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Why Startups Need to Focus on Sales, Not Marketing (wsj.com)
308 points by sama on June 3, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments

Exposing yourself to the direct, harsh feedback of the market is key. I've noticed that bad founders will do just about anything to avoid this. Instead of selling, which is hard, they spend their time going to conferences and meetups, trying to do PR, talking to biz dev people about partnerships, etc. It all sounds like work, but mainly serves to insulate them from the harsh reality that nobody wants their product.

When I said yesterday in a thread about Perfect Audience (which just sold for 25.5MM) that Brad Flora was my working definition of "hustle", and someone asked me what I meant --- this is exactly what I meant. He would describe what he was doing to move sales processes forward in Chicago and I would react by wincing, and then amazement.

This is also why one of the most powerful bits of advice I've ever picked up from HN is Paul Graham's (paraphrased) "if nobody makes fun of your crappy product when you launch it, you waited too long to launch". For a lot of developers, the resistance to sales shows itself in a strong feeling that the product isn't done, isn't ready. The Steve Blank process is a pretty good antidote to this.

Also: startup hipsters and MBA types will talk down cold-calling, but I have a friend hustling a pretty complicated product right now and I have watched him make cold calls work. Again: wince, then jaw drop. Then learn.

I agree. Going head on into sales makes all the difference.

My first company was an ISP that we started with a $40k seed investment, out of a basement. I literally sat down with the phone book and started phoning companies to people to host web sites with us. This was in '95, and many of the people I called did not even know what the internet was, much less had any idea of why they'd want a website, so it was a difficult proposition.

All I knew about sales, I knew from a one day course and two weeks experience doing calls for a charity.

My main takeaway from said charity, who had professionalized extracting money from people, was that if you worry about your product, you don't understand; when you do cold calls, it's 99% about emotion and gaining trust. They'd even diagrammed out how you wanted the person on the other end to feel at any stage of the call.

And it worked, scarily well. Despite the fact that I'm an introvert and was painfully shy and lacking in social skills. I winced before making every call. I'd sit there and have to breathe to calm myself before dialling even the first digit.

Way too often when people complain that their product isn't ready to sell, it's because they try to sell it on price and feature bullet lists without building any kind of rapport and trust first. That's hard enough in person, when people have far more to judge you on.

But if you cold call, if the person on the other side does not trust you, you could not even get them to accept cash from you for free.

If you don't get them excited about you, no feature list in the world is going to get them to buy it from you, because all their defences will be set to "full nuclear deterrent".

But if you get them to trust you, they'll often go out of their way to give you all the information you need to successfully sell it to them. Sometimes that mean you go away with a list of changes you need to make to your product because you genuinely wasn't ready. But if you get people to be excited about you, sometimes you can even get them to pay for some of those changes as custom development.

Any chance of getting access to the diagram you mention?

If there's anything I could read/watch to learn more about this, I'd love to do so. Is anyone aware of such a thing?

Zig Ziglar's 'Secrets of closing the sale':


What's the reason for the gratuitous insult to people with an mba? It's quite a prevalent theme on HN. I'm an mba, and it's an offensive stereotype. I've noticed over the years that it's one of the more common strawmen that commenters like to use on HN. I did an mba at Harvard many years ago, and I would suggest that the level of entrepreneurial hustle among a typical cohort is far higher than that in a typical engineering program. It doesn't take much googling to find lists of mba's who've founded prominent companies in the valley or elsewhere. Anyone doing that would discover that your slam is nothing more than ignorance or just plain bias for whatever reason.

I guess the perception is that MBAs are trained to become a part of an already established traditional business and not a ground-breaking start up, their skills are specifically trained to support the current form of corporations. This notion is supported by entrepreneurship courses from people like Steve Blank. Moreover, MBAs are perceived as being unable to grasp the technological advancement, "getting in the way" of technology and insisting on leading because they have such a degree and not because of their real-world skills (and often insisting on non-sensical and "trendy" priorities), and this sentiment is pretty common amongst typical techies.

That perception is not entirely without merit, but it's a little dated. Steve Blank, fwiw, teaches and lectures at the MBA programs at both Stanford and Berkeley. MBA programs, like those and many others, are actively embracing his methodology, and methodologies like his.

Modern, top-tier MBA programs are increasingly driven by entrepreneurship, and less by traditional, hidebound business courses and corporate line-management skills. A lot has changed, and much of it changed in reaction to the embarrassments of the late '90s. Furthermore, engineers make up an increasingly large percentage of MBA cohorts these days; the old MBA/engineer dichotomy could use a refresh. The two skill sets -- engineering and analytical business strategy -- are often quite complementary. MBA programs have recognized as much, and today, being an engineer is a serious advantage in an MBA curriculum.

That's not to say you won't find your fair share of entitled, naive, or opportunistic MBA students in any given program. They're still around. But their numbers are dwindling, because many industries (finance and consulting notwithstanding) have realized they don't want that type. In time, these people will become the exceptions, and not the rule. That may already be the case at many MBA programs.

I'm not here to play apologist for the reputation MBAs have earned in the tech world. A lot of it has been deserved. At the same time, a lot of it is no longer as fair or accurate an assessment as it once was.

It's an HN thing. You just have to ignore it - it's based on ignorance not malice.

I'm an "MBA type" running a very early-stage startup and I am only too painfully aware that cold-calling is the way forward to get our first few hundred sales. Somehow we spend so much time reading about digital marketing, and optimising this sign-up flow, and A:B testing this and that, that we forget that a significant number of users can be persuaded to use your product just by being compelling and enthusiastic.

Pure "cold calling" isn't the only way (but I've been there too) predictablerevenue.com/book changed the course of my first company by helping us fail faster. We built some internal tools to support the 'Cold Calling 2.0' process he lays out in the book and when we realized our product wasn't sellable, we pivoted our company around the tools we built.

6 months in, we're doing more revenue each month than we did all of last year.

I was going to say, the other source I find really good at the moment is http://saastr.com/, but I now see they are the same author. Thanks for linking - I'll check that book out. I'll be the 1st to admit I need all the help I can get to teach myself to be good at sales.

Because to us developers, we've seen a lot of business folks who just don't get what it is we do. Unrealistic expectations, no concept of technical debt, endless pushes for solid deadlines despite being told things won't happen on those dates, no understanding of what it takes to scale things past a certain level, etc, etc, etc.

If you're an MBA with a CS degree, or even simply someone who has actually done your share of boots on the ground dev work, this attitude probably doesn't apply to you. MBAs have a perception, rightfully so I think, of not really understanding what happens to turn all of their great ideas into working software. There's also nothing like company wide (or god forbid, external) emails promising features by a specific date without having consulted developers on timelines, or worse, having consulted them on the timeline without taking into consideration that it requires moving everything else they're working on down the line to meet that deadline. "Oh, it's just adding a textbox here, plugging it into a formula, and spitting it out over here here and here, how hard can it be? An hour tops."

That wasn't an insult. That was an empirically observed fact. The people who have told me not to bother cold-calling have tended to be MBAs.

Doesn't that make it an anecdote then, rather than a fact?

Hey, i am not an MBA, but working on my start up, i feel there is a NEED for some formal business training. I mean there are so many businees things I am trying to figure out and i feel I can't be the only one doing this. They must have come up with formal standardized processes for this now. And i am sure they teach you all that stuff during an MBA

That dude always gives really bland, re-read advice (lol at his jaw-dropping at some random cold-calling people, sounds super privileged to me, and he always insults folks while he's at it). King of the Aspies here at HN.

I considered doing an MBA once, and see the value. The issue is not MBA's per se, but that there are a bunch of people taking MBA courses, especially at lower tier schools, that are essentially all about hustle without any underlying substance. Think the pointy haired boss from Dilbert.

First time I've heard the pointy haired boss was essentially all about hustle.

Simple advice: if somebody expresses even a slight interest in your product keep calling until you get firm "no - I don't want your product" (preferably not yelling at you). And founder(s) MUST BE doing that 'till company has maybe 5 to 6 employees. Even if founders are not "good in sales". When company is early, there is no "good in sales": it is just if your product solves the problem or not.

Anyone who thinks cold calling doesn't work is living in a bubble. It is still the quickest way to reach your prospects and one of the most effective forms of marketing when you crunch the math properly... http://affordablemarketinglists.com/why-cold-calling-works-i...

Beyond the value that you get from whatever sales from cold calling, it's a character building experience. It sucks, it's a grind, but you're definitely a more resilient person after dogging through 200 phone calls where no one wants to talk to you.

FYI, it's a Reid Hoffman quote, referenced here http://paulgraham.com/really.html#f3n

Cold calling is one of the hardest jobs in the world. The people who are good at it, and can think on their feet, are worth their weight in gold. Maybe even worth their weight in bitcoins.

In addition, people are socialized to avoid giving insult, so even if they hate your product they won't tell you to your face. If all the user feedback you're collecting is positive but you're not seeing user uptake, you're probably not getting honest feedback.

That's why I always tell them to get an LOI. Often people will say, "that sounds great, let us know when it's ready", and the founder will mistakenly think that's a sale. Even asking someone to sign a non-binding LOI forces a lot more honesty.

This was one of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever got as a founder.

Pre-product, when customers would say "Yes, I would buy this," we asked them to sign a non-binding LOI to that effect.

Nowadays, if a prospect says they'll buy when we have feature X, we ask them to sign a modified customer contract that says they don't have to pay until we mutually agree that the feature is done.

It has saved countless developer months spent on features that were not the real reason the customer didn't want to buy. And it sometimes causes the prospect to start saying, "well, actually, the issue is..." and then you can get the real feedback.

I always like to ask "What will it take for you to become a customer of ours?"

The key is to keep following up with questions until you arrive at a point when they say "and yes, then we'd buy"

See more about it here if interested: http://blog.close.io/sales-hacking-kung-fu-how-to-virtually-...

Forcing to a yes or no is key. I prefer yes, can manage no, but I have no way to manage maybe, it just closes other options without delivering results.


Letter of intent. Pre-selling also works well in these situations to judge actual demand.

Here is what I found when I was out selling: The only thing worse than getting a no is getting nothing.

At least with No, you get feedback and that is valuable. The only way you can get to "no" or "yes" is by pushing the customer to give you an answer and people in general are hesitant to be that pushy.

As a former cofounder on the technical side I ran into this exact situation with my cofounders. Do you have any advice for past me to encourage selling and discourage "networking" activities in a way that doesn't look like the tech person is telling the business person how to do business things?

Partner with proven ethical sales people rather than B.S. artists. As a technical person working a job, the best way for you to meet such people is to work with them in a technical capacity. If your current job doesn't give you opportunities to work with the best sales people in your company (including traveling with them to meet customers), find one that does.

And if you are a cofounder, whether technical or not, you are a business person first. If you aren't sharing your opinions on the best way to sell to your prospects you aren't doing your most important job as a founder.

I'd second this, I remember something that really struck a chord with me was Eric Ries saying, in a LeanConf Interview session that a founder does whatever is needed for a company to survive first and foremost, and the technical aspect is just the fact that you have more experience in that area.

Well, if they have to be told that networking is not sales, is not bringing money in, then you shouldn't worry about it looking like you are telling them how to do business things. You're just telling them to do business things.

I have to say there are so many conversations I have (usually consulting with someone looking to do a startup) and one of the first things that comes up regardless of the market/problem is "maybe we could do some machine learning..." and I immediately think "you're doing it wrong".

I didn't start making significant sales in my businesses until I learned to stop focusing on the tech stuff and just throw together a manual process and start working on selling.

One way to get that direct feedback is through usability tests of your product. All I mean by that is conducting somewhat-structured conversations with prospects as they explore your product.

I did just this with a startup recently, and the feedback we collected was immensely helpful and very insightful. For those interested, I wrote about it here: http://www.gkogan.co/blog/usability-testing-case-study/

This was a great write-up, you should post to the main site.

If you want to start doing usability testing I'd recommend getting a copy of Steve Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rocket-Surgery-Made-Easy-yourself/dp...). It will probably take you less than an hour to read and will stop you making the basic mistakes I see folk new to usability testing make.

One of the hardest things is seeing this happen, because there can be a lot of pride and hubris associated with doing good PR, biz dev etc. A lot of the time this comment, which is true and I can't emphasis it enough, will hit a wall of resistance for whatever reason.

This is exactly why I left my last company.

Two other co-founders where obsessed with doing this type of shit.

While this makes sense, if you use what you learn doing sales to actually improve your product (or the pitch, engine of growth, etc.) then you're back to doing marketing.

I think one way around it would be to outsource you lead gen. You will at-least have a willing audience when you present.

This sounds like another cop out. If you really have a good product, get a list of customers who'd benefit from it, then start calling. You'll learn a lot about how good your product actually is.

You don't exactly get such lists. We don't have a filter for customers with needs. So the best option is do an manual filtering. This can save valuable time for the sales time.

Bollocks. If you can't - at least in broad terms - describe the kind of business/consumer that would benefit from your product, then are you really ready to start selling? And if you can describe them - then surely you can get a rough idea of where they hang out, who they are, etc.

Otherwise you are just throwing darts blindly and hoping they hit.

>You don't exactly get such lists.

A lot of people would argue that this is a key part of understanding your market. If you don't have a such a list, it probably makes sense to hustle, cold-call, talk to people you know closer to the industry, etc (i.e., exactly the same steps people are describing as "sales") to get one.

The problem is an outsourced lead gen company will not understand what signifies a good lead if you don't, and they will call people and pick up on the wrong things.

Using outsourced lead gen. is great if you can describe exactly how their staff can identify what makes a good lead, and can follow them up closely to give feedback about which leads were good and which weren't, and why. But unless you've done the whole process yourself first, you're unlikely to know exactly how to best instruct them.

Frantic energy as a defense against impotence.

beautifully put. medicine really is bitter but it makes sense.

"All too often, I’ve seen founders build some initially mediocre product, announce it to the world, find that users never show up, and not know what to do next. As well as not getting any users, the startup never gets the feedback it needs to improve the product."

Ah, the Hollywood launch... (http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch13_Hollywood_Launch.php)

Didn't know it had a term. I made a little comic about this: http://www.gkogan.co/blog/simple-user-acquisition-comic/

Nice comic, but i don't believe a website is the most important part of the conversion.

At least for the first users, you should convert them yourself, making them want to buy/use your product even before they visit your website. This way you have face-to-face conversation and feedback. This way you will learn about strategies to sell that work. This way you don't go nuts on AB tests e SEO optimization when you only hundreds of random visitors.

Good point, though I don't see why you can't do both.

Very early on, of course the single most important thing is talking to users. You may not even have a website at that point. But once you're past that -- even at the point of getting dozens of somewhat target users per day -- why not leverage the site to convert while you sleep or while you do more one-on-one outreach?

Sure, you should have both. But I think the myth of "convert while you sleep" is dangerous. Your site should be just a communication support, exactly the same function of your business card. It must make you look professional and trustable. But only that (at the very beginning).

Only after you know, from personal experience and buying customers, what specifically make you sell more, then you go on thinking about leverage your website.

When you say you should convert them yourself- through what medium if not a website? Email? Cold calling?

For example, if i'm about to launch a B2B SaaS app for small businesses- whats the best medium to use for the first customers?

In my experience, in-person meetings are by far the most effective way of getting your first customers. Video calls with screen sharing (for demos) are the next best thing.

As said by simonw, in-person meeting. That sure would involve email, cold calling and even your website (but as a business card, as I said before).

Define which Small Business is your target, select a few, try to get a meeting with the owners. That shouldn't be hard, after all SMB owners are used to sales meetings (they are not used to decide an important buy only through internet).

After a few (10..20..40?) you will know a lot more about your business.

The hollywood launch is orthogonal to the "sell first, then market" strategy. You can do both. Doing it right, you'll "launch" a ways after you've picked up customers --- you can't launch without customers if you've taken a process like customer development seriously.

(This of course depends on who you're selling to.)

Maybe the HN crowd has a different view of marketing than I do. Our marketing team relies pretty heavily on getting user feedback. We'll listen to individual calls to make sure the site answers questions potential customers have. We'll run surveys and over the shoulder tests to understand intent, concerns, and confusion.

My background is in marketing, and I'm confused by this parody of a marketer who doesn't know how to gather and apply user feedback to the product and site.

(Another marketer here.)

From my experience, the HN crowd knows better. The author is just painting this a black-and-white issue (either you're doing completely oblivious and vague marketing, or you're doing nitty-gritty hardcore sales!). Of course, this doesn't at all reflect what companies are actually doing.

If the gist of the article is "speak more with your users," then I strongly agree with that. If it's "marketing is useless for startups," well that's simply wrong.

The thing is that all of us have different interpretations of what Sales and Marketing represent. Thus I look past those terms and look at the activity she describes instead.

When I look at what she describes, I feel that it is simply a repackaged form of customer development. But for a WSJ audience, I understand the need to frame it in familiar terms.

I made a huge mistake with the saas listed in my profile.

I threw up a poll on my existing site, some people said, yes, they would like a hosted saas version. I then spent 6 months making it - without speaking to anyone further. It's now been 6 months since launch and its just cobwebs.

Speak to people first! Don't waste 6 months or more just doing the 'easy' tech stuff. Found out now that no one actually would be willing to pay for it.

but have you actually phoned up any of those people and tried to persuade them to use it? If you've just validated the idea with a poll, then thrown it up waiting for them to use it you may have a long wait. I bet you can persuade some of them to use it if you literally hold their hand all the way.

I'm discovering the joys of fast screen-sharing for demos. (I use join.me).

Something doesn't add up to me: either we lost de definition of Marketing, or Markteers that start-ups get are not doing their job.

Marketing is the way to get sales. We measure the success of Markteting by sales. It's the whole purpous of it. If the focus on Marketing is not being reflected on sales, then their Marketing Plan is not working. I think it's as simple as that.

The broadness of the audience is irrelevant when it's clear what is the target for your product - everything outside the target shouldn't count.

It all comes to the hold saying: if you want to please all, you end up not pleasing anyone.

You have a brand new account, but you also have the most insightful comment on this thread which (no offense) is kind of sad.

If a founder doesn't understand the sales funnel and how marketing integrates with that approach, then they are not being mentored properly. If they are doing marketing spending without measuring the conversion rate, they're probably tossing money out the window.

I was at a board game convention, as a venue to launch my site gamerustlers.com, and although we got great reactions, what I really cared about was how many people walked up to the kiosk and actually signed up. The second metric was how many signed up on their phones. While in Beta the site is free so I can't call them "sales", but there is a HUGE difference between someone saying "Hey, great idea" and that person actually signing up, even when it's free to do so.

And I believe there is also a huge difference between someone signing up for your product and someone actively using it after signing up. In my experience, I found that many people will sign up for a product out of general interest, but won't do much beyond that stage.

I agree. Signing up for free, then actually using, THEN using it when it has a fee. All of those are additional levels.

Marketing is salesmanship in media.

If you do marketing first, you're putting the cart before the horse.

You should do sales manually first before you try to automate it away with marketing, because the feedback you get will give you extreme leverage in your marketing later.

http://www.janjuaclothing.com/ - This is my start up for selling women's designer clothing.

I tried lot of things to get the word out like facebook marketing, adwords, email marketing, exhibition, brochure distribution, regular updates on facebook page, deals having upto 30% discounts, spying on twitter for competitors and their customers to see what kind of conversations they are having and what they are doing, regular updates to website for look and feel as well as making it faster and faster.

I reached few affiliates but they were asking for upfront money so I stayed away.

The site was launched about 9 months ago and I have zero sales so far, that is making me sad and sometimes I lose my moral as you can see I have done lot of work. Spent countless hours during day and night. I am not sure what I am missing.

Next things I have planned to do are - SEO, print advertising.

Any help that would result in sales would be greatly appreciated.

Don't bother with SEO or print advertising.

Go find some actual people and convince them, yourself and in person, to try the site. Watch them try it. Ask them if they want to buy. If not why not. Expose yourself to that direct feedback.

This sounds great. Thanks for your input

I ran an e-commerce site focused on Indians living in US a few years ago. Here are a few things that might help you:

1. It seems like your target market is Indian women in USA (guessed based on prices in $) IMO this is still not a niche market. Is your target market Indians who immigrated to US or born here? What age group (working moms vs students)? Why do they need these clothes (casual wear vs Indian parties vs weddings, etc.)? Does your target market live in major cities (like Bay Area) where there are a few offline options available or do they live in remote locations where the nearest Indian grocery store is 50 miles away? Or maybe I am completely wrong and your target market is non-Indian women in US.

2. What did you learn from driving traffic to the site? I see that you listed phone numbers, did anyone call? I would highly recommend using Olark/Zopim and actively chat with people who click on your ad campaigns to ask them what they are looking for.

3. Checkout IndianRoots.com. It is owned by NDTV, the biggest USP they have is free world wide shipping and I know a few people who have already used it. Not sure if you can compete with them on free shipping , but worth looking at.

And as the article says, talk to your users. Running ad campaigns work to drive people onto your site but you'll have to talk to your users to find out what are their pain points and what do they need.

Thanks for a great comment. Please find my response below -

1. My target market is USA, Canada, UK, Australia and new zealand. There are lot of indians living in these countries. I think it is does not matter whether they are immigrated or born in a foreign country as long as they like indian clothes. I have seen lot of non-indians too wearing indian clothes but the percentage would be very low for obvious reasons. My target age group is from 16-45.

2. No calls on my US number but few calls on india number but they did not got the number from site

3. I know indianroots.com. I am also offering free shipping. I think they have advantage of being a big media house like money, plenty of access to media, lot of current customer base

4. I have newsletter based discount on top of site but only 4 people signed up and no one validated their address. I have live chat also but no one initiated it. I will look into your recommendations.

I will change my chat software so that we can talk with users as they browse through my site. I will offer another feedback based discount to see what they are saying abt my site, if they fill up the form.

my site is unknown\new may be that is why people are not buying anything from me.

>My target market is USA, Canada, UK, Australia and new zealand.

I know nothing about your industry or product, but this seems pretty broad. You may want to focus on a specific part of one of those countries at first --- at least as you try to build up sales.

I will consider your input.

Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

I cant believe people are giving you such bad advise...

Your problem is simple, your traffic is low.

I just checked my sources and it seems you get an average of 22 visits per day. Assuming at least half of these are yours, it's obvious you're not getting any sales.

Don't focus on anything related to design, A-B testing, complex in site chat, etc.

Think of it like this, if your shop is located in a hidden alley, and only 10-20 people visit it per day, you can't expect to make any sales, much less get any useful feedback from A-B tests.

There is obviously stuff you must fix, as the images and the logo, but focus on getting customers/sales.

Some good suggestions are:

-Sell through your social circle.

-Get partnerships with blog owners.

-Post about your deals on related forums.

I cant see your site not making sales if you have 1k visitors per day, regardless of all the stuff other users suggested.

I ran adword campaign twice. Each time I got about 1000 visitors. It really surprised me that I did not even got one order even after running campaigns twice. I don't know if it is price or trust.

From google analytics, i see my homepage bounce rate is 45% which is not bad. People have visited contact us page but no one contacted us. Avg. spend time by visitors on site is around 7 mins.

I have tried my social circle also and my friends have also spread the word. My price range is between $60 and $700. With that wide range I should have few sales by now but no.

Someone is offering me a huge email list have email addresses of indian professionals like doctors, engineers etc. I am skeptical to buy this list as the word out there is do not buy lists. The sellers is saying list is authentic and they update it every week.

I like your idea about forums and partnership with blog owners. I will act on it soon.

Thanks a lot.


Well, all the pictures are from the neck down. Is that strange? The prices are inline with what my fiancee's friends mail order magazines say, so not out of the ordinary. As far as style, I haven't a clue, it looks nice, I guess.

My fiancee has a lot of very close Indian friends originally from Canada and I have a lot of co-workers that are Indian. I see Indian dress here and there, mostly at parties and special occasions. The big question here is could I see any of them in those pieces?

Answer: No. It's just too expensive to justify. In the US, these are special occasion dress at these prices. These seems to me to be clothes you buy after a promotion or a big test. We are not exactly poor nor wealthy, household incomes are in the 80 to 120k range. Also, your site does not tell me that what I am ordering is a special occasion. It looks more like a site like alibaba or for computer parts.

Take this with a grain of salt: I am not your customer and do not order from you and likely never will. My advice is useless effectively.

No advice can be useless.

There are lot of clothes in range from $60 to $150 so I do not think everything is expensive. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Thanks for your valuable time

Just showed my Desi girlfriend your site and she says pictures with models are very important. Some women prefer to see those dresses actually worn by someone so they can understand it better.

I personally think there's a lot going on with the website. Almost like you're selling too many different clothes. If you can cutback somehow or focus on an area, that could be effective.

Also, you really need to highlight the FREE SHIPPING. That's a major seller for many people, even if others are offering it.

Most of clothing websites do not show the model's face, the reason being - they want customer to focus on clothing\dress but I can give it a try and showcase some of the dresses with a model to see if it converts visitors into customers.

I will highlight free shipping and offers in a non-obtrusive way.

Thanks for taking time to share your valuable inputs

This is something you can test once you get enough traffic. You can do A/B testing and see if you get a higher conversion with or without the models faces. Until you do the A/B test, you'll never know...

I think it is time to start on A\B testing. Thx

A/B testing will be a complete waste of time until you have thousands of visitors - and even then, your efforts would probably be better spent on other forms of user research such as usability testing in a coffee shop.

I agree willth another poster in this thread: you should go where the shoppers are! Listing your product on eBay will drive way more interest than hosting your own site at this point.

Eh, if you have zero sales, you can't really A/B test. Unless there are many people that are getting through to the first step of your funnel, in which case you might be able to run one on that step - but it would be less useful than working on the steps in your funnel that aren't working. You should probably spend some time figuring out which step most people drop off on, before worrying about A/B testing anything.

People love faces. Include the faces.

Will give it a try. It is very expensive. I will have the updated collection with model's face slowly.

There is a software also for this which will let you choose the model, model's pose and dress. I need to find the cost of software and work involved.

1. The site looks alright. But what's your target market? Are you selling to the Indian market? To the US market? You have this overly broad look, with a currency selector. The prices are pretty damn high for the Indian market. I can find way better stuff walking through M.G. Road in Bangalore. Have you considered that? The prices are actually pretty crazy for Indian clothes.

2. Live chat: it asks me to fill out my name and email, and then says "Offline". That's bullshit. Let's get something straight: You have zero customers. You have zero sales. You have one job: that bar says "online", and has ZERO barriers to chatting with you. You make that thing go instantly into a chat bar (no email barrier), and pipe every single thing written in there to your phone. From now on, you are 100% online. If you get a chat at 1am, you answer those questions. Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7Qh-vwpYH8

1. My target market is outside of india. I concluded this from my website and my store experience. In my store, people will negotiate for long time just for Rs. 50. Most of my designs have handwork and it costs lot of money to get that. My margin is less than 10% so you can tell me how can i reduce prices further down. Everything else is so expensive like shop rent, salary of workers, fabric, material etc.

2. If you visit utsav.com or fashionforyou.com then you can find stuff for less as compared with my site but you can wear their clothes only 2,3 times after they will get worn out but not my clothes. I am not defending myself just sharing my experience. Have you visited meenabazaar.org they are more expensive than me.

Live chat is offline because I am at my full time job. I like your idea about phone hook. I will implement it.

Thanks for your great comment

Don't worry about your prices and don't every try to compete on prices. Don't worry about phone hooks, overcompressed images, logos, or anything about the site. It seems to me that you need to really focus on who your market is. "Outside of India" or "ages 16-45" is a very, very broad market for somebody as small as you. Are you after hip urban 20 somethings? Are you after rich NYC moms? Be very specific here. Age, gender, living arrangements, where they work, how educated they are, what is their income, how many pets (and what type) do they have, what is their favorite TV shows, favorite musicians, what type of coffee do they get at starbucks, etc... Give this person a name, even find a picture that matches who they are... Why would this person buy from you instead of your competition? What unique thing do you give this person that they can't get anywhere else?

the reason I started this startup is to let people buy designer clothes at fraction of a price as compared with if they buy from celebrity designers. They can also mix and match designs from multiple dresses but if they walk into any branded store like guess etc they have to buy whatever is there.

I know my idea is not fully there yet but I got a prototype made. Please visit here - http://atlers.com/janjua/custom.html

the site is slow as it is a test server.

Clicking on work ware on the front page, doesnt go anywhere. Some of your urls look like somethings isnt right. "http://www.janjuaclothing.com/(S(ev4nn00nyuffhnilncvrsjd3))/.... In the shipping section, you mention free shipping (which is cool) but don't say to what countries. Can I buy if I'm Russian? Can I buy from europe? Include what countries you support. Or state free shipping worldwide. Same with the try page. Its cool id only have to pay shipping back, but if I had free shipping to me, how much is that? I wont try unless I know.

Chrome messes up the url. I think it is trying to append the session id in the url. The strange thing is it does this randomly

edit - I just figured out it is the menu that is spitting out the messed up urls. Thanks for pointing it out

Wow, really nice site. I'm sorry to hear it hasn't been taking off for you. The original post talks alot about finding a core group of users. Can you just focus on a few people who you think would like to use your site (Indian women?).

Thanks for nice words.

Yes, indian women clothing as I currently can't compete with macy's , banana republic and guess by solely selling western clothes.

We have dresses, indo western clothes besides traditional indian clothing.

We have a physical store in mohali, India too.

Lot of people tell me the clothes are expensive but there are sites selling same kind of clothes between $7000 - $15,000. My margins are around 5% - 7% after giving 30% discount so bringing prices more down would be a financial suicide.

To which audience are they selling clothes at that price? Brides?

i think everyone. Plz visit here - exclusively.in , indianroots.com and there are many more

I don't think its as much about outcompeting on price as it is finding people who will use your site, love your site, and tell their friends to use your site.

I'm not a woman, so take this with a grain of salt, but here's some feedback on the website:

1) Your images are too compressed. The artifacts make it look low quality, like I shouldn't trust the site. If you are selling upscale clothes, you should make sure your images reflect that. Maybe use PNG instead of JPG?

2) The logo on the top left is kind of small and doesn't really stand out (black on white). Perhaps use a different color? Also, the font you used makes it look like you made the logo yourself. I don't know if you did or not, but it doesn't match up with the upscale clothing you're selling. I know there are websites where you can make your own royalty-free logos (google "logo designer" or something), look into one of those maybe? And perhaps try to pick a more distinctive font, maybe something that isn't in a standard install of Word, so it stands out.

3) I have to scroll down all the way to the bottom of the page (had to press spacebar 4 times!) to see actual clothing you have for sale. Most people never go below the fold and would have no idea what your website sells (especially since the name doesn't immediately reflect Asian-inspired clothing). Your name doesn't have to be related to what you sell (just look at Amazon), but I need to be able to immediately figure out what stuff you do sell when I first hit your homepage, either via the logo or pictures of actual stuff for sale above the fold.

4) Related to the previous point, why are the category pictures so huge? I'm on a 13" Macbook Air and all but one of them are larger than the viewport (since you keep the header stuck at the top). I would suggest making them much, much smaller - one or two horizontal rows with 3-4 square category icons). Or cut them down to half the size they are now and move them below the Top Sellers + Featured rows.

5) Your titlebar text doesn't say anything about the site. Good place to put more information about exactly what kind of clothing you're selling (will also help with SEO). Even as simple as "Janjua Clothing - Indian designer clothing" or "Janjua Clothing | Indian clothing | Designer clothes | Affordable prices" or something like that.

6) Your site is very busy right now. If you've tried every marketing tool in the book and you still have no sales to date, perhaps it's time to consider a wholesale redesign. It looks like you're using some type of eCommerce plugin or CMS...do they have any other themes you could use? Perhaps something drastically simpler that maybe only focuses on 1-2 items in your inventory that you know sell well (based on other sites or locally in B&M stores or whatever)?

7) Take a look at other ecommerce and clothing websites and see what design stuff works for them. Rakuten, Blue Nile, Zappos, Dollar Shave Club, etc.

Again, I'm not a woman or a web designer or anything like that. Just a normal dude giving you honest feedback on my first impressions. Hope some of this helps.

EDIT: One more website I just stumbled across: http://www.buffalobottlecraft.com/#products - super simple, one high-quality picture at the top and then 8 products for sale, all shown on the homepage. This is along the lines of what I'm suggesting your website could look like. The most important thing is that this website looks trustworthy. I would feel comfortable buying something from this website. Your website doesn't do that for me yet (sorry, just being honest), so even if I were in your target market, I would hesitate before buying. A good design is invaluable in conveying trust.

I am not sure if saying just 'Thank you' would be sufficient to appreciate your response and the time you took to write such a great and meaningful content.

So now we are talking here is my response -

1. I compared each and every image after compression with actual image and compressed image. I used a compress ratio where it was hard to see the difference between those two image types. May be my eye sight got weak after all this work :-) . Now you all are saying, I am ready to revisit compression.

2. I designed the logo in ms paint :-( . I will replace it. I have an idea.

3. Sorry for your bad experience. My home page design inspiration came from http://www.bananarepublic.com/ and www.Guess.com . Could you please visit www.Indianroots.com and let me know if you find their homepage more messy than my site? Another reason behind my homepage design was - I want to tell the customer what all we have or what all they can find here on the site. Not defending myself. Just trying to make a decision.

4. The site was designed to be responsive but it is broken now. I got it fixed in test. I just need to apply the update in prod.

5. Great input here.

6. Yes, you are right. I am using nopCommerce 2.80. It is very slow out of box. I have spent countless hours making it as fast as I can but still there is lot of work to do which can make the website more faster. I got the page load time under 2 seconds. I need to test it until peak load times. I will try to simplify the design. I am a .net architect so I was able to use my experience to make the site fast, refactor and all the other good stuff that an engineer can think. It comes naturally you know. I think i have not spend that much time selling the site and that frustrates me. If I look back and see what all i been doing with site - it is mostly development stuff which is not good as I am supposed to work equally as a salesman. On the other side, I think people visit\buy only if the site is fast enough so I am kinda torn in the middle here. I am afraid if I started with another design then it may take my more time as an developer and more delay in staying longer in salesman mode.

7. Will do. I even reached out to retailer like zappos, amazon among others to see if they can host my collection but they never responded back

No worries. There is lot of great insight in your feedback.

I got my product detail page totally redesigned from what it was out of box - http://www.janjuaclothing.com/black-golden-anarkali-suit

What type of feel are you getting when you are visiting this page? Do you feel like buying or it is still scaring you? Please let me know.


@mandeep - while the poster above you gave product tips with good intentions (and all his ideas are valid btw), I dont think that is the issue with your site. I'm fairly familiar with Indian women segments and buying behavior in general. I frankly think you are way, way overpriced - especially since the clothes you are selling falls under the couture segment in the US (in India, it is standard street dressing). The big, big difference between you and IndianRoots is the designers - IndianRoots is selling Neeta Lulla and Rajesh Pratap Singh, while yours are unknown designers. This would work in India where these dresses are street wear, but not in USA where these would be termed as "occasion wear".

Which brings me to your overall sales strategy and a segue into the topic of this HN post - you ought to be selling on various forums, ebay and amazon first. And I dont think you have tried effectively to sell on these platforms because you dont need to write to anyone - these are all effective self serve (e.g. http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller-account/mm-summary-page.html). Again Zappos is a bad example of that claim because their niche is different (footwear).

Do NOT get into self-hosting and using magento, etc at this point. I would recommend to first sell on ebay, cut your teeth, get some experience. Then signup with Shopify (I'm sure someone here can hook you up with a discount code or something). Signup for a 200$ worth of free Adwords and test the waters for paid marketing. Post on Indian forums (especially expat Indian women - like www.indusladies.com/forums/). See if you get your products chewed out.

It's far too early in the game to be discussing load time of nopCommerce. And please, please spend 5$ on Fiverr.com to get your logo executed better (even if you want to stick with your current Armani-esque design)

I contacted few famous designers also. I thought that may help me in building customer base. They first wanted to know who are the other designers with whom I am working. I am not giving up this idea - I will pursue them again later on.

Amazon.in asked i must have models wearing my dresses. I think as lot of people are recommending this approach so I should have this going now.

I am not sure if people buy clothes from ebay. Zappos also have lot of clothing collection. I am not sure how much it contributes towards their total sales.

I tried shopify also as they will take care of scalability part also but the problem is it is not flexible. I can only do what their platforms allows.

I am starting on logo tonight. Thanks for forums link. I will check it out.


>I am not sure if people buy clothes from ebay.

They definitely do. I think selling on ebay is a good testing ground for you to experiment with different ways to present things.

Thank you. I will give it a shot

Just saw this.

One thing I have seen people do is sell items on ebay that they also sell from their store, but the ebay price is either fixed at somewhat lower than the store price, or is an auction so it will likely end up lower. The store is linked from the ebay item description. This makes the the ebay item seem like a special deal. It can also bring visitors to your store of course.

I clicked the "Work Wear" category link, but it just links to the homepage. If there's no content in this section yet, you should remove the picture & link in order not to unnecessarily distract from the real content. Otherwise you should fix the link.

I am female and I like the styles! :) (...not a prospective customer though, since not based in your target countries...)

sorry for the inconvenience. I will upload the designs under "work wear" pretty soon.

sorry not trying to sell you anything. If you like the styles then you can buy them. You don't have to be in my current target country and that is how we expand :-)

Anyway, please help spread the word about us by sharing the website with your friends and families.

Thanks a lot.

Try to include faces in the pictures and use higher quality images. Too many of the images look stretched or overly compressed. Using poor quality images makes the site like shoddy.

high quality images leads to bigger image file size which leads to reduction in speed of website.

I will try to find a balance. thanks

There's lots of good compression software now so it shouldn't be an issue. Check out http://pngquant.org.

Thank you, will give it a try

If it's any consolation I really like the designs featured on the site. Though I'm not female :(

Thanks. No worries. It will be great if you can show the site to women known to you.

I am running a one man bootstrapped startup (I prefer to call it a business then a startup) inBoundio, which is a marketing software and for me, having 1 paying customer is more important than 100 users. I get paying customers through sales, users through marketing.

For Startups, Effective sales will make your marketing better.

I am shocked at how many people have proclaimed that using the telephone to source opportunities is dead. We have proven this model to be extremely successful, and have tied incentives to ensure that we are promoting the right behavior. For instance, we reward our inside sales team for setting up qualified appointments and provide an additional bonus if their appointments turn into closed deals. Lists on the internet are in abundance, and should be leveraged to their fullest capacity. In my experience, if you are calling a prospect with genuine intent to uncover whether a problem or pain exists, and are respectful and intelligent in your dialog, you will uncover great opportunities at every turn. We try to help start-ups by providing the initial lead at SalesZip.com

This is so unbelievably true. I worked at a firm where the opposite was true. The VP of Marketing spent a lot of time inviting himself to existing customer meetings, wasting exec time on magic quadrants, and hiring his buddies to do marketing collateral. Inevitably every hour of their time took up four of executive, sales and developer time. It was impossible to point to even one sale that they influence. This could also be due to their incompetence, rather than a general condemnation of the topic.

I disagree; however, I think it may be because of her definition of marketing. She states "Sales and marketing are two ends of a continuum." Marketing is creating, delivering, and communicating value to your users / customers. Startups need to do both. Well. You need to create a product that gives value to customers (whether that be through elimination of pain or creation of new value) and get it into their hands. That involves both sales and marketing.

That's corporate marketing, not startup marketing.

In my three previous businesses, I hustled and cold-called my way to paying customers (or at least valuable pilot programs) each time. But these were enterprise (B2B) businesses that could cut relatively large monthly checks. The reward was absolutely worth the lift.

That said, I'm having a hard time making the leap that for some consumer internet products with hefty cold-start issues cold calling is still a viable strategy.

For a product that has no network effect and is useful for the first user (e.g. Google search), sure, I'll buy it. For a product that needs 10+ people to start getting useful (e.g. Facebook), sure.

But for a product that needs multiple thousands of users to start getting useful, how does cold calling still make sense? These 1x1 users would come to your product, say "Um, it's a ghost town.", and then leave, never to return. Wouldn't the founders be better off putting effort into PR (TC, Pando, etc)?

TLDR. I'm not arguing that non-scaling hustle is not important -- I've seen the results myself, first hand. But doesn't the type of product really dictate how effective it will be, and therefore, how strongly should be prioritized over other avenues?

Im currently working on a start-up and can relate to this. The truth always hurts and people worry that their dreams will be dashed or the need to correct things early on which is most times, tremendous hard work (But it becomes crazy amount of effort if the change is much later on).

I targeted a low price, sales-free model, until i realized cost is not the key issue, getting feedback is! Hearing what people want and need is crucial! Its the reason why small firms are more nimble, simply because they move fast and are able to change rapidly from the feedbacks they received. Also important is that through talking, I noticed many times, people not only like to share painful experiences, they kind of impart their "ideal state" solution to you which can be incredibly helpful from a different perspective standpoint as well as a imaginative point.

In fact, I would rather spend more time talking to people in person (which I am doing now) than to rub shoulders and network. Its like delayed gratification. Have incredible amount of pain upfront so there will be less (much less) hiccups later on in development.

"How should you measure if your manual efforts are effective? Focus on growth rate rather than absolute numbers. Then you won’t be dismayed if the absolute numbers are small at first. If you have 20 users, you only need two more this week to grow 10%. And while two users is a small number for most products, 10% a week is a great growth rate. If you keep growing at 10% a week, the absolute numbers will eventually become impressive."

Doesn't the 10% growth (but actually just 2 more users) thing sound like vanity metrics? I don't see how 2 more users is that great by making it seem bigger?

Better than nothing, better than non-paying users maybe but it reminds me of a Publishing company i used to work for who once internally touted their 100% rise in video revenue (ignoring the fact they had 5 or 6 times the amount of products released at the beginning of that month and had no video product with a projected profitable lifecycle).

Covering user acquisition in unneeded and transparent vanity metrics seems to me to be unnecessary, especially when you are asking customers for brutal reality.

Because then next week you go out, shoot for another 10% growth, and get another 2 users. The following week, you go out, shoot for 10% growth, and get 3 more users. And so on.

The point is to set some concrete, measurable goal for the week so that you know you're always making forward progress. I had a boss once that told me the point of Agile & 2-week iterations isn't to be optimally efficient or to do progress reports for the hell of it, it's to make sure you're always progressing forwards in a well-defined direction. The biggest risk for a project or startup isn't really moving too slowly (unless you're moving really slowly), it's going around in circles.

Great article and great advice. I do this every single day. Acquire one customer at a time, work with them patiently, learn from our interactions, and continue to build a better product. We acquire new customers through referrals, Google, and traditional sales. A very important part of the sales process is nurturing them through the trial period - get them to paid no matter what. If you aren't doing one on one sales and working with your customers you will never figure out what the "what" is and you will never be able to replicate it with technology.

I know I have 30 days to impress and win a new customer and convert them. The most useful tool that I have to help me with this is intercom.io. Their automated time and event based messaging can interact at key moments when I can't always be there. Any time they need me, I am one click away. It is a fantastic platform.

All small businesses need to focus on sales. Sales gets you cash, sales lets you talk to your customer, sales is king.

Being able to cope with 'rejection' on an ongoing basis makes you much stronger in many areas of life. From finding a mate all the way to gathering sales for your product.

Rejection should not be taken personally most of the time, it is just a signal that you should interpret as your 'hustle' needs refining...

Would anyone be interested in purchasing software that allows you to secure wipe your phone or Linux laptop remotely?

Yes you can secure wipe your phone, but that's tied to the user account. What if you wanted to secure wipe data on the phones or laptops you give you to employees (esp. less technical capable people that lose their phones)?

I noticed that most options only allow encryption and are Windows only. However since most developers us private source control (and BT Sync), your likely not going to lose much work. I know I would feel better if my data was deleted.

What do you think? Give me some of that direct, harsh feedback?

The interesting thing to me is how quickly you transition from Sales oriented -> Marketing oriented if things are going well. Early product/market fit can act as a bit of a guide for when to do the transition.

Yes. And how painful it is if you wait too long to transition.

Great article, but I have a situational question: Let's say a company has grown at a 10% weekly growth rate and is now at 500 users. But as they try to sell to more people, they realize they are no longer growing at 10% and their growth rate is stagnant or decreasing WOW. Does it make sense to continue trying to sell OR focusing on user feedback and improving the product? I assume 'both' will be a popular answer but why? If you know your product is currently subpar, why not just build until the next iteration is ready and then start selling again?

Part of the sales process is taking the sales feedback and using it to improve the product continuously. If you're not doing that, you're missing the core point which is to improve the product.

500 what? Free users? Paying users? Paying what, $5/month? $500 / month? $200,000 / year?

Building on his example (cause i'm in a similar situation), lets say its paying users at $60/month.

Do you know why new users are not signing up? If you do then consider signing up new users on condition that you fill that gap. If you don't know why the growth rate has fallen then fill in that knowledge gap however you can (ie. talk to your prospects).

Your growth rate is decreasing? That implies you're still growing, so why is that evidence that your product is "subpar"?

It is a sign that he's not getting good word of mouth though.

Startups selling a business product need to focus on a salesforce, direct marketing methods that are profitable, and getting in front of real paying customers.

But startups producing social media products, or consumer applications that are freemium or passively monetized will not benefit with sales. They need marketing via PR, social media, or viral mechanisms baked in early on into the app.

Let's not overgeneralize.

But you also don't want to focus just on sales.

In the end, every business model will have a more optimal and less optimal emphasis on sales, marketing, user feedback, etc...

Most B2B and B2C startups may in fact need more focus on sales...but a B2B2C company may find it misleading. If your customer is not your end user, focusing on sales and not marketing can actually be quite dangerous.

This was a great article. I just wanted to add the logical extension: the need to be flexible and a willingness to "pivot." The process of getting your product out there manually can give really focused user feedback that will help to refine the product in a smart way. Painful at first, yes, but ultimately very valuable.

"why startups need to focus on cash collection (accounts receivable), not sales."

"why startups need to focus on comprehensive changes in owner's equity, not net income"

If you study your target audience properly and with the right tools to analyze data, you can market narrow and deep. Sales should be #1 priority, I agree, so you can continue to collect feedback and make product iterations but saying marketing is broad and shallow is an incorrect statement. Digital marketing tools have evolved in the past few years and it's a lot easier to measure success on specific tactics. I think the old school mentality of marketing is "spray and prey" and if that is what one's thinking of marketing is, then they are not doing marketing correctly. The job of the marketer is to make the life of the sales person much easier so that the conversations they are having are meaningful and have greater chance for conversion.

I guess it depends on a startup. You can't just go to the street and try selling your product(well you can) but you need to identify potential customers which is marketing..

It's all about hustle and how startups are different to big companies. Every startup CEO should be talking to customers every single day.

"At Y Combinator, we advise most startups to begin by seeking out some core group of early adopters and then engaging with individual users to convince them to sign up." Sounds like marketing and user acquisition to me...

I think the article's message is same as "Do things that don't scale". Marketing is something used to get users in large volumes (certain groups) vs sales is more of a one-on-one approach. Once you have figured out what works in these one-on-one sessions, you take that message and scale it up as your marketing message.

I thought they went hand & hand, no?

Focus on sales? Does it mean "selling crap to crappy people" and other "sales techniques" as seen on The Wolf of Wall Street?)

Not in the slightest. When a product is new it doesn't matter how great it is if there's no one finding the right customers for it and helping them understand why it's right for them.

In case of a normal, fair product customers usually need no help, they could figure everything out even better than "sales professionals" because they are using/consuming similar products, like with a "fair" booze or a fresh meat.)

I'd rather startups focus on delvering what they promise.

Even though I agree, this is a combination of baseless speculation and pontification which I find to be obnoxious.

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