Online marketing is still a relatively new game, and one with constantly changing rules, at that. While some folks have undoubtedly hit on strategies that work for them, the reality is that most of us (even the professionals) are floundering, gleaning whatever information we can from the data and throwing spaghetti (new methods) on the wall (into the internet) to see if they stick.
An important thing to remember when you’re heading into a new marketing strategy is that marketing isn’t done for marketing’s sake – we market for very specific outcomes. But which outcomes should you be measuring? What actually means something to your company? How do you know what’s working and what isn’t?
And, even more importantly: How can you do all that without the help of (expensive) coders and designers?
SparkPage is a company that answers all of those questions. Its drag and drop interface allows marketers to personalize, automate, and optimize the entire user lifecycle journey. No more throwing spaghetti and no more expensive tools – it’s the DIY solution for anyone who wants to improve their marketing strategy, whether they’re professional marketers, growth hackers, or big businesses diving into the world of online marketing.
KillerStartups caught up with SparkPage CEO and co-founder Peter Tanham to chat about the challenges of bootstrapping, the best startup advice he’s ever gotten, and the difference between a good and a bad day for a startup founder. Check it.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
I jumped without a parachute. I quit my fulltime job in 2010 without a definite startup idea in mind. I knew starting my own business was what I wanted to do – and I knew the hunger of having no regular pay check would be the best motivator.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
My co-founder and I used to call it “noodledome” – when 3 square meals a day consisted of noodles, noodles and more noodles. I honestly think the biggest struggle was the mental weight caused by the uncertainty. You end up spending so much time focused on finding the next dollar, or making the dollars you have stretch longer, that you lose focus on the important things that will make the difference in the bigger picture. You spend too much mental energy and time trying not to drown that you end up just treading water, not moving forward. It’s a tricky time.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
I’m not just saying this – but I love reading sites like KillerStartups. I used to read Noah Kagan, Tim Ferriss, Pat Flynn and others like that to get tips and tricks. Now, when I read them it’s not for the specific advice, but more for the general excitement and encouragement. I like to be reminded that there’s other people out there killing it, who have been where I am and gone even further. That gives me a nice kick in the ass to keep going.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded?
As 37 Signals would say, we’re bootstrapped, profitable and proud! That’s not to say we’ll never take funding, but we’ve been really happy to be able to grow through customer revenues. We chipped in some of our own cash to get started, and took an overdraft with the bank. As a B2B company, we started hunting for customers as we started mapping out the solution we were going to build.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
All of the best advice I got (and that we took), was some variation on “start selling now.”
“Sell the dream” was one. We hired a designer before a developer, to help mock up some of the features. We put this in a sales presentation and then started pitching that to companies. Customers trying to get a product you haven’t build is a good problem. No customers for a product you’ve sunk money and time into building is a bad problem.
“Sell the outcome” is a similar piece of advice. Customers aren’t really paying for your software, they’re paying for the benefit that they get after using it. So for some early customers we would manually create and A/B test their lifecycle emails, by stringing together a collection of tools available on the market, before our software was ready. This let us know that companies would a) get benefit from our service and b) be willing to pay money for it. It also gave us our first beta customers when the service was ready.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Invest time upfront thinking about the business model you’re going to build. You don’t have to map it out, but at least ask a few questions like “who will be paying for this?” “will they pay once off? or monthly?” You won’t get all the answers, but it can really help shape an early idea (or kill a bad one) when you spend time thinking about the business model behind the product idea. It’s what separates a real business from a gimmick.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
I start most days at about 10am. We’re a remote team, so some of the guys are an hour ahead of me, but most of the team (and customers) are 5-6 hours behind, so I tend to work later. I finish late at night, between midnight and 2am. But I’m not working all day, I make sure to take a lot of time away from the laptop during the day. Between 4pm – 8pm is mostly reading/exercise/dinner time.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
On good days, I have made my to do list the night before and I tackle the one big item first thing. I took Tim Ferriss’ advice and ask “If I can only get one thing done today, what should it be?” This means if I have a crappy, unproductive rest of the day, at the end of the week I’ll have at least got several big things done and the company will keep moving forward. Good days happen 3-4 times a week.
Bad days start with responding to emails.
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
- Conrad Hackett – every tweet is a great, insightful bit of data.
- Techmeme – an aggregator of the best tech news sites.
- Graham Linehan – TV writer, creator of the IT Crowd. Very funny guy.
Where can our readers find you?