A pitch that is music to the ears

What if a hitmaker like Max Martin produced your next pitch deck?

That’s an odd question I started asking myself after watching the Netflix documentary This is Pop: Stockholm Syndrome and this interview at the Polar Music Prize 2016.

Let me add some context.

According to metrics from DocSend, VCs spend on average less than 3 minutes to review pitch decks, a figure consistently decreasing since 2018.

That’s roughly the duration of a song. And when it comes to hitmaking, the Swedish producer might have the formula. Since 1998, Max Martin has written or co-written 25 Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit songs. He is the songwriter with the third-most number-one singles on the charts, behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Here are some of his biggest hits to refresh your memory.

Even though songs and pitch decks seem diametrically opposed, I believe that there are techniques that startup founders can borrow to catch investors’ attention.

Let’s explore some of them.

Aim for memorability

It's incredibly important to me that you remember a song right after the first or second time you hear it. That something sticks to you, something that makes you feel, 'I need to hear that song again.' That's fundamental.

Max Martin

The same applies to your pitch; first impressions matter. Your goal isn’t to get an instant term sheet but trigger the interest for more views. DocSend data confirms that investors spend more time on subsequent visits to decks they end up funding.

Narrative hook

…Baby One More Time is a song about obsession, and it takes all of two seconds to hook you, not once but twice, first with the swung triplet “Da nah nah” and then with that alluring growl-purr that Spears emits with her first line “Oh, baby, bay-bee.”

Max Martin

Most songwriters start with the lyrics. But Max Martin usually begins with the melody instead, where vocals are meant to serve the melody. Thus, the hook acts as an anchor to intrigue listeners early in the song.

In a pitch, the hook is your story.

People remember stories better than facts alone; it’s called the narrative effect. So don’t start designing your slides before you have absolute clarity on your story.

If you feel stuck, Lenny Rachitsky shares an excellent framework in this post.

He recommends articulating any story around this structure:

  1. Situation. What is the state of affairs today?

  2. Complication. What has changed that requires action? What's wrong with the status quo? What is the problem?

  3. Resolution. How will you fix it? What do you recommend/need to resolve this complication? Answer-first followed by supporting arguments.

A great pitch is not hitting the right buzzwords or showing the right credentials. A great pitch is a strong conclusion that is supported by uncontroversial, logical, achievable statements that require no magical thinking.

Gary Tan

Get to the chorus

In most of Max Martin's hits, the chorus hits before you’re 50 seconds into the song.

In a pitch, the chorus is your product.

Data collected by DocSend validate that companies that successfully raised from investors tend to highlight their product near the beginning of their deck.

Create a sense of familiarity

One theory of songwriting is that you can also sing the chorus melody as a verse. For instance, take ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ with Prince. The verse and chorus of that song are exactly the same. But as a listener, you don’t really notice since the energy of the chorus is completely different compared to the verse. Once the chorus comes, you feel like you’ve heard it before. And you have! You’ve heard it in the verse. It automatically creates a sense of familiarity. Prince does this a lot. ‘Let’s Go Crazy,’ same thing. I’ve used this trick a few times myself.

Max Martin

What Max Martin describes is called the familiarity bias in psychology; people have an innate desire for things they're already familiar with.

And there are several ways to include familiarity in your pitch deck:

  • the concepts you use (MVP, GTM, TAM…)

  • how you describe your business model (SaaS, DTC, Marketplace…)

  • how you introduce and define key metrics (CAC, LTV, MRR…)

  • the users/customers you highlight (known profiles, influencers, and brands…)

  • how you visualize information and data (2x2 matrix, timelines, cohorts…)

Using these common patterns will help investors to understand your business and save them some precious effort to retain critical information.

Less is more

Add one thing at a time, like in a movie. You cannot present 10 characters in the first scene! You need a balance at all times. If the verse is a bit messy, you need it to be less messy right after. It needs to vary. It's all about getting the listener to keep his or her concentration.

Max Martin

He describes yet another psychological principle: cognitive load. Cognitive load is the amount of working memory resources required by someone to process information.

Whether it’s a song or a presentation, a common pitfall is to overdo. That’s why many producers often describe themselves as reducers.

In this guide, the team at Y Combinator shares 3 rules for clarity in pitch decks:

  1. Make it legible. Think about how people might consume your presentation. Whether it’s at an event or on mobile, they should be able to read it.

  2. Make it simple. One idea per slide, that’s it.

  3. Make it obvious. Remove the guesswork by being explicit.

For inspiration, this Crunchbase article is full of good (and bad) examples.

Live experiment

This one is not directly connected to Max Martin but his mentor Denniz Pop.

In 1992, he discovered a young band: Ace of Base. One of their members recalls the process behind launching their breakout song.

As we were nearing the final version of All That She Wants every day we experimented with rhythms and then we went to a club, played it, and checked how many people started to dance with it. If it was some part where people didn’t dance as much, then we knew we had to change it.

Ulf Ekberg, Ace of Base

No, I’m not recommending you to hit the club with your pitch deck, lol.

But there are several ways you could test what resonates or not in your pitch:

  • Send different versions to investors you’re not targeting for feedback.

  • Tweet (or share on social media) bits of your deck and find what sticks.

  • Try a message testing tool like Wynter.

With millions on the line, it could be worth the extra effort.

Takeaways

Hitmakers like Max Martin use proven storytelling tools and psychological principles to capture attention and keep listeners engaged. These techniques apply to designing pitch decks too and, generally speaking, to any form of communication, whether you’re working on a presentation, a landing page, or ad copy for your startup.

While there’s an unlimited supply of pitch deck templates available online, these are not the best starting point. Instead, spend more time on crafting a compelling and memorable story to introduce your product and strive for clarity by removing any elements that don’t contribute to the latter. And obviously, test and practice!

I think Max Martin would agree that there is no golden rule or magical hack.

A great song won't make an average singer sound like Adele.

And a great pitch deck won't turn a mediocre product into a unicorn.


If you’re in the process of raising capital, good luck! I hope this article was valuable. If you need feedback on your pitch deck or strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out 👋

See you next time for an article about international expansion.

@Erwan

Talk to customers: the first date

You’ve finally launched your product off the ground, but the results aren’t as expected. You need to figure out why.

Fellow founders, advisors, and experts all tell you the same thing: “talk to customers.”

“Thanks! Sounds simple. I’ll talk to them and let you know how it goes,” you say.

But as you get closer to it, doubts start to creep in: “It’s a bit scary. It’s the first time I’ll talk to them. Am I supposed to talk to all of them? What should I ask them? What if they ignore us? Worse, what if they trash the product we worked so hard to build?

There’s a lot of nuance in talking to your customers. Here are some actionable pointers and a few essential things to keep in mind to help you get started.

Clearly define the purpose of the interaction

If you want to make a great first impression, you need to be prepared. Too often, when startup teams are trying to connect with customers, they forget why they are doing it.

What are you trying to learn? What will you do with these insights?

Customer interviews are most effective when they are designed for diving deep into a specific topic. The goal is not to gain general knowledge about your average customer but to understand their needs, problems, motivations, fears, and behaviors.

The clearer your purpose, the easier it will be to determine who to talk to, how to structure your questions, and analyze the results.

All it takes is one

I often hear, “Let’s send this survey to our whole list: the more feedback, the better.”

Wrong! Contrary to quantitative research, your sample size doesn’t matter at all when gathering qualitative data. What you are looking for is depth.

Selecting your audience is as important (if not more) than the questions you ask.

Avoid “mixed bags.” One good feedback could change the trajectory of your company.

Many poor ones could lead to a slow and painful death.

Keep it short and convenient

Would you invite someone to a seven days road trip for a first date? Probably not.

I know it's tempting to ask a lot of questions to understand your customers better. “You can't ask enough.” But asking too many questions is a bad idea.

  • Customers aren't going to take the time to answer all your questions.

  • Even if they do, you won’t be able to follow up and act upon all the answers.

Every question you ask is expensive. So don't ask unless you genuinely care about the answer. And it’s not because Apple or Nike can send 20+ questions that you should do it too.

Don’t put pressure on respondents. Make them feel comfortable.

Most questions should be optional and there’s no point for stressful deadlines.

Here below is a good example: “even a two-word answer is appreciated.”

Don’t dictate the conversation

Talking to customers is a conversation, not a sales pitch. Your goal is to hear what customers have to say, not force them into saying what you want to hear. Prioritize open-ended questions and avoid leading questions that will influence answers.

If you ask someone if they like your product, they will tell you yes or no (most probably yes, to be nice). That's not that helpful. What action will you take based on that? If you ask them what they like about it, what frustrates them, or what problems they're having using it, you can get actionable information that will help improve your product. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask:

  • Before [your product], how did you [action related to the problem you solve]?

  • In your own words, what are the differences between [incumbent solution] and [your product]? What's the one thing you're able to do that you weren’t before?

  • What made you realize that you needed something like [your product]?

  • How did you find out about [your product]?

  • What might have prevented you from choosing [your product]?

  • When using [your product], what are you ultimately trying to accomplish?

  • What, if anything, holds you back from using [your product] more?

  • How would you describe [your product] to a friend or colleague?

Understanding other people's experiences requires empathy. And that’s not something you develop with a simple "yes" or "no" (even in a swipe left/right world).

And they lived happily ever after?

There are only two possible outcomes after a first date. The two individuals may agree to a second date or decide to stop there because of compatibility issues.

The outcome of talking to your customers is less binary.

Now that you gathered some insights, what should you do next?

Here’s a process I can recommend, but that’s not the only way:

  • Review and organize the data (for example in a spreadsheet).

  • Categorize and tag answers around recurring themes.

  • Translate the feedback into actionable hypotheses.

  • Prioritize and plan experiments.

  • Summarize it and follow up with respondents.

The idea of talking to customers sounds simple. It's convenient advice to give, but in practice, it’s complex. Like a first date, it can be nerve-wracking, the formats and outcomes may vary, but it’s a crucial step towards building a long-lasting relationship.

Now, go talk to them. Good luck!

@Erwan


⚠️ Use the above to gather marketing insights, not only new features :)

Go-to-market strategy: what startup founders can learn from the NFT craze

It's been another wild week for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the crypto market:

  • Dapper Labs Inc, the company behind the popular NBA Top Shot platform, raised $250 million in its latest funding, valuing the company at $7.6 billion

  • Soccer-focused NFT platform Sorare raised a $680 million Series B round, which values the company at $4.3 billion

  • All cryptocurrency-related transactions are now illegal in China

  • Twitter says it’s planning to “soon” explore support for NFT authentication

To some, the NFT craze is just another bubble “some kids trading jpegs.” Others believe it’s the early transition to the next stage of the web evolution (web3) that will disrupt the way content creators distribute and monetize their content. While that’s an interesting debate, it's not what I will discuss in this post.

Instead, I've spent some time trying to understand the tactics NFT projects use to gain traction. Like early-stage startups, they also have limited resources with core teams ranging from 1 to 5 people. What surprised me is that most projects use a similar approach in their marketing, and I think there's a lot to learn from it. Could their go-to-market strategy become a new playbook for more traditional startups?

Let’s dive in!

Roadmaps: the new pitch decks

Most NFT projects raise money directly from users through the minting process, the act of publishing artwork on the blockchain, and issuing a token to guarantee its authenticity. To motivate people to mint their artworks, NFT projects often publish a roadmap (or whitepaper) to describe future product developments.

Many projects promise the moon to get people to invest, but most of them can't deliver. On the other hand, successful projects tend to present more realistic goals.

So what can traditional startups learn from this?

Product roadmaps are often just one of several slides that startups use to pitch their ideas to potential investors. But making these roadmaps available to the public can help startups to:

  • Create excitement and set the right expectations with early adopters

  • Motivate early adopters to spread the word (to unlock new milestones)

  • Gather product feedback before launch instead of post-launch

More and more companies are now “building in public.” Here are some examples of public roadmaps for inspiration: Github, Front, or Buffer. While those are great, I suggest going further and include an illustrated version directly on your homepage.

Community-led growth

In my opinion, the most impressive thing about NFTs is their communities. This tweet below summarizes well the growth loop behind every successful NFT project.

NFT projects are able to bootstrap early demand without spending any money on marketing because owners are directly incentivized to spread the word to others. The more they talk about their NFTs, the more likely their value will increase.

Limited supply → increasing demand → prices go up

In short, community-led growth is about turning your followers into leaders. The Loot project is probably one of the best examples of a community-led initiative.

Because the public could interpret it in any way they wanted, many people found a home for it. After a month, it has been converted into hundreds of projects, from games to songs. For those looking to buy, the cheapest one on sale as of this writing goes for $18,639! Yes, for a jpeg with random words on a black background :)

For traditional startups, community-led growth is the new grail (read buzzword):

But while the concept of community is simple.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

— Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008)

Very few startups manage to align incentives/interests, and even fewer dare to let their community self-organize. One of the few successes that come to mind is Notion:

Brand universe

Today, there are 20,378,228 NFTs on sale on OpenSea (the leading secondary market for NFTs) for 216K active users. For new projects, it’s stand out or die trying.

A great example of a project that stood out is BAYC (Bored Ape Yacht Club).

In an interview for the New Yorker, the BAYC creators describe how they thought about differentiation early on:

Both of those projects (CryptoPunks and Hashmasks) were closed systems; their developers didn’t promise any expansion beyond the initial, limited release. We were seeing the opportunities to make something with a larger story arc. Avatar projects up to that point tended to employ low-resolution, often pixelated imagery, in the style of eight-bit video games. Bored Ape Yacht Club, by comparison, created rich and detailed iconography. Why apes? In crypto parlance, buying into a new currency or N.F.T. with abandon, risking a significant amount of money, is called “aping in”. (…) To execute the project’s graphics, they hired professional illustrators, which accounted for most of their upfront costs (around forty thousand dollars).

To stand out, the BAYC creators borrowed from the Disney recipe and created a rich and culturally relevant universe around their avatars. While I wouldn’t advise a startup to spend $40K upfront on branding, it can’t be an afterthought. In a crowded global marketplace, positioning matters more than ever.

So what would this map look like for your startup? And what’s your brand IP?

Early adopter rewards

A common practice in crypto and NFT is airdrops. In simple terms, it’s like gifting.

The main difference with most gifts is that their value can increase significantly over time. For example, the creators of BAYC gifted early members a dog NFT (Bored Ape Kennel Club). This “cute gift” turned out to be quite lucrative. A bundle of 101 Bored Ape Kennel Club NFTs recently sold for $1.8 million!

Gifting is also a common practice among traditional startups, but these gifts have generally low perceived (and depreciating) value like branded swag and stickers.

If you want to rally early users, don't give them an item that will quickly lose its value.

A few ideas:

  • Lifetime deals at discounted prices for subscription-based startups

  • Limited edition products for DTC brands

  • Premium placements for X weeks/months for marketplaces

  • A sense of ownership with exclusive access

Loyalty incentives #hodl

Retention is the single most important thing for growth. Yet, most startups create more incentives for new users (discount and trial offer…) than for existing ones.

To solve this issue, NBA Top Shot came up with an innovative solution:

Collector Score is a game-changing feature for the NBA Top Shot experience. As packs remain in extremely high demand, Collector Score has become the most reliable mechanic to ensure our most active collectors have access to the most exclusive pack drops, while incentivizing newer collectors to grow their collections as a path to gaining access to exclusive pack drops. 

Access to new products isn’t only on a first-come, first-served basis but also weighted based on the customers’ previous platform usage.

Other projects like World of Women incentivize simultaneously new and existing users with benefits attached to specific NFTs: some providing royalties on future transactions and others giving exclusive access to new collections.

Loyalty programs are nothing new but “stay to earn” dynamics are. The closest thing I can think about coming from a traditional startup is when Airbnb set aside 7% of their IPO shares to hosts. As customer acquisition costs keep climbing, more startups will explore creative ways like this to reward their most valuable customers.

Customer obsession

This CNBC interview from 1999 shows that Jeff Bezos wasn’t trying to build just another Internet startup but leverage what the Internet had to offer to provide a better customer experience. 

The web is still an infant technology. Basically, right now, if you can do things using the more traditional method, you probably should do them using the more traditional method. It doesn’t matter to me whether we’re a pure Internet play. What matters to me is do we provide the best customer service. Internet shminternet, you know, that doesn’t matter.

Like Amazon did with the Internet, the most successful NFT projects do not focus on technology in a vacuum but on their customers’ needs. For example, Sorare never mentions NFTs on their homepage and allows users to checkout with more traditional payment methods than cryptocurrencies. They built a customer experience that removes frictions and jargon focusing on what users are already familiar with.

A common mistake for startups is to brag about the technology powering their products, whether it’s machine learning, blockchain, or others. But it’s often at the expense of the customer experience. So keep it simple!

Takeaways

Studying how the most successful NFT projects go to market and gain traction shown me that there was nothing magical or groundbreaking about their marketing.

They leverage tactics that have been around for a long time and that can apply to more traditional startups too. Here are five key takeaways:

  1. Be transparent about future product updates for fast feedback loops

  2. Align interests with your community and trust them to deliver the message

  3. Be strategic about positioning and branding early on

  4. Reward your true fans (early and most active users) with appreciative benefits

  5. Obsess over customer experience to remove unnecessary frictions


If you’re in the process of going to market, I hope that this post was valuable. If you have any questions or need help with anything, feel free to reach out 👋

Until next time,

@Erwan

PS: A good NFT-related meme for the road

Joining as the first marketer

A friend of mine recently landed a job at a startup as the first marketer and reached out for advice. I often get this question, so I’m turning my answer into a public post.

Being the first marketer at a startup is an extremely challenging yet rewarding opportunity. On the one hand, you often wear multiple hats: project manager, researcher, designer, copywriter, advertiser, analyst, PR, meme dealer; the list goes on. But, on the other hand, you also get to collaborate closely with the founding team and have an influential role in the overall company's culture and strategy.

The following is based on a compilation of advice from my network and personal experience. I hope it can help some of you navigate this formative adventure.

1. Think like an investor

Let’s be honest: joining as the first marketer at a startup is a risky bet. At the end of the day, most startups fail. Borrow from VCs to inform your decision. Before joining, make a complete due diligence on the market, product, and the team.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Is there a path to a big market? Who are your first users going to be, and how do you know they want this?

  • Does/will the product delight its customers? Can it scale?

  • How determined are the founders, and what’s their primary motivation? Are they resilient enough to keep going when things go wrong? What’s their track record?

  • Would you bet your own money on this? Why might your belief not be true? 

It’s not a perfect science (even professional investors make bad bets), but that could help you spot the most obvious red flags.

What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of “I’m not sure”.

Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets

2. You’re not alone

Being the first marketer doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any marketing initiatives before. Insights are probably not well documented and spread out in the organization. So spend some time talking to everyone in the team, listen and learn.

Here’s what Sophia Bendz did when she joined Spotify:

When I joined, what I actually did, was that I held a workshop with everyone in the company and at the time we were just 11 people; I bribed them with popcorn. We had like a 2-hour workshop where we talked about: Who are we? Why do we matter? Why do we believe that we will succeed and no one else will? That set some of the core values of Spotify and laid the foundation of the brand positioning.

Katarina, Rémy, and Stefan echo similar advice:

Find allies in all other departments. Start with sales and customer success to identify the stories/messages from customers and prospects that resonates with your target audience.

Katarina Nilsson, CMO at Occtoo

Communicate as much as you can with your team: let them know what you are working on, ask for their feedback and wishes.

Rémy Bertoli, Growth Manager at RecRight

I am by no means a generalist marketing person, but from my experience as a product person, the importance of product marketing & collaboration between product work and marketing work is huge in those early days when everything needs to shift continuously to find the right fit. No point in trying to do growth or build a brand out of a product that just doesn’t fit its audience.

Stefan Lindbohm, Product Leader and Coach

Not only will doing this help you gather ideas, but it will also set the right expectations while educating the team on why marketing matters and how they can contribute.

3. Don't assume, validate

Talking to your team is great, but there’s a major downside: they are probably biased!

Get out of the office and form your own opinions by talking to customers and potential ones. Just make sure to take another approach than Jared 😂

Desirée and Dave recommend:

Take time to sit down and understand the target audience(s) for the product/service/offering. Makes it so much easier to create and to start communicating.

Desirée Hylander, Site Manager at Vården.se

Work the hardest at defining the customer's profile and needs, then find some and listen carefully to them . . . best time investment you can make, as it will inform everything going forward.

Dave Poulos, Senior Director of Marketing at Pinnacle

4. Focus, focus, focus

If there is one thing you need to be good at as the first marketer: it’s prioritizing. Prioritize ruthlessly! Deciding what not to do is as important as choosing what to do.

Catherine, Katarina, and Arnaud add:

You can't excel across all marketing functions.

Catherine Kyule, Co-Founder and Marketing Manager at Bantaba

Focus your efforts and execute a few things really well and see them compound over time instead of trying to do everything at once.

Katarina

Focus on understanding your audience (speak with your customers!), start building your strategy BUT get some external expertise to execute. The more hats you put on, the less valuable the outcome will be.

Arnaud Caillot, Organic Marketing Manager at Mentimeter

So drop some hats! If you have difficulty defining a clear scope, I shared a framework for getting started with customer acquisition here. If you struggle with getting things done, I would recommend going analog and ditch your laptop from time to time. You’ll be more creative and effective when faced with fewer options and distractions.

5. Get comfortable with failure

Don’t overthink stuff, dare to just try! Do small tests and measure. Then increase budgets. Learn from mistakes, don't take them personally.

Amalie Marie Angelskår, CMO at Mindler

Don't be afraid to fail! You'll learn MOST by failed campaigns.

Rémy

Be ready and prepared to learn, fail and get back up. It can get stressful, a bit lonely and a bit frustrating at times but it's worth it in the end.

Anna Font, Content Marketing Specialist at Yayloh

Failing sucks. But at the same time, it’s the best way to learn. Failure is something you can’t avoid when you’re in startup mode. It’s going to happen: you will fail. So why not embrace it? Who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”?

6. Embrace being small

In the early days, many startups try to look bigger than they actually are.

They want so much to seem big that they imitate even the flaws of big companies, like indifference to individual users. This seems to them more "professional." Actually it's better to embrace the fact that you're small and use whatever advantages that brings. Their standards for customer service have been set by the companies they've been customers of, which are mostly big ones. Tim Cook doesn't send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can't. But you can. That's one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of service no big company can.

Paul Graham, Y Combinator (Do Things That Don’t Scale)

Forget about chatbots and automated email campaigns for now. Instead, be personal and go the extra mile to delight your early customers for as long as you possibly can sustain. There will be plenty of room to think about automation when you scale operations.

7. Ask for help

Being a marketing team of one can be lonely, so loooonely.

It helps to have someone you can bounce ideas off of — someone who understands the specifics of the job and has experienced what you are going through.

If you look around you, I bet that there’s plenty of support available in your ecosystem.

Amalie suggests:

Ask for help (mentors, network, peers, colleagues) if there are areas you're unsure of. You're often alone for a while.

But beware of bad deals, warns Felix Lundevall, Head of Growth at Mindler:

From my experience, you will get contacted by 1000 different people trying to sell different services and types of media as soon as you start advertising. Some things are good and some people are trying to rip you off. If you are uncertain of what a deal actually contains, then you should wait with buying it. People trying to sell media will often bundle different packages to make you confused and make things seem a lot better then it actually is. Remember that there will always be plenty of media to buy so you never need to rush into a deal. Don’t let other people decide what you should buy but instead do your own research. Compare different options and when you then find a deal that you find priceworthy be fast on buying it.

8. Document your journey

Documenting will help you keeping track of your progress. It will also be a treasure trove of learnings for the next marketing resource (whenever that might be) and save you some precious time in the onboarding process.

It’ll also be some great material when you look back at your journey years from now.

Start doing monthly reports (if only for yourself) really early, it's really cool to look back at and see the development. It's kind of a growth diary!

Amalie

Sometimes when I think about the Spotify years, it’s like a big green fog because we were so busy. I wish I had taken more notes while at it.

Sophia

9. Enjoy the ride

I’ve been there. Joining an early-stage startup is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you’ll feel amazing. Other, you’ll feel like giving up. It’s easy to forget when things move fast, but it’s not the destination; it’s the journey that matters.

Katarina, Anna, and Rémy conclude with words of encouragement:

Enjoy this time, being the only marketer means you get to interact with many different departements and get a broad understanding of the business in addition to using a wide range of the marketing toolbox. It is super rewarding and makes you develop your skill set and business acumen at rapid speed.

Katarina

I've had the chance to join big marketing team at one startup and be the first marketer for another startup and, if I had to choose, learning wise, I would choose the latter. By doing a bit of everything one gets the chance to truly experience a bit of everything and shape the future they want in marketing.

Anna

YOU ROCK! Everything you are doing will be invaluable for the company and will serve as the basis of all future marketing ops! Congrats

Rémy


If you’re joining a startup as the first marketer, I hope the insights above help. If you have any questions or need help with anything, feel free to reach out 👋

@Erwan

Data strategy for early-stage startups

with Jacob Gustafsson (former Analytics Lead at Zettle by PayPal)

While the benefits of a solid data strategy are universal (better insights lead to better products, which leads to more growth opportunities for your business), it’s crucial to understand how the execution will vary depending on the stage of your company.

One of the main challenges for early-stage startups is that there is so much to do and so little time, money, and expertise. Yet, if data provides a valuable framework for thinking through priorities efficiently, it’s not immune from this same constraint. Hence, data strategy is usually an undertaking reserved for “after we've launched.”

To give some pointers, I asked a few questions to my former colleague Jacob Gustafsson, who built and led the analytics team at iZettle (now Zettle by PayPal).


On his journey

ED: According to this LinkedIn report, data-related jobs are some of the most in-demand right now. What led you to choose this career path "before it was cool"?

JG: I've always felt problem-solving and analysis to be stimulating. To figure things out through reasoning and logic has been fun for as long as I can remember.

However, joining the Growth Analytics team at a startup was more of a coincidence, I would say. I did not know of iZettle before joining, it appeared on a list of fast-growing startups and I saw an interesting job ad. Looking back, I did not completely know what I was getting into. But, it became clear pretty early that it was a good fit for me; I was very fortunate to be part of the journey at iZettle and learned a lot.

Data analytics will only increase in importance for tech companies going forward; it will be interesting to see how the space develops. I'm happy to be part of it.

On data, or lack thereof

ED: In your profile introduction, you write "helping startups become data-led and grow through user insights.” Can you expand on that? What are the main problems startups have when it comes to data and analytics?

JG: Startups have many challenges. On the one hand, they need to iterate on the product to find a good fit in the market. They also need to evaluate the distribution channels and find a sustainable way of acquiring new customers. On the other hand, since they are at an early stage, they don't yet have much data at hand. So it's harder to make data-led decisions. This is a crucial problem to solve; you need to be creative in the ways you gather data and systematic in the way you use it.

Early on, you sometimes need to "hack" your way to get the insights you need before getting more structured about data pipelines, instrumentation, and BI-tooling. I help companies with tools and techniques that they can use to get those insights and ultimately grow their product. Some hacks can be:

  • Generate insights through micro surveys within your product, or actively reach out to customers and do interviews that yield valuable qualitative insight. The Superhuman case is a famous example of reaching P/M fit through insights early on). So the point here is, if you don’t get the data through product usage events, ask your customers smart questions.

  • Use the scientific method without doing controlled experiments. Work with hypotheses, and think about observations that can reject your hypotheses, and iterate. A low volume of data is no excuse for being unscientific about how you build knowledge.

  • Store or save the learnings and make it accessible across your team, that knowledge base will compound in value over time.

On strategy and structure

ED: Technical debt is a common challenge in software development. The same concept applies to analytics. How can startups avoid "data debt"?

JG: Early on, you should do two things:

1. Get insights using data that you have to drive decisions.

2. Think strategically about how your data stack should look like given the applications you foresee 3-5 years ahead, and build it in parallel.

Data debt can be mitigated by (2) above. I believe designing a robust pipeline, data warehouse, transformations, and BI-tooling is necessary to get to a point where data-led decision-making can really scale in the organization.

In addition to the data stack, tracking and instrumentation are key. I've learned to never underestimate the importance of structured naming conventions and KPI definitions. It will save a lot of time and money to do this consistently from day 1. It does not have to be complex at all, but there needs to be a way of naming events and one source of truth for the main KPIs; you will have to do it sooner or later.

One example from previous experience was that, during a project to generate insight about how a particular metric developed over time, while the analysis was done and results shared, the stakeholders involved realized that they had two different ideas about what the KPI itself meant. Leading to confusion and more work. I’ve also seen cases where KPIs started to emerge organically in different teams that contradicted each other in their definition, leading to that any meeting where these KPIs were discussed had to start with a lengthy “how do you define that” discussion. It’s a good sign that teams want to define meaningful KPIs, but a central way of defining, aligning, and storing these definitions is needed.

On the abundance of tools

ED: As famously illustrated here, the MarTech landscape keeps on growing, and choosing the right analytics tools can quickly become a rabbit hole for startup teams. What stack do you generally recommend for early-stage startups?

JG: The number of tools is increasing, and the quality of those tools as well.

The most important thing to consider when choosing tools is to make sure you understand what problems you are solving. Pipelining, Warehousing, Transforming, Visualizing are examples of problems, and there are various providers within each of those with specific nuances that could be a good fit.

Within the transformation step, I think getdbt from Fishtown Analytics is an exciting concept. It makes data analysts and data scientists work more like developers in that they use code and version control to do the transformations and build models. With this, analysts get more influence and autonomy on the data structure. I think this trend will accelerate, and companies, where analysts build tools in addition to consuming and analyzing data, will be successful.

Some of the most used tools, ordered by category, are:

Pipelining: Fivetran, Segment

Data warehousing: Snowflake, Google BigQuery, AWS Redshift

Transforming: getdbt (as mentioned above)

Visualisation: Looker, Tableau, Amplitude

On building a data-led culture

ED: Most startups don't have the luxury to have a data analyst early on. So when do you think is a good time to hire your first data analyst and build a team?

JG: In the beginning, everyone is an analyst.

Companies should use insights for decision-making from day 1. But you don't need to have "Analyst" in your title to do that. The first PM of a company probably needs to take on an analyst’s hat at times to evaluate a launch, prepare for new markets, etc. The first dedicated analyst probably comes when it's clear that the data has the potential to drive significant added value through insights. And this person should probably be more of a generalist who can support both commercial and product teams and be a "full-stack analyst" with some engineering skills. I've seen companies wait until Series C for hiring an analyst, and some are doing it at the Seed stage; it depends on the nature of the business. The one clear thing, though, is that every company should make an active decision on whether to prioritize the analytics/insights investments or not at any given stage.

On career advice

ED: What tips would you give to future data analysts?

JG: Learn broadly in the beginning – some data engineering, some analysis/scripting, some dashboarding, and communication. Getting a feel for all of these areas will make it easier to decide what to specialize in (unless you want to stay full-stack). Don't forget the communication part; a good analyst can have much more impact if insights are communicated in a clear way that decision-makers understand. I've seen cases where communication did not work or was not focused on, and the result was simply that those insights were not used.

Secondly, prepare to work on culture as well. Stakeholders within a company need to be educated around how to be data-led, and the culture is a deciding factor if companies will leverage analytics or not.

You are an analyst but also a driver of the data-led culture.


I hope this post was helpful and valuable. If you have any questions or would like to talk data and analytics with Jacob, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.


Thank you for reading! Wishing you all a fantastic summer ⛱

@Erwan

Loading more posts…