Accelerator Diaries: EduGrowth week 5 – Traction Matters

By April 22, 2017Uncategorized

“Build it and they will come is not a business strategy, it’s a prayer.” – Steve Blank

If you’ve been reading along at home I’m sure you’re getting sick of Steve Blank quotes by now, but they’re just so topical that I can’t resist! This quote highlights the importance of traction to an early stage venture. What is traction? It’s how you acquire customers. The process that you go through to systematically find, active and eventually sell to a large group of people. It’s certainly not as simple as just building a great product and slapping a price tag on it

Gabriel Weinberg wrote the famous book on this topic aptly called Traction. If you don’t know Gabriel’s story, he’s the founder of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that competes against Google based on the fact that it doesn’t store your personal information. The fact that Gabriel founded a company that is now considered a legitimate rival of Google speaks to his knowledge on the topic.

In his book, Gabriel advocates that traction development is as important as product development for an early stage business. The process for acquiring and converting customers is unique to every business and will adapt and change over time. Think about it, marketing methods are constantly changing. Google Adwords used to be an extremely affordable channels, with clicks costing just a couple of cents. Nowadays, it’s much more expensive. This is the same for many marketing channels and means that businesses need to be nimble to adapt.

For Prevyou, we’re standing at the bottom of the traction mountain. Finding our first 10 paying customers is the number 1 priority for us right now. This goal might sound pretty simple – just 10 customers? That’s all? However, we know that those first customers are always the hardest to find. We’re pushing a new product, towards a market where we have very little brand recognition (if any) and trying to convince University students to part with a reasonable sum of money. Let the hustle begin!

What we learned

If you’ve been following the story so far you’ll know that Leo and I have decided to split the workload down the middle. I’m in charge of bringing the startups onboard, whilst Leo is in charge of marketing to students. Admittedly, I’ve got the easy job as we’re not planning on charging startups to use our service. Still, we know that startups are not interested in unwanted distractions – there is far too much going on for any of that! So my task is to make sure that the value is being communicated effectively to them.

The messaging is important

Fortunately, being part of an accelerator program gives us direct access to some willing ‘guinea pigs’ for testing. The first thing I did this week was to speak to each of the startups in the EduGrowth accelerator to discuss what we’re doing. I didn’t use any props or tools, I just tried my best to paint a picture with my words.

The essence of what I was saying was that we’re going to create a learning experience that will allow students to learn new skills by completing an actual piece of work for their startup. Now that made perfect sense to me, but that wasn’t necessarily the message that was received by the other teams. Despite the fact that we’ve been working right next to each other and catching up regularly most of the other startups didn’t quite get the message. Their interpretation of the idea was a system for matching them with students for internships.

Whilst it might seem like a small detail, it’s a very important point to clarify. We are not doing internships. An internship implies that the Employer has the ability to set the students tasks and workload. It also implies a situation where the students are employed by the startup. What we’re trying to create is a practical learning experience, which uses a startup to add context to the material. Calling it an internship implies a completely different meaning.

Leo also ran into the same issue on the student side of the market, in an email sent out to our mailing list. Again the term internship caused some confusion. It came across that we were trying to sell internships to students, which is definitely not the case. ‘Flearning’ from this experience we know that how we communicate this concept is going to be extremely important to attracting customers.

Screenshot of email update for the prevyou projects
(Leo’s update email – sorry you can’t see the live-GIF!)

Sometimes too much choice can be a bad thing

After speaking with the EduGrowth teams it was time to get outside our immediate network, to find some ‘fresh eyes’. I reached out to a handful of other startup founders to run the concept past them. This time I sent through some extra information to add some context to our conversation.

The main document was a 43-slide presentation that outlines each project that we could deliver as part of this program. The obvious problem with this approach was that there were far too many decisions that the startups had to make to structure their project. My initial thoughts were that the extra customization was a good thing. After a few of these conversations, it was clear that 43 potential projects were far too many.

Screenshot of project info pack


All the founders that I spoke with were onboard with the concept, they just didn’t understand the specific process. The key takeaway from these conversations was to reduce the scope and make the process extremely clear. This highlights the benefits of having these conversations before diving in to build something!

All the founders that I spoke with were onboard with the concept, they just didn’t understand the specific process. The key takeaway from these conversations was to reduce the scope and make the process extremely clear. This highlights the benefits of having these conversations before diving in to build something!

A rebrand is on the horizon

For a while now we’ve been tossing up the idea of designing a new brand for our service. Prevyou (meant to be pronounced ‘preview’) was a name that we decided on almost 12 months ago. At the time, our service was a jobs platform for students. Our differentiator was the fact we offered a video interview service to assist the companies with the hiring process – hence the Youtube styled logo.

The Prevyou brand was built around a variety of features that are no longer relevant to what we’re doing. We’ve known that we’re overdue for a change. What’s been stopping us until now has been a lack of clarity on the service that we’re providing. Now that we’re set on this new path, it’s time to brainstorm a brand that communicates what we’re all about.

One very useful piece of advice that we received from one of our mentors (Liv King from ForthePeople) this week was the concept of an MVB = Minimal Viable Brand. Her advice was that a brand can evolve and iterate as your business does. Therefore, it’s not essential to create a fully fleshed out brand from day 1. In fact, doing this might actually limit your ability to be flexible about your service offering – which is one of the key advantages that a startup has.

Liv’s advice was to build a basic brand around the following elements:

  • A simple logo;
  • A set of colour pallets;
  • A group of fonts; and
  • A general tone of voice – e.g funny, witty, professional.

That’s all we need to get started and the rest can build and evolve as we do.

What’s changed for us

The key takeaway for this week is about refining our offering for both sides of the market. For the startups, this means boiling down those 43 potential projects into some simple options that clearly adds value for their businesses. This means making sure the expectations are communicated from the start and that everyone is on the same page with the process.

On the student side of the market, Leo is looking to redesign our sales funnel. Using the Bullseye Technique, outlined in Traction Leo is experimenting with a few different channels to determine which is most effective for us at this stage. At the moment the ones that we’re working on are:

  • Facebook advertising;
  • Offline advertising (posters, flyers ect)
  • Content marketing (eBooks, blogs and courses)
  • Public speaking (University events, lectures and tutorials)
  • Unconventional PR (we’re working on an idea involving Daft Punk costumes – stay tuned for updates)
  • Email marketing.

Screenshot of our marketing tracking spreadsheet

(A snapshot of Leo’s traction spreadsheet)

The tricky thing with marketing a new service is that everything is unchartered waters, we really don’t know where to start. For each of these channels, Leo needs to design an appropriate test and then set up tools to measure the results. All of this takes time. This is why it’s important to spend a little bit of time testing these channels properly.

The plan for next week

In our Friday afternoon meeting, Leo set himself the goal of 10 students signups before the end of next week. To get there the plan is to really ramp up the marketing efforts and spend some time at University campuses doing some offline marketing and speaking with students.

We’re also planning on putting together a focus group of students to discuss our rebrand. We hope that bouncing some ideas around with a group of students will help us understand their perception of the service that we’re offering to inform our decision.

I’m looking to lock away our first 10 Employers before the end of next week. Doing this will allow us to really concentrate our efforts on the student marketing push and also validate the value for the startups in our concept. I’ve managed to book a pitch with the startups of the H2 accelerator on Thursday next week, which is the opportunity to get across that line.

Finally, in the interests of trying to become more focused on our own individual productivity we’ve started using the TimeDoctor tool. This software helps you track what tasks you’re spending most of your time on. After the first week here are the results:

Screenshot of TimeDoctor Dashboard


As we can see I certainly overdid it on that info deck, spending 10 and a half hours on something that is going to need to be changed. Four hours writing a blog is also not a very efficient use of my time, despite the fact that I find it helps me be accountable to my weekly goals I’m going to aim to get that down to 2-hours for now. Finally, the 10 hours spent emailing, meeting and on phone calls with startups was certainly time well spent. It’s helped us understand the Startup side of the market much more deeply and it’s informed our decisions about refining the offering.