My favorite recent startup articles about growth, marketing and business life.
A few months ago, I shared a list of the articles that I was getting incredible value from. The response was really positive, and I’ve gotten requests—via both comments and emails—to continue sharing what I’m reading. So today, I’m going to share 9 articles that have made a big impact on me lately. Even if they don’t directly address issues you’re dealing with today, I hope you’ll bookmark them like I have so that you can lean on them someday when you need them most.
1) The Four Cringe-Worthy Mistakes Too Many Startups Make with Data
Trends can be useful to follow, but they can also be incredibly dangerous. When a serious pursuit—for example, data-driven growth—becomes a trend, it invariably becomes dumbed down by opportunistic “thought leaders” and companies looking to ride the trend for their own gain. But doing the dumbed-down version of any serious pursuit will almost always result in failure. In this excellent interview, Amanda Richardson, Chief Data and Strategy Officer for HotelTonight, takes this phenomenon to task and shares some valuable insight on how companies can be smart about data, rather than simply plugging in a metrics dashboard to check a box.
I’ve talked to people at pre-launch startups with fewer than 100 users who say, ‘We’re going to start on personalization, And I’m thinking, ‘What are you going to personalize? And more importantly, why? What is the problem you’re solving?’ Often the motivation is that it’s in a headline or a board member thinks it’s the secret to success.
2) How to Develop Content for Every Stage of the Customer Journey
By John Jantsch
Everyone wants to succeed at content marketing, but where do you start? John Jantsch answers this question perfectly: with understanding your customer’s journey, and mapping your content plan to it. The article is a quick read, but is hyper-actionable if you’re thinking about how to approach content development, or even if you’d like to repurpose old content with more effective delivery.
If you’ve built trust to the point where people begin wondering how your solution might work for them, it’s time to enter the Try stage of the hourglass. Try is a phase that many people skip due to the desire to leap rather than lead, however, I think it’s the easiest phase to move people to the purchase. Here, the content needs to represent a sample of the end result. By creating content in this phase that demonstrates how much better your product or service is than the competition, you can differentiate your business.
3) The State of the SaaS Economy
Patrick is one of the sharpest commentators on SaaS, and this is a great example of that. In a few minutes of reading, you can get a pretty good overview of where SaaS is today, where it’s going, and what you’ll need to do if you want to succeed. It’s an extrapolation of a conference talk he gave. The talk is embedded at the top of the article, and is worth watching.
While our customers are able to get up and running with new products at record speed, we’re not able to acquire them at the same clip. The rise in competition in the SaaS market has decreased switching costs and increased our average CAC, despite the fact that we can take advantage of more sales and marketing channels than at any time before. Not only is it getting more difficult (and expensive) to acquire users, but those we do manage to get on our products aren’t as happy as they used to be. Average NPS scores are ⅓ of what they were five years ago.
4) These 13 Exercises Will Prepare You for Work’s Toughest Situations
By Maggie Leung
There are so many people out there that parrot some form of this cliched management advice: “Have empathy.” “Understand others.” “Be human.” That’s great and all, but without actionable advice on how to do that, it’s not much good. It doesn’t get any more actionable than this. In this interview, Maggie Leung, VP of Content at Nerdwallet, shares 13 sets of questions you can ask yourself in just about any interpersonal scenario (whether you’re managing, hiring or working together) to be more empathetic and effective.
Dynamic empathy isn’t just about understanding what’s going on with someone else, but actually doing or saying something about it. It helps you move forward.
5) Note to Self, On Time Management
By Joanna Wiebe
Time management is hard for most of us. It’s certainly something that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, and if not kept in check, it can mean working on the wrong things for far too long, at the expense of what’s actually important. This letter to herself is witty and incredibly well-written (as you’d expect from Joanna), but it’s also a fantastic reminder to all of us about being more deliberate and ruthless with our precious time.
When you say yes to everything, you leave little time for the things YOU want to work on. Shouldn’t your ask of yourself come before someone else’s ask? The answer is yes. It should. Stop being a middle-child-Mennonite-girl and explore the much-travelled-by-others world of nein, niet, nahi, iie, non, nee and no. Other people love that world. They rave about it.
6) From an Internal Basecamp Announcement Re: Pings/IMs
By Jason Fried
Slack is great. We use it constantly throughout the day to keep in touch. But being so easily accessible also comes with a dark site: costly interruptions. And there’s an insidious habit in particular that Jason calls out in this article that’s one of the worst offenders. This piece immediately resonated with me, as I could recognize my own behavior (and that of our team’s) in it, and I agree wholeheartedly with Jason: it’s time to stop.
Do you ever start a ping with someone by first trying to get their attention? You say “ping” or “there?” Or “hey!” Or “Yo” (or whatever). You begin with a whistle, and then you only send the rest of your thoughts once someone has whistled back. I do this all the time. It’s time to stop. Sending a ping with no information would be like sending an email with a subject “Hey” but with no body. Then only when someone emailed you back saying “What’s up?” would you follow up with a separate email containing your complete thought. That would be silly, but it’s exactly what we’re doing with pings.
7) How Shopify Increased Revenue 90% in 365 Days
This guide is massive. But unlike a lot of long-form content, it’s not just long for the sake of being long; it’s actually packed with useful takeaways in every section. I love Chris’ thoughtful dive into Shopify’s marketing strategy, and how he uncovered advanced tactics and tips that we can all use to improve. Tip #6, about Shopify’s onboarding email sequence, alone makes the article worth reading.
Initially, I was surprised to see that Shopify is trying to sell their paid plans in the very first onboarding email since they push their free trial all over their website. But after some analysis, it makes sense. A free trial offer is a perfect top-of-funnel offer to capture a wide market (both ecommerce beginners and experts). This gets everyone who wants to start an online store signed up and testing out the software. The offer in the email however is targeted at experienced sellers who are already sold on the idea of Shopify. This email gives them the chance to go ahead and sign up while it’s still fresh in their minds. And Shopify gives buyers peace of mind knowing “You won’t be charged until your trial ends” with the conversion-boosting micro-copy you can see directly below the CTA button.
8) 21 Customer Acquisition Strategies to Win New Customers
Matthew’s guides are always rich and valuable (I plugged his guide to SEO tips in my last roundup), and this one is no exception. I came away from this guide with lots of ideas that we’re planning to try, and I’m sure that you will, too.
There are a ton of different frameworks that have been published that seek to help you identify the right channel to pursue, but ultimately this comes down to a fair amount of trial and error, especially if you have no historical data to work with. I’m not going to delve into the details of a framework, per se. Instead I’m going to give you a host of customer acquisition tactics, as well as a way to test them out, in order to enable you to get a feel for which channels have the potential to deliver the most value.
9) The Iceberg Theory of User Feedback
By Janet Choi
You know what your customers are telling you. But do you know what they’re not telling you? The delta between those two is often where most churn problems exist. Being able to find those hidden issues and “under the surface” feedback, as Janet calls it, is critical to creating happy customers. This post offers several effective ways to do that.
You’re probably hearing from just a sliver of your overall customers. One customer service expert has found that only 4% of dissatisfied customers voice complaints to businesses. If you get 40 support emails (which tend to focus on immediate troubleshooting) each day, but you have 1,000 daily active users, for example, then you have plenty of “under the surface” feedback to explore. You might not be heading into the frigid waters to look at what’s underneath the obvious surfaces. Sometimes what you excavate won’t amount to much, but sometimes the feedback can crystallize, with some effort and dot-connecting, into some “Aha” moments for you.
How to Apply This to Your Business
I hope that these posts help you solve challenging problems, whether you’re going through them right now, or in the future. If you’ve read this far, I’d really appreciate you answering just one quick question:
Can you share the best business-related blog post you’ve recently come across? I’d love to add it to my own list, and it will make this post even more valuable for all of us.