During my experience as a founder of a startup I have devoted a great part of my time trying to identify useful tools in order to support my company and to strengthen my knowledge of the market in which I am involved. I am sure that one of the things that makes the difference and allows you to get an advantage are the information and, now more than ever, the ways and the places in which you can find crucial and strategic information are increasing very fast.

 

Startup news sites

Every entreprenuer has his own means and his own secrets, but there are some elements that you cannot ignore. Among the channels I use from the very beginning there are FB groups, like Italian Startup Scene or Indigeni Digitali, where you can find very interesting threads involving dozens of people. You can reach an effect like this from Quora, a service similar to Yahoo Answers that allows the user to ask questions and get answers from a huge community. There are not only these services, the Internet is filled in with blogs about web startups, among them one is of a superior quality: Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator where you can find posts a bit dated but still useful.

Other useful sources are:

Hacker News
Blog di Steve Blank
500hats (Dave Mcclure blog)
SlideShare
Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner
Stack exchange

The business development process that I have tried to go through together with my team starts from the planning of the business model to start-up the product development as quickly as possible (Minimum Viable Product). This process makes it possible testing the model through the customer takeover, the realization of the metrics, the data processing and the collection of feedbacks, leaving opened the possibility to change/improve both the business model and the product itself.

 

Planning tools for startups

The first step is represented by the planning, in this section you can use different devices such as the Business Model Canvas, useful for the comprehension of the business strategy. Thanks to this device it is possible getting a comprehensive overview that goes from the value proposition to the targeting of the customer segment on which we have to focus, together with the analysis of the earnings through the selling cycle.

Other fundamental means are the BMC and Survey Monkey, that I used several times in order to realize different polls. Right from the birth of a company the crucial point is understanding if the ipothesis on which it is based your idea is solid or not. To do it one of the elements that must be considered should be based on the recognition of which can be the ideal customer for your own product. Using the polls makes this task easier and let you understand quickly and exactly which can be your referring market segment.

Other useful resources are:
Google Consumer Surveys, to realize polls
Lean launch lab to realize the online BMC
Lucidchart to realize schedules and workflow
Balsamiq to realize mockups

 

How to create a landing page for your startup (and other designing tools)

For what concerns the product realization (Minimum Viable Product) the first step that everyone has to do is that of publishing online a landing page, most of the times, even before having the product ready. The reasons why the founder takes this kind of decisions are several: a landing page helps you acquiring the first users (early adopter) and it is also useful because, if you reserve the service to the unsigned users you can make the change rate higher. This strategy has been adopted by several companies, like, Fab and Quora on which you can subscribe only after receiving an invitation.

In order to realize a landing page there are many useful services like Unbounce or Launchrock. To fasten the development of the product some parts can be outsourced. Even in this case there are many useful services for crowdsourcing like 99designs and Dribble for graphics and Freelancer and Odesk for the outsourcing itself. Anyways we do not suggest outsourcing the whole development of the product, it is important using gates offering these services to realize marginal parts or to grow the product.

Other useful resources are:
Elance
Crowdspring
Themeforest
Istockphoto

 

How to start marketing a new product

Finding thecustomers is a crucial challenge and, at the same time, it represents the desired goal of all the founders of a startup. You do not have to think of investing huge quantity of money in marketing. This is completely wrong! The reasons are two: most of the times, a startup does not have enough money to substain this expenses and it needs something more than marketing: being supported by a strong community supporting its product. To reach this goal a mere investment is not enough, you have to do something that makes it grow quickly and in a long lasting way, it needs to be supported by a strong community supporting the product. To reach this goal a mere investment in marketing will not be enough, you have to create many other activities (Growth Acting). Furthermore a startup hasn’t got all the useful information to plan a performing marketing strategy yet.

Acquiring new customers is difficult when you have to deal with a two-sided market, like CoContest, the company I founded in which you have to acquire two different types of users, in my case the designers on one hand and on the other hand the estate owners, real estate agencies, and the building construction companies. In any case, according to the different targets of users we have used different communication channels, social networks, design blogs, mail marketing and magazines: The Mag. In the latest years I have used Facebook ads and other instruments like Adroll and Adwords that is more complex and costy.
Every action happening on our website has to be studied and monitored, for this reason I consider fundamental implementing services like Gosquared for real time tracking the behavior of every single visitor or services like Mixpanel or Google Analytics for the complete monitoring of the traffic of the activities of the users.

An other useful tool for customer acquisition is Twitter. Read this to find out more: Not on Twitter? Your Startup Is Suffering. Here Some Tips To Fix It.

 

Business development tools for startups 

For what concerns the business development another basic aspect that we have had the occasion of experiencing with CoContest is related to a good customer service. For this there are means that help you handling the great quantity of communication that are created between the company and the clients. The tools we used are basically two: the first one is Zendesk that helps the company in handling the interactions arriving from different channels like web, email, forum, chat ecc. The second is Olark, a service I suggest to everyone because it provides the companies with the possibility of real time chatting with its own visitors.

Other useful sources are:
What is Growth Hacking
KISSmetrics
Crazyegg
Seomoz
Prhacker

 

Networking for startups in 2014

Lastly we have to mention some specialized gates connected to the startup world, crucial because very useful for the development of the business and for the company networking, like AngelList or Crunchbase, that, being a huge database of companies, can be used right from the very beginning to target your own competitors. Linkedin must be used as well above all when you have to deal with a B2B business.

Other sources are:
Gust
Kickstarter
Indiegogo
Wefunder

A part from Investor Networks, it is important to be also on the “traditional” social network. To find out more on social networking read Emanuela Zaccone‘s last post: How To Use Social Media To Promore Your Startup.

 

photo credit: whiteforge via photopincc