Agony Lance advises on: the best way to launch your web-based business (the answer is slowly); how to time a start-up brand campaign (not yet); uncomfortable conference etiquette; and the importance of having a degree
“If you are launching a new web-based business, then there are two ways - the right way and the brave, or Wheedle, way”
How should I launch?
We are almost ready, the dignitaries are lined up - what’s the best way to launch my website and business?
SaaS start-up - If you are launching a new web-based business, then there are two ways – the right way and the brave, or Wheedle, way. The right way to launch a new web-based business is to take it slowly. Create the website, launch alpha then beta versions, and quietly ramp up free and paid end user numbers as you test and improve things. Vend, Xero and even Powershop, which as an electricity retailer had very large fixed cal centre costs, did this.
Where they differed is interesting – Vend continued to grow by slowly ramping up direct sales, PR, and online efforts, while Xero pressed go after 100 customers with a blaze of publicity around their IPO, and Powershop launched hard out of internal beta with expensive TVCs, billboards and internet advertisements. Each approach has its merits, but I will always be a bigger fan of Vend’s, which ramped up marketing costs at the same time as they learned about the results.
The way not to do it is what recently failed Wheedle, or before that, Ferrit, did. Both embarked on inspiringly expensive advertising campaigns before the products were actually ready to cope. So keep a simple rule in mind - don’t spend any dollars on marketing until you know, for sure, what the return will be.
When should I unleash my brand?
I noticed that Xero has covered a Melbourne tram in its colours. When is the right time to launch a brand campaign?
Branding campaigns can work for certain product categories, but they are generally not the best use of cash for early stage companies. A proper campaign across multiple media is expensive, and you need to know that your business and products are ready to welcome large numbers of perusing customers.
For Xero that meant an established network of accounting professionals, sales and customer service staff and a product with eight years of development. For fast moving consumer goods that means establishing great distribution, with shelf space in all of the supermarkets. For any category the branding campaign is only as good as the product – and it’s best to have an established base of happy early adopters to provide evidence that the money will be well spent.
What makes a good speech?
I’m going to a conference, but it’s the sort that will be full of 40-50 year old white men who dominate the conversation, and I’m really not looking forward to it.
Firstly, if you are asked to speak, facilitate or be a panelist at a conference, then insist on diversity - of gender, ethnicity and of thought. A diverse panel is far more interesting to the audience, and may actually generate genuine insights between panelists. As a facilitator you have the ability (really) to work with the organisers to balance the panel if necessary - preferably by adding, not subtracting people. I’ve even done this minutes before the panel started.
Secondly, adopt a personal zero tolerance policy for misogynistic, racist or otherwise chilling behaviour, and call it out directly, in public if possible. This calling out is something that not everybody is comfortable with, but louder voices are generally happy to oblige if nudged.
Thirdly, vote with your feet. There are industries and conferences that are very welcoming across the board, and I can recommend for starters Gather, Webstock, NetHui and Morgo, where folks work hard to get diversity in speakers and attendees.
Degree or not degree?
How important is it to have a degree in today’s business world?
@mandysimpson Doing business means applying some sort of skill or trade to make money, so it’s best to actually know something about the field that you are in business in. Earning a trade or a degree is a start to learning knowledge and skills in a certain area, and hopefully an important step on a lifetime of learning.
While some industries may seem accessible without any tertiary education, almost all industries will be easier if you have the right paperwork. But don’t worry about a business degree just yet - get something useful and learn the art of doing business along the way.
As you progress, then the more advanced practices of management and finance are relatively easy to learn, or are accessible by doing an professional degree like an MBA. My own take is that the most useful degrees for business for the next few decades will be engineering (many kinds), ICT and environmental science.