Working in a startup is not all fun and games, but a lot of changing plans, product, customer feedback, competition analysis, a lot of challenges and responsibilities (way more than your job description requires most of the times). You shape the company structure, direction, and internal culture as well. And, of course, shape its future, as everyone plays a huge role in a very early stage product/company.
Without further introductions, here are the key lessons that I’ve learned in the past 3 years working at Visitor Analytics.
1. Responsibility. Discipline. Confidence.
Why? If the team is small, nobody has the time to look over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing your job.
I used to ask the CEO everything: is this ok? is this too friendly? is this too entreprise-like? will the team be upset if I ask them for this change? What do you think about this UI/UX? This is what I had to do in the past: create everything and get it approved by someone.
In a startup, there is no time to get approval for everything! They hire you for what you know and you have to fucking own it! It took me a lot to understand this and to work with confidence and take decisions based on stats.
I learned that there is not only a huge spreadsheet in a cloud folder (or a very long text file) and social media management and engagement; it is about knowing a product and its desirable target group, having the customer feeling, understand their pains, solve the problems and be there for the customers. Make sure that the tooltips are clear, the customer service is friendly, the site converts, the trial is good, the onboarding goes well, the investors know about the product, the main sales channel is stable.
All these require a lot of responsibility and discipline to keep everything in one place. Or more places, as long as it is easy to declutter and understandable for the core-team.
2. Team. Teamwork. Values.
Hire great skills, amazing characters and trust them!
If they cannot be trusted with part of your business in their hands, no matter if it is UI/UX, a CTO, a developer or a customer success employee, do not hire them in the first place.
Toxic employees are like climate change.
Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time. — Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration, and intensity of tropical storms. — NASA
And, trust me, you do not want frequent wildfires between your coworkers in the office, long periods of droughts because the destructive and draining attitude makes everyone sick, and the duration and intensity of the storms during the meetings and goal settings will be too damn high.
You can have the most skilled person there, but if their negativity and attitude will create anxiety, an unpleasant working environment, lower morale, and confidence, at the end of the day, all these will affect business resources, team dynamics, productivity, values, roadmap, and KPIs.
Moving on from toxic employees, there is a lot to learn at a personal level. I also learned that being straightforward may hurt people, that sometimes I have to temper myself, that I’m not always right (nor wrong), that nobody in the room is entitled to have the last word without arguments or without feedback from the others, that even though we may have a harsh time the people around us should not be affected. I’ve learned to apologize more often, to ask people if they are comfortable with a task or responsibility, to ask if they need help or if another working process/style would suit them better.
This sounds like common sense now, as I’m writing it, but you’d be surprised to see how much we do not actually care as we’re used to doing our own job and to moving on. How entitled and selfish we are sometimes. Or how we just miss small thoughts and details, as we are used to doing only our tiny piece of work.
3. Listen to the customers. Launch. Tweak. Repeat. Pivot. Test. Launch. Repeat.
Quite often, trying a thing (experimenting) takes less time and it is more efficient than debating whether that thing is actually worth trying. Create an MVP, test and just try things — that is the magic that grows a startup. And a person too.
I majored in chemistry — I love experiments! One will always learn something from them and it is fun as well. Make room in the strategy for a small experiment constantly!
Listen to the actual customer and put yourself in their shoes! Customer feedback and criticisms are a gift. Some people actually took their time to test your product and to tell you what can be improved. Embrace the feedback and transform it into great features or services.
If the product communication (and service/features) is not customer-focused, then the entire product is kind of worthless.
Many people tend to create a product for themselves and not for the ones who actually use it and buy it.
Don’t fall into that trap!
4. Marketing is a lot more than I thought! 🔎
Marketing in tech is a lot of tech, algorithms, development, and product development. As mentioned in another story, the marketing activity is the effort to align the business to the changing needs of your customers.
As a marketer in a startup, you tend to do a lot of product management as we well, there is more data to parse, more channels to cover, more opportunities to embrace, more responsibilities to shoulder. And no, there is no more time and/or resources.
Startup life is very fast-paced! New products are launched daily, technology changes with a blink of an eye, social media and Google algorithms change as often as the weather and so on. To make everything work successfully, one has to know all these third-party things, the product features, needs, infrastructure, critics, requests, etc and use them strategically in order to grow the business.
5. Content is queen, king, and princess. But context is the crown 👑
Everyone (sane) will tell you that content is the best thing for marketing since the sliced bread. And it is completely true. But the context is the shiny crown! You can have the greatest content ever, but if you publish it in the wrong place, at the wrong time for the wrong people everything is useless.
Context means that your content, be it article, podcast, video or any social media post, is positioned and published in such a way that provides the highest value at the right time.
Basically, you use or create a circumstance in order to get your content consumed or to give it more meaning.
Shortly, the context gives content more meaning and it is just as important as content in everything that you will create and publish.
As an example: if you would’ve created a post about data privacy a few years ago, not so many people would’ve actually checked the post. Let’s be honest: most people don’t like (nor fully understand) complicated legal content. But then, GDPR appeared and it was enforced. The number of people looking for this type of content?
Here’s your context!
Think about a more recent happening. Faceapp. Everyone wanted to know how they look older, feminine, masculine, etc. This is the perfect timing and context to publish content related to this information (anti-aging cosmetics, dye trends, data protection info regarding machine learning, etc).
People look for this information as it is trending. You have a context! Without it, your intent, message or call to action loses meaning. And when you lose those, you lose clicks, readers and potential customers.
As marketers, we tend to forget the context and we only focus on content. But working in a startup, the context was everything. So I constantly tried to build context as the content was created: I kept the golden circle (why, how, what) and the five Ws in my head all the time (who, what, where, when and why), wondered what customers aspire to, checked Google trends&searches and kept in touch with the latest changes and news in the industry in order to use all this information to deliver the right content at the right time.
6. Analytics are magic but a sprinkle of courage and hunch does the trick
No matter what you do, did or plan to do: data will give you a good idea on the status. You can easily fact check everything nowadays: what people like, do see, need, want to achieve, etc. You just need a lot of data (analytics, user behavior, user personas, interviews, customer support analysis, CTAs tests, etc), a bit of courage and hunch to offer them what they expect in the best manner possible.
One has to research what you did good, what you did bad, what was meh, what the competition did good, bad or meh and what your customers expect from you. And what your customer thinks is actually good, bad or meh. All these taught me how to speak, behave, place more context, listen to the others and implement their feedback, know how much the product worths, when to say yes or no and much more.
No to mention that I know how to google, bing and wiki the shit out of everything.
A bit of background
The lessons were learned over time, of course. But the last 5 years are the ones that shaped me most and I am thankful to everyone who directly worked with me, told me what I am worth, taught me how to approach people that are way more different than me, offered their feedback or shoulder over time and shaped me to who I am today.
Even though I started with some small gigs while being a student, my first official job started a few months before graduating. For 3 years I did a lot of marketing and communication for a business consulting company and all its clients and/or projects: from city halls and government projects to enterprises, factories, tech events and startups.
It was a damn rollercoaster.
The next thing I know is that I opened my own agency with a friend and my boyfriend and do what I know best in terms of communication and marketing for Art projects and festivals and Social causes. And for a few tech products that I love. I did this as a side activity and in my spare time because I wanted to know more people, to get into different and dynamic industries and because I wanted to do something for the community.
The past 3 years, though, were the most challenging with the fulltime challenge at Visitor Analytics as a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). The product had 10k installs when I started and a team of 3 people (CEO and 2 developers). There are 15 people now and nearly 2M installs with no efforts invested in what you may call traditional marketing (paid google or facebook ads, media, etc).
Overall, I learned this in the past years and with every milestone, task or challenge, I tried to remind myself what went good, what went bad and how can I overachieve a goal.
Here are some stories on how I managed to keep myself updated and productive over time:
Tiny habits that will significantly improve your mood & productivity
A very quick and easy guide tackling (mini) habits from starting your day off right to a more productive tech-marketer…
Are role models still a thing?
In a world full of bitter truths, fake news, climate issues and a generation of workaholics being called snowflakes…