Like a bright-eyed child sprinting around gleefully and exclaiming – “Look at this! Look at this!” – entrepreneurs who design something cool naturally want to tell it (and sell it) to the world.
And then begins the long gruelling journey of discovering that not everyone cares, and embarking on the path of improving your proposition to make sure that the value is not just an illusionary construct in your laboratory or imagination. In business jargon, this process is called finding a “product-market fit”.
There is a deep anguish in bringing even a drizzle of visibility to your innovation: how do you get more people to know about your product, and to try it out? A business is only as good as its sales.
Gary Gan has built and run numerous businesses in Singapore and ran the marketing machinery at a social investing startup called TradeHero where he “led marketing efforts to drive new user acquisition to 300,000 users globally within 8 months of the product launch”.
Gary was invited to share how he acquired his first 10,000 users at the weekly “Friday Huddle” run by NUS Enterprise at Plug-In@Blk71 where entrepreneurs mingle over beer and food while candidly exchanging their challenges and strategies. I also had a chance to meet up with Gary for an in-depth interview. Help yourself to his treasure of insights!
Identify your customers (“If you can, go international.”)
How did you identify your target markets?
Initially I was only marketing to Singapore users. It was converting, but at such a horribly low rate, so I threw it out there to the whole world to see what would happen. And that’s when I realized we had a good market in Thailand, Philippines, and all that. If you can, go international.
Why didn’t you target international customers at first?
I kick myself for not starting earlier! Singapore is too small. Out of the 300,000 users for TradeHero, we have only 20,000 in Singapore, so you can see the percentage. A lot of startups want to test in Singapore, but you want to build your product so it can be international from Day 1.
Is Singapore a good place to find early adopters?
You can find early adopters here, but the percentage doesn’t change—it’s probably still 10% of the population. What is 10% in Singapore? You also have to consider your niche. If you are targeting parents, you are only targeting 10% of the parents in Singapore.
How do you know when you have found your target market?
Once you hit certain benchmarks, or conversion rates, then you’ll have an idea.
So you keep experimenting till something sticks?
You have to try again and again. You have nothing to lose. If not, it’s just going to close down, so you might as well try everything.
Work with influencers and bloggers (“As long as some people respond, it’s good!”)
How did you reach out to the “influencers”?
Influencers will get you your initial users. I contacted the top 20 financial bloggers and sent them messages on Facebook. It doesn’t cost any money, and it’s early marketing even if conversion is low.
Can we expect to hear back from influential bloggers?
It might take 2-3 weeks of going back and forth. The majority of people reject you, 10% might write something about you— that’s normal. As long as some people respond, it’s good.
How do you choose your influencers?
You want to target people who are already writing about things related to your product. Our product was about investing. So, if people are writing stock trading tips, you can ask them to talk about your product, because it’s easier for them— especially since they’re already doing what you want them to do.
Mainstream media is not easy, but worth it (“Journalists like content, so make the job easy for them.”)
Is the mainstream media worth using?
For niche sites, you might get 10s of downloads, for tech blogs you can get a few hundred or few thousand, and mainstream media is thousands or tens of thousands.
How can we save money on advertising campaigns?
PR is one of the most cost-effective ways to do marketing because it’s free— you do need to spend time, and time is money, but in general you don’t need to come up with cash for it which is great. Getting into mainstream media is also good for business development and gives you validation from credible sources.
Can we expect to hear back from newspaper journalists?
At first I sent 10 emails to SPH journalists [Singapore Press Holdings] and they didn’t reply. It’s ok—it’s normal. Go for the low hanging fruit like tech blogs and all that. Don’t give up until you try very hard.
How did you convince journalists to write about your product?
Journalists like content, they need content, so make the job easy for them. Just write the article for them and they will appreciate your input. A lot of articles were referenced from what I gave them – I don’t mind! As long as I get published!
What kind of articles should a startup write?
Think of different angles for each new release. Pull out your data to see what’s interesting to the press and the public, and create an infographic. For example, Spotify might highlight what music puts people to sleep— that kind of info gets you in the press.
Did you create your own infographic?
Yes, it took a long time. You need multiple skill sets because it’s not just about designing the infographic, but getting data that is interesting to the press and the public. You have to think: how do I present this number in a cool and funny way?
It’s not easy, but if you do okay with it, you’ll get published, and that’s what happened to ours.
What’s the secret behind a popular infographic?
You probably need to touch on something that people care about, some emotion. No one wants to hear how many users you have—that’s boring.
You can create an infographic that says you have 5 million couples, or enough people to fill up the Singapore stadium… or if we had 5 million dollars’ worth of transactions in the past few months, then you can illustrate how many swimming pools the coins will fill… or if I stack the amount of stocks that are virtually traded, how many will it take to reach the moon? People like that kind of thing.
There are certain infographics that have gained virality and it would be really cool if you do that, but it’s really tough.
Experiment on social media (“You have to try everything so you know what to prioritize”)
Which should we optimise first: the channel or the message?
Find a channel that works for you, and then optimize the message.
I’m most familiar with Facebook so I use it because I know the platform well, but here’s what I tell people: use what you’re familiar with, whether it’s Google Ads or anything else.
In the beginning, it’s not about optimizing which channel to use—it’s about getting the correct message. Then you scale it out.
How do you optimize the ads?
Little things make a difference, like when I used a picture of a white phone instead of a black phone, I noticed it affected downloads — people seem to like the white phone! Simple things. You have to try everything.
Can you give an example of an experiment that did not work?
We tried social media competitions, for example: “Share this post to win a prize” — it didn’t work. We tried Foursquare marketing – we had zero downloads. We also tried content marketing, viral marketing, and trading competitions.
We tried traditional marketing such as bus ads and TV ads — it really didn’t work. If it costs more than 50k, don’t do it!
So we tried a lot of stuff! Not everything will work. Try everything, but measure and focus. You have to try everything so you know what to prioritize.
Use data to make decisions (“The key is in measuring, otherwise you’ll have no idea what works.”)
How do you know when to keep improving a campaign, or when to put it aside?
One of the things I tend to do is search online for benchmark numbers, such as the typical conversion rate for a landing page: 20% is okay, 30% is average, 40% is golden.
So, once I reached 40% I thought: Okay, I can move on.
This is roughly some of the ways you can decide when to work on something more, or give it up, or see if you’re doing well. The key is in measuring, otherwise you’ll have no idea what works.
What software do you use to measure impact?
How do you know whether you are using poor marketing channels, or no one wants your product?
If you want to know if it’s a product problem, break it down into different taglines and see what people respond to, so you know what they want in your product
A clearcut example is what we did with JobKred. I was trying to find the best marketing message to send out to people to make them try it out. So I created 15 different slogans with different value propositions. In the end we found one: “Let the jobs find you!” Pretty simple, but that’s the one which had 2 times the click-through rates!—very easy to test, it only took me one week to test that.
But, the thought process—thinking of those 15 slogans… you know, I sat down and pretty much did nothing else but this for one week. You have to do that. People will try to do surface level testing, like try 2 taglines and then stop.
How do you know when to stop?
For any strategy that you’re trying, one or two weeks is good enough. Don’t do it at the surface level. One guy said he spent 1-2 days on a Facebook ad, and stopped because it wasn’t working *face palm*
When you try so many channels and campaigns, how do you know which one works?
Once you find something that works, the results will be very different, so it’ll be obvious. The dial will totally move.
Marketing is unpredictable, so you just have to track everything
What is the hardest part about marketing and customer acquisition?
It’s going to be really hard. People underestimate the difficulty of marketing a new product. It’s a continuous process: you always have something to optimize, you always have something to push out and to sell.
I personally feel it is more difficult than coding because coding is quite – what you see is what you get. It will work or it will not work.
Whereas for marketing you really don’t know what works. Sometimes there’s really no logic to it. You keep trying until you see: Oh, this works! – and then you go with the flow.
We simply have to apply frameworks so we can track everything and know what is successful and what is not successful. And that is the difficulty there.
We were getting 50 new users per day and it was so frustrating. We were running out of money and about to collapse. So we tried everything until something worked.
I personally believe that you get what you put in. The more effort you put in, the more things you try, the more chances you have of finding that one thing that will succeed or the message that works.
Check out JobKred online – “the easiest way to jobs you love”!
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Shopkeeper Stories is a photographic documentary of small business owners and their trades around the world, sharing their views on business and life. You can catch the posts on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories. Enjoy!