Startups: do things that don’t scale, and how to handle the press

Part 8 of Stanford’s How to start a startup class. Presentation by Stanley Tang (Founder of Doordash), Walker Williams (Founder of Teespring) and Justin Kan (Founder of TwitchTV) on their respective experiences, and how to deal with the press. All notes are consolidated on a single page here.

Stanley Tang (Doordash, food delivery startup)

– wanted to start a delivery business, but felt like something was wrong. How could customers be so unhappy about this, yet nobody had figured it out?
– built a prototype in an hour: simple homepage with PDF menus from restaurants and phone number. People called on founder’s mobile number who was handling delivery. [ties back to previous lecture on how you first do manually what you’ll automate/simplify later]
– used square to charge people, apple’s find my friends to keep track of drivers, google doc for orders tracking
– people started to call, and they knew they had a market
– learning experience through contacts with clients, restaurants, drivers
– 3 things: test your hypothesis, launch fast, it’s ok to do things that don’t scale (figure out how to scale once you have the demand)

Walker Williams (Teespring, ecommerce platform)

– advantage of a startup: you can do things that don’t scale.
– finding first users: there is no silver bullet. First users as impossibly hard to get. Do whatever it takes to bring them in.
– don’t focus on ROI at the beginning, focus on growth
– don’t give away your product for free. Value your product, free could give you a false sense of security
– delight users with experiences they will remember, talk to them (constantly, for as long as possible)
– you’ll never get a better sense for your product than listening to users

– reach out to churned customers. Painful but will really help you make your product better.
– listen to social media and communities

– the feature set you start with is not the feature set you’re going to scale with
– if you turn them around, frustrated and unhappy users can become the best champions
– only worry about the next order of magnitude. When you have 10 users, worry about 100. When 100 worry about 1000. You’ll find a way to make it work.

Justin Kan (Twitch.tv) How do you get press?

– before you reach out to the press, ask yourself who do you want to reach (investors, customers, industry)
– getting in the news is useless unless is fulfils one of your business goals
– target your message geographically (sometimes national is less good than local coverage)
– what’s a story? Product launches, fundraising, milestone/metrics, business story (happens once you’re succesful), stunts, hiring announcements, contributed articles
– think about your story objectively… Most of the things you do people won’t care about
– be original: be the first one in your field, this will make things much easier. First game console to raise money on kickstarter got good press, second one much less.
– Keep your contacts fresh [also: give before you receive]
– help your fellow entrepreneurs get coverage, they will help you back

MECHANICS OF A STORY
– think of it as a sales funnel (talk to lot of people, won’t all convert)
1) think of a story
2) get introduced to reporter(s). Ask people who got recent coverage, and ask them to introduce you
3) set a date (4-7 days in advance) for news to go out
4) reach out (get a commitment to invest time). More time reporter spends with you more likely they will cover you.
5) pitch. Write out all the key points you’d like to see published
6) follow up a couple days before the story goes out. thanks for meeting, collateral (photos, videos), how to spell important peoples’ names
7) launch your news
– make sure getting press is worth it, it doesn’t mean you’re successful
– press is not a scalable user acquisition strategy

PR FIRMS
– can only help with contacts (maybe) and follow-up
– can’t generate stories
– are expensive (generally not a good use of money in the early days)
– can help know what’s interesting about your company

Video of the presentations here.

I am an entrepreneur and researcher passionate about understanding the social implications of digital technologies.
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