"Boxter is a startup that develops technology to help companies grow faster and more efficiently. We currently offer a suite of integrated applications for increasing your web presence, producing actionable data and analyzing ROI. Our mission is to help companies rise above the noise."
The main reason your startup business closes its doors within 18 months is because nobody knew it existed. As a founder of a new company you are walking a tightrope. On one hand you desperately need to get your brand noticed and achieve rapid customer acquisition, but you will most likely, not have the deep marketing budget of a more established company, so you’ve got to be smart and avail of cheap opportunities to get your name out there.
There are many ways to increase brand visibility without breaking the bank and I was lucky enough to speak with Michael Riley the founder of Simplpost
- Who take the pain out of creating and managing websites and apps and co founder of Boxter
- The makers of technology and apps for sustainable growth and customer acquisition; about his experience starting a business, the obstacles he overcame and his tips for fledgling startups to get discovered.
Gabriel Weinberg inspired me to think big. I laughed at him when he first told me he was building a search engine. I’m not laughing now.”
Michael, we’re very glad you could impart some knowledge to the Startup community in Ireland, InspiredStartups do our utmost to learn from experts and we hope this will be of benefit to entrepreneurs setting out on what is a very challenging journey.
Simplpost came to life because your girlfriend needed a website for her portfolio. You must have gotten some serious browny points for coding a whole new content platform to make life easier for her and everyone else. What made you think there was a market for it?
Creating websites for someone else has been a major pain point for many years. I have been developing WordPress and Drupal sites for about 10 years, and it’s a pain to manage these systems, even if you’re an expert. A CMS has to constantly be updated to keep it from being hacked and if you get a large amount of traffic you run into all kinds of problems without expensive hosting. And pretty much all sites are theme-based, so your site will potentially look like many other ones. It’s a big problem. And I don’t want anyone bugging me every time they want to update their website.
There are startups popping up all over the place at the moment, one could be fooled into thinking it was easy to do it. What challenges did you face, how did you overcome them and what would you do differently?
Startups are hard! The biggest problems startups face are usually market failures.
The biggest mistake is not talking to customers enough. I learned this lesson the hard way in previous projects. You will not get customers just because you build something. I learned how to avoid this problem by following Lean Startup methodologies. Reading Steve Blank and Eric Ries’ books is required reading for startups.
The next biggest challenge is to have the skill set internally to execute on your plan. Having an engineering background and 15+ years of full-stack development background gave me the knowledge and ability to build a complete website/app platform. I wanted to build a comprehensive solution that solved all the pain points regarding web design, content management, deployment, security and scalability. If you aim big you need to make sure you can actually make it happen.
And lastly, you need to solve the problem of funding. Most startups die because they did not find a sustainable funding solution. You can either spend time trying to get investment money or spend time making money. I prefer to get a startup profitable ASAP, so it can be sustainable and I can also keep full control of the startup. I got Simplpost profitable within a few months, and Boxter wasn’t formed until we had the first major paying customer. I think money is the best validation you can get for a startup idea.
“I think money is the best validation you can get for a startup idea.”
A lot of people talk about Wordpress for blogging and creating online content, how does Simplpost differ?
Simplpost eliminates two major problems where WordPress really fails: Security and Scalability. Simplpost creates websites and apps that have no public facing database. So you can instantly deploy to a content distribution network (CDN) like Amazon’s Cloudfront. This then gives you an infinitely scalable, super fast and secure site for a few bucks a month. Plus you can customize any aspect of a site with a simple to use drag and drop user interface that doesn’t require technical knowledge. You can build a completely unique site from scratch in a few minutes using any device. It’s also an order of magnitude cheaper to use it for an MVP or app development.
What was the first thing you did to get the word out about Simplpost and how did you measure the effectiveness of this?
I first focused on customer development by offering free website workshops. I spread the word online and contacted local organizations to get more people to show up. The goal was to get Simplpost in front of as many people as possible and collect data on their interactions. The main metric was how many people that created a free trial site converted to paying customers.
Blogging is a key part of driving traffic to your website but how do I get the blog discovered and what makes people share it?
Content Marketing was the focus of the second marketing phase. I came up with a complete content strategy and published high quality content targeted at key demographics. Social sharing comes naturally if the content has real value. I also used email lists and social news sites to generate more traffic.
When I first heard of growth hacking, I imagined 3 guys in hoodies wearing Guy Fawkes masks hunched over laptops in a basement, but it’s becoming a key strategy for startups to achieve high levels of growth. What is your take on growth hacking and why is it important?
Growth Hacking is something that can be a great strategy, but it’s not a one-size fits all solution. What works for one company is probably not going to work for another. It’s about baking growth into your product or service. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around this topic. It’s not a short term quick fix, and it’s much harder than it sounds to get it right. The key is to first get product/market fit. If you don’t have that figured out, then you’re not going to growth hack anything. Use Lean Startup to get product/market fit, and then you can move on to figure out how growth hacking can be applied to your startup’s product or service.
Growth is the number one priority for a startup, what are your top three tips for achieving quick and scalable growth?
It’s a really tough thing to do. I’m actually working on solving this problem at Boxter now. I think marketing is the biggest problem most startups or established companies currently face as far as growth goes.
The framework we developed lays out 4 things you need to achieve scalable and repeatable growth:
1) Unique Value Proposition – It’s what all your messaging will be based on.
2) Customer personas
– You can’t target everyone. You need to complete a thorough profile that narrows down exactly who you are trying to reach.
3) Competitive Analysis – Who are your competitors and what are the market opportunities?
4) Content Strategy – Content is going is the fuel of growth and you need to have a comprehensive plan that you can really follow.
When you have those four things figured out and validated it basically gives you growth strategy that can’t fail.
At your new company Boxter - you promise to teach people the art of unlocking hyper growth. Is this what Andre the Giant was suffering from? Can you tell us briefly how startups can reach this elusive stage of customer acquisition.
I think hyper growth is only possible when you have both product/market fit and a growth hacking strategy that works for you. A data-driven approach to both is really the only way to speed up the process. You can have the best network and idea in the world, but the numbers need to make sense at the end of the day. And I think you also have to factor in luck and timing. There’s really no guarantees in the world of startups.
I’ve just founded a new company, I’m a bean counter true and true, explain to me how more website views will affect my revenue?
First, you need to establish a relationship between web traffic metrics and your revenue. Some startups could see a huge increase in traffic, but not profit from it if there’s not a good conversion rate or if it’s not the right kind of traffic. You should understand these key components: Lifetime Value (LTV), Calls to Action (CTA), Conversion rate, Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Referrals/Channels. Once you have a validated formula for profitable growth you have the data to make smarter decisions about future growth.
How important is content marketing and do you I need to hire an expert to do this for me?
Content Marketing is huge right now. The word “content” is almost redundant. Every tweet, ad, blog post, image or video is content. And it’s really a great way to make a sustainable investment in your long term growth. High quality original content can continue to drive organic traffic for years after that one time investment.
You need to do an honest assessment of your content creation capabilities. It’s going to vary greatly from person to person. If you spend 8 hours creating a blog post that no one wants to read, then you probably would have been better off paying a professional. How much time or money you spend on content and the quality of it should be based on real data. It’s a tough problem, but we believe we solved it at Boxter by creating the BOATS system to analyze content in relation to ROI.
Is traditional marketing dead and if so what does the future hold?
Yes, I’ve been researching marketing a lot the last couple years. Traditional marketing is all based around what’s called the Pragmatic framework. It’s old, slow, expensive and there’s no guarantee of success. The internet has simply passed it by and is only accelerating faster and faster. The return on investment (ROI) of traditional marketing has plummeted in recent years.
That’s why we formed Boxter, actually. We developed a new framework called Lean Marketing to offer a sustainable alternative. It’s being developed into a book and we have started presenting it at events to get the word out. It’s something I want to give back to the community, so we can all quit wasting time and money on marketing that doesn’t work.
I think I’ve interrogated you enough Michael, normally at this stage I bring in the bad cop, but he’s off sick today, so to finish up I’ll ask you for 3 golden rules a startup should adhere to when attempting to get their name up in lights…
- Have fun – The average successful startup has an eight year journey. If you get burned out and quit two years in then you’re never going to succeed. Ideally, working on the startup should be fun, so make sure you pick something you can do for the long haul.
- Stay healthy
– Your productivity will suck if you get sick, out of shape or die from the stress.
- Do something big – It’s great to succeed in a small niche. But I once got really bored when I became the number one player in a tiny market. You don’t want to run out of room to grow. Gabriel Weinberg inspired me to think big. I laughed at him when he first told me he was building a search engine. I’m not laughing now.
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Specializing in web copywriting with experience in the following areas: long direct response sales letters, landing pages, corporate web sites, press releases, seo articles and email marketing. If you are in need of web content, you can rest assured that my provocative copy will communicate powerfully with your target audience. Don't forget to connect with Michael on LinkedIn or ping him on Twitter.