How to build your startup’s community: Pre-launch

If you’re starting a company, you probably already know how important community is for your business’ success. This is especially true during your early stages; by forming a community of early adopters, you can forge meaningful connections and recruit dedicated users, while creating opportunities to harness feedback for product improvements.

But you don’t have many users yet, or maybe none at all. You’re still pre-launch after all. What can you do to move your community forward today?

There are a variety of ways to approach this challenge, but a good starting point is to identify where community fits into your team — who’ll be responsible for managing this community? Some startups bring on community managers as their first non-product hire. In other cases, the CEO owns this role pre-launch.

When choosing the owner of a community, keep its function in perspective. For example, within a startup, a community should:

  • Connect users to one another
  • Make them happy
  • Make them stay (retention)

The most effective way to meet these goals while growing and maintaining a passionate community is to bridge the gap between users and your product team by focusing on five key tasks:

1. Build relationships within your target market

Figure out who and where your users are, and go hang out there. Meetups, forums, social media, classes, you name it. Go there, contribute, and then start nudging the conversation in your direction. But most importantly, listen. Find out what motivates folks in your target market and learn where their pain points lie. Nothing, not even scale, replaces real relationships.

2. Learn your users’ names

Here is your chance to humanize your company and convert users into friends. Take them to coffee. Make sure they have your email and phone number. Share what you’re working on. Keep them updated on your progress. On a personal level, find out how your product solves their needs. Your product’s early users and beta testers will be your most valuable community members until you reach product/market fit.

3. Connect community members to each other, early and often

Your early users are invested in the success of your product. This is a mutual interest they all share and it’s the perfect reason to get them talking to each other. Invite them over for a happy hour and introduce them. Create a Google or Facebook group for them to engage with one another. Invite them to a Google Hangout and share your roadmap.

4. Get product feedback

Once your product is ready to use, find out what your users think of it. Was this the solution they expected? Is your product easy to use? This particular step is a smart way for your UX designer and/or product manager (if you have one!) to observe how users interact with your service — this is important for step five!

5. Build a support resource and determine a support process

Which questions have you heard over and over again? These are your FAQs. Set these up in an easy to use platform that can be found on your website or app (usually linked under “settings”) — I recommend Zendesk. Don’t forget to brand your support platform.

Most importantly, figure out who (and when) support questions will be answered. In my experience, the most successful startups have full-team support from CEOs to devs. While your community manager can help summarize learnings and distribute tickets, evenly spread support processes keep everyone user-focused.

Now, you’re ready to launch! Just kidding. You still have a million other things to do, such as writing copy for your sign up emails and lining up your PR hits — oh, and then hockey sticking and scaling your team.

While your startup is about to shoot up into fame, the road to success is rocky and varied. Investing in community building early on means you’ll have loyal fans that stick with you through it all, from launch to IPO.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestGoogle+

Learning on the Go with the Latest Generations of Apps

Education has reached the mobile device, and in a big way. Learning on the go has begun to establish itself in a world where everyone is busy and no one has time to do anything.

“We believe smartphones bring education to people’s hands and pockets instead of requiring them to find a specific time and place to learn,” says Gina Gotthilf, head of communications for mobile language-learning app Duolingo. “Now, people who are too busy to dedicate long periods of time to take a class regularly, or who can’t afford it, can learn by dedicating short spurts of time when it is most convenient to them.”

According to Gotthilf, over 72 million users spend time learning languages on Duolingo through mobile devices—a number that represents 85% of the program’s traffic.

“Learning can take place during your commute, at a doctor’s office, or at home—moments that could otherwise be dedicated to mindless games to pass the time,” Gotthilf says.

The free app offers lessons in Spanish, French, German, and many other languages. On, the company touts its apps as ways to “make your breaks and commutes more productive.”

When using Duolingo, students will not only tap their screens to choose the correct answers, but repeat words after the program to ensure correct pronunciation. If the student mispronounces a word, the program will ask that student to try again. And again. And again.

Apple’s iTunes U offers courses in a broader variety of subjects, calling itself “the world’s largest online catalog of free educational content from top schools and prominent organizations.” The app offers upwards of 750,000 learning materials, and content downloads had exceeded 1.3 billion by the middle of 2014.

Coursera, whose website promotes online education, offers free courses through partnerships with educational institutions. Coursera’s partners include such prestigious universities as Yale, Stanford, and Emory.

When choosing classes, students can look at the course length—some are as short as four weeks, others are as long as 10—as well as when they are offered and what teachers will be lending their knowledge. While some Coursera classes start on specific dates, others allow you to “go at your own pace.”

In a general sense, education based in the virtual world has become standard. Stony Brook University’s online education options are traveling in the direction of mobile compatibility, said Associate Provost for Online Education Wendy Tang.

“The idea [behind online education] is to improve [students’] learning experience; and being able to do it on a mobile device . . . is becoming important,” Tang says.

While not all SBU courses are available on a mobile device—an option that is often dependent upon a device’s memory and model—most of them are, Tang says.

Online education is another method of university outreach, says Tang.

“We’re not trying to replace meaningful face-to-face interaction with online,” she explains. “For me, that doesn’t make sense. We are trying to use online to . . . reach a population that otherwise would not be on campus.”

Many students in the university’s online electrical engineering program, for example, are working professionals. And for students who are also learning on campus, Tang says, the online component can be used for class preparation.

In classes whose rosters include 100 or more students, Tang feels it is difficult for faculty to know each student.

“You can hide in a large, face-to-face…classroom instruction structure; but you cannot hide online,” says Tang. “Online, if they’re not actively responding…they can be identified very easily from a statistical and data point of view.”

The virtual world is open, but it has its own obstacles. Chemical engineering students cannot safely mix chemicals at home, and nursing students cannot graduate having only drawn blood from a dummy.

“You don’t want a nurse to practice on a dummy and try it on you for the first time,” Tang says.

The clinical component, which requires students to visit a training site, brings the class into the physical world.



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestGoogle+

Taking the Guesswork Out of Investing with Estimize

When Leigh Drogen was working as a quantitative trader, he realized that there had to be a better way to predict which stocks would be profitable. The estimates from bank analysts, he knew, weren’t always accurate.

So Drogen decided that he wanted to provide traders and investors, whether they did it as a hobby or a full-time job, with more accurate data so they could make better decisions.

In 2012 he launched Estimize, a community that today includes 100,000 users per quarter. According to its website, the company’s data from 6,885 financial analysts “has proven more accurate than comparable sell side data sets over 69 percent of the time.” Its data is frequently referenced in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN Money.

“The whole point of Estimize is that if you collect all of this estimate data from a much wider population of individuals who are not just at banks, a couple of things should happen,” says Drogen. “First of all, you should get a wider dispersion of estimates and a more accurate consensus based on the wisdom of crowds. When you collect the data in this manner, you get a data set that better represents the truer expectations of the market.”

At the moment the website is free, but Estimize will soon be rolling out a premium platform.

“We’re building all sorts of premium analytics, and screening and filtering derivative data,” says Drogen. “This will provide a lot of insight into the data that’s contributed to the platform.”

For now, anyone can continue to utilize the free platform and contribute their knowledge about the financial world. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a first-year student studying finance or a seasoned trader with decades of experience. What really counts is the accuracy of their predictions.

“You can validate the quality of the data not through identity of the person but through statistics,” said Drogen. “We run algorithms to see who knows what they’re talking about. We see user behavior, including how long they spent on the pages and how many times they changed their estimates, and through all of this data we build behavioral models and decide, ‘Do we trust this analyst?’ It gets rid of the need for identity.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestGoogle+

In a World of Selfies, Discover Alluring Photography on Skotch

Facebook and Instagram are full of selfies, photos of people’s pets, and highly shared memes. For photography connoisseurs, there is not much value in these static, mostly homogeneous newsfeeds.

Josh Abrams and Chase Sorgel, who worked at PayPal together, craved more out of their feeds. They wanted to create a space where photographers, like themselves, could view beautiful, original images and curate their own content. So they came up with an app, Skotch, which entered its beta launch the first week of May, 2015.

Before coming up with the idea of Skotch, Abrams says he and his co-founder “went through all the photo apps and catalogued what we liked and didn’t like about them. We found what we think is a pretty big hole in photo sharing.”

Unlike the current apps out there, Skotch offers a way for users to view the photos they really want. It allows them to see photos, and swipe right if they like them, and left if they don’t. The users’ votes, which stay anonymous, increase or decrease the photos’ scores. When users swipe right, the photos go into their personal collections so they can see them again if they’d like. However, the app is built so that users will never see the same photo twice unless they want to look at it in their collections.

Tech Crunch Skotch Chase Field“It’s for people who really appreciate photography, as well as hobbyist photographers, which is a lot of people now,” says Abrams.

Photos on Skotch are captioned, but cannot be hashtagged. If a user wants to upload a photo, it must be original and contain metadata that can reveal where and when the photo was shot, who was behind the lens, and on which device it was taken. The app itself also contains a free camera for iPhone users.

On sites like Facebook and Instagram, the content that people see is limited to their own networks. Abrams says that he wanted Skotch to be different when it came to photo sharing.

“I’ve traveled a lot, and I love seeing photos from Japan,” Abrams says. “It’s hard for me to log on to Instagram and do that, though, because nobody in Japan is in my network. One of the things people like about our app is that it’s not network first. It’s photo first.”

The two co-founders hope their app reminds people of scotch itself. They want people to collect and treasure their favorite photos the way they might collect the alcohol. In other words, they’re trying to create a more refined way of experiencing photography.

“Right now, we are completely focused on making something that people love,” Abrams says. “That’s goal number one.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestGoogle+

Designing a Toothbrush That’s Sleeker and Smarter

When the first dentist Simon Enever went to in the United States suggested he purchase a cheap electric toothbrush rather than a more expensive model, he decided to look into his options more carefully. As he began shopping around, he wasn’t pleased with the selection he found on the shelves.

“As a designer, I saw an area [in the market] that was ugly and kind of old-fashioned looking, so it felt right to do something about it,” says Enever, an industrial designer from Bristol, England.

So Enever and Bill May, a product designer he worked closely with at the Hearst Corporation, began working evenings and weekends to redesign the toothbrush. Together, they became co-founders of Quip.

After consultations with multiple dentists, they quickly realized that many consumers don’t even have the brushing fundamentals down—brushing for two whole minutes, twice a day, and changing brushes every three months.

“We noticed that big brands were focusing more on selling you their products and not about daily habits,” says Enever, who’s worked on projects for Panasonic, Lenovo, and Herman Miller at other design agencies. “It made sense for us to come together because we both had design sensibilities and we wanted change the mindset of oral care.”

TechCrunch Quip 3It took them about a year-and-a-half to produce an actual workable toothbrush. Quip’s lightweight and beautifully designed toothbrush has an internal smart electric motor that allows the bristles to vibrate for two minutes (every 30 seconds the toothbrush pulses, reminding you to switch to a different quadrant of your mouth). The best part is that you don’t need to charge your toothbrush, since you can easily insert a AAA battery.

They tested their first iteration on Indiegogo, and they were pleased about the positive reactions from organizations that wanted to be involved with a company focused on promoting oral care. New York University’s College of Dentistry has officially endorsed the product.

When it comes to pricing, Enever looked to brands like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, which are selling simple bathroom products to millennials. Starting at $20 for a manual brush ($40 for an electric one), the subscription pricing includes a case and a tube of toothpaste. You’ll get replacement packs that include a new bristle head and toothpaste for an additional $10 every three months.

As of now, the Quip team isn’t looking to focus its efforts on converting Philips or Sonicare users. They’re enthusiastic about tapping the market of manual toothbrush users and showing them the benefits of simple electronic devices.

“If we can make you more attached to your toothbrush,” says Enever, “then we’re doing the biggest job of all.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestGoogle+