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Startup Takeaways: Doing Things That Don’t Scale, How to Get Started, and PR

HIPLegal is hosting a brown-bag lunch series for entrepreneurs, to watch and discuss videos of an exciting educational series, “How to Start a Startup.”  Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, is teaching this series as a class at Stanford this fall and is making the classes available online. Along with guest lecturers like Marissa Mayer, Peter Thiel, and Ben Horowitz, he will be covering the fundamentals: how to come up with ideas and evaluate them, how to get users and grow, how to do sales and marketing, how to hire, how to raise money, company culture, operations and management, business strategy, and more.

HIPLegal is holding a weekly brownbag lunch to view and discuss each session on Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30 pm at our office (20195 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 250, Cupertino).  We watch one video per week (50 minutes) and then hold a discussion for about 40 minutes.  We brainstorm ideas, bounce them off each other, and refine them over the course of the series.  This is a 20 session program that should be a great program for anyone who is in the process of starting a company or is thinking about one day diving into entrepreneurship.  The full curriculum and the videos to date are here.

Please fill out the survey here and let us know if you are interested in attending the series with us.

Session 8 – Walker Williams, Founder, Teespring; Justin Kan, Founder, Twitch and Partner, Y Combinator; and Stanley Tang, Founder, DoorDash, on “Doing Things That Don’t Scale; PR; and How to Get Started.”

Takeaways:

Stanley Tang of DoorDash reinforced messages delivered in prior sessions:

1.      Test your hypotheses

2.      Launch fast

3.      Do things that don’t scale

Walker Williams of Teespring suggested a focus on three things:

1.    Finding your first user

There is no silver bullet.  When you first start a company, you will be bad at selling.  Do everything you can to bring in your first users.  Don’t focus on ROI; focus on growth.  Do everything you can to get the client, but don’t give away your product for free, because people don’t value what they get for free.  Instead, make sure users value your product.

2.    Turning users into champions

Champions are those who talk about and advocate for your product.  You can create champions by delighting them with their experience so they remember it.  Talk with them to learn what they like and don’t like.  Run customer service yourself.  Adjust your feature set to what you will scale with.  Reach out to current and churned (those who have left) customers.  Pay attention to social media and your communities to see how people are talking about your brand.

Problems are inevitable, but you should always make it right.  Go the extra mile for your users.  One detractor can cancel out 10 champions.

3.    Finding product/market fit

Progress and iterate as fast as possible to reach the product that has market fit.  Optimize for speed over scalability or clean code.  But you don’t want to write a duct tape code that’s going to pile on technical debt.  Only worry about the next order of magnitude.  Necessity will focus you – you will find a way to make it all work and do what is necessary.

Justin Kan of JustinTV and Twitch gave some guidance on PR:

Identify who you want to reach.  Your press should be targeted to your audience and goals.  Your audience might be investors, customers, or industry.

Tell a story.  A story could be the launch of your product, fundraising, milestones, marketing stunts, hiring announcements or contributed articles.  You don’t have to be original – just original enough.

The mechanics of getting press is to think of a story, get an introduction (perhaps through someone previously featured by the journalist), set a date (4-7 days in advance so you’re not right at the reporter’s deadline) to pitch the story, reach out, make your pitch, follow up, and launch your featured story.

PR firms are expensive (can be $5K-20K/mo).  So, do it yourself first.  PR firms really only help you with contacts and follow-up, not the content.

Getting press is work and doesn’t mean you’re successful.  Make sure it is worth it, in time and money investment.  It is not a scalable user acquisition strategy.

If it is worth it, keep your contacts fresh, and pay attention to the heartbeat and schedule of news.  Ideally schedule something to hit the news on a regular basis, once a quarter, once a month, etc.  That’s the “heartbeat.” Finally, keep the Golden Rule in mind.