Popular Startup: Practical Recipes

    We continue [ 1 , 2 , 3 ] to compare approaches to work in startups in Russia and the USA. Today, statements by Sam Altman (Y Combinator), Adora Chung (Homejoy) and Peter Thiel (Founders Fund) on the aspects of popularity, positioning and PR startups will be commented on by Maria Lapuk (@lapyk) - head of the press service of the Internet Initiatives Development Fund .

    Sam Altman quite critically refers to the myth of the need for the pursuit of popularity for a startup. He suggests focusing on a small market niche and only then moving on to expanding its influence.

    How often do Russian start-ups manage to make themselves heard loudly, making the most effective use of a large audience reach for the benefit of business? What are the most common mistakes startups make in working with a mass audience?

    Startups rarely think about loudly declaring themselves. Rather, what we see as “loud” is either an accident or a talent of a particular person, and with only a few exceptions it is a planned campaign.

    This, on the one hand, is understandable enough: a team needs to launch a product, test, start selling, scale, etc. When the CEO has a choice: to spend not even money, but energy and time to finalize the product or to think through the advertising campaign, then the choice, of course, falls on the product.

    Maybe, in the conditions of limited resources, everyone would do that, but at some point the product comes up to scale, and here the questions about communications begin. It is advisable to approach this moment with tested working PR and advertising tools. Otherwise, you can hang here for a long time, doing tests and developing PR tactics.

    In any case, if you are doing a massive b2c service, then you can not do without communications. It’s worth at the very beginning of the way to decide at what point you will be occupied with them, you need to have in your head a vision of what customers should think about you and much more. PR, marketing communications - an excellent tool for solving business problems. Do not forget about it.

    Based on your experience, can you say that at the moment there really has been a trend in the emergence of an increasing number of successful niche startups?

    Making a successful niche product is much easier than making a successful mass product. You have a specific audience, you satisfy some very specific need of this audience. For example, pressfeed.ru for PR specialists and journalists. It’s quite a wonderful niche professional service. There is a need for a large number of interesting new speakers - here is a service that helps to collect comments.

    I do not see a boom in niche projects right now, as long as everyone wants to do large projects for a wide audience.

    Sam talks about the importance of understanding which market niches will show rapid growth in the near future. He  emphasizes the need to assess the potential growth of the market niche with which the startup plans to work.

    Sam compares this approach to following someone, “getting on the elevator,” or belonging to a community. Which of the similar techniques that have shown their effectiveness in the Russian market could you mention? Can you name the three most promising market niches for working as part of a technology startup?

    Of course, it is very important to choose a market and a niche in which you will work. For example, to get into the IIDF accelerator, the market size must be at least $ 10 million, otherwise the project will not be very interesting to venture investors. Of course, it’s always cool to find and work on the “blue ocean”. But to sell a niche about which few people know where demand does not yet exist is difficult. But on the other hand, the opportunity to become the first, the only one, to remove all the cream from the market, is higher here.

    If we talk about those niches that I believe in, then I would call the Internet of things, mobile advertising, digitalization of real life. I think that in these areas it is quite possible to do a lot of interesting things.

    Homejoy's Adora Chung outlines communication with customers (or users) as one of the main drivers of positive product changes. She talks about answering machines, interviews, personal meetings with clients and other approaches, but always emphasizes the need to build a trusting atmosphere.

    One of the ways to get feedback is including maintaining your own startup blog. How is it worth distributing forces to work with project blogs on thematic sites (such as Habr, Geektimes, etc.) and the preparation of materials for specialized media?

    How to create that very trusting atmosphere as part of a publication in a large publication or a series of publications on your blog so that it [atmosphere] allows you to receive truthful feedback from customers?

    Communication with customers is important. Any specialist will say that. You can never do the perfect product test, you will never know about all the needs of customers without listening to them. If you are friendly, it will be really interesting for you to listen to customers, then there should be no problems with the atmosphere. At the same time, consumer extremism, which has appeared quite a lot recently, should not be fooled. Develop uniform rules of work with clients fair for all. Work on them, adapting as reality changes.

    Now about how much time I would spend on thematic media and specialized media. You need to decide which audiences are your priority in communications. Maybe you are looking for investment, and you need to focus on the media that investors read. If you are looking for staff, do not forget about Habr. If you are in the growth stage and spend more than 30% of your time on the media, hire a PR manager. This is the threshold after which the PR manager should deal with the media for you.

    Peter Thiel noted an interesting approach to the formation of their own monopolies and the correct positioning of a business within a specific market niche:

    The US advertising market is estimated at about $ 500 billion - from this point of view, Google occupies only 3.5% of the market - this is a tiny fraction. If you do not like being an advertising company, you can always be called a technology company. The technology market as a whole is estimated at about a trillion dollars, and in this case, Google will "legally" compete with all companies that develop drone cars, with Apple TV and iPhone, with Facebook, with Microsoft in the "office" application market, with Amazon in the cloud services industry: this is a huge technology market where competitors are approaching you from all sides - and there’s no question of any monopoly, so the state certainly has nothing to worry about.

    Of course, manipulations of this kind are the lot of the largest players in the technology market, but for young companies, proper positioning can play a decisive role at the stage of early growth and scaling.

    Do you have interesting examples of this kind from among Russian startups that have managed to form an expert image in a certain niche? What, in your opinion, helped these projects seize the initiative from other players in their industry?

    Positioning is important because it allows your team to understand who you are, for whom you work and why you do it. When this understanding appears inside, you can broadcast it to your customers, partners and other audiences. If we talk about Russian projects, then there are excellent examples of this.

    For example, SurfingBird is a personal recommendation service, guys are one of the few in Russia who are involved in this field. There is LinguaLeo and Netology, without which there is more than one material about online education. Each of these projects tells about itself, about its business, gives comments, and is generally engaged in communications. Becoming an expert with us is not very difficult. In my opinion, the media still lacks good interesting speakers. So this is the kind of work that you just need to work hard, and everything will work out.

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