Have you ever thought about what advice you would want to receive as a fledgling entrepreneur? Are you someone who looks back with longing and wonders what you might have said to your younger self 5-10 years in the past about how you could do better or what you would change? Sure, hindsight is clearly 20/20, but in a time when there’s a booming industry of young entrepreneurs or people who want to create the next Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, role models and advice are heavily sought out in order to help them grow their business. For many, it’s not about finding a mentor or an advisor–they probably don’t know where to start. But with events like the Startup Dream Team Speaker Series, young people might be able to get the advice they need so that they can become more successful. This past week, I happened to stumble upon one of them and the featured speaker just happened to be Marcus Nelson, founder of Addvocate and the former Head of Social Media at Salesforce, and co-founder of UserVoice.
The Startup Dream Team Speaker Series is a seven night event that’s taking place between July 25 and August 10 and is meant to be essentially an 8-week summer program for 30 interns and young entrepreneurs from around the world. The focus is to help create what they call an “environment favorable for team creation and teamwork“ that will help the founders make the best educated decision to form the right team and launch their own startup. The night that I heard Mr. Nelson speak was the fourth event in the series–past speakers they’ve had include KISSmetric’s Hiten Shah, Zappos’s Will Young, famed technology evangelist and blogger from Rackspace, Robert Scoble, and managing partner from Maples Investment, Mike Maples.
What the audience is supposed to walk away with is a better understanding of what the speakers went through when they started their endeavor or made their investments. This week at Rally Pad HQ, Mr. Nelson gave some interesting tales about his rather diverse path.
Originally from Wisconsin, there wasn’t any access to tech resources. As a designer, Mr. Nelson had previously done some design work for several startups and communities and often found himself commuting back and forth from the state to San Francisco. While on a trip in the Bay Area, he found himself working on one of his many startups he would be working on, Taskpick, when he wound up at David Weekly’s SuperHappyDevHouse and met up with another entrepreneur, Richard White, who had an idea to create a service called UserVoice.
It just so happened that Salesforce had come up with a similar idea where they would get ideas from customers and allow them to be voted on in a democratic fashion. Salesforce, being the 90,000 pound gorilla that it is, soon launched with success in Dell and others. So just how could UserVoice challenge that? Well Mr. Nelson decided to release the UserVoice product as quickly as they could and in beta mode . They then went to South by Southwest that year to help market their product to the masses. In an act of genius, the team created custom business cards that had the phrase “Welcome to your new beta” on it and they did so much networking that all of his cards, and even some of the other co-founders cards were distributed. It was so successful that UserVoice quickly received over 3,000 signups.
The success of UserVoice was only just starting. After a review by then-Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang, the founders realized that they were beginning to receive a whole lot of attention, including from some major brand names. Throughout this period, the UserVoice team had gotten in touch with Mr. Owyang to thank him for his thoughts and to engage with him so that they could better improve the product. Throughout this process, three key points emerged that Mr. Nelson shared with the group:
When going big, be ready. Imagine what UserVoice had to expect after receiving all the publicity and interest.
Brief your analysts. They’re a good way of getting the word out quickly, especially when you’re focusing on the enterprise. Why? Because they’re talking to customers…your customers. Don’t pitch your analysts. Instead, allow them to be a part of the story. They’re going to have an emotional investment in the story and your product and will help you be promoted.
Start creating stories. Mr. Nelson recounts the times that he’s met young entrepreneurs and they don’t have a story or have any emotion or means to connect with people. Find some way to have your product resonate with the customer.
While still at UserVoice, Mr. Nelson explained that they tried to build everything that they wanted in order to sell the product. They spent a year building on an enterprise-level, but in hindsight, they thought that they should have built it as fast as they could. Eventually, it seemed that they wanted to be more agile than their existing development was.
Eventually, Mr. Nelson left UserVoice and wound up joining Salesforce as their Head of Social Media where he stayed for the next three years. But the startup bug never left him and he just started his new company, Addvocate. Why? Because he felt he wanted to be more in control–he continued to have the drive to go do something else and that was his new company.
At the end of the evening, the audience was invited to ask Mr. Nelson some questions…here are some of the responses:
When it comes to stock equity, what is the right deal? Initially when starting out at UserVoice, Mr. Nelson wasn’t receiving that much equity. However, soon he wound up being treated like more of the company spokesperson and with all his hard work, it was renegotiated to give him more equity. Recognize your people and surprise and delight your friends–if they’re your cofounders and are hustling to get things done, find ways to appreciate them and show that they’re kicking ass. This could be by giving them more equity or whatever form of compensation you deem fit.
Do things that resonate with people–we try to help people with what they want, but you don’t know what they want until they tell you.
What makes a good community manager? Empathy. Being able to recognize and feel what the customer is going through is important. It was mentioned that if anyone comes to your company saying that they have a strategy, it’s bullshit. Instead, find ways to be empathetic to your customers and you will succeed. Examples of this include former GetSatisfaction community head, Drew Olanoff, and Yammer’s Head of Community, Maria Ogneva.
If you’re looking for a co-founder, make sure that you tell everyone that you meet–tell them what you’re looking for and the qualities that you need. Make sure you attend events, hackathons, etc because there’s no excuse for not finding one. Sell yourself.
Oh, and lastly, the three rules that you need to understand when trying to sell your product?
#1: Ask for the money
Forget #2 and #3.