Roadmap for Tech Startups

"Success Leaves Clues" -Anthony Robbins

There is no better advice when it comes to succeeding in any endeavor than to aggressively seek out those who have gone before you and succeeded and learn first hand everything you can about how they did it. This article by Entrpreneuer Magazine called "What Sets Apart the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America" is a great place to read about some success stories but the real stories are multi-dimensional which isn't easily translated into print. Find a mentor, at any level. I'm involved in a program called "Micro Mentor" that may be of assistance if you are unable to find one or more mentors on your own.

Executive Summary

  1. Do you have a well-formed idea?
  2. Test your market before you jump ship.
  3. Use a dashboard to manage the information explosion.
  4. Use Ash Maurya's Lean Startup Canvas coupled with Steve Blank's Customer Development guidelines
  5. Keywords are the key to effective online marketing: Identify the best keywords for connecting with your customers
  6. Identify the major influencers using these keywords online.
  7. As your business expands, ramp up your use of sophisticated Pipeline Marketing tools such as Bizible.com.
  8. Use tools like SmartMenu to manage the information explosion that comes with starting a business that leverages online marketing.

Pre-launch

Idea generation Are your ideas "well-formed as described in this blog post"? Begin with the end in mind by asking something like: "In 5 years, when I look back on this company, how will I know that my company kicked ass? What is your exit strategy?

Don't spend years climbing a startup ladder
only to find out later that it is leaning against the wrong wall!

Begin with the end in mind and keep it there throughout your journey. As opportunities present themselves, ask yourself: "Will this get me there?" As the seas boil and the winds toss you around, this guiding star will keep you on course towards a distant shore of success as defined by you.
Assess and Minimize Risk See Guidelines on assessing startup risk and this Business Assumption Analyzer There are ways to reduce your risk by thinking about certain aspects before you launch. Use this Startup Risk Calculator to give you one measure of your current chances. Every business is different, so this is more of a thinking tool than an exact measurement. Try asking yourself questions to see if you can find ways to get your risk in the 50-70% range.
Test your market before your begin. The great insights provided in this article apply to almost any tech startup: How To Research Your Mobile Game Target Audience For Free
  1. Use the "Lookalike" audience method. Use the "Google AdWords Display Planner".
  2. Facebook makes all of their demographic and interests data available to you for free via. audience insights
  3. Similarweb: insight into the web traffic analytics for any domain name or mobile app.
Use LaunchRock, a free tool for quickly building a one page description of your product and gathering email addresses. This tool requires no programming experience and provides the following dashboard with analytics, etc. To try it out, I created this page for the enterprise version of smartmenu in a few minutes. Question: do you have to build your product before you create this one page test site? Answer: No.

Your Team

Obviously your ability to build a team of smart people that complement your strengths is critical. This is covered in countless articles so I won't go into it here. The importance of Napoleon Hill's mastermind principle cannot be overemphasized here.
  1. Find people who's minds blend well with yours. Thoughts occur and varying brain wave frequencies. Avoid oil and water scenarios. With the right people, 1+1 = 100. With the wrong people, 1+1 = 0 or < 0. cofounderslab.com is a resource as well as this local cofounderslab meetup.
  2. Do not discuss your business plans with anyone outside your "circle of trust". It is both unfair and unwise to expect others to be able to effectively contribute to your strategic planning who are not in the loop. Loose lips sinks ships.

You have an idea. Now what?

Create a dashboard for staying grounded. Pick 5 numbers/ratios that you will monitor and manage. Design ratios to capture the relationship between multiple key numbers. As time and resources permit, build information systems that automate the calculation of these metrics. One of these metrics should be "Months to maximum negative cumulative cash flow". Dave McClure's Ignite talk on "Startup Metrics for Pirates" is legendary. More info here and here.
Create a Lean Canvas (based on Ash Maurya's Running Lean Ideas).
  1. Use this guide to create your Lean Canvas along with Ashs book (link below).
  2. See this graphic based on a quote from Donald Rumsfeld that can guide you in your information search. See Lean Analytics for elaboration on this approach.
  3. The taproot for the Lean Startup's methodology is Steve Blank. Here's a link to the first 3 chapters of his ground-breaking book "The Four Steps to the Epiphany".
  4. His work was built on by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup and Ash Maurya in Running Lean.
Here's a great visual created by Sacha Chua based on Ash Maurya's book.

Your Business Plan?

What does a tech startup business plan look like when following lean startup practices? Steve Blank addresses this in one of the most popular articles in the history of Harvard Business Review. My current understanding is this
  1. You need a tool for managing cash flow based on your best projects. You can't do Lean if you have no cash and have to shut down.
  2. You need a dashboard where you monitor key metrics from week to week. Focus your actions on things that will drive these metrics in the right direction. Sample dashboards are available here and here
  3. You need a Lean Canvas that you and your team update at least weekly. Ideally it should be accessible at all times. That is why I added the canvas to the startup wizard in SmartMenu.

Some Online Marketing Ideas

Which marketing metrics to add to your dashboard. Again, Dave McClure's 5 minute Ignite talk: Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR! is a good starting point.
Use Google's Tools
  1. Analytics
  2. AdSense
  3. AdWords
  4. Webmaster Tools
Use MOZ's Beginners Guide to SEO These are my top 3 of the many great chapters MOZ provides here:
  1. How Search Engines Operate
  2. Keyword Research
  3. Growing popularity and links
Design your brand and social media strategy: Guidelines from Lina Wang.
Finding the most profitable keywords in your niche
  1. Free Keyword Niche Finder by WordStream.
  2. namechk.com/ - find a username available across all social media sites.
  3. hashtagify.me shows you related keywords with cool bubble graphics indicating popularity
Find the most influential followers in your market using keywords
  1. Keyhole.co crunches a huge amount of data in it's keyword analysis
  2. Topsy Analytics, social trends and social search..
  3. Social Mention.
  4. Followerwonk: Find experts with specified keyword in their profile using this Moz tool
  5. Ahrefs: various site, link and keyword tools

Generate Customized Online Marketing Start Page

If you can afford to hire an online marketing expert that is by far the best way to go. Things are moving very quickly online, and the number of great tools is expanding rapidly. If you are just getting started this free tool will help. The steps for using this tool are as follows:
  1. Enter a website address and click the "Lookup Twitter Info" button. it will attempt to guess the associated Twitter handle and suggest some keywords based on the title.
  2. Adjust the Twitter hash tags as necessary.
  3. Click the "Create SmartPage" button.
  4. A link to your new web page should appear at the bottom of the page that is customized based on the information you provided. This generated "SmartPage" contains a ton of useful web links, search tools and even a Lean Startup business model canvas template. Here's an example Notice the "Help" in the lower right corner which provides a description of each button on the page.
  5. Ok, you are probably asking, how do you modify the generated SmartPage? Currently the only way to make changes to this page is using "SmartMenu", the software utility I created to help people deal with infoglut. You can learn more about this tool here. After installing SmartMenu, just drag and drop the link to your SmartPage onto SmartMenu. Advanced users will find it much easier to modify the SmartPage by selecting the "Designer" option from the "View" submenu. I will publish a video ASAP to walk you through all of this. The SmartMenu download includes a free 30 day trial. It costs $10 to purchase which is not bad considering it took over 2,000 hours to produce along with this web site.
The remainder of this roadmap provides a sample of many of the tools included in the generated start page. My hope is to eventually provide a detailed description of each one but frankly, I am still learning how to use them myself.

Screenshots from the various websites included in the customized startup web pages

There is a ton of information here. I am new to social media marketing. There are a ton of online tools out there and my head is swimming from all of the information I had to process to narrow things down to this select set of tools. It is difficult to remember which site does what, so I included screenshots here to give you an overview of each site so that you don't have to visit each one to determine which will best serve your current needs.
Backlinks: Demostrates the use of Moz Web site research tools for SEO and backlink analysis
Follower Analytics: Analyze followers using Followerwonk, a Moz tool


Twitter Search: Single Twitter search using all of your hashtags
FollowerWonk: Find experts with specified keyword in their profile using this Moz tool
LinkedIn Search: Find groups and influencers on LinkedIn using your hashtag keywords
fb WeightControl: Facebook keyword search for WeightControl
Topsy Analytics: Topsy Keyword Analytics. Also provides keyword search and social trend summaries
Hashtags.org Analytics: Prolific users and related hashtags
Search.com
Steve Blank: Search the web for topics related to Steve Blank, Inventor of Customer Development
LeanStartup: Search Eric Ries Web site for Lean Startup Guidance
LeanStack: Search Ash Maurya's web site
STTS: Search Startup Tech for Tech Startups knowledge base
Social Times: Search AdWeek's Social Times Publication
Search Engine Land: Leading daily publication that covers all aspects of the search marketing industry
Management
Business Assumption Analyzer: Great tool by Diana Kander https://dkander.wordpress.com
Dashboard: Google Docs spreadsheet example of startup dashboard
Roadmap: An overall plan for using the content in this SmartMenu and other tech startup resources
Bens Blog: Ben Horowitz?s blog - One of the leading venture capitalists of our time
Business Model Canvas It is helpful to have access to your BMC when you are away from the whiteboard. There are some great online tools for tracking this, but early startups might try entering their information in their SmartMenu and publishing it to the web for access from your SmartPage.

The Business Model Canvas questions and comments are by Strategyzer and the Business Model Alchemist. Keyword Management
keyhole: Generates tag clouds and several other very useful data points for specified keyword
namechk.com: Checks all social media for hashtag and user name availability
keyword niche finder: Find keywords related to the keyword you specifys
hashtagify.me: Find hashtags related to those you want to target.
Online Marketing Tools
Twitter Post Coach: Analyzes each of your posts for marketing effectiveness
Write SEO optimized tweets: Help writing SEO optimized text for Tweeting or blogging
buffer.com: Schedule posts and track effectiveness
Socialmention: Real-time social media search and analysis
ahrefs: Analyze various aspects of your Websites effectiveness
Analytics
Analytics Google: Takes you to the dashboard
Analytics Twitter: View a variety of metrics for a Twitter account
Advertising
AdWords: Buy keyword advertising space across the web and in search results
Ads Twitter
AdSense Google: Make money by allowing Google to place ads on your web site

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