Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts

When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very hard to gauge the right amount of effort to dedicate to marketing. Botch it and you risk looking unprofessional. Hire a traditional agency and you might be wasting time and money.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, in contrast, wants to make sure that its clients aren’t overinvesting nor underinvesting. Geared toward tech startups, it boasts that it has “supercharged the growth of over 200 innovative businesses,” from fintech and SaaS to hardware.

Ammo is based in Perth and an active member of Western Australia’s startup community, where it is “very highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended it to TechCrunch. But if that person decided to work with Ammo, they said it’s because “their results spoke.” (If you have growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please fill out our survey!)

After reading this, we reached out to Ammo’s director Cam Sinclair for insights on early-stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Check out our interview below:

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an overview of Ammo?

Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative businesses to help them set and reach their growth goals.

Cam Sinclair

Cam Sinclair. Image Credits: Aline Kuba(opens in a new window)

We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and have a small, lean team from a variety of backgrounds — none of which are traditional marketing.

As a nerdy kid I loved tech and was fascinated by how business works. I always knew I wanted to find some way to help founders and innovators get their great ideas out into the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that many of the skillsets overlapped with what startups need: moving fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable and staying flexible.

That inspired me to grow an “anti-agency” where startup founders could genuinely feel like they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.

How do you collaborate with startups?

Our services cater to every stage of the founder journey. When you’re starting, you’ll need a brand, strategy and the marketing infrastructure to reach early customers. As you’re growing, you’ll need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that bolsters your funnel. As you’re maturing, you’ll need the broader reach that PR and ongoing strategic advice provides.

We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible because startups are always discovering new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed in a week. Our long-term relationships start with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone is pulling in the same direction from day one.

Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the pirate metrics framework and turn that into a clear, step-by-step action plan which they can implement or outsource.


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There’s a survey on your site that encourages companies to check whether they are “ready for growth marketing.” What are the high-level points that make a company ready?

It’s really about having a small number of early fanatical customers — evangelists. Many people call it product-market-fit, but it’s really customer fit.

There is little point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a wide audience without a clear, confident direction. Sure, you might get somewhere fast, but where are you going?

We’ve made the mistake of taking on clients who were too early for growth, so we know how important it is to say “no” when it’s not a good fit. We can direct all the traffic in the world to your website, but without customer fit you’ll be fighting for every sale.

Startups need to get a few things right to be primed for growth. Not every startup will be ready for what we can do for them. We’re focused on our own customer fit too.

For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients? 

Our most successful relationships are with startups who have already established customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional businesses who are looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.

We’ve grown startups in Australia and abroad, including neuroscience startup Humm, based in Berkeley, California. We worked with them to identify early customers and preorder channels while they were gathering initial investment, build a learning/experimenting system within the team as they grew and, more recently, provide advisory at a strategic level.

What mistakes do you help startups avoid when it comes to branding? 

After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the pitfalls that inexperienced founders regularly fall into and make the most of the tight budgets that startups run on.

Marketing agencies are taking money that startups don’t have to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer to see those resources invested into building their product and talking to their customers.

That said, it’s important for a landing page or slide deck to be believable to customers, investors and partners — and when startups underinvest in their branding, people are less likely to hand over their attention, email address and money.

For example, some clients often don’t even have suitable logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into customers. If someone can’t clearly see your “sign-up” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”? 

The temptation in the startup world is to use a freelancer through an online marketplace (or even worse — letting an overenthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But this usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit within a larger brand identity.

Other startups might work with an agency to create a brand identity, and this can lead to brand overkill — stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements and endless meetings. None of which pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivoting startups with an expensive brand that can’t evolve as they do.

We take branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill it down to the core parts of the brand you need right now. This leads to a minimum viable brand identity that’s built to grow and created with the expectation that it will change as your startup does. It’s inspired by lean methodology and the minimum viable product (MVP) — it’s built to challenge assumptions and catch the attention of customers without overinvesting.

What’s the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?

Initially we help them come up with a name.

Naming is important so we generally invest time into this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure it meets the basic principles of distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likeability, extendibility and protectability (based on Marty Neumeier’s branding-in-business book Zag).

From there we design a logo. A good logomark (the “icon” part of the logo) is generally figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple and work in multiple environments including single color black or white. The logo is then complemented with brand color selections, fonts and simple imagery direction to create a basic but useful brand guide.

Most importantly, we believe your startup’s brand guidelines should be available publicly online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder on your Dropbox. Somewhere that you can direct your team members and partners to so you can ensure everyone can maintain brand consistency.

How does Ammo compare to having an in-house CMO?

Like a CMO, we’re strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups across dozens of industries — we can pull insights and lessons from unexpected places when we’re working with clients.

While we align closely with commercial goals like an in-house CMO, we also know the importance for startups to move quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our clients.

We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in front of customers quickly, collect valuable data along the way and stay nimble to adapt when they need it.

How do you and your clients measure your impact?

At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure outcomes. At the start of every project we define what success looks like with the client. Every client is different, and we’re responsive to that. We check back in with ongoing clients in monthly meetings to see how we’re tracking toward the success metric we agreed on, adjusting as necessary.

All of this is measured through quantitative analytics, qualitative feedback from customers and gut instinct.

In the past we have described our role as making ourselves obsolete — that our clients would grow large enough to be able to hire their own in-house marketing team. Today we still retain many of these client relationships in different ways, by providing more strategic advice. Those long-term relationships are the greatest indication to us that we’ve had a valuable impact.

#australia, #brand-management, #growth-marketing, #lean-methodology, #marketing, #perth, #startups, #tc, #tc-experts, #verified-experts

Use creative automation software to amp up your brand’s lower-funnel assets

With the holiday season around the corner, growth marketers are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. E-commerce brands are now leaning heavily on social sales and digital advertising, but should also expect an omnichannel shopper — 62% of shoppers plan to purchase both online and in-store this holiday season, according to Celtra.

The marketplace is crowded. Digital marketing requires high volumes of on-brand creative assets, and it is tough to produce them fast enough without compromising on brand equity or storytelling. While marketing channels have exploded in volume, most creative production workflows are the same as they were 50 years ago.

But marketing is a monster that feeds on creative assets, requiring more and more each quarter.

The reality is, any paid impression is also a brand impression and a chance to differentiate in the market. In fact, paid impressions are often the only chance you get to influence some shoppers. That’s why creative — your brand, your design and your message — matters. In growth marketing, traffic, subscriptions, direct-to-consumer channels, testing and, ultimately, revenue all rely on creative to succeed.

Yet, lower-funnel assets are rarely brilliant in branding or even remotely interesting. Teams are limited in meeting global demands across more channels than ever, and the creative they produce is suffering. Brands don’t have the luxury of spending time on design craft and storytelling at scale. Conversely, most creative automation solutions that can assist with efficiency aren’t currently equipped to scale high-quality creative that prioritizes branding and design excellence.

Enterprises are suffering from a creative gap where their content and asset needs are growing fast while team resources and budgets are stagnant or even declining.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic AI bullet to solve the challenge. You can’t just buy creative technology in the hopes that it alone will bridge the gap. You need to rethink workflows and team collaboration. If you’re serious about elevating your growth marketing creative, you need to invest in tools that are built for scale and brand governance at once.

#advertising-tech, #artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #column, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #marketing, #marketing-automation, #online-advertising, #tc

Customer experience startup Clootrack raises $4M, helps brands see through their customers’ eyes

Getting inside the mind of customers is a challenge as behaviors and demands shift, but Clootrack believes it has cracked the code in helping brands figure out how to do that.

It announced $4 million in Series A funding, led by Inventus Capital India, and included existing investors Unicorn India Ventures, IAN Fund and Salamander Excubator Angel Fund, as well as individual investment from Jiffy.ai CEO Babu Sivadasan. In total, the company raised $4.6 million, co-founder Shameel Abdulla told TechCrunch.

Clootrack is a real-time customer experience analytics platform that helps brands understand why customers stay or churn. Shameel Abdulla and Subbakrishna Rao, who both come from IT backgrounds, founded the company in 2017 after meeting years prior at Jiffstore, Abdulla’s second company that was acquired in 2015.

Clootrack team. Image Credits: Clootrack

Business-to-consumer and consumer brands often use customer satisfaction metrics like Net Promoter Score to understand the customer experience, but Abdulla said current methods don’t provide the “why” of those experiences and are slow, expensive and error-prone.

“The number of channels has increased, which means customers are talking to you, expressing their feedback and what they think in multiple places,” he added. “Word of mouth has gone digital, and you basically have to master the art of selling online.”

Clootrack turns the customer experience data from all of those first-party and third-party touchpoints — website feedback, chat bots, etc. — into granular, qualitative insights that give brands a look at drivers of the experience in hours rather than months so that they can stay on top of fast-moving trends.

Abdulla points to data that show a customer’s biggest driver of brand switch is the experience they receive. And, that if brands can reduce churns by 5%, they could be looking at an increase in profits of between 25% and 95%.

Most of the new funding will go to product development so that all data aggregations are gathered from all possible touchpoints. His ultimate goal is to be “the single platform for B2C firms.”

The company is currently working with over 150 customers in the areas of retail, direct-to-consumer, banking, automotive, travel and mobile app-based services. It is growing nine times year over year in revenue. It is mainly operating in India, but Clootrack is also onboarding companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Parag Dhol, managing director of Inventus, said he has known Abdulla for over five years. He had looked at one of Abdulla’s companies for investment, but had decided against it due to his firm being a Series A investor.

Dhol said market research needs an overhaul in India, where this type of technology is lagging behind the U.S.

“Clootrack has a very complementary team with Shameel being a complete CEO in terms of being a sales guy and serial entrepreneur who has learned his lessons, and Subbu, who is good at technology,” he added. “As CMOs realize the value in their unstructured data inside of their own database of the customer reviews and move to real-time feedback, these guys could make a serious dent in the space.”

 

#advertising-tech, #artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #clootrack, #customer-experience, #customer-satisfaction, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #funding, #india, #inventus-capital-india, #parag-dhol, #product-management, #recent-funding, #retail, #shameel-abdulla, #startups, #subbakrishna-rao, #tc

Romanian marketing expert Robert Katai explains how to get the most out of your content

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to grab people’s attention, but there’s one aspect of marketing that Robert Katai thinks isn’t talked about as often: maintaining their attention. The solution, he says, is a combination of content strategy and positioning.

Based in Romania, Katai is known for his podcasts and speeches covering the gamut of content marketing. A product manager at online graphic design platform Creatopy, he also works with clients as a freelance content strategist, and it is in this capacity that he was recommended to TechCrunch via our growth marketer survey. (If you have growth marketers to recommend, please fill out the survey!)

Katai was recommended by multiple Romanian clients and contacts who vouched for his content strategy prowess, so we were curious to know more. Who is he? And is his advice applicable beyond borders?

The short answer is yes. In a freewheeling interview, Katai spoke about how content marketing should integrate with users’ daily lives, and how content can be repurposed across multiple formats. He also shared some insights on the booming Romanian startup ecosystem.

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: How do you help your clients as a freelancer?

Robert Katai: One of the two things I’m doing is that I’m helping clients with creating their content strategy based on their objective. You can get web traffic, but you can also create a message and build the brand. You don’t have to start at the beginning; You can rebuild the brand later.

For instance, I’m working with a Romanian outsourcing company that started in 1993. They pioneered this industry in our city of Cluj-Napoca, but lately they started to realize that they should be more attractive from a sales as well as from an employee perspective. So I worked with them to perform an internal audit to see why employees love the company, why they leave, why they stay and what they want from the company.

Robert Katai

Image Credits: Robert Katai.

From there, I got to the idea that they needed to reshape their brand to not just have people notice them but to also maintain their attention. And here comes the content: I started an ambassador program, because there are people outside of the company who love it.

I also recommended they create an internal print magazine. It’s a very well-designed magazine that their 200 to 300 employees can take home and read. It’s not just about the job; it’s also about their hobbies, things to do in the city and some thought leadership articles that can inspire them to have a better life.

What’s the second way you are helping clients?

Apart from content strategy, I’m working with clients on their positioning for their audience, community and market, but also sometimes in terms of employer branding. Content can be a bridge between the two ways I am helping clients, because I’m using a lot of content marketing here and not focusing only on performance or growth marketing hacks. I’m helping them understand that if they want to establish a memorable, long-lasting brand in the market, they have to make content marketing part of their life.

If they want to reposition themselves in the industry, they need to say: Okay, these are the kinds of content we have to create for our goals; who will amplify the content, who will connect with us, and who will consume the content. Today, content creation is free — everybody can do it. The hard part is how you distribute and amplify that. And here’s how I can help the startups: Make a big piece of content and repurpose it in several small pieces; get it in front of people so that the brand is on their minds.


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How can brands achieve that top-of-mind status?

We all know that there are four kinds of content: Text, video, pictures and audio. These four formats never die. The platform can change, but the format will stay the same. A video can be an Instagram Reel, a documentary or something else, but it’s a video. The same goes for a photo. So the content strategy I’m working with is how brands can use that content ecosystem.

When I work with my clients — and also with Creatopy where I’m a product marketer — I recommend them to use content to build their brand and be visible to their users every day in their feeds. Every morning, when their customers are waking up and checking their phones, they don’t open a newspaper. They will open Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and maybe then when they get out of the bathroom and make coffee, they will open YouTube and connect with Alexa.

I really believe that brands should create content that can just be in the mind of the user. Snackable content, Reels, TikTok … It doesn’t matter what we call it.

You also talked about repurposing content. Can you explain that?

Let’s take the interview you’ve done with Peep Laja. You could have recorded it as a video. And he covered several topics, so you could have several short videos — 30 seconds, three minutes, whatever. You can publish them daily on your site or social media channels with a comment that says, “Here’s the link to the full article.” But remember that on LinkedIn, that link will need to go into the comments section, not the post itself.

You can also have a longer video that you can publish on social media or on Wistia, asking people to give their email — so now you also have subscribers.

Then the second type of content you can create is audio. You already have it from the recording. You don’t have to publish the full 45-minute conversation, but you can have a five-minute audio clip, and again link to the articles.

Now we have video and audio, but what if you also designed quotes with his headshot and messaging? If it’s part of a series, you should also give it a name.

And it’s not just motivational; it’s educational, too, so you should take these quotes and create carousels for Instagram and LinkedIn. The first slide should grab attention — it can be a question. The second slide can be a link to the interview so that even if people don’t click it, it will be on their minds. Then you can have slides with insights.

The last slide will always be a call to action: Asking people to share, comment or save it for later — it’s the new currency on Instagram! And once you have your Instagram carousel, you create a PDF and publish it on LinkedIn.

So now you have five formats of content from one piece of content.

Wow, how much do we owe you?! Just kidding, we actually do some of that for the Equity podcast, for instance. Now, what other advice do you have for startups?

I’m a big advocate of documenting the process. Just imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had done that and you could read how he launched Facebook and so on. Noah Kagan is doing that right now. I think startup founders should do it, not just from the PR and marketing perspective, but for their audience. Even if your audience is not paying for your product right now, they are staying with you and giving your brand an essence in the industry.

Just think about what Salesforce is doing right now: They launched Salesforce+, which is like Netflix for B2B. It’s to get the attention of professionals and also maintain it, and I believe this is the currency of the big companies today: People’s attention.

Do you work with any startups in Romania? And do you have any impressions to share on the Romanian startup ecosystem?

Yes, I help a few Romanian startups with their content marketing and positioning. Sometimes other startups email me with questions, so I help them, too, but I don’t charge for email advice. I work with the ones that are looking for a long-term or project-based collaboration.

Startup founders here in Romania are curious, and very courageous to experiment even if it won’t necessarily work. And Romanian startups are very smart. For instance, Planable is doing a great job with content, social media and positioning. We also have social media analytics company Socialinsider, which this year launched virtual events, and TypingDNA, which wants to get rid of needing to log in with passwords and was founded by a former colleague.

I also found that the founders here work harder than their teams and don’t just leave others do the work — at least the ones I have met. We have several startup events in Romania: How to Web, and Techsylvania here in Transylvania.

I don’t like this name, but people say that Cluj-Napoca is the “Silicon Valley of Romania.” Lots of startups have been launched here, but the city that is getting more and more traction is Oradea, where the bet on education is paying off.

(If you are a tech startup founder or investor in Cluj or Oradea, fill in TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021.)

#brand-management, #content-marketing, #growth-marketers, #growth-marketing, #instagram, #marketing, #robert-katai, #romania, #social-media, #social-media-analytics, #social-media-marketing, #startups, #tc, #verified-experts, #youtube

Using AI to reboot brand-client relationships

Marketing automation has usually focused on driving sales, mainly using past purchase or late funnel behavior (e.g., paid search) as a predictor of an imminent purchase. While effective at boosting sales numbers, this widely implemented strategy can result in a disservice to brands and industries that adopt it, as it promotes the perpetual devaluation of goods or services. Narrowing a brand’s focus only to aspects linked to conversions risks stripping the customer experience of key components that lay the groundwork for long-term success.

We live in a world rich with data, and insights are growing more vibrant every day. With this in mind, companies and advertisers can strategically weave together all the data they collect during the customer experience. This enables them to understand every inference available during customer interactions and learn what benefits the customer most at a given time.

But focusing exclusively on data collected from customers, brands risk falling subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even companies with meaningful consumer interactions or rich service offerings struggle to gain impactful contextual insights. Only by harnessing a broader dataset can we understand how people become customers in the first place, what makes them more or less likely to purchase again and how developments in society impact the growth or struggle a brand will experience.

Here’s a look at how we can achieve a more complete picture of current and future customers.

A critical component in re-imagining customer experience as a relationship is recognizing that brands often don’t focus enough on consumers’ wider needs and concerns.

Leverage AI to unlock new perspectives

Over the past several years, almost every industry has capitalized on the opportunity data-driven marketing presents, inching closer to the “holy grail” of real-time, direct and personalized engagements. Yet, the evolving toolset encouraged brands to focus on end-of-the-funnel initiatives, jeopardizing what really impacts a business’ longevity: relationships.

While past purchase or late-funnel behavior data does provide value and is useful in identifying habit changes or actual needs, it is relatively surface level and doesn’t offer insight into consumers’ future behavior or what led them to a specific purchase in the first place.

By incorporating AI, brands can successfully engage with their audiences in a more holistic, helpful and genuine way. Technologies to discern not just the content of language (e.g., the keywords) but its meaning as well, open up possibilities to better infer consumer interest and intentions. In turn, brands can tune consumer interactions to generate satisfaction and delight, and ultimately accrue stronger insights for future use.

#artificial-intelligence, #brand, #brand-management, #column, #customer-experience, #customer-service, #data-driven-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #marketing, #pinterest, #product-management, #social-media, #tc

What’s driving the global surge in retail media spending?

Most businesses by now are well versed with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: Faltering offline sales, flexible work-from-anywhere options, fluctuating foot traffic with lockdown mandates and e-commerce becoming a channel many brands wished they had built infrastructure for earlier.

As a record number of consumers in Southeast Asia move from shopping malls to online platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Tiki and Tokopedia, the advertising dollars are naturally flowing in. Emerging markets are witnessing the advent of retail media right now.

Amazon paved the way in North America in 2018 by launching Amazon Advertising to become the first bid-and-buy marketplace. BCG now estimates retailers have a $100 billion business opportunity to capture, if they can keep up.

The money is where the consumer is

To understand why retailers will capture more ad spend, it’s important to evaluate what modern day marketing has become.

Is it bus stop advertisements? Bidding on Google keywords or a Clubhouse session? Or is it a viral TikTok video? As the world becomes more connected and the lines between offline and online blur even more, modern day marketing is a mix of all the channels tied to key performance metrics.

The main goal of marketing, no matter the medium, is to highlight a business or product to the right consumers to score a potential sale. And like most things, there is a bad, a good and a much better way of doing things.

E-commerce as an advertising channel is unique, because it encapsulates the entire consumer journey from start to finish, especially as marketplaces continue to steal the share of search from search engines.

Traditional marketing channels were primarily linear TV, radio and print, because the mediums were highly popular at the time. However, with the birth of the internet newer platforms emerged such as email, websites and streaming. Then came the rise of social media and apps that shook up the advertising landscape. But regardless of these shifts, there has always been one constant: The business went where the consumer was.

So when sources of traffic and revenue once again change, let’s say due to a pandemic, the marketing mix follows. In the next 12 months alone, many marketers are planning to decrease spending in cinema, print and out of home (OOH), while the majority will increase budgets in social and search, according to Nielsen.

The search for superior advertising channels

So which channels will benefit as money flows out of outdated buckets? A good indicator is ad revenue trends in mature markets like the U.S. While Google and Facebook remain the dominant advertising players, Amazon has eaten into the duopoly’s ad revenue pie in the U.S., growing its share from 7.8% to 10.3% in 2020 alone, according to eMarketer.

How? Because the most valuable advertising channel is the one that has the most measurable touch points with the consumer.

#amazon, #asia, #brand-management, #column, #covid-19, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #ecommerce, #facebook, #indonesia, #malaysia, #marketing, #media, #shopee, #singapore, #social, #southeast-asia, #thailand, #tiki, #tokopedia, #vietnam

Upscribe, raising $4M, wants to drive subscription-first DTC brand growth

Upscribe founder and CEO Dileepan Siva watched the retail industry make a massive shift to subscription e-commerce for physical products over the past decade, and decided to get in it himself in 2019.

The Los Angeles-based company, developing subscription software for direct-to-consumer e-commerce merchants, is Siva’s fourth startup experience and first time as founder. He closed a $4 million seed round to go after two macro trends he is seeing: buying physical products, like consumer-packaged goods, on a recurring basis, and new industries offering subscriptions, like car and fashion companies.

Merchants use Upscribe’s technology to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn and enable their customers to personalize a subscription experience, like skipping shipments, swapping out products and changing the order frequency. Brands can also feature products for upsell purposes throughout the subscriber lifecycle, from checkout to post-purchase.

Upscribe also offers APIs for merchants to integrate tools like Klaviyo, Segment and Shopify — a new subscription offering for checkouts.

Uncork Capital led the seed round and was joined by Leaders Fund, The House Fund, Roach Capitals’ Fahd Ananta and Shippo CEO Laura Behrens Wu.

“As the market for D2C subscriptions booms, there is a need for subscription-first brands to grow and scale their businesses,” said Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of Uncork Capital, in a written statement. “We have spent a long time in the e-commerce space, working with D2C brands and companies who are solving common industry pain points, and Upscribe’s merchant-centric approach raised the bar for subscription services, addressing the friction in customer experiences and enabling merchants to engage subscribers and scale recurring revenue growth.”

Siva bootstrapped the company, but decided to go after venture capital dollars when Upscribe wanted to create a more merchant-centric approach, which required scaling with a bigger team. The “real gems are in the data layer and how to make the experience exceptional,” he added.

The company is growing 43% quarter over quarter and is close to profitable, with much of its business stemming from referrals, Siva said. It is already working with customers like Athletic Greens, Four Sigmatic and True Botanicals and across multiple verticals, including food and beverage, health and wellness, beauty and cosmetics and home care.

The new funding will be used to “capture the next wave of brands that are going to grow,” he added. Siva cites the growth will come as the DTC subscription market is forecasted to reach $478 billion by 2025, and 75% of those brands are expected to offer subscriptions in the next two years. As such, the majority of the funding will be used to bring on more employees, especially in the product, customer success and go-to-market functions.

Though there is competition in the space, many of those are focused on processing transactions, while Siva said Upscribe’s approach is customer relationships. The cost of acquiring new customers is going up, and subscription services will be the key to converting one-time buyers into loyal customers.

“It is really about customer relationships and the ongoing engagement between merchants and subscribers,” he added. “We are in a different world now. The first wave could play the Facebook game, advertising on social media with super low acquisition and scale. That is no longer the case anymore.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #customer-experience, #customer-success, #dileepan-siva, #direct-to-consumer, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #funding, #jeff-clavier, #recent-funding, #shopify, #startups, #subscription-services, #tc, #uncork-capital, #upscribe

Early-stage brands should also unlock the power of influencers

They’ve made waves on every screen and have been sponsored by nearly every major brand, from Charli D’Amelio x Hollister to MrBeast x Honey. And they’re only multiplying.

If influencers aren’t part of your early-stage growth marketing plan, it’s time to get on board. When companies think of how to rapidly increase their reach and revenue, paid acquisition is always at the top of the list. But there are other important pillars in a growth marketing engine, such as leveraging lifecycle marketing, cultivating organic reach via SEO and doing later-stage brand marketing.

Influencer marketing isn’t solely for big brands; it’s for every brand. If influencers aren’t part of your growth marketing plan, it’s time to get on board.

However, an often overlooked tactic for new brands is influencer marketing. If the value and power of influencer marketing were widespread knowledge, we would see more of an uptick. And it doesn’t help that we have a supply-constrained pool of marketers who understand how to unlock this lever.

Influencer marketing spending from 2016 to 2021 (predicted). Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

This marketing tactic is only growing. So let’s demystify influencer marketing, learn how to couple it with a little-known paid marketing hack and uncover the numerous mediums to leverage influencer assets. After three years at Postmates (which nailed influencer marketing), being a YouTuber myself in 2008 and advising startups, I’ve unlocked the power of influencer marketing and want everyone to do the same.

Starting out

If there’s one key piece of advice to take from this column, it’s that influencer marketing isn’t solely for big brands. It’s for every brand. As you start to formulate your growth strategy, make sure to include an influencer pillar as part of the plan.

When reaching out to influencers, it’s a sheer numbers game in capturing their attention and pitching your brand, but there are myriad ways to increase response conversion. Below are the cold message components you must nail down before reaching out to influencers:

  • Your brand pitch.
  • An enticing offer.
  • Clear next steps.

The one constant with influencers is the high number of messages they receive from fans and brands alike. If you’re at the marketing stage, nailing your pitch should hopefully be natural at this point, so utilize what you’ve crafted and condense it down to a sentence or two.

What are your brand’s key value propositions, and why should influencers care? To show them, relate your brand to their category, to their style and to the content that they post.

After the pitch, an irresistible offer needs to follow — something that’s the opposite of this: “I’ll send you a few samples of our protein bars.” The conversion rate will be a freakishly low tenth of a percent with that offer. Instead, make your offer enticing and utilize one of these structures: fixed fee, fixed fee + performance or performance.

Depending on budget and risk tolerance, there are a few ways to structure an influencer offer: paying a one-time fixed fee, paying for each conversion (CPA performance basis) or a hybrid of the two.

#apps, #brand-management, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #growth-marketing, #hellofresh, #influencer-marketing, #marketing, #social, #social-media, #tc

How to hire and structure a growth team

Everyone at an organization should own growth, right? Turns out when everyone owns something, no one does. As a result, growth teams can cause an enormous amount of friction in an organization when introduced.

Growth teams are twice as likely to appear among businesses growing their ARR by 100% or more annually. What’s more, they also seem to be more common after product-market fit has been achieved — usually after a company has reached about $5 million to $10 million in revenue.

Graph of the prevalence of growth teams in companies, by ARR

Image Credits: OpenView Partners

I’m not here to sell you on why you need a growth team, but I will point out that product-led businesses with a growth team see dramatic results — double the median free-to-paid conversion rate.

Free-to-paid conversions in companies with growth teams are higher

Image Credits: OpenView Partners

How do you hire an early growth leader?

According to responses from product benchmarks surveys, growth teams have transitioned dramatically from reporting to marketing and sales to reporting directly to the CEO.

Some of the early writing on growth teams says that they can be structured individually as their own standalone team or as a SWAT model, where experts from various other departments in the organization converge on a regular cadence to solve for growth.

Graph showing more growth teams now report to CEOs than marketing, sales or product

Image Credits: OpenView Partners

My experience, and the data I’ve collected from business-user focused software companies, has led me to the conclusion that growth teams in business software should not be structured as “SWAT” teams, with cross-functional leadership coming together to think critically about growth problems facing the business. I find that if problems don’t have a real owner, they’re not going to get solved. Growth issues are no different and are often deprioritized unless it’s someone’s job to think about them.

Becoming product-led isn’t something that happens overnight, and hiring someone will not be a silver bullet for your software.

I put early growth hires into a few simple buckets. You’ve got:

Product-minded growth experts: These folks are all about optimizing the user experience, reducing friction and expanding usage. They’re usually pretty analytical and might have product, data or MarketingOps backgrounds.

#brand-management, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #growth-hacking, #growth-marketing, #growth-tactics, #hiring, #hiring-for-growth, #marketing, #neologisms, #personnel, #product-management, #startup-hiring, #startups, #user-experience

Online retailers: Stop trying to beat Amazon

Brick-and-mortar stores forced to close due to pandemic lockdowns had to quickly pivot to an online-only model. Understandably, newcomers to the digital retail scene found themselves behind the curve in attracting online buyers, particularly in the face of popular established events like Amazon Prime Day. This year’s Prime Day, held June 21-22, was reportedly the biggest ever on the platform.

Online retailers that have opted to forge their own path to generate sales often wonder how they can compete with Amazon.

Amazon’s true unique selling proposition is its distribution network. Online retailers will not be able to compete on this point. Instead, it’s important to focus on areas where they can excel.

The reality is that Amazon’s true unique selling proposition is its distribution network. Online retailers will not be able to compete on this point because Amazon’s distribution network is so fast. Instead, it’s important to focus on areas where they can excel — without having to become a third-party seller on Amazon’s platform.

The following are seven key tips that are relevant for online retailers that want to attract and retain customers without having to partner with Amazon or to try to beat it at its own game.

Gain a 360-degree view of the customer

An online retailer needs to consider what kind of experience it wants to create; customers expect smooth processes on every step of their online shopping journey.

One idea is to implement a consumer data platform that will help the retailer gain the best insights into their customers: who they are and what they like, which websites they frequent and other relevant information. Retailers can use this data to then target customers with ads for products they’ll actually want to buy. Consumer data platforms can even help online retailers target consumers across platforms as well as in the store.

Ensure smooth and glitch-free pre-sale transactions

One of the biggest frustrations with online retailers is the performance of a website, from getting on the site through the closing of the sale. If something fails or glitches at any point in the process of searching for a product and paying for it, the customer will leave and not come back.

The solution to this problem involves a lot of testing of the user interface to ensure a good user experience. Tests should be done on all e-commerce segments on a site, including the basket and ad banners. By inserting tags along the customer journey, a retailer can track lost sales and see where problems happen on their website.

Offer a broad variety of payment options

As a payment option, PayPal recently experienced a record 36% year-on-year growth in payment volume between the third quarter of 2019 and Q3 2020. Despite PayPal’s popularity, Amazon does not accept it as a form of payment.

#amazon, #brand-management, #column, #customer-experience, #customer-service, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #supply-chain-management, #tc

Andreessen Horowitz funds Vitally’s $9M round for customer experience software

Customer success company Vitally raised $9 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz to continue developing its SaaS platform automating customer experiences.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson got the idea for Vitally while he was at his previous company, Pathgather. As chief customer officer, he was looking at tools and “was underwhelmed” by the available tools to automate repetitive tasks. So he set out to build one.

The global pandemic thrust customer satisfaction into the limelight as brands realized that the same ways they were engaging with customers had to change now that everyone was making the majority of their purchases online. Previously, a customer service representative may have managed a dozen accounts, but nowadays with product-led growth, they tackle a portfolio of thousands of customers, Davidson told TechCrunch.

New York-based Vitally, founded in 2017, unifies all of that customer data into one place and flows it through an engine to provide engagement insights, like what help customers need, which ones are at risk of churning and which to target for expanded revenue opportunities. Its software also provides automation to balance workflow and steer customer success teams to the tasks with the right customers so that they are engaging at the correct time.

Andreessen approached Davidson for the Series A, and he liked the alignment in customer success vision, he said. Including the new funding, Vitally raised a total of $10.6 million, which includes $1.2 million in September 2019.

From the beginning, Vitally was bringing in strong revenue growth, which enabled the company to focus on building its platform and hold off on fundraising.

“A Series A was certainly on our mind and road map, but we weren’t actively fundraising,” Davidson said. “However, we saw a great fit and great backing to help us grow. Tools have lagged in the customer success area and how to manage that. Andreessen can help us scale and grow with our customers as they manage the thousands of their customers.”

Davidson intends to use the new funding to scale Vitally’s team across the board and build out its marketing efforts to introduce the company to the market. He expects to grow to 30 by the end of the year to support the company’s annual revenue growth — averaging 3x — and customer acquisition. Vitally is already working with big customers like Segment, Productboard and Calendly.

As part of the investment, Andreessen general partner David Ulevitch is joining the Vitally board. He saw an opportunity for the reimagining of how SaaS companies delivered customer success, he told TechCrunch via email.

Similar to Davidson, he thought that customer success teams were now instrumental to growing SaaS businesses, but technology lagged behind market need, especially with so many SaaS companies taking a self-serve or product-led approach that attracted more orders than legacy tools.

Before the firm met Vitally, it was hearing “rave reviews” from its customers, Ulevitch said.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and affirmed the fact that Vitally simply had the best product on the market since it actually mapped to how businesses operated and interacted with customers, particularly businesses with a long-tail of paying customers,” he added. “The first dollar into a SaaS company is great, but it’s the renewal and expansion dollars that really set the winners apart from everyone else. Vitally is in the best position to help companies get that renewal, help their customers expand accounts and ultimately win the space.”

 

#andreessen-horowitz, #brand-management, #customer-experience, #customer-success, #david-ulevitch, #enterprise, #funding, #jamie-davidson, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #vitally

What I learned the hard way from naming 30+ startups

There’s a lot wrapped up in a name: feelings, emotions, connotation, unconscious bias, personal history. It’s an identity — it gives something meaning and importance.

In leading marketing and brand at High Alpha, I think about naming quite a bit. As a venture studio, we co-found and launch five to 10 new software startups every year. It is my team’s responsibility to create and build out the brands for all the new companies we start, including everything from naming and domain acquisition to brand identity and websites. Over the past five years, we’ve named more than 30 software startups at High Alpha.

Over the past five years, we’ve named more than 30 software startups.

As a soon-to-be first-time parent, the idea of naming has taken on a whole new meaning and importance in my life. Even though I help name new companies for a living, I now fully understand the paralysis that often comes when faced with the task of deciding the name for someone or something that’s especially important to you.

Because of this, I’ve always tried to take an objective, pragmatic approach to naming a company with our CEOs and other startups. Naming is an incredibly difficult and nuanced process. It’s fraught with subjectiveness and personal preference. And to top it all off, most founders have zero (or very little) experience in naming.

The truth is that business names fall on a bell curve — you have a small number of outliers that actively contribute to your success and a small number of outliers that actively impair your ability to succeed. The vast majority, though, fall somewhere in the middle in their impact on your business.

So, how should a founder go about effectively naming their baby startup and not picking a name that will hurt them? I’m sharing my own criteria and lessons for how to go about naming your startup, how to evaluate a company name and what makes for a good company name.

Is the name ownable?

As a founder, one of the first criteria to look at is ownability and URL availability. Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a name where the .com is still available. I oftentimes will look at .io, .co, get_______.com, or _____hq.com as my top alternatives to a .com, but I always still prefer if the .com is potentially attainable in the future. It may be parked by a domain investor or someone asking a ridiculous price, but that’s always better than an established business using your .com. If not, you will always be fighting a search battle with some other brand that owns your .com.

This goes much further than just the availability of the coveted .com domain, though. You should evaluate the competitiveness and search congestion around your branded keywords. A company named “Apple” or “Lumber” is going to have a really hard time competing for search placements, even if they don’t sell computers or building supplies. An established name and word is also going to come with existing connotations and previous experiences in your audience’s mind. You want a name free from as much baggage as possible so you can easily build your own connotations and memories.

#brand-management, #column, #domain-name, #ec-column, #intellectual-property-law, #marketing, #product-management, #startups, #tc, #trademark

5 questions startups should consider before making their first marketing hire

“Who should my first marketing hire be?”

This is (by far) the most common question I’ve received since starting as Fuel’s CMO, and for good reason. Your first marketer will have an outsized impact on team dynamics as well as the overall strategic direction of the brand, product and company.

The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

The nature of the marketing function has expanded significantly over the past two decades. So much so that when founders ask this question, it immediately prompts multiple new ones: Should I hire a brand or growth marketer? An offline or an online marketer? A scientific or a creative marketer?

Once upon a time, the number of marketing channels was fairly limited, which meant the function itself fit into a neater, tighter box. The number of ways to reach customers has since grown exponentially, as has the scope of the marketing role. Today’s startups require at least four broad functions under the umbrella of “marketing,” each with its own array of subfunctions.

Here’s a sample of the marketing functions at a typical early-stage startup:

Brand marketing: Brand strategy, positioning, naming, messaging, visual identity, experiential, events, community.

Product marketing: UX copy, website, email marketing, customer research and segmentation, pricing.

Communications: PR and media relations, content marketing, social media, thought leadership, influencer.

Growth marketing: Direct response paid acquisition, funnel optimization, retention, lifecycle, engagement, reporting and attribution, word of mouth, referral, SEO, partnerships.


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As you can imagine, that’s a lot for one person to manage, let alone be an expert in. What’s more, the skill set and experience required to excel in growth marketing is quite different from the skill set required to succeed in brand marketing. The reality is that anyone who excels across all marketing functions is a unicorn and nearly impossible to find.

So who do you hire first?

Unless you’re lucky enough to nab that unicorn, your first hire should be a generalist who can tend to the full stack of the marketing function, learn what they don’t know, and roll up their sleeves to get things done. Someone smart, savvy and super scrappy who understands how to experiment across marketing channels until they find the right mix.

#brand-management, #brand-marketing, #column, #content-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #product-management, #product-marketing, #startups

4 proven approaches to CX strategy that make customers feel loved

Customers have been “experiencing” business since the ancient Romans browsed the Forum for produce, pottery and leather goods. But digitization has radically recalibrated the buyer-seller dynamic, fueling the rise of one of the most talked-about industry acronyms: CX (customer experience).

Part paradigm, part category and part multibillion-dollar market, CX is a broad term used across a myriad of contexts. But great CX boils down to delighting every customer on an emotional level, anytime and anywhere a business interaction takes place.

Great CX boils down to delighting every customer on an emotional level, anytime and anywhere a business interaction takes place.

Optimizing CX requires a sophisticated tool stack. Customer behavior should be tracked, their needs must be understood, and opportunities to engage proactively must be identified. Wall Street, for one, is taking note: Qualtrics, the creator of “XM” (experience management) as a category, was spun-out from SAP and IPO’d in January, and Sprinklr, a social media listening solution that has expanded into a “Digital CXM” platform, recently filed to go public.

Thinking critically about customer experience is hardly a new concept, but a few factors are spurring an inflection point in investment by enterprises and VCs.

Firstly, brands are now expected to create a consistent, cohesive experience across multiple channels, both online and offline, with an ever-increasing focus on the former. Customer experience and the digital customer experience are rapidly becoming synonymous.

The sheer volume of customer data has also reached new heights. As a McKinsey report put it, “Today, companies can regularly, lawfully, and seamlessly collect smartphone and interaction data from across their customer, financial, and operations systems, yielding deep insights about their customers … These companies can better understand their interactions with customers and even preempt problems in customer journeys. Their customers are reaping benefits: Think quick compensation for a flight delay, or outreach from an insurance company when a patient is having trouble resolving a problem.”

Moreover, the app economy continues to raise the bar on user experience, and end users have less patience than ever before. Each time Netflix displays just the right movie, Instagram recommends just the right shoes, or TikTok plays just the right dog video, people are being trained to demand just a bit more magic.

#brand-management, #column, #customer-experience, #customer-experience-analytics, #customer-experience-management, #customer-satisfaction, #cx, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #enterprise, #marketing, #qualtrics, #sap, #sprinklr, #startups

Develop a buyer’s guide to educate your startup’s sales team and customers

Every company wants to be innovative, but innovation comes with its share of difficulties. One key challenge for early-stage companies that are disrupting a particular space or creating a new category is figuring out how to sell a unique product to customers who have never bought such a solution.

This is especially the case when a solution doesn’t have many reference points and its significance may not be obvious.

My view is simple — some buyers could use a walkthrough of the buying process. If you are building a singular product in a nascent market and necessitates forward-looking customers, and want to drastically shorten sales cycles, I have a proposal: Create a buyer’s guide.

A buyer’s guide is essentially a prescriptive summary that provides an understandable overview of how a customer may buy your solution. What does your product actually do? Is it secure? How would you implement the technology? What does it replace, if anything? It should be short, simple, and speak the customer’s language. It also acts as a sales enabling tool. Sales teams, especially at smaller startups, can review the guide quarterly and analyze what is and isn’t working as the company goes to market.

Here is how to put together a buyer’s guide, including what to sort out before you type a single word.

Know your audience

From the start, it’s important to think about who the stakeholders are for your product’s buying cycle. One typical issue with early-stage startups is they meet with an enthusiastic buyer — a CIO, CTO, or VP of product — but neglect to include the other stakeholders who should be part of the conversation. More importantly, a lot of companies don’t realize the impact of their product on a group or team that they would not typically sell to.

For example, target the security team as an early stakeholder, because they’re probably going to review your product. If the solution is focused towards, say, integration, then hone in on who would be owning the integration process on the buyer’s team.

If you’re selling a martech solution, on a business level, you have to consider a finance business partner for marketing. Think about the problems your customers face and also how others in their company relate to them.

#brand-management, #column, #corporate-finance, #customer-experience, #customer-success, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #marketing, #sales, #startups

Even startups on tight budgets can maximize their marketing impact

Search engine optimization, PR, paid marketing, emails, social — marketing and communications is crowded with techniques, channels, solutions and acronyms. It’s little wonder that many startups strapped for time and money find defining and executing a sustainable marketing campaign a daunting prospect.

The sheer number of options makes it difficult to determine an effective approach, and my view is that this complexity often obscures the obvious answer: A startup’s best marketing asset is its story. The knowledge and expertise of its team, together with the why and the how of its offering provides the most compelling content.

Leveraging this material with best practice techniques enables any startup, no matter how limited its budget, to run an effective marketing campaign.

Many startups make the mistake of choosing systems and employing procedures to solve the immediate needs of the department that requires them.

I know this approach works, because this is exactly what I did with my co-founder Alex Feiglstorfer when we set up Storyblok. To be clear, we are developers not marketers. However, our previous experience building CMS systems taught us that the main driver of organic engagement for most businesses was customer conversations around content.

Specifically, sharing experiences, expertise and what we learned. We had committed nearly all of our available cash to developing our product, so we knew that the only way to market Storyblok was to do it all ourselves.

As a result, we focused solely on problem-solving content. This took the form of tutorials on web development and opinion pieces on headless CMS and other topics within our areas of expertise. The trick was that what we published wasn’t made just for marketing, it was based on our own internal documentation of problems we encountered as we developed our product. In essence, we were “learning in public.” Through this approach we were able to acquire thousands of customers in our first year.

Retelling this story isn’t to blow my own trumpet, it’s to make clear that you don’t have to be a marketer by training or commit a huge amount of time and resources to successfully market your startup. So, how do you get started?

Getting your structure and technology right

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you organize your startup’s marketing function, there are some basic principles that apply in nearly every situation. A recent survey of 400+ executives from CMS Wire helpfully identified the following factors as the “top digital customer experience challenges” for businesses:

  1. Limited budget/resources.
  2. Siloed systems and fragmented customer data.
  3. Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration.
  4. Outdated/limited technology, operations or processes.
  5. Lack of in-house expertise/skills.

Challenges two to four are the pitfalls that we can focus on avoiding. They are directly related to how a startup produces, organizes and distributes its content.

With regard to the siloing of systems and fragmentation of customer data, the overriding goal is to ensure all your systems are integrated and speak to one another. In practice, this means that the data gathered in different departments — whether its feedback from sales, engagement on your website, customer service responses or product development information — is collected in a uniform and methodical manner and is readily accessible across the business.

#brand-management, #column, #content-marketing, #customer-experience, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #ec-marketing-tech, #marketing, #pr, #product-marketing, #public-relations, #startups

Led by ex-Amazonians, Acquco raises $160M to buy and scale e-commerce businesses

There has been a flurry of investments in startups focused on acquiring third-party sellers on Amazon and helping them build their businesses.

The latest is Acquco, which aims to stand out from the others in that it was formed by a pair of founders — Raunak Nirmal and Wiley Zhang — who actually worked at Amazon, and then built multimillion-dollar businesses on its platform.

The New York City-based startup has raised $160 million in debt and equity in a Series A round that it says will fund its “aggressive growth plans.” CoVenture, Singh Capital Partners, Crossbeam and other notable investors such as GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani put money in the equity portion of the round. Acquco would not disclose the valuation at which the money was raised, nor the exact breakdown of debt and equity, other than to say “a significant portion was equity.” But CEO Raunak Nirmal did share a few other notable things. 

For one, the company has already scaled to over $100 million in revenue since its founding (in a year’s time) while deploying less than $2 million of equity capital. Plus, it’s been profitable “since day one,” he said.

Nirmal also claims that Acquco’s proprietary technology and “proven playbooks” give it an edge against competitors such as Thrasio and Perch. Specifically, the company says it helps Amazon sellers exit their business within 30 days and continue to scale their business “to the next level” post-acquisition. It also claims to offer flexible terms and that it does not prevent entrepreneurs from selling again on Amazon.

Acquco says it identifies the best businesses to acquire, and leverages what it describes as “flexible founder-friendly deal structures,” which essentially gives sellers a way to make money from the exit and then still get a cut of revenues down the line. The company claims that it on average achieves over 100% revenue growth after migrating brands onto its platform.

Forming Acquco was not an overnight story, but rather was years in the making.

“My first job out of college was actually at Amazon. I worked as a business analyst on the merchant technologies team there, which was really focused on third-party selling and helping empower third-party sellers to grow on the platform and then just growing that segment of the business,” Nirmal recalls. “At the time, third-party selling was smaller than the retail side for Amazon.”

A lot has changed since then, of course, as that segment of the e-commerce giant’s business has grown dramatically. 

In recent years, most sales on Amazon have come through Amazon Marketplace, where millions of outside sellers compete to find customers. Many pay Amazon to store and ship their goods, making them eligible for Prime shipping through an arrangement known as Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA. This is where Acquco is focusing. 

While at Amazon years ago, Nirmal was tasked with starting a brand on the site so he could better understand sellers’ pain points, as well as the tools that could be built “to really help them grow.”

Eventually, Nirmal left Amazon to pursue selling on Amazon full time because the brand he’d started ended up selling over $7 million in its first year. After that, he and COO Zhang built and sold multiple brands in the Amazon ecosystem before going on to consult for “some of the largest sellers in the marketplace,” primarily based in China but selling in the U.S. market.

“A lot of these guys are actually public companies now,” Nirmal said. 

The duo went on to co-found a seller outsourcing firm in the Philippines, which helps to minimize the cost of operating the brands for sellers and make it more accessible for sellers that don’t have a huge team to build something on Amazon. 

Then they founded a company called Refund Labs, a seller tool that helps sellers essentially automatically identify issues in the payments that they receive from Amazon as well as recover money on their behalf for things like inventory that gets damaged or lost or the fees that are being charged that might be incorrect. 

Nirmal stepped down as CEO of Refund Labs to form Acquco.

“What we wanted to do is take this knowledge and experience that we really have built up over the last seven years, and apply it in the best way possible,” Nirmal told TechCrunch. “And rather than building brands from the ground up, or consulting for some of these large sellers, we thought, ‘Why not go and buy the best brands, and then help grow them using our expertise?’ ”

The company says its proprietary algorithms analyze thousands of criteria sets and millions of data inputs “to automate and maximize the performance of the core functions within supply chain and brand management” across their portfolio. 

Acquco plans to use its new capital to enter “hypergrowth mode,” according to Chief Strategy Officer Jerel Ho, who most recently led corporate development and strategy at WeWork, where he closed over $40 billion in M&A deals.

The startup has the ambitious goal of scaling its portfolio to over $500 million in revenue by 2022. It plans to put the new money toward continuing to build out its technology platform — including tools that can automate the management of an entire brand on Amazon and across other retail channels — as well as continuing to acquire brands. It’s also, naturally, going to do some hiring.

“We’ve done a lot with very little,” Ho told TechCrunch. “But hyper growth plans require a much larger team across all functions.”

CoVenture founder Ali Hamed says that the Amazon third-party seller ecosystem does $200 billion of revenue and is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 50%. 

“It’s the most attractive market we’ve seen since founding our firm,” he told TechCrunch. “And of all the people we’ve talked to, Raunak is as plugged into the Amazon ecosystem as anyone we could find. In many ways, he taught us how to look, think and deploy capital into the market.”

To say Hamed is bullish on Acquco would be an understatement. Since first investing in the company in 2020, Nirmal “has exceeded” all of CoVenture’s expectations.

“We’ve been begging him to take more money every three months since writing our first check,” Hamed added. “Raunak is able to help buy businesses and make them better than they ever were before. He has a vision of how to operate these assets post-purchase that other operators who are not Amazon-native just don’t have.”

Besides Thrasio, other players in the space that have recently raised funding include Branded, which recently launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding, as well as Berlin Brands Group, SellerXHeydayHeroes and Perch. And, Valoreo, a Mexico City-based acquirer of e-commerce businesses, raised $50 million of equity and debt financing in a seed funding round announced in February.

#acquco, #ali-hamed, #amazon, #berlin-brands-group, #brand-management, #china, #coventure, #crossbeam, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #godaddy, #heroes, #heyday, #mexico-city, #new-york-city, #perch, #philippines, #publishing, #recent-funding, #retailers, #sellerx, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #thrasio, #united-states, #venture-capital, #wework

One CMO’s honest take on the modern chief marketing role

There’s no shortage of commentary around the chief marketing officer title these days, and certainly no lack of opinions about the role’s responsibilities and meaning within a company. There’s a reason for that. CMO is the shortest tenured C-suite role — the average tenure of a CMO is the lowest of all C-suite titles at 3.5 years.

CMOs either produce the numbers or we find another job.

That’s because the chief marketing officer’s role is increasingly complex. Qualifications require broad, strategic thinking while also maintaining tactical acumen across several functions. There’s a big disparity in what companies expect from CMOs. Some want a strategist with an eye for go-to-market planning, while others want a focus on close alignment with sales in addition to brand awareness, content strategy and lead generation.

Still other companies want their CMO to emphasize product marketing and management. Ask 10 CMOs how they define their role and you’ll get 10 different answers.

So, I’m sharing my honest, straight from the mouth of a tenured CMO take on what the role actually means, plus the key attributes of today’s modern CMO.

We must be the Master Builder

Hat tip to “The Lego Movie” for this analogy. Today’s marketing executives must bring functions and teams together. From sales and marketing alignment to product and everything in between, chief marketers are the connective tissue between every function. Driving alignment between these functions is table stakes.

Same goes for people teams and culture — I’ve experienced an increase in CMOs serving as the linchpin of a company’s culture. My CEO lives by the famous phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and driving culture alignment now sits squarely on marketing’s shoulders.

Consistently drives new opportunities

Ah, demand generation. Driving new opportunity creation will continue to be a top priority for CMOs, of course. I’m not sharing anything new here, but the stakes are higher. CMOs either produce the numbers or we find another job. Doesn’t get any more straightforward than that. But, simply generating leads to check a box doesn’t cut it in board rooms anymore.

#brand-management, #cmo, #column, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #marketing, #product-marketing, #startups

Heirlume raises $1.38M to remove the barriers of trademark registration for small businesses

Platforms like Shopify, Stripe and WordPress have done a lot to make essential business-building tools, like running storefronts, accepting payments, and building websites accessible to businesses with even the most modest budgets. But some very key aspects of setting up a company remain expensive, time-consuming affairs that can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses — but that, if ignored, can result in the failure of a business before it even really gets started.

Trademark registration is one such concern, and Toronto-based startup Heirlume just raised $1.7 million CAD (~$1.38 million) to address the problem with a machine-powered trademark registration platform that turns the process into a self-serve affair that won’t break the budget. Its AI-based trademark search will flag if terms might run afoul of existing trademarks in the U.S. and Canada, even when official government trademark search tools, and even top-tier legal firms might not.

Heirlume’s core focus is on levelling the playing field for small business owners, who have typically been significantly out-matched when it comes to any trademark conflicts.

“I’m a senior level IP lawyer focused in trademarks, and had practiced in a traditional model, boutique firm of my own for over a decade serving big clients, and small clients,” explained Heirlume co-founder Julie MacDonnell in an interview. “So providing big multinationals with a lot of brand strategy, and in-house legal, and then mainly serving small business clients when they were dealing with a cease-and-desist, or an infringement issue. It’s really those clients that have my heart: It’s incredibly difficult to have a small business owner literally crying tears on the phone with you, because they just lost their brand or their business overnight. And there was nothing I could do to help because the law just simply wasn’t on their side, because they had neglected to register their trademarks to own them.”

In part, there’s a lack of awareness around what it takes to actually register and own a trademark, MacDonnell says. Many entrepreneurs just starting out seek out a domain name as a first step, for instance, and some will fork over significant sums to register these domains. What they don’t realize, however, is that this is essentially a rental, and if you don’t have the trademark to protect that domain, the actual trademark owner can potentially take it away down the road. But even if business owners do realize that a trademark should be their first stop, the barriers to actually securing one are steep.

“There was an an enormous, insurmountable barrier, when it came to brand protection for those business owners,” she said. “And it just isn’t fair. Every other business service, generally a small business owner can access. Incorporating a company or even insurance, for example, owning and buying insurance for your business is somewhat affordable and accessible. But brand ownership is not.”

Heirlume brings the cost of trademark registration down from many thousands of dollars, to just under $600 for the first, and only $200 for each additional after that. The startup is also offering a very small business-friendly ‘buy now, pay later’ option supported by Clearbanc, which means that even businesses starting on a shoestring can take step of protecting their brand at the outset.

In its early days, Heirlume is also offering its core trademark search feature for free. That provides a trademark search engine that works across both U.S. and Canadian government databases, which can not only tell you if your desired trademark is available or already held, but also reveal whether it’s likely to be able to be successfully obtained, given other conflicts that might arise that are totally ignored by native trademark database search portals.

Heirlume search tool comparison

Image Credits: Heirlume

Heirlume uses machine learning to identify these potential conflicts, which not only helps users searching for their trademarks, but also greatly decreases the workload behind the scenes, helping them lower costs and pass on the benefits of those improved margins to its clients. That’s how it can achieve better results than even hand-tailored applications from traditional firms, while doing so at scale and at reduced costs.

Another advantage of using machine-powered data processing and filing is that on the government trademark office side, the systems are looking for highly organized, curated data sets that are difficult for even trained people to get consistently right. Human error in just data entry can cause massive backlogs, MacDonnell notes, even resulting in entire applications having to be tossed and started over from scratch.

“There are all sorts of datasets for those [trademark requirement] parameters,” she said. “Essentially, we synthesize all of that, and the goal through machine learning is to make sure that applications are utterly compliant with government rules. We actually have a senior level trademark examiner that that came to work for us, very excited that we were solving the problems causing backlogs within the government. She said that if Heirlume can get to a point where the applications submitted are perfect, there will be no backlog with the government.”

Improving efficiency within the trademark registration bodies means one less point of friction for small business owners when they set out to establish their company, which means more economic activity and upside overall. MacDonnell ultimately hopes that Heirlume can help reduce friction to the point where trademark ownership is at the forefront of the business process, even before domain registration. Heirlume has a partnership with Google Domains to that end, which will eventually see indication of whether a domain name is likely to be trademarkable included in Google Domain search results.

This initial seed funding includes participation from Backbone Angels, as well as the Future Capital collective, Angels of Many and MaRS IAF, along with angel investors including Daniel Debow, Sid Lee’s Bertrand Cesvet and more. MacDonnell notes that just as their goal was to bring more access and equity to small business owners when it comes to trademark protection, the startup was also very intentional in building its team and its cap table. MacDonnell, along with co-founders CTO Sarah Guest and Dave McDonnell, aim to build the largest tech company with a majority female-identifying technology team. Its investor make-up includes 65% female-identifying or underrepresented investors, and MacDonnell says that was a very intentional choice that extended the time of the raise, and even led to turning down interest from some leading Silicon Valley firms.

“We want underrepresented founders to be to be funded, and the best way to ensure that change is to empower underrepresented investors,” she said. “I think that we all have a responsibility to actually do do something. We’re all using hashtags right now, and hashtags are not enough […] Our CTO is female, and she’s often been the only female person in the room. We’ve committed to ensuring that women in tech are no longer the only person in the room.”

#artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #brands, #canada, #cto, #intellectual-property-law, #machine-learning, #marketing, #shopify, #tc, #toronto, #trademark

Adobe launches a new, simplified digital asset manager

Adobe today announced the launch of a new asset management tool, Adobe Experience Manager Assets Essentials. That’s a mouthful, but while the company didn’t necessarily simplify the name, the idea here is to give teams that work with lots of digital assets an easier-to-use management experience in the Adobe Experience Cloud than Adobe’s current enterprise-centric asset management tool can offer.

In addition, Adobe is also launching the first tool to integrate this new experience: the Adobe Journey Optimizer. This new tool is meant to help users leverage their customer data to build out customer journeys and figure out the best ways to deliver messages and content along that journey.

“The push towards digital content and building these richer, engaging experiences — customers expect it,” Elliot Sedegah, director of Strategy and Product Marketing, Adobe, told me. “Almost every interaction that you go along, you expect a rich experience. And not only at that point of just having richer material, like images or video, etc., but you expect it at every point of interaction with that customer. So that customer, if you think of it, isn’t just interacting with a brand, but our customers, they think of it as a customer journey. So using the same content, from awareness to conversion to post-sale and loyalty — they expect that same story to maintain. And it’s getting increasingly hard to get to all the different touchpoints.”

Image Credits: Adobe

Like with similar products, the idea here is to create a centralized, collaborative space for content creators and the teams that use their work. In that respect, this new tool isn’t necessarily all that different from other shared online file management services. But Adobe is also leveraging some of its unique capabilities. It’s using its AI smarts and Adobe Sensei platform to help users organize and tag their assets, for example, to make them more easily searchable. And the new tool is integrated with Adobe Asset Link, so creative professionals can search, browse and edit these assets directly from Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and XD without having to switch context.

As Sedegah noted, not too long ago, it was mostly the creative teams and marketing that were involved in the content creation and management process. But today, this group also includes sales teams and customer support, for example, and the pandemic only accelerated this process.

Image Credits: Adobe

“[Our customers] have been forced to rethink their business models, rethink the way that they engage with customers — and it essentially accelerated this digital-everywhere process of the experiences customers get, the agility that customers expect from businesses, and then the number of people — and how they work — leveraging that content.”

So while Adobe’s enterprise asset management tools worked just fine before, the company’s users were telling it that it needed to do a better job at creating tools that made its asset management technology easier to use by more teams.

The first tool to integrate this new asset management experience directly is the Journey Optimizer. “That was a great opportunity for us to rethink that user experience that our customers wanted to deliver — and then make it easier for that person to do,” Sedegah said. “So as you’re building out a content journey — or maybe you’re designing a piece of content that’s going to get sent to maybe a customer as they engage with a brand — the digital assets appear right there for that author to use.”

Next up for integration is Workfront, the work management platform Adobe acquired last year. There’s an obvious synergy here between Workfront’s abilities to manage the planning, review and approval stages of a project and an asset management system like this.

The long-term strategy, though, is to integrate this experience across all Experience Cloud applications.

#adobe, #adobe-experience-cloud, #adobe-photoshop, #artificial-intelligence, #as-a-service, #author, #brand-management, #enterprise, #illustrator, #indesign, #photoshop, #software, #tc, #workfront

From startups to Starbucks: The embedded API opportunity

Stripe recently made headlines with its entrance into the banking world with Stripe Treasury. The news follows Google’s banking and payments announcement along with IPO bound companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash and Affirm all mentioning “financial services” in S-1 filings — a clear signal of how the sector will continue to stay red hot for the coming years.

What do all of these companies have in common? The subtle, almost unnoticeable, embedding of financial services. There has been an influx of new fintechs democratizing how to embed financial services across the spectrum, from investing, insurance, lending to banking. While many of these companies are in their nascent stages, they are achieving increasingly high valuations. Why?

The ability to be at the right place at the right time, supporting consumers and merchants alike, where they want, how they want it and when they want it — cannot be understated.

Because today, customers yearn for greater personalization and less friction while brands are looking for ways to improve monetization seamlessly. The ability to be at the right place at the right time, supporting consumers and merchants alike, where they want, how they want it and when they want it — cannot be understated.

At the heart of embedded finance is the benefit of enabling any brand or merchant to rapidly, and at low cost, integrate innovative financial services into new propositions and customer experiences. To avoid developing noncore product additions in-house, companies will look to “building blocks” (or APIs) to take advantage of the big opportunity to extend customer lifetime value and address a wider variety of needs in one place.

This holds true for startups, digitally native brands and established brands, online and offline. For fledgling fintech startups or brands that want to provide financial services to their customers, working with APIs are often a no-brainer given the costs associated with building integrations in-house.

But imagine if you are a global airline company and the benefit of not having to staff a know-your-customer compliance or fraud detection team. Or for lenders who can minimize risk and increase speed by not having to request a pay stub or personal information verification?

The end goal is to earn and build customer loyalty while generating new revenue streams. Historically, established brands have been served by banks with co-branded and “affinity” programs or partnerships. But this “offline” model is usually white-label or very “human-in-the-loop” with limited and inflexible capabilities. However, APIs can change this — a great example is Starbucks Rewards, heralded as a successful case of data, rewards and loyalty. No longer are brands just reselling leads, businesses can now directly participate in the product and distribution to improve margins.

Today, embedded finance is being used in a variety of ways: In the product (e.g., Tesla’s insurance offering), in distribution channels (e.g., a startup selling insurance during car purchases), and in the technology layer (or building blocks) to improve the overall functionality (e.g., a lender leveraging a data API for instant underwriting).

We typically separate building blocks into two buckets: providers (“plug and play” applications) and enablers (those that help financial services to be offered).

There are many new entrants and it’s not one size fits all. Some have data advantages, some distribution while some enable new greenfield opportunities via delivery of the customer experience. While these “digital wrappers” around financial services infrastructure seem to be working, the question remains — who will become a market leader? Do enablers eventually become providers?

#api, #brand-management, #column, #ecommerce, #embedded-finance, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #payments

Wikifactory has raised $4.5m for its ‘Github for hardware’ to make almost anything remotely

Karl Marx famously argued in ‘Das Kapital’ that to achieve freedom from the slavery of capitalism, the worker must own the means of production. Perhaps that day is edging closer. Today Wikifactory, billing itself as a ‘Github for hardware’, announces it has closed a $3 million funding round taking it to a total of $4.5m, pre-series A. The investors are unnamed, but characterized as “impact investors”. The collaboration platform claims it allows someone to make almost anything remotely.

The ‘impact’ aspect of Wikifactory’s playbook is that it involves less shipping and less costly inventories being required.

With the investment, the company will build a ‘quality-assured’ manufacturing marketplace, as well as mirrored servers in China to open up access to its hardware capital, Shenzhen . Wikifactory is available in four languages right now and is set to expand to 20 after it raised a Series A funding round next year.

In addition, its new Collaborative CAD Tool with in-built chat means designers, engineers, manufacturers and enterprises can collaborate remotely on virtually any CAD model, from concept through to finished prototype.

This allows product developers to review and discuss 3D models in over thirty file formats in real-time. The idea is to democratize access to normally expensive product lifecycle management (PLM) software.

The startup says that since May 2019 some 70,000 product developers in 190 countries have been using Wikifactory build robotics, electric vehicles and drones, agri-tech and sustainable energy appliances, lab equipment and 3D printers, smart furniture and biotech fashion materials as well as medical supplies including vital PPE and ventilators when there were global supply shortages.

Nicolai Peitersen, co-founder and executive chairman of Wikifactory said: “Wide-scale global collaboration to make physical things is happening both for open-source and for proprietary product development. The global manufacturing industry output, worth USD 35 trillion, is finally having its web moment. Online collaboration and distributed production is becoming mainstream. We’re calling it the internet of production.”

He added that with global supply chains stretched because of the pandemic, the need for a viable, alternative online infrastructure to prototype and produce products locally, to a high standard, and sustainably “has never been more relevant and necessary.”

#3d-printing, #articles, #brand-management, #cad, #china, #europe, #github, #online-collaboration, #open-source, #product-lifecycle-management, #shenzhen, #tc

Brands that hyper-personalize will win the next decade

When people reach out to customer service, they’re seeking more than a solution to their immediate problem. They want empathy and understanding. What they’re often met with is a queue.

Nothing frustrates people more than calling customer support and getting stuck in a loop. According to a study by Vonage, 61% of consumers feel interactive voice response (IVR) actively poisons the customer experience — and only 13% found it more helpful than calling a human directly.

Like many solutions, IVR falls short in personalizing the customer experience (CX). A customer calls in for a specific task like paying a bill and instead cycles through a one-size-fits-all menu that in reality fits nobody. Experiences like this clearly indicate to customers a brand doesn’t care about them as a person, only as a case number.

Personalizing the experience is a start, but this isn’t the end. Customers will expect a one-on-one interaction the moment they enter your customer service channel. To make that happen, AI and analytics are creating scalable opportunities to show your customers how much they matter to you. Brands taking advantage of that opportunity can create unrivaled CX that sets them far ahead of their competition.

The personalization buzzword

Personalization has become a popular buzzword in recent years, but true personalization is much harder to attain than many companies realize. That was the case in 2016 when companies first hopped on the chat bandwagon. The potential for a new communication method was there, but the one-size-fits-all approach companies took in developing their interaction platforms created more problems for customers than it solved.

What they missed is how to create digital experiences in which customers converse with automation that adapts based on user context. Information like their product or service history and preferences should be pulled up the moment a customer engages. Data on disposition, tone, sentiment and stated intent should influence how the customer moves through the system and reaches their desired end goal. That navigation should be effortless and go well beyond text-based communications, including immersive UX options like maps, surveys, carousel selections and more — all in a spirit of lowering the cognitive weight for the customer.

#artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #column, #customer-experience, #customer-service, #customer-support, #marketing, #startups, #tc