One of my favorite events every year is Denver Startup Week. Each year they get free space from mature startups in Denver and they seek out speakers with hands-on knowledge to help new startups grow. So not only do you get to learn cool new things, and meet ambitious people, but you get to tour the offices of successful startups.
This year I primarily focused on the Growth (marketing) track but I also attended a few sessions outside of that track.
So what did I learn?
SEO: Your Most Efficient, Effective & Overlooked Marketing Tool
On Tuesday I attended SEO: Your Most Efficient, Effective & Overlooked Marketing Tool and this quote from Jeff Goodsmith really struck me:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn't just a marketing channel. It's website decluttering & reorganization. Help people find answers to their questions and you'll do well with SEO. If you do it right. It's a win win.
Laws & Levers of Brand Science
I also attended Laws and Levers of Brand Science. And first of all the speaker, Ethan Decker, was fantastic. Clearly puts a lot of effort into making beautiful decks and adding as much humor as possible to the talk. He spoke about brand laws. Things that every brand should keep in mind. And here's probably my favorite:
Brand law 1: Consumers are mental misers. We do the least amount of mental work possible. We ask friends for advice, we look at what’s popular, we scan a blog post reviewing products.
And I learned an incredibly fun fact. BMW discovered that prospects felt more confident with their purchase if the door closing sound was pleasing. So they hired an audio designer to make a better door closing sound.
The point is people are mental misers. We use shortcuts. We use rules of thumb. Even very bad rules of thumb.
As a brand if you know what rules of thumb people use you can make those aspects better and improve your sales.
The CRO Hidden Gem
I'm deeply interested in Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) so this sessions stuck out to me. Natalie Henley talked about relevancy and how important that is to both SEO and converting users into paid customers.
She shared a few case studies that highlighted why having relevant related keywords on your page matters. And the trick is not to cut corners. Don't just include relevant keywords because an SEO keyword tool told you to. Add those words in context. Answer people's questions with those words.
As an example, if someone is looking for a rafting trip the related keywords might be “weather” “refund” “clothing” “parking” etc. Make sure to answer people's questions about what happens with inclement weather. Do they get a refund? How early do they have to request it? What clothing should people wear for these trips? Should they pack a dry set of clothes for the drive back? Where do they park their car? The top or bottom of the rafting experience?
Their agency actually did this for a rafting company and the results were very impressive:
- E-commerce conversion rate increased 30% (1.27% vs 0.98%)
- Avg. Order Value increased 16%
- Revenue increased 71%
So don't just check the boxes with SEO. Answer people's questions, be helpful, and you'll receive more traffic which you'll be able to convert into paying customers.
TikTok is Not Just for Teens: How to Use Short-Form Video to Explode Customer Sales
It was great to hear from an agency, The Pao Creative, that uses TikTok to promote clients successfully. I've been thinking about how ginormous TikTok is and how can we at Paid Memberships Pro use it to grow our customer base. And I have some ideas after watching this session. But first, if you don't already believe me, TikTok is huge:
- 1 billion total active users
- 45 million daily active users
- The average TikTok users check it 19 times a day
And here are some of my takeaways:
- A business account gives you a link in your bio. Probably necessary for most businesses
- Quantity matters.
- Pao recommends a minimum of 12 videos a month (that’s one every other business day)
- Don’t worry about production quality
- Literally record on your phone
- Maybe think about your lighting
- The most successful clients (for Pao) have consistent newness. New products, events, employees, etc.
- The most successful clients are also unique in some way
For Paid Memberships Pro we don't have a ton of newness. We can't talk about the new cookies we added to our menu every week. That's perfect for TikTok. So we'd probably want to try something a bit more unusual. One example from the presentation was La La Land Kind Cafe. Since they don't have a lot of newness they instead focus on “being kind” and their videos regularly get over 1 million views.
Do’s and Don’t of Subscription with BarkBox, Shinesty, Sunday & Vinyl Me, Please
For someone who runs the marketing for a Subscription / membership software company this was the session I was looking forward to the most. I had a ton of great takeaways from this panel:
- Jens Nicolayen – Co-Founder & CMO, Shinesty
- Jay Velasco – SVP Operations, Sunday
- Mike Tevolini – Dir, Growth & Strategy, Bark (BarkBox)
- Cameron Schaefer – CEO Vinyl Me, Please
The first is that ALL of them agreed Subscription is a great business model. It has its pros and cons of course. But none of them would want to wave a magic wand and start again without subscriptions.
They are all mitigating the risk of subscription fatigue by offering additional e-commerce functionality. A few of them like Vinyl Me, Please is targeting to have 60% subscriptions and 40% one-time purchases. Shinesty loves subscriptions but doesn't force users to buy products that way. After a customer has made a few orders that's when they start nudging them to save money by buying monthly, quarterly, etc.
For software they all seem to use either really expensive subscription software (ChargeBee was mentioned) or they use a custom offering. Running a subscription company is still so complex that it often makes sense to go custom when you get to a certain scale. I wish they had mentioned any of the WordPress options since they're pretty robust and you only need to customize a few lines of code rather than develop an entirely new system.
Slow Down Grasshopper It’s Time for Yin Leadership
Michanda Lindsey gave a great talk about slowing down as a leader & manager. We live in a hustle culture and hustling is often rewarded. After all, if you hustle you get more done right?
That's true some of the time. Sometimes it's great to do a support sprint where you try to answer as many tickets as you can in the next 2 hours. I'm a big fan of batching work like that.
And other times it's important to have margin—to have buffer. When you have space you're more likely to notice when something is wrong or out of place. If you're always hustling you miss the obvious.
I'm a big fan of doing a job just once—and doing it well. We should strive to balance our hustle (50%) and our yin (50%).
Physical Product Showcase
Probably my favorite part of Denver Startup Week is the Physical Product Showcase. Making software is one thing. Making physical products is very different. You have to really understand scaling and forecasting to make the right amount of product for the right cost.
And it's much slower to iterate. With software we can change our website or app dozens of times a day to tweak the experience. With phsyical products you have to be more sure of your decisions because there's often a 6-12 month lag between when you make the change and when you customer opens the box.
Food/drink and makeup/skin care were the two most popular categories by far. I was pretty impressed by Addazu, ChefRack, and CBD Sea Salt. Addazu is solving a major problem (housing), ChefRack is highend all-in-one solution for camping, and CBD Sea Salt has a very passionate customer base and I haven't seen CBD in this form before.
I was a bit surprised by how few of these companies have websites. One of them said they run their business through Calendly & invoicing. The tech world needs to make more powerful low-code / no-code solutions to get these entrepreneurs up and running more quickly.
Final Thoughts: Denver Startup Week 2022
Denver Startup Week was a blast. I loved meeting new people, seeing new products, and of course learning a ton about marketing & subscriptions.
I've pitched a few presentations to DSW in the past. I'm hoping one year they'll accept a talk because I would love to give back to the community that's helped me so much.