How To Communicate Your Bootstrapped Startup

startup bootstrapping

Bootstrapping your startup brings along a trade-off in communications and marketing. You have two messages to communicate: one about your service offering, the other about the product that you are building. How do you prioritize what to communicate? Are you a service or product company?

This was and still is a question that we deal with at Lingo Social every day. Recently, I had coffee with friend and founder of discussing what seemed to be a bootstrapper's marketing "dilemma". We arrived at the following.

As you make money from providing services and use profits to fund product development, you need to balance your communications efforts between the two. The more aligned your services and product messaging are, the better are chances for healthy synergies. That means ensuring that your consulting gigs leads to product sales and vice versa. Pretty obvious, but easier said than done.

At Lingo Social we went from communicating the whole digital agency package; Internet and search marketing, mobile apps, web design, analysis and strategic planning, to focus on social media marketing and management. Even better, all those former service offerings can be communicated in context of social media. For an example, inter-linking all your social media channels would have an effect on search engine optimization, and web design and apps development would integrate social networks. Following we would certainly propose to clients social SaaS rather then just building apps on an hourly basis.

Nevertheless, as founders' skill-set in a startup varies, so does their value propositions. When you are only a few founders in communicating your services, potential customers often tune in on your personal qualifications rather than the company's. Each member of the founding team is best at what they do, and consequently this is usually what they are best at communicating. That in fact is your startups's DNA.

Aligning service and product offerings along with leveraging founders' strengths have not only allowed the company to put marketing efforts in one bucket, but also increased learning about customers' needs which in turn enables us to build a better product. As a result consulting gradually starts to work as (paid) marketing and sales.

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How To Use Your Blog To Document Business Model Assumptions

In a previous post about minimum viable blogging I briefly discussed how a blog might transform into a potential product. I learned from several entrepreneurs and bloggers that they have had similar experiences.

So today I'm launching a small experiment taking this idea one step further. Here is how I'll use this blog to document our own business model hypothesis.

Business Model Customer Development

Simple structure of the business model testing scheme

As a part of some recent changes to this blog (moved to own domain), I have added a new structure that follows the Business Model Canvas.

This means that all posts will be categorized with one or more of the 9 business model blocks; customer segmentation, value proposition/product offering, distribution channel, customer relationship/demand creation, revenue models, cost structure, key activities, key partners, and partner development.

For subjects regarding external and competitive hypothesis I've added Strategy as an additional category. To this I attend to use Lean Startup and Customer Development techniques to develop our problem/solution hypothesis.

Why use a blog to test business model hypothesis

Why would I do this? First of all, I hope to share lessons learned in documenting business model hypothesis in the context of a digital startup. Posts will be living examples of how to do or not to do this.

Second, by documenting such hypothesis we'll be able to measure our own progress and decisions, and at the same time receive valuable feedback from fellow entrepreneurs as your self.

Third, by watching the emergence of methodologies such as Lean Startup and Customer Development, I believe that the social web has given breed to an academic sub-culture. I hope to contribute to such research in the field of entrepreneurial management.

For an example, we'd be able to see at what frequency which business model blocks are tested and if we'd need any additional blocks other than what the framework covers today.

"Speed Wins"

One major challenge though lies with broadcasting own ideas just about ready for any competitor to pick it up. However, as I do believe in the startup methods I here cover, "speed wins" is the winning argument.

Transparently documenting business model assumptions and receiving feedback from potential users would in principle be a source of advantage.

I hope to give fellow entrepreneurs a sense of what went wrong, what went right, and how to to better document business model hypothesis for their own business.

Update: Make sure to check out the Business Model Press WordPress plugin to begin "business model blogging".