Founders’ guide to customer acquisition: Go out there, sell it yourself--and yes, PR works

NEW YORK---“I was sending 300 emails a day on Linkedin,” said Daniella Weinblatt, CEO and co-founder of TTI (Take The Interview) who even among the female panelists at an Orrick meetup last June 14, knows there are no bounds to customer acquisition for a startup. As a founder -- and this was also raised by a panelist -- you may actually wonder when you will need to apply the breaks when you’re excited about your journey as an entrepreneur.

 

Weinblatt was part of a panel that consisted of Hayley Barna, venture partner at First Round; Jessica Beck, co-founder and COO at Hello Alfred; Alanna Gregory, founder and CEO at  VIVE Lifestyle with Gesche Haas, founder of Dreamers//Doers.

As a founder, Weinblatt said,  “You need to go out there and sell it yourself.” Which you won’t mind anyway, because your work can consume you, which is good when you’re just starting out and you need to gain traction.” TTI is a NY-based job interview management solutions provider. The company believes better technology enables greater efficiency and better communications which results in better interviews, which then produce better hires.

It’s interesting how the panelists didn’t even react to a question about the timing for spending for marketing because many of them didn’t do it when they first started.

For Hello Alfred, Beck said, “If you’re first in the market, you have to educate your market and we did it through PR (public relations).” Hello Alfred has staff to take of your household chores, from your laundry to house cleaning to grocery shopping. Weinblatt said the public relations effort of the accelerator program helped as well.

Both Beck and Weinblatt didn’t believe in giving away anything for free even from the very beginning. TTI said they had paid pilots and Beck didn’t offer free services.

Barna, co-founder of Birchbox and now First Round, remember starting her startup while at Columbia University. Beck thought of hers while at Harvard Business School. Birchbox offers personalized samples via  a monthly subscription. “We had 8 brands (in the beginning).”

The other panelist was Alanna Gregory, founder at Vive Lifestyle, is a new way to book and save on last minute blowouts at pre-vetted salons in your city.

Weinblatt’s takeaways:

  • First beta pilot clients include ABC Universal. They were paid pilots.  
  • First few months they will be using our software.
  • We asked ourselves, Did we accomplish our objective? Once we converted, then we knew we were on to something
  • Initially people who were signing up was not our audience. People were not searching for video interviews or interviewing more effectively
  • They asked themselves, Who will understand the value proposition we’re selling
  • WOM and the community were big for us
  • We worked with Blue Apron, Warby Parker
  • We use salesforce for CRM and Marketo for marketing
  • We tracked number of emails and had set-up demos. Where it gets tricky is in running demos, as you ask yourself, “Am I personalizing the message properly?”
  • We spent as much time on customer acquisition as we did retention;  six people focused on retention of customers
  • Nothing gets investors more excited than performing better every month
  • We learned to fire fast (instead of holding on to someone that was not a cultural fit)
  • If clients are happy, we get testimonials

Beck’s takeaways:

  • We didn’t know who our customer was (in the beginning)
  • Find out how to grow faster
  • In our first year, as part of our growth we had to learn more and scale.
  • Show and you’re your story through photos
  • (“Alfreds”) would make eye contact
  • On sustaining business: “We (offer) a monthly home cleaning. We restock toiletries.”
  • For quality service: We (knew) we needed W2 people, not 1099 people
  • Hire jack of all trades in beginning
  • (Must have in the beginning): Look for someone with finance specialty

Barna’s takeaways:

  • (Be clear with) messaging and how to position your product
  • The box is just the beginning, we’re a retailer.
  • Theres the power of PR and telling a good story
  • We hired an internal PR team, built relationships
  • We track the cost of everything
  • No accident we had a pink box—and people didn’t know what they would see inside the boxes
  • I like founders who have authentic passion for their business
  • What makes a good founder: “You’re the only person who understand (your business well).”
  • A few happy customers is better than a million unhappy ones
  • Sleep more. It’s a marathon, not a race.
  • Highs were highs lows were lows
  • (Give yourself) 12 to 18 months of (financial) runway

Gregory’s takeaways:

  • We had to validate our assumptions
  • We acquired salons
  • (We tried to find out) how many we need
  • We make sure customers are really happy.
  • We are introducing auto-renewals (soon)
  • You need to find investors who really believe in your vision
  • Be honest with yourself and what you can do