Subscribers of MTN, the largest telecom provider in Nigeria, may soon face service disruption in the West African nation, according to a notice seen by some journalists and outlets.
A rise in insecurity challenges in Nigeria is likely to disrupt MTN’s service, Reuters and others said, citing an alert from customer service reps. Throughout this year, Nigerians have had to battle kidnappings, clashes between farmers and herders, mass abductions of students, and armed robberies.
“Sadly, we must inform you that with the rising insecurity in different parts of Nigeria, service delivery to your organization may be impacted in the coming days. This means that in some cases, our technical support team may not be able to get to your site and achieve optimum turnaround time in fault management as quickly as possible,” MTN reportedly said in the message.
MTN didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
When MTN Nigeria published its financial report for Q1 2021, it showed strong growth as data revenue grew by 43% year-on-year to N106 billion ($257 million), contributing to 28% of its total revenue.
Data revenue growth was propelled by a 21% year-on-year jump in active data subscribers to 32.5 million and a 27% year-on-year increase in smartphone penetration to 36.3 million. These numbers reflect MTN’s dominance in Nigeria. Per data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecom operator is responsible for 43% of Nigeria’s internet subscribers and 38% of the country’s mobile subscribers.
Like most network providers in the country, MTN’s services have been a tale of two experiences: good and subpar. However, Nigerians who spoke with TechCrunch have largely witnessed the latter these past few weeks following the government’s decision to ban Twitter and subsequent fears of internet restriction.
Reports from local media seem to corroborate Reuters, albeit for a different reason: a union’s nationwide strike against all network providers. The union PTECSSAN (Private Telecommunications and Communications Senior Staff Association of Nigeria), which comprises senior telecommunications staff in the country, announced that it would be embarking on a three-day industrial strike starting Wednesday to protest the “arbitrary sack of workers and casualisation.”
PTECSSAN accused telecommunications companies in Nigeria for several reasons in a statement. First, breaching freedom of association and right of workers to organise; victimisation of union members; poor and discriminatory remuneration. They also claimed that telecom operators abused expatriate quotas, practised intimidation, and have harassed and verbally assaulted employees, among other anti-labour practices.
Several MTN customer care agents TechCrunch reached out to were either unaware or refuted the aforementioned message. “We’re not going to have such network glitches,” one said. “Kindly be aware that we dont have any information on any service disruption in the coming days. Once we have any information about that, we’ll let our customers know via messages as soon as possible,” another agent responded.
Unicorns are ready for a haircut – TechCrunch
The digitization of your haircut may not have been on your 2020 bucket list, but 2021 has an even more surprising line item: Tech-powered barbershops are now a business proposition valued at nearly a billion dollars.
Squire is a back-end barbershop management tool for independent businesses. I first covered it in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The startup raised millions of dollars days before its key clientele — barber shops — were shut down across the country. The company eventually went from defense to offense in its growth strategy, finding itself as a key partner for any barbershop that needed to start offering contactless payments, digital appointment booking and a more seamless customer experience built for a generation used to doing everything online.
This week, Squire tripled its valuation thanks to a Tiger-Global-led round. The company is now worth $750 million, after being valued at around $75 million when we first spoke to them.
When I spoke to co-founder Dave Salvant, who launched the company with Songe LaRon in 2016, he explained how the company is now in a spot to expand into other barbershop-specific value propositions — either through acquisitions or partnerships. This week, for example, Squire announced that it launched a payment processing arm with Bond, a venture-backed fintech infrastructure company. The company also partnered with Gusto to bring on HR services for its clientele. Salvant noted how the progress of tech, especially financial services, lets them offer up a strong product without needing to build everything in-house.
While these are partnerships for now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Squire begin to scoop up companies that can unlock value from its existing datasets of how barbershops function and what kind of capital comes in and out of those doors.
Behind the numbers:
It’s a company to watch that fits into the narrative of pandemic rocked, then proven startups looking to expand with fresh capitalization. Less common, though, is that Squire is now en route to becoming a historical and unfortunately still rare Black-led unicorn. More data points, the better.
In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll discuss Robinhood’s public debut and why a CEO thinks everyone needs to be them for a day. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_.
Robinhood sells Robinhood
Here’s what to know: IPO expert and fellow Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm gave us two reasons as to why Robinhood’s stock went down. After all, we’re used to pops in the consumer-facing tech company world.
Robinhood made a big chunk of its IPO available to its own users. Or, in practice, Robinhood curtailed early retail demand by offering its investors and traders shares at the same price and level of access that big investors were given. It’s a neat idea. But by doing so, Robinhood may have lowered unserved retail interest in its shares, perhaps reshaping its early supply/demand curve.
Or maybe the company’s warnings that its trading volumes could decline in Q2 2021 scared off some bulls.
You get to be a CEO, you get to be a CEO!
Now that free beer is no longer a company perk, the next best one may have emerged: Let anyone in your company become CEO for a day. Vincit CEO Ville Houttu implemented this program at his company in 2018 and said that the initiative has paid off “tenfold.”
Here’s how it works, per the company:
The program gives our employee the reins for 24 hours with an unlimited budget. The only requirement? The CEO must make one lasting decision that will help improve the working experience of Vincit employees. Whatever the CEO of the Day decides, the company sticks with. They can purchase something for the company, change a policy, update a tool we use … Really, anything that they come up with can be done.
You can see the resulting policies in our story, but in my humble opinion, the end result is definitely better than free beer.
- The TechCrunch Disrupt Agenda just went live. It’s a must-read line up and a must-attend event. Some standouts:
- Pot, Pottery and Beyond with Seth Rogen (Houseplant), Haneen Davies (Houseplant) and Michael Mohr (Houseplant)
- Breaking the Bank with Brian Armstrong (Coinbase)
- Speaking SPAC with Chamath Palihapitiya (Social Capital)
- Dogmatic Design with Melanie Perkins (Canva)
- Shout out to Amanda Silberling, a recent addition to the TechCrunch team who has been absolutely crushing her consumer tech beat. Follow her on Twitter if you don’t already!
Across the week
Seen on TechCrunch
Seen on Extra Crunch
TuSimple’s self-driving truck network takes shape with Ryder partnership – TechCrunch
TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations.
Under the deal announced this week, Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s freight network. TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network, is a collection of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which took a minority stake in TuSimple before it went public, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. were the inaugural partners in the network.
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces that includes its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real time.
Ryder’s facilities will primarily serve as strategic terminals where TuSimple trucks can receive maintenance and have sensors used in the self-driving system calibrated, if needed. In some cases, the terminals might be used as a transfer hub for a smaller operator that might want to pick up cargo. But this is not meant to be a hub-to-hub system where its customers would come and pick up freight, according to TuSimple President and CEO Cheng Lu.
“These trucks need to be serviceable and maintainable and they need to have higher uptime, which is what every carrier cares about regardless of whether it is autonomous or not,” Lu said.
Small shippers and carriers might use these terminals to pick up and drop off freight. However, Lu stressed that in most cases, especially for large-scale operators like UPS, TuSimple will take the freight directly to the customer’s distribution centers. The Ryder facilities work as nodes, or stops, on its network to allow TuSimple to reach more customers over a larger geographic area, Lu added.
The partnership will start gradually. TuSimple has 50 autonomous trucks in its fleet that — along with a human safety operator behind the wheel — transport freight for customers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The partnership will initially use Ryder’s facilities in these areas and eventually expand to the company’s 500 maintenance facilities in the United States.
TuSimple said it expects to expand operations to the East Coast, carrying freight between Phoenix and Orlando later this year. TuSimple has about 25 new trucks on order, which will be added to the fleet once they become available.
Argo AI can now offer the public rides in its autonomous vehicles in California – TechCrunch
Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle technology startup backed by Ford and VW, has landed a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.
The California Public Utilities Commission issued the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit earlier this month, according to the approved application. It was posted on its website Friday, a little more than a week after Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.
The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Argo in small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations. Argo has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles.
Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute, Pony.ai, Voyage, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which requires a human safety operator to be behind the wheel. Companies with this permit cannot charge for rides.
Cruise is the only company to have secured a driverless permit from the CPUC, which allows it to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.
Snagging the CPUC’s Drivered permit is just part of the journey to commercialization in California. The state requires companies to navigate a series of regulatory hurdles from the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles — each agency with its own tiered system of permits — before it can charge for rides in robotaxis without a human safety operator behind the wheel.
The DMV regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. There are three levels of permits issued by the DMW, starting with one that allows companies to test AVs on public roads with a safety operator behind the wheel. More than 60 companies have this basic testing permit.
The next permit allows for driverless testing, followed by a deployment permit for commercial operations. Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox have driverless permits with the DMV.
The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit. This permit allows Nuro to deploy at a commercial scale. Nuro’s vehicles can’t hold passengers, just cargo, which allows the company to bypass the CPUC permitting process.
Meanwhile, the CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which is what Argo just secured, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.
The second CPUC pilot allows for driverless passenger service, which Cruise secured in June 2021.
It’s important to note that to reach the holy grail of commercial robotaxis requires the companies to secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.
Airtel Africa gets an extra $200M for its mobile money business from QIA – TechCrunch
Three months ago, Mastercard invested $100 million in Airtel Mobile Commerce BV (AMC BV) — the mobile money business of telecom Airtel Africa. This was two weeks after it also received $200 million from TPG’s Rise Fund.
Today, the African telecoms operator has announced that it has secured another investment for its mobile money arm. The investor? Qatar Holding LLC, an affiliate of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar with over $300 billion in assets. The Middle Eastern corporation is set to invest $200 million into AMC BV through a secondary purchase of shares from Airtel Africa.
AMC BV is an Airtel Africa subsidiary and the holding company for several of Airtel Africa’s mobile money operations across 14 African countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. The mobile money arm operates one of the largest financial services on the continent. It provides users access to mobile wallets, support for international money transfers, loans and virtual credit cards.
According to a statement released by the telecoms operator, the proceeds of the investment will be used to reduce debt and invest in network and sales infrastructure in the respective operating countries. The deal will close in two tranches — $150 million invested at the first close, most likely in August. The remaining $50 million will be invested at second close.
Airtel Africa claims QIA will hold a minority stake while it continues to hold the majority stake. This transaction still values Airtel Africa at $2.65 billion on a cash and debt-free basis like other deals. However, what’s different this time is that QIA is entitled to appoint a director to AMC BV’s board and “to certain customary information and minority protection rights.”
Airtel Africa’s most recent report for Q1 2021 shows signs of growth. The telecoms operator saw a year on year revenue growth of 53.7%, pushed by a 24.6% growth in customer base to 23.1 million. Transaction value went up 64.4% to $14.7 billion ($59 billion annualised); and EBITDA stood at $60 million ($240 million annualised) at a margin of 48.8%. The company also generated $124 million in revenue ($496 million annualised), while its profits before tax year-on-year for Q1 2021 stood at $185 million.
Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, CEO of QIA, said the sovereign’s wealth fund investment in Airtel Africa would help promote financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Airtel Money plays a critical role in facilitating economic activity, including for customers without access to traditional financial services. We firmly believe in its mission to expand these efforts over the coming years,” he added.
In February, Airtel Africa first made it known that it wanted to sell a minority stake in AMC BV to raise cash and sell off some assets. The subsequent month, it sold off telecommunication towers in Madagascar and Malawi to Helios Towers for $119 million and raised $500 million from outside investors.
Introducing the Open Cap Table Coalition – TechCrunch
On Tuesday, the Open Cap Table Coalition announced its launch through an inaugural Medium post. The goal of this project is to standardize startup capitalization table data as well as make it far more accessible, transparent and portable.
For those unfamiliar with a cap table, it’s a list of who owns your company’s securities, which includes your company shares, options and more. A clear and simple cap table should quickly indicate who owns what and how much of it they own. For a variety of reasons (sometimes inexperience or bad advice) too many equity holders often find companies’ capitalization information to be opaque and not easily accessible.
This is particularly important for the small percentage of startups that survive in the long term, as growth makes for far more complicated cap tables.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table. Since there is no set format and cap tables are generally not out in the open, they are often siloed rather than collaborative.
Cap tables are near and dear to me as someone who has advised hundreds of startups over the past two decades as the founder of an accelerator, a venture partner and a senior adviser at a government-funded startup launchpad. I have been on the shareholder side of the equation as well and can assure you that pretty much nothing destroys trust between shareholders and startups quicker than poor communication, especially around issues such as the current status of the cap table.
A critical part of good startup hygiene is to always have a clean and updated cap table.
I really like the idea of a cap table being an open corporate record, because the value proposition to the companies is clear. From the time a startup creates a cap table, it’s prone to inaccuracy, friction and mistakes. What this means in practice is that startups may spend money on cap-table-related issues that they should be spending on other things. From a legal process perspective, the law firm that is brought in to help with these issues has to deal with tedious back-end work, so the legal time isn’t high value for either the startup or the law firm.
The value proposition for equity holders is equally clear. All equity holders have a general and legal interest in a company’s capitalization information. They have the right to this information, which they may need for a variety of reasons (including, if things ever get really bad, an aggrieved shareholder action). So making this information clear and easily accessible is a service to equity holders and can also encourage more investment, especially from less experienced investors.
When I imagine what this project could become in the next couple of years, I think back to late 2013, when Y Combinator announced the SAFE (simple agreement for future equity). I think the SAFE is a good analogy here, as no one knew what it was and people wondered if this was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for startups. But the end result was a dramatic improvement in the early-stage capital-raising process.
While the coalition’s founders include Morgan Stanley’s Shareworks, LTSE Software and Carta, it’s also heavy on Big Law, with Cooley, Goodwin Procter, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Orrick, Gunderson Dettmer, Latham & Watkins, and Fenwick & West rounding out the group of 10 founding members.
So what’s the real motivation of seven law firms, which together saw revenue of over $10 billion in 2020 to collaborate on an open cap table product for startups? Deal flow.
Big Law has been trying for a couple of decades to build relationships with startups at the stage where it makes no sense for a startup to be dealing with a massive and expensive law firm. Their efforts to build startup programs have often fallen short and received mixed reviews. They have also been far too heavy on the self-serve and too light on the “we’re going to give you our regular Big Law level of services at a small fraction of the costs just in case you make it big and can one day pay our regular fees.” So these firms are trying to separate themselves from the rest of the Big Law pack by building this entrepreneur-friendly tech.
The coalition has already produced its initial version of the open cap table. The real question is whether this is going to be a big deal, as the SAFE was, or whether it’s going to be a vanity solution in search of a real problem. My best guess is that if this coalition gets all the relationships right, doesn’t get greedy and understands that there is a social good component at play here, this could be, reasonably quickly, as impactful as the SAFE was.
Amazon’s Fire TV Cube now supports Zoom calls on your TV – TechCrunch
Late last year, Amazon launched support for two-way calling that worked with its Fire TV Cube devices. The feature allowed consumers to make and receive calls from their connected TV to any other Alexa device with a screen. Today, the company is expanding this system to enable support for two-way calling with Zoom.
Starting today, Fire TV Cube owners (2nd gen.) will be able to join Zoom work meetings or virtual hangouts via their Fire TV Cube.
To take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, its hands-free streaming device and smart speaker that has Alexa built in, as well as a webcam that supports USB Video Class (UVC) with at least 720p resolution and 30fps. But for a better experience, Amazon recommends a webcam with 1080p resolution and a 60-90 degree field of view from 6 to 10 feet away from the TV. It doesn’t recommend 4K webcams, however.
Amazon suggests webcams like the Logitech C920, C922x, C310, or the Wansview 101JD, for example.
You’ll then connect your webcam to your Fire TV Cube using a Micro USB to USB adapter.
For best results, you’ll want to attach the webcam above the TV screen, Amazon notes.
Once everything is set up and connected, you’ll need to download and install the Zoom app from the Fire TV Appstore. When joining meetings, you can either sign in as a guest or use an existing Zoom account, per the on-screen instructions.
Thanks to the Alexa integration, you can join your meetings hands-free, if you prefer, by way of a voice command like “Alexa, join my Zoom meeting.” Alexa will respond by prompting you for the meeting ID and passcode. Alternately, you can choose to use the remote control to enter in this information.
An optional feature also lets you sync your calendar to Alexa to allow the smart assistant to remind you about the upcoming meetings it finds on your calendar. If you go this route, Alexa will suggest the meeting to join and you’ll just have to say “yes” to be automatically dialed in.
Amazon first announced it was bringing video calling support to its Fire TV platform last fall — a significant update in the new era of remote work and schooling, driven by the pandemic. However, it’s not the only option on the market. Google also last year brought group video calls to its Hub Max devices, and later added support for Zoom calls. Meanwhile Facebook Portal devices have offered video calling of a more personal nature, and last year updated to support Zoom, too.
In other words, Amazon is playing a bit of catch-up here. And its solution is a little more unwieldy as it requires consumers to buy their own webcam, while something like Portal TV offers a TV with a smart camera included.
To use the new feature, you’ll need the latest Fire TV Cube software update to get started, Amazon notes.
Unmuted founder Max van den Ingh on success beyond the metrics – TechCrunch
There is no authoritative playbook for marketing these days. Every company must find its own voice, and as it grows and evolves, its marketing needs to evolve as well.
Relying on proven tactics and measurable metrics isn’t enough — today, the most effective marketers constantly study and learn from innovative approaches while exploring new avenues.
This is where Unmuted comes in. A growth marketing agency based in Amsterdam, this company focuses on LinkedIn marketing, content marketing, marketing automation and email marketing. Before starting Unmuted, Max van den Ingh was head of growth and product at MisterGreen, an electric vehicle leasing company, and he also served as head of growth marketing at ShopPop, a chat-based marketing platform.
Van den Ingh, who also serves as a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University, was recommended to TechCrunch through the TechCrunch Experts project. We’re currently on the lookout for top-tier growth marketers that you can recommend to other startups. If you know of one, let us know by filling out this quick survey.
Van den Ingh spoke with us about his “modern” approach to marketing, setting realistic goals, how startups had to shift during the pandemic and more.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You call Unmuted a “modern” growth marketing agency. What do you do that makes your approach to marketing modern?
The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. At Unmuted, our clients don’t come to us to have their ideas executed; they come to us for our process. In a way, we’ve productized a growth marketing process that generates ideas for our clients. They find immense value in that process.
Depending on the customer’s team size and resources, we either guide them during execution or execute autonomously and report back. This process-based service model is, in our opinion, the only way to grow a business in a sustainable way.
“The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. “
In a practical sense, this is what that process boils down to: We take all that we’ve learned from fast-growing companies and apply these principles to our clients’ businesses. Typically we focus on what we call “innovative companies” — whether that’s because they have a SaaS offering or they’re an innovator within a traditional industry doesn’t really matter. The process we’ve designed works for B2B startups, scaleups and SMBs. That last category can benefit greatly from the way we work.
Our role, then, is threefold: We come up with strategies that we carry out by experimenting with several proven marketing tactics based on our extensive in-house knowledge and experience. This relieves our clients’ marketing teams of potentially stifling tunnel vision.
Our growth program typically unfolds in three stages as well, which we call the Foundation, Acceleration and Transformation stages. In the Foundation stage, we set up the fundamentals based on an extensive audit of the client’s business, and start out with our initial experiments. In the Acceleration stage, we scale the experiments that have shown promising early results. Finally, in the Transformation stage, we teach our clients how to continue growing their business themselves. If necessary, we stick around in a consulting role.
Your work at MisterGreen helped it grow about 10x. How much can a client expect to grow when working with you? How do you help clients set realistic goals?
Setting goals is always a challenge, especially when it comes to marketing. Why should you aim for a certain number? Why not aim higher, or lower, for that matter? At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we perform a series of exercises together. This helps us get a clear picture of where the client is now and where they could be when we’ve optimized marketing.
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Next, instead of fixed numbers, like a specific amount of new customers in a given period, we focus on growth levers, like month-over-month growth in certain conversion or activation areas. Focusing on growth levers makes our work more actionable.
We then construct a framework as part of our growth program that also allows room for certain beliefs a company has. I feel this “belief system” is truly essential to any growth marketing strategy. If you don’t allow room for gut feeling activities and only focus on data-driven projects, you will end up only working on things you can measure. We believe that growth marketing will become more effective when you also invest time and effort in channels and spaces you can’t necessarily measure.
When people talk about your solution on WhatsApp or during podcast episodes, that’s amazing and will effectively influence revenue, but sometimes there’s just no way to track these activities.
Finally, we don’t make any guarantees when it comes to growth results. That’s not how it works. We’ll always aim to maximize results as part of the process. Diligent focus on continuous improvement and optimization comes first. Results will automatically follow afterward.
For instance, we recently helped a B2B SaaS platform increase demo requests by 350%. But this wasn’t the goal at all. The process we were following was focused on optimizing every aspect of the demo request journey, from acquiring visitors to optimizing the demo page and more. Every experiment we ran increased the demo request metric to some extent. After six months, you start seeing these compounded results.
You were also the head of growth at ShopPop. How did that experience shape the way you help your clients?
Working for a fast-growing B2B SaaS company with a self-serve product taught me quite a few things. For starters, the importance of getting a really clear understanding of what sustainable growth looks like. Especially in growth marketing, there are a lot of things you can do to gain short-term results. But this doesn’t necessarily help, because you might be acquiring customers that you lose in the long run.
For example, running aggressive advertising campaigns in the early stages to acquire new users in sectors that you know won’t benefit considerably from your product. This type of superficial growth will come back in the form of churn sooner rather than later, and simply isn’t sustainable.
At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we put a lot of time and effort into understanding their best type of customers, what their problems are, and why that’s the case. Only then do we start looking at how to solve those problems with our client’s products or services.
You’re a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University and do speaking engagements as well. What do you hope people take away from your talks?
When I stand in front of a crowd during a speaking engagement, I always share stories about times where I took a pragmatic approach and did things differently. Growth can come in different shapes and forms, and although it often seems simple, it’s never easy. People, and especially management, have to understand that growth takes time and that you need failures to learn.
You need to have conversations to be able to learn and iterate. It’s better to have the wrong type of conversations than not having any at all. Without feedback, there’s no way to grow. And while an eagerness to learn comes naturally to most marketers, this isn’t necessarily the case for your average business person. If I can inspire audiences with my approach to growing by learning, I think that’s a great takeaway.
How have you seen startups change during the pandemic?
A lot of startups have been forced to change their approaches during the pandemic. Some have adapted successfully, while others are now stuck. I experienced it personally when I was still working at ShopPop, where we were focused on the music industry when the pandemic hit.
Music industry clients weren’t buying, for obvious reasons, so we had to pivot somehow. We ended up moving into e-commerce, which was, and still is, booming.
As the pandemic continues, what trends are you seeing in growth marketing?
The biggest trend I’m currently seeing is in the role marketing departments play. These have never been as important as they are now. Digital marketers, especially, are often the ones that come up with new ideas as to how a company can grow online. Nobody will know how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, but in the meantime, every company is trying to adapt and find new ways to connect with their customers in unique, meaningful ways.
Logically, we’re seeing a surge in demand for online events like webinars and virtual summits. But everybody is doing those. So where can you carve out your own thing that becomes recognizable for your brand? Discovering these new channels and approaches — I think that should be the role of marketing.
How have you seen the startup market develop while working in growth?
The development of the startup market has been most noticeable in how new standards are being set. For example, startups have always been characterized as fast movers, but remote working and the rise of highly collaborative tools have further increased the speed at which startups operate. The whole industry transformed from speedboats into rocket ships. Talent became much more accessible, and through that internal cultures became more diverse and more resilient.
You can always depend on startups adopting new ways of working early on. They need to differentiate in order to survive, and a novel approach can be the one thing that makes them stand out from the crowd.
You have to understand that working at a startup often feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. And that’s also the moment you’re at your most creative. I think this is also how growth marketing as a whole came about. In competitive markets, people have to fight for their right to exist. Marketing is often a way to radically differentiate. When people become really good at that, set new standards and raise the bar, the market develops as a whole.
What do startups continue to get wrong?
It’s been said many times before, but even today, most startups don’t learn quickly and deeply enough. Founders often have an amazing idea and vision of how things will play out. But how much field experience does this person really have? Enough to be able to foresee the future?
Usually, for startups, short-term growth goes well — they get some initial traction from their network, but then the next phase kicks in. Especially when there’s an investment involved, putting more pressure on the commercial side of things, this next phase will mean encountering a lot of hurdles.
When a company doesn’t find a strong enough product-market fit and doesn’t apply what its learned early on, things will get extremely tough. In this phase, a lot of research and experimentation is necessary. If the founding team isn’t up for this and they put their heads in the sand, the startup will deteriorate quickly.
On the other side: What are startups doing better now than ever before?
The best thing a startup can do, and I’m seeing it happen more and more, is investing in community early on. When I was leading growth at MisterGreen, we created a community for the first thousand Tesla Model 3 owners in the Netherlands. Everyone wanted to be a part of this founding tribe, learn from each other, get insights and so on.
This group turned out to be our most effective marketing tool. Word-of-mouth went through the roof. We had all of these people talking about our community at birthday parties, in their office, you name it. This is a great example of investing in marketing you can’t really measure, but which you do strongly believe in.
Unicorns are ready for a haircut – TechCrunch
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