunch piece. One of your friends says “you’re famous!” Your parents respond with “Congratulations!” after they read the email where you explained to them that TechCrunch was a really big deal.

You crawl over to your laptop and pull up Google Analytics. You’ve never seen anything like this. Your previous traffic looks like a flat line next to yesterday’s huge 8,253 visits.

After months of toiling away in obscurity, you feel like you’ve finally made it. People know what you’re working on now. People all over the world are now using your product. Paul Graham should have never rejected you from YC.

You then you pull up your event log in SQLPro to see what all these new users are doing.

Hmm. That’s weird. Even though you had 8,000+ visits, you only signed up a little over 1,000 users. “Sounds like we need to do some work on that landing page”, you think.

You start looking at the emails of the users who signed-up and get annoyed with some of the fake emails: asdf@gmail.com, fu@gmail.com. “Ugh. Going to be hard to retain those users since they won’t be getting notification emails,” you mutter to yourself.

1,000 new users is still really good except a bunch of them didn’t really go through the full sign-up process. A bunch of people didn’t put in their interests. How are they supposed to have a good experience without customizing their interests? You run a quick SQL query and the number of users that made it through the sign-up flow: 200.

You send off a quick text to your co-founder asking if he was really sure that sign-up flow bug had been fixed.

And, while you don’t want to do it, you force yourself to see how many people came back today. The answer: 3. Really? Just 3. It’s still early, but can you really expect more than 50 to come back today?

You are happy to see people are still signing-up via the TechCrunch article but way less than yesterday. You do some quick math and then it hits you. When it’s all said and done, TechCrunch, best case scenario, will have given you a grand total of 200 active users.

Was that our big launch?

Why didn’t more people sign-up? Why didn’t people complete the sign-up flow? Why weren’t people coming back?

Now that people covered our startup, how are we supposed to get more press?

Why aren’t our users pushing their actions to Facebook and Twitter?

We got some users to invite their friends but why aren’t their friends accepting the invite?

How are we supposed to get a viral coefficient greater than 1.0 when people won’t share on Facebook or accept their friends’ invite?

Should we try SEO?

Chris Dixon said 10 million users is the new 1 million users. 10 million?! We have 400 active users.

Now what?

Welcome to startups.

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.

  • RadioVybe

    Simply work towards developing a good product and worry less about Press, Viral Co-efficient etc. Just a good product that solves one problem very well and you will be fine.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Behind every great product that’s reached millions of users is a very smart user acquisition strategy.

      • RadioVybe

        True, but your first user acquisition strategy is a good product. Vintage word of mouth advertising is still supreme. Lol

  • http://sportsvault.net/ SportsVault

    Seems like the TC audience has become accustomed to signing up for new services but never really using them…but 200 users is better than 0.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      200 users is definitely better than 0 but too many startups think all they have to do is get some PR and that the rest will follow.

      • http://sportsvault.net/ SportsVault

        …the definition of the Tech Crunch Effect.

      • Scott

        Such perfect and timely advice. Thanks Vinicius.

  • http://www.iconfinder.com/ Martin LeBlanc, Iconfinder.com

    10 million users is the new 1 million users? Crap, we have 1 million :-/

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      depends on what your goals are

    • http://twitter.com/HenleyWing Henley Wing

      Chris Dixon is specifically talking about consumer startups that want to be the next billion dollar company (ie Facebook, Twitter, etc). If you’re an enterprise startup, 100 users is = 10 million users. If you’re a niche consumer startup, 100K = 10 million users.

  • http://needforair.com/ Stanislas Marion

    This is word for word what we’re experiencing at the moment. Like, word for word, litterally.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      we experienced this years ago. everyone goes through it. the key is for you to start making improvements based on what you’re learning. get activation to work, get retention to work. try some big things.

      • http://needforair.com/ Stanislas Marion

        Do you have some examples of “big things”?

  • http://twitter.com/danvk Dan Von Kohorn

    I think you are asking your visitors to sign in too early. Give them a little taste of what you are before asking for credentials. Don’t simply mirror the groupon onboarding process; it only works for them because of their established brand.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      This was written based loosely on our experience years ago. We iterated a bunch on the process and are now in much better place.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jamiequint Jamie Quint

      This is just false. You can sign up users at well over 30% conversion (with real email addresses) to email on a homepage with just a value proposition that resonates with users and a page that is set up correctly. I’ve seen this done with multiple sites. It is possible.

  • http://mgakashim.com/ Artful Dodger

    I think everyone working on a start-up should read this article. It gets straight to the point and doesn’t bullshit you one bit.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      glad you liked the post!

  • andy@AtlasBrothers

    So what happened next? What was your pivot from this? I want to know…

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      we just started working on our landing page. made the sign-up flow better. improved our emails. wanted people to know that getting good PR is just the beginning.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michellesblog Michelle Greer

        Here’s the bummer part. A lot of bloggers don’t link to the landing pages when you make them. They link to your home page.

        I like Apple’s strategy. When they launch products, they put them front and center on the home page. So it’s good to have a landing page that is also easily found on the home page, and it has the extra benefit of delivering some link juice for your SEO efforts. :)

  • http://twitter.com/jay_soriano Jay Soriano

    Hi Vinicius,

    I’m planning on launching soon, what were a few things you wish you would have done before launch? How about on launch day?

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Think about it a lot less. Launch isn’t that important. Just keep improving the product.

  • http://peteforde.com/ Pete Forde

    I can appreciate why this would seem like the morning after a rave, but if you stop and consider what really just happened — a whole bunch of other startup founders just drove by slowly on the way to the next post — then you have nothing to feel sad about.

    Those 8000+ visitors are presumably not your target demographic, and it’s unlikely that you’re solving a problem that they have.

    I really recommend that you read the 1st CopyHackers book on identifying the motivations of the people most likely to be your paying customers. Many startups fail because they try to shoot for a general market. In reality, you will convert very well if you correctly anticipate the motivations of the top 20% vs trying to be all things to all people.

    The reason is that no matter how great your landing page is, you cannot manufacture motivation in your visitors — even a brilliant product will fail if you market it to the wrong people. Everything in your public messaging should reinforce exactly one message:

    We solve X problem for Y.

    Resist the urge to add more X, and don’t be so hard on yourself if you are ignored by Z, because your product is for Y.

    • http://twitter.com/teds027 Ted Sindzinski

      You bring up a great point that I see overlooked time and time again: great coverage is not just big coverage, it’s relevant coverage.

      However change Techcrunch to ABC Money / CNN Tech / Salon Lifestyle and the same dynamic can just as easily apply. Relevancy is critical to even having a chance but I’ve personally watched campaigns fail to good audiences because of bad messaging and ultimately bad products.

      To your point it’s about motivation. You have to have something the people you are reaching want and then, and only then, they have to know you have it.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Making sure your message is getting put in front of the right audience is very important. That being said, we’ve since been on NYTimes Travel, Good Morning America, CNN Money, etc. and, even though they drove many more users, it’s not how you get to millions of users. You have to come up with another strategy whether it’s a viral sharing strategy, SEO, user acquisition, biz dev, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/ianpilon Ian Pilon

      well said Pete, now I’m going to go find me the CopyHackers book, thanks for sharing this resourceful tip! I’m discovering that the best information I can take from an article is sometimes found in the comments… real world people like yourself who know the trenches and how to dissect a catchy headline.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wolfe/1447611814 Michael Wolfe

    I love TechCrunch, but it is a very industry insider-ish audience – the equivalent of promoting a new movie release to other Hollywood actors and writers vs. trying to get your movie onto Oprah or NYTimes.

    However, even most startups I know who have gotten mainstream press (NYTimes, CNN, MSNBC) didn’t get much more out of it.

    PR may plant the seed for your startup, and it does provide some credibility for new hires and (maybe) investors, but consumer products grow primarily through strong word of mouth and virality.

    If you have strong user engagement, virality, and word of mouth, those 200 users will start to bring in more users, and you’ll be up and running.

    If you don’t have those then you could have gotten 100K users on day 1 and still ended up nowhere.

    Trust me, I’ve been there…

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Word of mouth without a more concrete strategy rarely gets companies into the millions of users.

  • http://twitter.com/wesperience Wes Donohoe

    Fantastic post. I’ve been through this exact thing several times and feel the excitement and pain that press can cause the team.

    My question to you: Why should you expect your customer base to explode and see deep engagement if you’re target audience isn’t reading TC. TC readers aren’t everyone’s target audience. A small business owner or movie fan probably doesn’t read TC. TC readers are obsessed with retweeting and sharing the post, but I’ve experienced extremely low engagement numbers, because my apps don’t target these users.

    You can substitute TC for any other blog or press outlet. I’ve also done a lot of cohort analysis around users that sign up during press days (with +2). Their engagement is always drastically lower than other segments.

    My advice, worry about satisfying your customers and press will come.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      The lesson we learned was definitely to worry less about press and come up with a different user acquisition strategy.

  • gm

    hehe fu@gmail.com. I always use that. Sorry :(

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Well, at least now when someone tries to use it, it says it’s taken.

  • http://twitter.com/oz_michael Michael Ozeryansky

    Thank you for such a sobering and straight post. I’m going to dive into your archive here for more of them :-)

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Thank you for the kind note!

  • http://narrato.co/ Ramy Khuffash

    Really depressing yet funny read. The “problem” is plenty of startups see a Tech Crunch (or other leading tech website) article as their marketing strategy so the more people that read this the less disappointment there will be.

    • http://narrato.co/ Ramy Khuffash

      Also, on a side note, it’s important to know what metrics to measure before even getting 200 users. It would be a such a waste not to learn anything from the process however disappointing it might be. Do you have any metrics that you didn’t measure during the process that you wish you did?

      • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

        We did a bunch of user interviews and learned a ton.

  • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

    Please feel free to delete this comment, but I just wanted to point out that in the sentence “A bunch of people didn’t put in there interests,” you probably meant to say that “a bunch of people didn’t put in their interests!”

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      thank you! fixed!

      • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

        No problem! Also, I meant to say that this post was an excellent read. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/oz_michael Michael Ozeryansky

    After thinking a bit… I guess I’m really glad the industry looks this way today – PR is more or less useless, only great product and lots of learning do the trick. It’s probably the only thing that can give you some piece of mind, as entrepreneur – knowing that success depends on your own diligence, not some external buzz.

  • Roman

    This is all about the target audience, which seems like it is the right audience but in fact is the absolute wrong one, same with HN. Perfect sites to test for traffic spikes and large-scale bugs, but those readers are click, see, go types. Few will stick. Same with ads. It’s still great for publicity, the message will spread, but your real users will arrive through personal recommendation or their own Google search. Simple as that.

  • Fran

    I just checked out the site and I really like it. Though when I signed up it apparently sent an email to everyone on my contact list, which I don’t remember seeing an opt-out checkbox for (must’ve missed it). Within minutes friends were popping up on chat asking why I was spamming them. People on my work are on that list. So that didn’t really impress me. Other than that, the site/service looks great!

  • Prasanna

    What Dan Von Kohorn said is true. There should be an option for guest users. Only when an user likes it, give an option to signup. I didn’t go after the second page where it asks for email address, as there was slight hesitatiton on “what if signing up floods my email with so many offers in this area!?”. Just a thought.

  • http://twitter.com/bap Brian Paul

    Yes. :/ I’ve been there.

  • Scritti Politti

    “do a twitter search for your startup name.”

    Or… not.

  • http://twitter.com/ememorato Manuel Morato

    You just echoed my ails with this post. It’s the truth and I appreciate the fact that you took the time to write and share this. For less experienced entrepreneurs (like myself), this is a golden lesson.

  • http://adammclane.com Adam McLane

    In my experience, a big press dealio, like techcrunch mention or something like that, is nothing more than a play on my insecurity.

    Yep, it feels great to be validated and a mention is a mention. But if I’m feeling good about my product because somebody who has to crank out 2-3 articles a day says my product is swell, well I won’t make it very long in this game.

    Surround yourself with good people who will tell you the truth.

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    Sorry about the launch – but so many questions come up for me. Was your whole strategy TechCrunch? Where was the outreach to the community boards, leaders, social media strategy? What was your TV or radio strategy?

    It’s the rule of three in PR – people need to see something three times to remember, and it’s about audience. Yes, TC is great for tech but were those your customers and audience? If not – and they aren’t – you failed in the launch.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      I think startups spend too much time focusing on launching. Get the product right and come up with a good distribution strategy.

      • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

        That’s half the battle – and I’ve been around long enough to see the better product lose to the better PR’ed product. Many, many times.

        A good launch strategy, though, has all the things you mention: a good product (or passable product), an outreach strategy that helps spread the product/site and PR (throw social media into that). I know Yipit, remember when you launched … and then it fell off the radar. What was the follow-up plan in press? Where’s the outreach to newspapers? How come I didn’t see you on the news, reaching the real users?

  • les_madras

    If you dont offer the user much value, dont expect them to come back. This was and is the case with yipit, which is just another SEO farm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dvicsingh Vic Singh

    people are missing the point of this post. press is great for visibility but at thr end of the day, your product has to stick on its own merit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dvicsingh Vic Singh

    people are missing the point of this post. press is great for visibility but your product must speak for itself and stick.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stat-Spotting/100002193653014 Stat Spotting

    TechCrunch shd have a cap on the number of apps/startups try cover.
    These days ppl just look at the coverage of what the startup does and move on.

    Very few even bother to visit the site and fewer than that try out the service

    Maybe there is some gap here that someone can solve.

  • Melissa Shapiro

    Great post – I affectionately refer to this as the A-frame news cycle. An important reminder that it’s not just about getting the TechCrunch spotlight. It’s what you do with traffic and how you keep things going that counts.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Like the term “A-frame”.

  • http://www.swipecases.com/ techtock

    Great article. I don’t know how many total users you have now but with several rounds of funding and all of the main stream press since the original launch it must have been a good ride. I agree with everything you said about start-ups and press and if the highs get too high (in your head) then the lows will feel very low and can even paralyze your business. It’s like a bad hangover if you don’t have reasonable expectations. But it’s also good to remember to enjoy the ride along the way because sometimes it’s more enjoyable than where you end up. Appreciate it, learn, move forward (like you did). Good work!

  • http://www.lolreviews.info/ gabrielle DL

    the thing is actually gotten worse over the years. Some years ago hitting techcrunch’s frontpage would give you X visits and 20% os that would sign up.
    Of these, half would leave some useful feedback or invite others.

    Nowadays you get a much larger X and a much smaller conversion rate.
    And the people who signup seem to be way less “useful” (no feedback etc)

    I’m not really sure of why this happens, I guess we can blame popolarity.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      audience has definitely changed over the years.

  • http://twitter.com/eplinovo Eplinovo

    We had a very similar experience, we did not get techcrunched we were TNW:ed, but it is same same IMHO. The point of this post is that the first hike in startup life cycle is of no or very little importance.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      exactly.

  • http://www.graphicrating.com/ andygongea

    Awesome article. Although the overall idea is pretty sad, it is nice to learn from others experiences and in this case to lower your expectations.

    Good luck.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      glad you liked it!

  • http://twitter.com/ASilkalns Aigars Silkalns

    Well 200 users are better than nothing but I still believe most of them never really started using your service.
    The good thing about getting featured on the large technology and startup blogs is backlinks and credibility when approaching your target audience because even if they don’t know who you are they see you on TechCrunch so you must be good at something. Everyone loves references.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      The credibility from the post was worth much more than the users.

  • Raj Kandathi

    Thank you for an inspiring and educating post as always.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      glad you liked it!

  • http://twitter.com/rashi Rashi Elmaliah

    Great post. I’d love to read your follow-up article – on what did work for you

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      Going to be writing one.

  • http://twitter.com/Jschwa Jason Schwartz

    Preach brother

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      ha. thanks Jason.

  • http://magiczne.seoisem.pl/ Bartek

    Great read. And myself being from the SEO field, I loved the “should we try SEO” at the end :). Its hard for me to imagine any innovative startup relying on SEO if they are doing something new, not yet another “innovative approach to invoicing”.

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      SEO can be hard but sites like StackOverflow and Quora have had much success from it.

      • http://magiczne.seoisem.pl/ Bartek

        Sure, they had, but both are content-driven and useful, which in turn gives them lovely backlink profile. Having such a treasure all SEO you need to do is the right site architecture.

        On the other hand there were (are?) sites like Mahalo – junk and ads, hyped as super startups.

  • joshuakarp

    TechCrunch wrote about my startup (www.kumbuya.com) last Monday (11/19): http://t.co/jOE8q5gr We received 82 clicks from TechCrunch on 11/19 and 11/20 representing 4% of our total traffic for those days – just a tiny blip. However, the big value of being in TechCrunch for us is credibility. We’re *really* early for them to cover us (and we’re in Chicago) – pointing “industry” people to the post helps to break down barriers and get their attention. (We did NOT use a PR firm, it was pure luck / good fortune – and (we like to think) a good product starting to get traction).

    • http://viniciusvacanti.com Vinicius Vacanti

      TechCrunch can definitely be great for building credibility.

  • Iulian Donici

    So this is what it’s like to start a startup… This is a very interesting piece of article. I congratulate you for organising these thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/b_tompkins Ben Tompkins

    Nice article – looks like you will get a lot more users from this than the original!!

  • David Baker

    :D nice post, really enjoyed it. No personal experience of this but you painted a picture.

  • jhaime

    I don’t mean this in a terribly negative way, as yipit looks pretty sound and a lot of work has clearly gone into it, into an industry that still exists. However, you can’t deliver value in daily deals, it’s inherently fraud and bankrupt. In the long run, nobody will win. It’s like suggesting a high street brand clothing chain (with product made in China) has greater value than an italian artisan. The highstreet chain will sell more, but the value won’t be as good and the artisan will out last the chain… How does this relate to coupons and daily deals? Given the current financial climate that the western world is unlikely to escape for the next 30 years, people want value, companies want value and daily deals do not deliver value.

    Press attention doesn’t drive growth or retention, press attention is designed to do one thing, sell papers and generate traffic for their greedy advertisers, not to promote your product or service. So I totally agree with you if this is your primary point. I also no longer follow techcrunch, they incessantly post about ‘who’s been funded’ and deliver very little thorough journalism to any avail. They’ve become a reflection of everything that is wrong in the industry, driven by Butcher, Alexis and their cronies who seem to think they’re the gatekeepers to validation. You only have to read their tweets to see how much they love the smell of their own farts. Fortunately, we’re not short of alternatives, such as TNW, All thing’s D, Verge, Kernal and so on.

    Appreciate the post though, you paint a realistic picture.

  • Tommy

    Best article ever!! So truee.

  • TrylonSMR

    PR and marketing needs to be an ongoing effort, just like sales, customer service and product development. Good initial launch media coverage can get things off to an good start, but eventually the media momentum will diminish, unless refreshed on a consistent basis with new stories, and proactive professional press outreach that generates additional ongoing coverage. And augmenting regular press coverage with SEO, advertising and social media efforts will keep the momentum – and results – going. Oddly most tech companies think that a good initial launch will create perpetual forward motion. But it doesn’t work that way; entropy eventually sets in. The solution is to always be promoting – that’s why Apple’s been so successful, see: http://www.trylonsmr.com/Newsletter/004trylon/issue113/article1.htm

  • http://www.conversocial.com/ Anthony Thomas

    I’ve rarely signed up for a product/service from a TC article. I generally do click though, though, to look at the homepage and see if a company’s own website can quickly explain to me what it’s about before I read an article. The website should sell it visually and quickly, so it’s interesting to have a look if it actually does !

  • http://www.SNTMNT.com/ Vincent van Leeuwen

    hi vinicius. congrats on a great post! very recognisable, and great reminder not to despair.

  • http://www.SNTMNT.com/ Vincent van Leeuwen

    Also, I guess this very blog post has gotten you more sign ups than the initial TC publication :)

  • http://www.businessmoneytoday.com/ Phanio

    Much better to be TechCrunched then not to be. Starting up is about baby steps until you can run. And, even just one new user from an article is good – 200 is excellent. What is your rate today from any article?

  • http://twitter.com/fettemama fettemama

    Lol? Techcrunch brings only 8k visits? And 8k is much? lolol … in 2003 I had a blog that hat 20k unique visitors per day. Good grief … ‘startups’ are pathetic.

  • Anna

    Thanks for the post! Love the photo :)

  • RaunaqSingh

    I love your post, it comes from real experience.

    http://www.codusoperandi.com/posts/forget-the-techcrunch-launch
    This article might help giving hopeless and confused founders some direction.

    I’m an 18 year-old student trying to grow my startup user base. It’s a challenging, yet extremely exciting and fun situation.

    I like Yipit and I think it’s doing good now, isn’t it?