For over a year after launch, it was still just me and Andrew. It's amazing how much you can get done with a small number of people. In the very early stages, you don't worry as much about metrics. You make decisions quickly because you can only focus on so much. You ship MVPs and know your customers by name.
Instead of your first instinct being: who can we pay to do this for us?
Ask yourself, how can you do 80% of the work in 20% of the time.
For our Intercom video, we bought $2 worth of confetti and woke up early to work with the natural light. We stuck our camera on a flat surface and used a microphone on a pair of earphones.
As we're now growing the team, we want to make sure we don't lose that scrappy spirit. Being scrappy brings a new appreciation to the work that you do. It helps us stay focused. When you're the one putting in the work, you make sure it's something you definitely want to do. I think you'll find yourself happier with the results too.
So maybe you don't have video editing experience. Rethink the format. Do a single-take video taken on your phone. Screen record a Keynote presentation. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses and work within them.
Build your brand
One of the best ways to do this is via the content you produce. Your blog, social media, public speaking, podcast, etc. Anything that your potential customers might consume.
What's worked for us is sharing stories along our journey. We've shared insights on building a startup while traveling, lessons learned from changing our prices, reflections after hitting milestones. Chances are, someone else is experiencing the challenges we've faced and we can help.
They key here is we're not pushing our product. We're not measuring the success of these efforts with a number of sales. With every post, we genuinely try to add value to our audience.
It might mean that, down the road, they remember us when they need a feedback solution. It might mean that they share your product with a friend. Maybe we sparked someone's desire to apply for one of our open roles. In any case, consistently producing good content will keep your brand top of mind.
Before you think about creating content, think about documenting.
Instead of starting a podcast where you interview other founders, record your own experiences as a founder. The latter is much easier. When you're just starting out, lower your barrier to content creation.
When we started Canny, there were a handful of directly competitive products out there. Two years later, we're well into double-digit competitors.
In general, competition is good. It shows there's a market need and it'll keep you on your toes. Where it becomes a problem, is letting them get to you.
We have many competitors that outright copied Canny. As the designer, it irks me to see someone else claim my work as theirs. However, nothing good comes from getting upset here. There's nothing you can do to stop them.
We also have very legitimate competitors. Keeping a close eye on them is a distraction. It's stressful and not impactful to our business. We have no idea what's going on behind the scenes that drive the decisions they make. We shouldn't be making decisions based on theirs.
What we can do, is stay focused on our product and our customers. They came to us with a problem and we're solving it. Getting distracted by competition makes us vulnerable. Competitors that are watching us will always be one step behind.
In most cases, ignore what your competitors are doing. Except for in this case:
In order for one of our customers to cancel, they need to send us a message. We always ask why they're leaving. When they're switching to a competitor's product, find out why. It's a great opportunity to learn.
Find strategic partnership opportunities
Last year, Intercom launched their platform. It was one of our top requested integrations. After a quick feedback cycle, we were able to build out and launch our integration. There are two main reasons why this was very successful for us:
- High demand for this use case
We validated interest for the integration way ahead of time. When the time came to build it out, we had a list of people who were willing to give feedback. When we were ready for a beta, we had a list of people ready to try it out. When we were ready for launch, we had a list of people to help us create buzz.
- Mutually beneficial relationship
Intercom was just launching their platform so they needed good integrations to show off.
As a small brand, we went the extra mile to make sure we stood out. We shared the integration on Product Hunt and included a launch video. Intercom's team helped us spread the word with comments and tweets. We were also featured in the "New & Noteworthy" section of Intercom's app store for a while.
Integration partnerships don't usually guarantee a lot of new business. Especially on established platforms like Salesforce or Zendesk. Look for mutually beneficial relationships where the partner will also put in effort.
These partnerships can be found beyond platform integrations as well. There's plenty of opportunity in content (guest posting, podcast features) and affiliate marketing. Finding these comes down to staying on top of what's happening in your space.