Step 1: From Team + Opportunity to Company
Just over a year ago Founders Co-op invested in a new company called Untitled Startup. The co-founders, Aviel Ginzburg and Damon Cortesi, were well-known hackers in the social media community. They knew that social media marketing was headed for the mainstream and had a long list of related product ideas, but they hadn’t yet landed on what they wanted to build first. We knew they were super-talented guys and agreed to invest in them and the broad theme of social media marketing tools without a clear idea of what exactly the company would do next.
Step 2: From Company to Product
Instead of trying to hide their uncertainty, Damon and Aviel embraced it with gusto. They launched the company as “Untitled Startup” and invited their friends and potential customers to tell them what problems they should solve. Based on that feedback, they created a lightweight social media monitoring tool called RowFeeder. As RowFeeder grew, they listened hard to their customers and thought about other, related problems they could solve. (Damon and Aviel also recognized a gap in their own combined skillsets and invited Adam Schoenfeld to join the company to head up the business side).
Step 3: One Product Leads to Another
By iterating around feedback from their core RowFeeder customers, the Untitled team came up with a new product called Export.ly. Export.ly makes it easy to export and analyze social media data in Excel, including Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter followers, and Gmail email headers. It provides data in a simple format and adds flexible analytics in Excel. (You can also use it to do fun stuff like compare the Steelers and Packers Facebook pages – http://t.co/tEA024O).
The core insight behind these two products is the growing gap between social media investment and social media ROI among big brands. Simply put, brands spend big bucks to grow their Twitter followers and Facebook fans, but don’t really know who these fans are or how to engage them to drive business results. Export.ly helps marketers wring actionable insights from their social media platforms. You can learn more about Export.ly here: http://export.ly
Step 4: A Product Family Becomes a Brand
Last week Untitled Startup announced that they were no longer untitled: the company has rebranded itself as Simply Measured. After a year of experimentation and customer development, the team is now locked in on a core vision; helping marketers become data rockstars with shockingly easy to use measurement and reporting tools. The brand and vision developed organically as a result of their “Untitled” process, building products, listening to customers and constantly tweaking the product to address customer needs.
Simply Measured combines the functionality of RowFeeder and Export.ly, but puts these tools on steroids. What started as a lightweight offering for individual contributors has been beefed up for agencies and bigger brands in three primary ways: 1) higher volume data capacity, 2) much more customizable reporting, and 3) multi-user and team accounts. And all of the company’s offerings are built on the most familiar and ubiquitous analytics tool in the enterprise world: Microsoft Excel.
The Untitled Startup story may seem like an extreme example of customer development, but it’s actually a great example of how we think about entrepreneurship here at Founders Co-op. There are a few obvious patterns from this story that apply to almost everything we do:
- Team First
We didn’t know what Damon and Aviel were going to do, but we did know they were insanely talented and creative guys with a passion for solving problems with software. Our decision to invest was based almost entirely on our believe in them as people, not a specific business idea.
- Opportunity > Idea
Despite the “Untitled” beginning, we had a general idea that lightweight social marketing tools would be a productive place to be messing around. Brands were just beginning to embrace social media marketing but we were convinced that trend would accelerate sharply and we wanted to be there when it happened. Big and fast-growing markets that threaten incumbent players allow much more room for experimentation and error, which is what startups are all about.
- Ship Early and Often
The single greatest source of competitive advantage for software startups is agility. Products are never right the first time – it’s only through successive cycles of iteration and learning that they become what the market wants. In that context, the company with the shortest iteration cycle time has the greatest chance of getting there first. We knew Damon and Aviel were absolute animals at building and shipping software, and also really good at listening to customers. That combination is magic.
- Take Away Pain for Money
Thanks in large part to Google, most people have gotten used to getting web-based software for free. The real test for a software product is if it’s good enough – in investor terms if it “takes away enough pain” – to have people actually open their wallets and pay for it. The Untitled team was always clear that they expected to be paid for creating business value, and communicated clearly with customers about that expectation from the start.
- Be Transparent
From their earliest days, the Untitled team engaged customers in an open conversation about where they were headed, what they didn’t yet know and what they needed to learn. That habit of transparency, honesty and directness has been hugely valuable to the business, and is also a reflection of the culture we aspire to create across the Founders Co-op community.