Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Category: Startups (Page 1 of 6)

featuredstartup.com

How I Created My Latest Side Project in 3 Hours for $13.24

I have had this side project idea for a while now, which combines my love for promoting early stage startups and my interest on hearing the stories on how they were inspired.

I spent a few hours last Sunday afternoon, in between household chores and playing computer games with my youngest child, putting together an MVP of it, to see how well received it would be. In this article, I share the tools which I used, and the process I went through.

Planning

Who needs detailed planning, when it’s just a side project? That’s not exactly true, however I knew this was just an MVP to gauge initial reactions to the idea, so I avoided doing much planning, outside of writing a few rough dot points to give me some direction.

Side project dot points

Side project dot points

Register a domain name

So this is where my big budget of $13.24 ended up being spent. I had noticed the featuredstartup.com domain name was available a while back, and took the plunge and bought it.

I have a terrible habit of buying domain names when I notice them, and I currently have a few dozen domain names already in my name, so I was quite proud I held off purchasing it until I actually needed it.

Featured Startup domain receipt

Featured Startup domain receipt

Set up hosting

I’m using Digital Ocean for these side projects. I have a bunch on there already, and it costs peanuts for a great server. 1Gb of RAM and 30Gb of SSD space costs me a total of $10 a month, and I have around 10 side projects in various stages hosted on it, with 29Gb of disc space spare.

Install WordPress

WordPress is literally the easiest CMS to get up and running; it takes all of five minutes before you are ready to add your first post. The best part is the trillion themes, plug ins and developer communities out there supporting WordPress already. It would be insane to choose anything else for this.

Find an appropriate WordPress theme

This is one of the most time consuming parts, because there are literally hundreds of places to find thousands of free and paid themes.

I wanted to find a theme that would work well with an interview style format in the individual posts, and a simple method to display the latest startups on the homepage. I ended up settling with the free version of Tracks.

Given this is literally the first incarnation of this site, if my previous projects have shown me something, it is likely I’ll change themes a few times until I am really happy.

Add my three favourite WordPress plugins

Every time I install WordPress, the first thing I tend to do is install the same three very useful plugins. They are;

Yoast SEO
This is a very useful plugin that provides you with a quick summary of how your SEO will look for a particular post, and makes suggestions on getting your content ready to rank well.

Insert Post Ads
I use this plugin to drop in a standard call to action (CTA) in the middle of blog posts, such as the subscribe box here on my blog.

Jetpack
This is the official WordPress plugin, created by Automattic, the people behind WordPress. It has a bunch of useful features, and the free plan tends to be enough for most side projects.

Create a form to collect responses

To avoid email ping pong and keep things easy for me, I created a survey form using Google forms.

The two main benefits with Google forms (besides being free) are that you can save the responses in a Google sheet, which is what I needed for the automation I wanted to do, and you can update the form questions at any time.

I have these survey responses being saved per line in a Google Sheet, so I can do some magic to save time, as per my next point.

Create automation magic

As mentioned, I wanted to do some automation magic with the form responses, so I hooked up Zapier to automatically grab the latest responses in my Google sheet and post them as drafts to WordPress, using this Zap.

This was the fun part. I know from previous experience, it can be very time consuming to copy and paste interviews and responses from an email thread, format it all nicely and consistently, and then plonk it into WordPress.

Using this Zapier recipe, means that as a new line appears in the Google Sheet (above), it automatically imports it into WordPress, formats it, and saves it as a draft for my review.

I can then tweak things, add an image and blockquote, etc in no time at all. Awesome!

Set up email marketing

I’ve been using Mailerlite for my own personal blog and a few other side projects, and I’m becoming a bigger fan every time I use it.

I created a simple email template which grabs the latest articles from the RSS feed, and sends them out once a day to subscribers.

Featured Startups email

Featured Startups email

Created a popup email form

The great thing with Mailerlite over similar email tools, is they provide an easy way to create a popup form in literally a few minutes, and then you just take the provided Javascript, and add it to the WordPress template. Voila!

Add an email subscribe form

As I mentioned earlier, I installed the very useful Insert Post Ads plugin, then I whipped up a quick subscribe box, so it appears in every interview.

Set up Twitter

As per usual, I created a Twitter account. I couldn’t get @featuredstartup which was frustrating, so I settled on @featurestartup which was close enough.

I actually cheated here slightly, renaming an existing yet dormant Twitter account I already had, and set up some quick branding.

Featured Startups Twitter account

Featured Startups Twitter account

You will notice there’s a nice image of a laptop showing the Featured Startup site, both in the header of the Twitter account and this blog post. Nope, that isn’t my laptop or coffee table. I created this image using a fantastic resource, called Magic Mockups, which allows you to import an image or URL, and place it on a variety of photographs of different devices and settings.

A little Twitter automation

Another cool Zapier zap is the ability to grab the Twitter username from the Google Sheet which stores my survey submissions, and send out a personalised thank you tweet.

Example automated tweet

Example automated tweet

In the example above, the @bobs username was taken from the sheet, along with the ‘Billys Bargains’ name. Neither of these are real, by the way. This was just a test to show the automation works before I start getting real submissions using the same workflow.

The Final Result

After around 2.5 to 3 hours of work, my latest side project is now live and ready for you to check out. Currently, Featured Startup will be posting a new startup every weekday. This may grow over time, depending on the volume of submissions and interest from readers.

Worst case, the site doesn’t get much interest and I’ll eventually just leave it stagnant. Best case, the startups I feature get plenty of new interest.

How to get your startup featured

If you take a look at the site, you’ll find out that in order to submit your own startup to be possibly featured on the site, you will need to join the mailing list, and visit some of the other startups that get featured.

Without giving all the fine details away, it is fairly trivial to see which subscribers are actively engaging with the emails, and the corresponding invitation links will only be sent to those subscribers with a certain minimum engagement score.

The purpose of this is to see if I can increase engagement, and make the selection process a little harder to stop the ‘drop a link and run’ types. I’ll report back later how this has worked.

Note: Both the Digital Ocean and Mailerlite links above are affiliate links. I get a small credit in my existing accounts (as do you), if you sign up from that link. This hasn’t influenced my mention of them; they are both awesome services in any case.

South Perth foreshore

Australian Startup Events & Conferences July 2017 to June 2018

I’ve previously written about the value that conferences and major events can have for attendees, and I am a strong believer in regularly attending events (See my article on attending last years RISE conference in Hong Kong).

They can be a great opportunity to network with your peers, build new relationships, learn a few new things, and possibly just enjoy getting away from the desk. See my article, Why You Should Attend Two Conferences a Year.

Although Australia is getting great traction and activity in the startup space, it doesn’t seem to have resulted in plenty of large scale startup events or conferences (yet…). You’ll also notice the list seems to be sadly very Sydney centric.

Here are the major Australian startup events and conferences coming up over the 17/18 financial year, which I am aware of.

The Australian startup events and conferences list

Last updated: 27 June 2017. Sorted by date for financial year, 2017/2018.

Australian startup events, Southstart

Southstart Conference

When: 5/6 July 2017
Where: Adelaide, South Australia

SouthStart is a conference focusing on technological innovation and startups, combining an expo and startup pitching competition which aim to connect, educate, inspire, and showcase South Australia startup businesses.

More info: Southstart website

B2B Rocks

When: 28 September, 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Back for a second year in Sydney, this single day event has been running in Paris since 2013, and was well received in Sydney last year. Every B2B founder should consider getting to it, if they can. Thanks Alex for the submission!

More info: B2B Rocks website

Tech23

When: 10 October 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Tech23 may be a single day event, but don’t let stop you. It is getting bigger by the year, and there is always a stellar lineup of people attending.

More info: Tech23 website

Spark Festival

When: 13-22 October 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

From all reports, this has become as big as Sydney, with a calendar full of events over 9 days again scheduled for this October, it is definitely an event to keep an eye on.

More info: Spark Festival website

Startcon

Startcon

When: 1/2 December 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

I attended last years Startcon as an exhibitor in the Startup Alley, which meant I sadly missed many of the talks. A great time was had, however, and this is an Australian startup event I would recommend.

More info: Startcon website

West Tech Fest

When: 4-10 December 2017
Where: Perth, Western Australia

Held as part of the OzApp Awards, the West Tech Fest is a variety of Australian startup events all held at various venues close to the city in Perth, over a week long period. Typically held in the first week of December, dates to be added when they are announced.

More info: OzApp website

CeBIT Startup Conference

When: 15-17 May 2018
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

As part of the very large CeBIT Conference in Sydney, CeBIT is returning with their expo zone and startup conference in 2018. Last year featured speakers from AirTree Ventures, Pollenizer, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship and more.

More info: CeBIT website

Internet of Things Festival

When: 2-5 June 2018
Where: Melbourne, Victoria

Not exactly a generalist startup conference, however I thought since there’s a thriving IoT community, it was interesting enough to add to this list. It is also the sole Melbourne event on this list (surely there must be more?).

More info: IoT Festival website

Myriad

Myriad

When: Dates TBA
Where: Brisbane, Queensland

The Myriad website doesn’t reveal a lot, and there are no dates yet for Myriad 2018, however checking out their blog over at Medium may give you a sense of what they are all about.

More info: Myraid website

Am I missing an Australian startup event?

Know an Australian startup event, which caters for most founders and startups, which is at least a full day in length (and not a hackathon or barcamp) which I haven’t included? Let me know please by posting in the comments below!

Perth Helicopter

My Latest (Old) Side Project Promoting Perth Startups

At the start of 2017, I promised myself to spend this year launching four different side projects. One every quarter.

I’ve got three other side projects part ready, and growth.email which I am still running, however for this quarter I’ve decided to double down on something I began a while ago as a purely community project.

I’d like to introduce an old side project which has been bubbling away, however now it’s time to put some real effort in. Startup Perth is a Twitter account and associated landing page, which I started back in August 2015, as a way to promote fellow Perth startups and innovators.

Over time, it has grown to become a valuable resource for the local startups which receive extra visibility and promotion as a result, and to the 18,500+ people who follow the account, who get an insight into local innovators.

I wrote an article just recently about the progress so far. This reminded me how much I spent, both financially and the hours I have been putting in over the last 20 months.

I’ve made the decision to dedicate the next three months to either get at least the money and time I am spending promoting Perth startups, covered through some income, or look at either selling it, or shutting down. Whilst I started it purely for the benefit of the community, it is taking time and money that I could be using towards one of my other side projects (or, you know, a life).

The trick is, that it’s typically hard to monetise a Twitter account.

Marketing Benefits of Startup Perth for Startups
Whilst the idea of sharing content on Twitter seems very simple and low value, it’s actually very valuable for brands, as most marketers attest to. In this article on Quuu, they discuss five benefits, being

  • It’s Free Traffic
  • Engage and Cultivate Even More Free Traffic
  • Your Google Rankings Will Rise
  • You’ll Get Indexed Faster
  • You’ll Create a Better Relationship with Customers

One of the big benefits for many of the startups I have been sharing content from, is the search engine rankings, and the exposure of these brands to new markets. A while back, I started sharing one particular startup which had 9 Twitter followers at the time. A week later, they had 24 – all naturally as a result of Startup Perth sharing their tweets.

This is great validation that comes from promoting Perth startups, especially early stage innovators.

Recent statistics show a high correlation between those successful on social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ also have much success in Google visibility.

Recent changes to Startup Perth
In the last 13 days, I have been getting a few tasks lined up and completed, to give this quarter a better chance of success.

I started by overhauling the Startup Perth website (it used to be just a page here on my blog).

Afterwards, I deleted a number of old automated feeds, and added a few new startups. I also changed the timing for many of these, and tweaked the hashtags that are associated with them.

I also compiled a contact list for each startup, and put it in a spreadsheet. I have reached out to all of these businesses by email, and I confirmed their URL, name, etc is all perfect.

New Startup Perth website

New Startup Perth website

The plan for Startup Perth
So this is what I am going to attempt to achieve over the next three months. I’m going to spend the next two months building further engagement on Twitter, as well as trying to attract income to cover the costs.

Depending on how this goes, I’ll spend the final month either negotiating for selling the name, website and Twitter account or shutting the account down.

Building engagement
Startup Perth already attracts a fair amount of engagement. Most tweets are retweeted, replied to or favourited. So here are a few things I’ll be trying over the next month;

Add more visual quotes. I’ve tried these on and off, and they are always well received. Inspirational quotes that relate to startups and innovation.

Daily focus tweets. I am scheduling a daily tweet, where we focus on one of the startups in my automated posting list.

Reaching out and saying hello. I’ll be using the account and say thanks to a few followers, and hello to some new followers.

Promoting Perth startups. I’ll continue doing what I have been, and try to find new startups to start promoting as well.

Generating income
There are a few possible methods of getting income whilst also promoting Perth startups. I believe I could just demand a monthly/annual fee to include the 35 startups I am currently promoting, or I could sell sponsorship for a time period such as a week or month (Like “This week’s tweets are brought to you by 6Q”).

These methods, however, put those early stage startups, who typically are bootstrapped and possibly not making any money at this stage, at a disadvantage.

The model I am going to try first, is literally just ask for donations, using a PayPal link. This way, the startups and others who gain value from the service, and who can afford to spend a little on advertising can send me what they feel is adequate and fair value, and those who don’t have the spare marketing budget, don’t feel pressured to.

How you can help
If you want to help, sharing this post, or retweeting Startup Perth would be a great help.

If you follow the account, and feel you are getting value from it, a small donation towards running it would be nice. If you are from one of the startups that I am currently promoting, I would appreciate you pitching in a small part of your marketing budget towards paying the bills.

See this page for more detail.

Woman typing with coffee

Why You Shouldn’t Ask Friends or Family for Startup Feedback [& Better Ways]

You’ve come up with a startup idea, and you’re excited. This is going to be The Next Big Thing, you’re absolutely positive. You catch up with friends and family and bounce your idea off them. They agree you are onto The Next Big Thing. Yay!

Have you just done yourself and your friends a disservice? Often, sadly yes.

I have seen way too many crazy startup ideas get too far down the track, thanks to well meaning people supporting ideas, that frankly, have significant problems. What you need is customer validation; not platitudes from loved ones.

I’ve been guilty of doing this. I’ve also been on the receiving end.

Enter the topic of confirmation bias.

Your friend Sally wants you to remain positive and wants to see you succeed. She listens to your startup idea, you brimming with smiles and talking enthusiastically. Sally nods and agrees with your idea. However, deep down, Sally remains unconvinced. In some situations, she is actually thinking that this is the Next Big Dumb Thing.

You see, Sally doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. She doesn’t want to be the person who brings bad news. So it’s easier for Sally in a social setting to just agree, to keep you happy.

Problem is, Sally isn’t helping you at all, and you’re putting stress on Sally because now she feels guilty that she told you it was great, when she actually feels it isn’t.

Now, obviously not everyone is the same, however what you want to do is avoid the group-think mentality of people just agreeing with your thought processes.

Better ways to ask colleagues

One way to do this is before you explain your startup idea to someone, make sure to mention that there are no good or bad answers – you’re after as much feedback as possible, positive or negative. It all helps you as an entrepreneur.

It is also very wise to frame your questions differently.

For example, start by saying ‘I have an idea to improve shiny rockets. I’d love to hear your thoughts, but I want as much negative feedback as positive feedback’

Once you’ve given them a quick pitch on the idea, ask exploring (and not leading!) questions, such as ‘What do you like the most about this idea?’ and then follow up ‘What don’t you like about this idea?’

Make sure not to answer defensively either; a good way to shoot down someone’s freely given advice is to start saying ‘No, you’re wrong’, which is effectively what I hear when someone starts acting defensively.

Instead, say things such as ‘Oh, hey great point I hadn’t thought of that’ or if you had, say ‘Yes, that had crossed my mind. One way to tackle that is use shinier shiny things’. The shiny things bit may not work in your case.

It is fine to ask family and friends for thoughts, but ensure you balance that with feedback from further afield; and by further, I mean from people who aren’t emotionally connected to you.

How to validate with real customers

The startup world is full of talk about customer validation, and this often can feel like a huge step, but it doesn’t need to be.

First off, determine who you think is the ideal customer. This is the person who frequently suffers the problem you are out to solve. Say your shiny rocket idea.

The first step is to discover who is actually affected with this problem; what role do they play? Is it the engineers, the astronauts or the administration staff?

Asking for feedback using social media

Asking for feedback using social media

Find these customers in social connections

Then, make a list of people who you know that fit this customer persona. If you don’t know anyone in these roles, look for people you may know that could introduce you.

Using LinkedIn or Facebook, you can trawl through your contacts and try to find the right person, even someone who works in the rocketry field.

Run a very short survey

Another way to approach this, is to use a survey tool such as Google Forms or Typeform, and invite people by email or social to answer it. I’ve used this technique a few times to collect data, and it’s very handy. The good thing about this technique is that the recipient doesn’t feel pressure completing it, the con however is you aren’t able to change questions, based on the interviewees previous answers.

Side projects survey I recently ran

Side projects survey I recently ran

The above survey was great. I created it for free using Google Forms, and then using social, collected around 35 responses over a 24 hour period. It gave me great insight into how people feel, and I can now dig down using the next step.

The cold call technique

If not, try calling your nearest rocket manufacturer, and ask to be put through to someone in that role. It may feel daunting to pick up a phone and just call a stranger, however you’ll quickly find that most people are very happy to spend a few minutes to give advice.

Before you ask though, you need to contextualise it correctly.

Begin the conversation by saying something like “I’m not selling anything, I promise. I am thinking of creating something to help alleviate a specific problem that rocket manufacturers face. Can I ask a couple of questions? I promise it will be only five minutes of your time.”

Then, start by asking them if it really is a problem. “Do you have problems with dull rockets?” or “Is the shiny parts of a rocket important to manufacturers?”.

Make sure to follow my leading question advice from above too. A leading question is when you ask something in a way that encourages people to agree or disagree. Such as “Shiny rockets are a big problem, aren’t they?”. This question would be far better if phrased “Are shiny rockets an issue for you?”

Finally! Confidence in the feedback you’ve received

In no time at all, you’ll collect valuable thoughts around your startup idea, and you may discover that there is no problem there to fix, that the decision makers don’t value your proposed solution, or that you really have stumbled on to The Next Big Thing.

In any case, get feedback about your startup idea from further afar. Don’t spend lots of time or money building a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, or is undervalued by your target customers. Good luck!

@StartupPerth on Twitter

Update on Micro News Service Startup Perth [20 Months]

Since way back in August 2015, I’ve been running what I call a ‘micro news service’ on Twitter, called Startup Perth. Whilst it has a single page website, all the activity happens on the Twitter account.

It was started to raise further awareness of Perth’s innovative companies. Startup Perth uses a combination of both automation, and manual checking once or twice a day, to share news and information about the Perth startup ecosystem. I wrote about it before, back on Promoting Perth Startups.

Over the last 19 months since it began, I’ve attracted 18,545 followers to the account, making it by far the most followed for Western Australian startup and innovation news. In fact, the nearest three Twitter accounts, added up, make up less than a third of the Startup Perth followers, so something about this account is doing well.

Similar twitter accounts
Startup News 3,034
Techboard 1,990
Startup WA 1,564

Some statistics
Followers 18,545
Tweets 3,879
Automated 1,951 tweets
Manual 1,928 tweets

So, what did it share? Well, it shared mostly news and announcements from Western Australian startups, including links to over 1,900 blog posts, 1,426 photos and videos, inspirational quotes and more.

Manual retweet example

Manual re-tweet example

The 1,928 manual tweets were me, typically re-tweeting something a local startup tagged the account in, or found on one of their feeds, such as the example above. At one minute per tweet, that’s taken me roughly 32.5 hours to do.

The tweet automation checks against 50+ startups that have blogs with RSS feeds, and then posts their latest blog post, with a link and hashtags, such as this example, below.

Automated tweet example

Automated tweet example

There were 50 RSS feeds being monitored, and out of those, five didn’t post anything in the last 20 months. There were another 38 feeds that were only tweeted between 1 and 84 times. That totals 883 tweets in total.

The top four feeds were posted 1,068 times alone, more than the rest of the list, combined. They were for the four biggest content producers in Perth (it seems), being;

Techboard
Startup News
Prezentt
6Q

The entire list of feeds that Startup Perth has been watching is at the footer of this post, for your perusal.

Time spent
As well as the 32.5 hours of manual re-tweeting and sharing, there was around 1-2 hours per month, checking feeds, answering questions, and other administration.

Outgoings
There were costs involved in doing this, mainly;

Domain name ($20 per year)
Hosting (sponsored by Bam Creative)
Automation ($20 per month)

All up, this side project has cost me in hard money, $440.00 in total.

Income
Absoutely nothing.

To be fair, I’ve never gone hunting for any sponsorship or support. In fact, it is a little perplexing for me how I should approach any sponsorship; what do they sponsor? I guess I could have a paid to be included feed, as long as the content was on topic, or a weekly/month ‘This feed supported by SPONSOR NAME’ type arrangement.

Future of Startup Perth
Having done all the above sums, spending 50 hours and $440 every 20 months for a side project that doesn’t give me any financial gain does seem a little daunting to continue. I do love helping fellow startups out, and never started with the plan of making this some profitable activity, though I would be keen to get something to cover costs.

At this stage, I rate the financial success of this side project a big fail, however I’m continuing for the meantime, whilst I ponder any future it may have. If you have any keen thoughts, or want to berate me for wasting my time, please comment below.

Companies being promoted
Here is the list of the 45 Perth startups who did get some content out, via their RSS feeds I am automatically monitoring. Well done for this lot getting some promotion out there.

Startups being promoted

Startups being promoted

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Words & Images © 2005-2016, Miles Burke. All rights reserved.