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Editor, Camille Ricketts


Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It

When Arielle Jackson started to develop the marketing and communications plan around Cover (the Android app quickly snapped up by Twitter), she brought a lot of firepower to the job. During her nearly nine years at Google, she managed product marketing for Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Voice. She then moved on to Square, where she led go-to-market plans for new hardware products like the Square Stand. At Cover, she put everything she learned to work to help make the product uniquely valuable. Today, she does the same as an advisor to multiple startups.

What’s surprising for many people, she says, is that marketing is actually highly tactical. There are frameworks and distinct steps founders can take to define what their company is doing, why it’s important, and why — above all the noise — people should listen to them.

In this exclusive interview, Jackson shares exercises entrepreneurs can use to nail their product positioning, develop the right assets (including a name that strikes the right chord), and make a stunning first impression on the market — whether they’re launching a new feature or an entire company.

Management and Company Building

How Crowd-Funding Is Changing Everything and What That Means for Your Startup

When FundersClub entered the scene in 2012, crowdfunding was still coming of age. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were gaining traction, but weren’t widely perceived as serious financing platforms. They also left a gap for a company to democratize startup investing online. That’s exactly what FundersClub Co-founders Alex Mittal and Boris Silver set out to do.

Since then, they have witnessed (and pioneered) the movement of brand new fundraising strategies. No longer must startups be limited to taking their roadshow to Sand Hill Road to convince VCs in person. Today, as a founder, it’s possible to kick off your raise on Kickstarter — repaying your backers with perks — raise equity capital on FundersClub, and then move on to a perfectly traditional Series A.

But having more choices can be bittersweet. Hashing out a coherent fundraising strategy for multiple audiences can be paralyzing. Each platform requires a different, finely-tuned approach. At the same time, there are rewards to be reaped: the ability to build and grow an enthusiastic fan-base, rally more support for your company, and get backing for ideas that would have been passed over otherwise.

In this exclusive interview, both Mittal and Silver, who have now backed over 80 companies with FundersClub, talk about what they have seen work, how startups can choose the best path for their business, the upsides and pitfalls of different crowd-funding options, and best practices for each.

Management and Company Building

The One Tool Startups Need to Brainstorm, Test and Win

The word “lean” is everywhere these days. Lean processes, lean startups. While Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, has arguably become the face of this movement, its philosophy is largely based on something called the Business Model Canvas — a tool developed by author and entrepreneur Alexander Osterwalder and Swiss academic Yves Pigneur.

Extremely simple in its design, the Business Model Canvas empowers entrepreneurs to create, visualize and test business models without wasting capital or overcomplicating their approach. Today, it’s used by startups to break new ground, as well as massive companies like GE, P&G and 3M to explore new models and keep up with the competition. It’s also the core of the book Business Model Generation (co-authored by Osterwalder and Pigneur), which has sold over a million copies in 30 languages.

At Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner, Osterwalder — joined by lean evangelist Steve Blankdemonstrated the value of the Business Model Canvas for startups: How they can use it to generate ideas, de-risk guesses, and make sure they are solving the right problems for the right people. Below, learn how one sheet of paper can help your company find and hold on to product/market fit.

Product and Engineering

How to Engage Your Users to Build the Product They Actually Want

Massdrop launched in 2012 based on one idea: To use bulk buying to help people get lower prices on products they love. This idea became a platform, letting people band together across the internet to place large orders and unlock bargains on products no one needs in bulk: cameras, speakers, headphones, etc. Today, the company calls it “Community Commerce.” But Founder and CEO Steve El-Hage couldn’t have predicted how active that community would be in shaping the way Massdrop would work.

Today — with hundreds of thousands of users — the company’s look, feel, features, and future have been deeply impacted by customer feedback. El-Hage wouldn’t have it any other way. In this exclusive interview, he explains how Massdrop brought users into the product development process, the huge benefits that has yielded, and how other startups can do the same from the earliest stage.

Management and Company Building

Product Hunt is Everywhere - This is How It Got There

Last year at this time, Product Hunt didn’t exist. Its founder, Ryan Hoover, was the Director of Product at gaming company PlayHaven and an active blogger, attracting a loyal but modest following. He couldn’t have anticipated what was to come. Kicked off in November 2013, Product Hunt has seen rapid hockey-stick growth. It’s become a known quantity in the media and among influencers. And the company just announced that it's part of Y Combinator’s current class of startup starlets. Suddenly, Hoover has found himself a tastemaker with a very high-powered audience.

Product Hunt is now the place to discover the “next big things” in tech. Every day, it curates a list of the top products and startups that people haven’t heard of yet and lets a widening yet select group of members upvote, comment and discuss. The result is a daily top 10 list of what people should be paying attention to across the industry. Founders are using it as a launch pad, investors as a hunting ground, and many others just to stay in the know.

Product Hunt may have started as an experimental side project, but in many ways its rise was keenly manufactured. In this exclusive interview, Hoover shares the tactics startups can use to capture attention early and build on it for success.

Management and Company Building

How Startups Can Do Retail Right from the Inventor of the Apple Store

As Apple prepared to open its first retail store, Ron Johnson — the project’s chief architect — realized that the company was making a big mistake. The design was wrong, he told Steve Jobs, as they drove to the pre-launch meeting. The company was moving away from its focus on individual products toward becoming a holistic lifestyle spanning movies, music, and more — but the store didn’t reflect that shift. They needed to start over.

A few minutes later, Jobs was the one to announce that they’d be rethinking their approach to stores from scratch. It was largely on Johnson to make it happen — and what he delivered has fundamentally changed technology retail. Prior to Apple, he led Target’s successful rebrand. Since then, he failed to work the same magic for J.C. Penney. It’s safe to say, when it comes to retail, he’s seen it all.

As more startups like Birchbox, Bonobos and Warby Parker experiment with showrooms, retail best practices are evolving to embrace a hybrid model. In a recent talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Johnson explained how brick-and-mortar strategies can fit into the consumer tech economy, and shared tactics for startups to break the digital barrier.


How Designers Can Earn a Seat at the Table

For 15 years, Phil King has been proving that design should have a seat at the leadership table — carrying equal weight on strategy and prioritization responsibilities with product, business, and engineering executives. Moving up the ranks at eBay before taking the reins as Director of User Experience and Design at Flickr, he contends that successful businesses are built on well-designed customer experiences, and that the best design leaders never let go of their roots in order to produce the best results.

Having led one of the world’s largest photo enthusiast communities (with over 100 million members) through a massive and closely-watched redesign, King has a lot to say about leading a team to create products users will love. In this exclusive interview, he talks about how designers can become strong design leaders and make change at companies of all sizes.

Management and Company Building

This 23-Year-Old Built and Sold His Startup While in School - Here’s How He Did It

From the moment Dan Shipper (on the left, above) stepped foot on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, he knew he wanted to learn how to build a real software business with paying customers and steady revenue. He passed with flying colors last month when he both graduated from school and sold his company Firefly (the first company backed by Dorm Room Fund) to Pegasystems for multiple millions.

Shipper’s success didn’t take anyone by surprise. Targeted early as a technology wunderkind, he was receiving multiple job offers by his sophomore year. He chose to stay in school, he says, because he wasn’t done learning. Now, having seen his first company through an exit, he has a degree and perspective on what makes a real difference for young companies and entrepreneurs.

In this exclusive First Round Review interview, Shipper shares the three tactics that moved the needle the most for him and Firefly, and how beginning founders can get a head start on success.


The Case for Why Marketing Should Have Its Own Engineers

Knewton isn’t an easy product to explain. Analyzing hordes of data, it adjusts lesson plans for students in real time across subjects, determines how they learn, and suggests the best way to help them. It’s one of those technology experiences that takes on something huge and makes it effortless as if by magic.

For the last four years, Robbie Mitchell and his team have been inventing ways to describe an entirely new suite of education possibilities. As Knewton’s Head of Marketing and Communications, he has not only helped shape the company’s identity, but also the way it approaches marketing to get the most traction possible. Today, he runs the marketing team like an independent agency within the organization complete with its own engineers — a strategy he highly recommends for small teams that need to get a lot done fast. So far so good. Knewton has landed huge deals with titans of the education world like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and Microsoft.

In this exclusive interview, Mitchell explains how he devised the in-house agency model, how it's given the company an edge, and why other startups should consider doing the same.


Dropbox's Head of Design on the Dawn of Personalized Products

Soleio Cuervo has been thinking about how to tailor technology to users for almost a decade. And he’s had a pretty unique vantage point. As one of the very first designers at Facebook (and reported creator of the famous "Like" button), he was instrumental in the creation of many of Facebook's early products and features. Now leading design at Dropbox, he spends his time thinking of new ways for products to understand our needs and wants in real time.

“Personalized streams are everywhere we look now: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn,” says Cuervo. And that’s not even delving into the new movement toward predictive technologies like Google Now that serve up information before you even know you need it. But personalization doesn’t have to be the provenance of massive companies. Startups can take advantage of the same principles to build deeply engaging experiences.

After years of firsthand work and observation, Cuervo has seen four ingredients emerge that power personalized products. At First Round’s recent Design+Startup event in San Francisco, he explained each one and how newer and smaller companies can put them together to not only build great products but accelerate progress for everyone.


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