What 8 Self-Funded Entrepreneurs Taught Me Last Week in Vegas


Ryan Battles  •   Conferences

MicroConf 2015 Recap

Last week I had the pleasure of attending MicroConf 2015 in Las Vegas. Whether discussed during the talks on stage, in the hallway, or on a walk to dinner–these are the key takeaways that made the nearly $2,000 trip worth every penny.

Related: Getting the Most Out of Conferences

Accumulate an “unfair advantage” for later businesses.

Patrick McKenzie gave an inspiring talk, explaining how lessons learned from one project give you a leg up on your next project, and so on. We all start from nothing when it comes to entrepreneurship, even today’s most successful founders had a moment in their life where they didn’t know a thing about business. The key is, start somewhere, keep shipping, and improve.

“As you scale up, you’ll be able to start new businesses other people can’t just start on a whim.” -Patrick McKenzie

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For my personal brand business, I have friends in the SaaS entrepreneur space, a growing blog, and a book on SaaS Marketing. The action I take away from this talk is to keep pushing deeper into educating people on SaaS marketing, and continue to brainstorm other books, courses, podcasts, and apps that would build on the existing platform that I have.

Use A/B testing on Headlines, Subjects, and Buttons

Anyone who has been writing content for a period of time understands how important the headline is. What we often overlook, however, is the copy on the call-to-action button, and how A/B testing is the ONLY way to know what will improve your results on a landing page, home page, or signup page. Even tactics that work for one company will not necessarily work for another.

Joanna Wiebe, one of the brains behind Copyhackers, shared how she doesn’t even trust her own guesses on what will work for a client until the A/B tests are done and a winner is chosen. Even well-known tactics can sometimes lead to negative results depending on a whole slew of other factors.

Another tip from Joanna’s talk was to realize that every line of copy has only one job to do. Your headlines are there to get people to read the article, the buttons are there to be clicked.

“What can your subject line do to get your email opened?” -Joanna Wiebe

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Once we focus on what that particular line of copy is supposed to do, we can optimize it to do its job, and test our hypothesis. This year for me, I am certainly going to apply some A/B testing to the headlines on Harpoon’s homepage, as well as through the emails that we send out to help with onboarding and conversion from trial to paying customer.

Describe what you do in a short phrase

Jason Cohen from A Smart Bear hosted a question and answer session where someone suggested that their business was too complex to summarize in a simple statement. His response was pretty insightful:

“If you can’t describe it in a short phrase, then you haven’t fully thought through what you’re selling” -Jason Cohen

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This, paired with the fact that I had to explain what I do during the conference about 78 times, has inspired me to summarize exactly what I do in a simple statement, as well as a concise statement for Harpoon.

While I still need to consult with the rest of the Harpoon co-founders to come up with our simple, concise statement (we have a few that vary slightly), I do know what my personal statement will be going into 2015:

What do I do? I am co-founder of a SaaS app geared towards freelancers, and I take what I learn about marketing SaaS applications and teach it to others.

Whenever I gave that answer to people at the conference, they usually asked for more information about whichever part of that statement spoke to them the most. Common questions were:

  • Tell me about your co-founders
  • Tell me why you chose SaaS
  • Tell me what your app does for freelancers
  • Tell me how you teach what you learn to others

Sometimes, people didn’t ask any follow-up questions. That basically let me know that they weren’t curious to know more, which is actually fine. It saved me from being boring and talking too much about myself when they weren’t interested. In those cases I typically just asked them more about their businesses, since nearly everyone likes to talk about themselves. Fortunately, however, the majority of folks at Microconf are humble, helpful, and polite conversationalists.

Build momentum into onboarding processes

There are a lot of subtle psychological tactics that can be used to increase the trial-to-conversion flow of an application. Samuel Hulick has made a name for himself in the realm of onboarding usersryanbattl into applications, and shared insight into some improvements we can make to help move people along, and find success within our products.

“Starting people off with some progress will help them better succeed.” -Samuel Hulick

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I plan on implementing a lot of what Samuel shared into our onboarding process with Harpoon, whether it is a progress bar that shows them starting off as a certain percentage complete when they enter their initial email address, or starting them off with some sample data, we want to remove as much friction as possible and grease the signup process through finding early success using the product.

Reach product/market fit before pouring gasoline on marketing

A common mistake many founders make is pouring money into marketing before really finding what is called product/market fit (basically, building the solution people are willing to pay for). A product rarely hits this product/market fit at launch. It is usually through early iteration based off of feedback from customers that turns the application into the solution that is really going to empower people and make them want to pay.

Money spent advertising before you find product/market fit is often a waste of money (unless you are just trying to get a few early users in there). Rob Walling’s talk on the inside story behind his app’s growth showed a very clear graph of how growth exploded after finding product/market fit.

“If you haven’t yet built something people want, great marketing will only make you fail faster” — Rob Walling

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To put this into practice, I am focusing my efforts after Harpoon’s launch on getting feedback from customers, and improving the product. There will be time later to drive highly-creative marketing efforts that grow the app, but we need to be sure that we have the right app before we spend the time and money driving more eyes on it.

Webinars are effective

Jesse Mecham from You Need a Budget gave an excellent talk related to personal finance, but what was more impacting for me was the conversation I had with Jesse on our way to lunch shortly after his talk.

One of the big drivers for his business is regular (even daily) webinars that teach people how to handle their money, and end with an invitation to try his application to put these practices into motion.

“When done right, webinars can be very effective.” - Jesse Mecham

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Since Harpoon is also geared towards helping individuals take control of their finances, I know that webinars will be one of the tactics we employ after hitting product/market fit to drive growth for Harpoon.

I suck at sales, but not for long

My favorite part of Microconf was probably Steli Efti’s talk “How to Build a Solo SaaS Sales Machine”. Steli was funny, extremely smart, and knows how to tell a good story. He is a successful entrepreneur who has worked with hundreds of other startups in The Valley, and yet he is actually pretty humble:

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve been wrong about nearly everything. But once in a while, I wasn’t wrong.” -Steli Efti

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Steli shared the secret of his success, and that is following up with customers relentlessly. Steli shared:

“99% of the time when I win, it’s because I follow up on somebody when others don’t.” -Steli Efti

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Steli is such a fan of following up, that he suggests if a few people don’t think you are a spammer, you aren’t emailing enough. You can’t please everyone and still get results.

I could go on commenting on nearly everything that Steli shared during his talk, as I have pages of notes from it. Do yourself a favor and watch the video when it becomes available, or read through Kai Davis’ notes on Steli’s talk. The bottom line is, I need to be more bold and work out a system for following up with everyone until they provide a result (whether that is an unsubscribe, a “no thank you”, or a signup).

Begin new features or products by working backwards

Serial entrepreneur Hiten Shah shared a few of the tactics that he has used to grow his businesses. My favorite tip that he shared was to write out a blog article that explains a new product or feature before you even begin building. That way, you begin the project by envisioning the outcome.

“We try to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.“ -Hiten Shah

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Hiten’s team even brainstorms tweets that their target customers would likely to share once the new product or feature has launched. As we find product/market fit with Harpoon, this is certainly an exercise that I plan to employ with my co-founders.

Conclusion

In this post I merely touched upon the lessons I learned from the speakers. I didn’t even go into the insight I learned in conversation with others, or from the handful of attendee talks that were given in addition to the speakers mentioned above.

All-in-all, when I factor in the cost for the conference, travel, lodging, and food…this conference cost me nearly $2,000. That’s a lot of money, and I need to ensure that I am not just a spectator of this conference, but also an active participant. That is why I wrote this post, to record the promises that I’m making to myself throughout this next year, so that in 12 months from now, I think to myself “$2,000 was nothing compared to how much it has helped my businesses grow over this past year.”

While Microconf is clearly one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve attended, there are many others that can provide the same level of inspiration if you chose to listen carefully, network intentionally, and try out what others are sharing.

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