Creating an Unforgettable Name

One of the requirements when we acquired KISSinsights was that we change the name.  As much as we loved the KISSinsights’ name, a new name would gives us the flexibility to extend beyond collecting insights.

Having been through naming exercises several times, I realized it would be an opinionated, emotional process.  All startups want a name that will help success, or at the very least won’t stand in the way it.  And unlike most startup decisions that are temporary and iterative, naming is a lot harder to reverse.

So we began our renaming exercise with some trepidation.  Like most companies, we were tempted to go with a cookie cutter name. Finalists included SnapTabs and BuzzBits.

Our VP of Product, Jason Meresman, suggested Qualaroo.  My initial reaction was “We can’t have a name like that!”  It went against my conservative nature to blend in…  Then I realized that blending in is the last thing a product should want to do.

Jason laid out a compelling case for Qualaroo.

  • It’s unique
  • It’s fun to say
  • Qual can mean qualified, quality, qualitative
  • Roo can connect to a memorable kangaroo image

Of course, like all important decisions we wanted to get input from some customers and peers.  We shared several potential names and asked for feedback and/or suggestions.  Most people had the same reaction that I initially had. They gravitated to names that sounded “ordinary.”  A few people sent persuasive support for Qualaroo, but they were in the minority.

Qualaroo logo small

So we were left with the decision to go with a safe, cookie cutter name or something more distinctive.  Not surprisingly, we chose Qualaroo.  It seems to strike the right balance of whimsical and serious.  And most importantly, tests show that people really remember it.

We also decided to make the free version much better (custom questions, 3X more responses per survey, full targeting functionality), so expect to see the Qualaroo kangaroo hopping up on a lot more websites…

Pop up with Qualaroo

If you are going through a naming exercise, I recommend that you fight the urge to blend in.  Here are a few resources on naming that were useful for us:

Milestones to Startup Success

Update added to end of post

When your startup accepts outside money (such as venture capital), you are obligated to focus on maximizing long-term shareholder value.  For most startups this is directly based on your ability to grow (customers, revenue and eventually profit).  Most entrepreneurs understand the importance of growth; the common mistake is trying to force growth prematurely.  This is frustrating, expensive and unsustainable – killing many startups with otherwise strong potential.

Most successful entrepreneurs have a good balance of execution intuition and luck.  This was definitely the case at the two startups where I ran marketing from launch through NASDAQ IPO filings.  While we didn’t follow a specific methodology, our CEO was intuitive enough to know the right time to “hit the gas pedal.”  We didn’t accelerate until verifying that the team had created a great product that met real customer needs and we could generate sufficient user revenue to support sustainable customer acquisition programs.  It’s taken years for me to realize that our growth was less a function of clever marketing tactics than beginning with something that customers truly needed.  Some growth would have been automatic; the marketing team simply accelerated this growth.

Several startups later I have a much better understanding of the key milestones needed for a startup to reach its full growth potential.  These are based more on observing universal truths than inventing some type of methodology.  Reaching the full growth potential of your startup requires focus, specifically focusing on what matters when it matters.  In my post on the startup growth pyramid I talk about the high level milestones you must achieve in order to unlock sustainable growth.  This post looks at it on a more granular level with links to several of my previous blog posts and other resources that provide additional details.

Day 1: Validate Need for Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Before any coding begins it is important to validate that the problem/need you are trying to solve actually exists, is worth solving, and the proposed minimum feature set solves it.  This can best be achieved by meeting with the prospects most likely to need your solution.  Steve Blank has published a great post on this.

Eric Ries offers more details on the minimum viable product concept in this post/video.

Where’s the Love?

Vinod Khosla, one of the most successful Silicon Valley VCs in history, once suggested to me that startups should think of their early users as a flock of sheep.  He explained “the flock always finds the best grass.”

For you this means you should start looking for a signal about who loves your product and why as soon as you release your MVP.  Most products have at least a few people that truly consider it a must have.  These people hold the keys to the kingdom.  Learn everything you can about them including their specific use cases and demographic characteristics.  Try to get more of these types of people.

A good place to start collecting this information is the survey I’ve made freely available on You can read more about this product/market fit survey in this blog post.

If you’re lucky you’ll be able to use this early signal to find the product/market fit.

Expose the Core Gratifying Experience

The majority of our project focus at 12in6 recently has been helping startups find their core user perceived value and exposing it in messaging optimized for response.  Your objective should be to remove complexity from the initial user experience and messaging in order to highlight this core user perceived value.  Often this means burying or even completely eliminating features that don’t relate to this gratifying experience.


Metrics don’t matter until you achieve product/market fit – then they are critical to your success.  Dave McClure has a great video on startup metrics that matter (relevant part is at about minute 2:20).

Most of the tools out there provide way too many irrelevant metrics and miss the essential few.  Both Dave McClure and I are advising KISSmetrics on a solution to this problem.

Start Charging

Another key step before growing your business is to implement a business model.  The ideal timing for implementing your business model is discussed in this blog post .

I’ve often heard the argument that startups are focused on user growth and prefer to delay revenue in the short term.  I believe the fastest way to grow is with a business model and explain why in this blog post.

Extreme Customer Support

Now that you have a business model in place, your first marketing expense should be to expand the customer support team.  Anyone that cares enough about your solution to contact customer support is a great source of insight about your target market.  Also, customer support will uncover issues that will help you grow faster without spending.  And fixing these issues will make it much easier to grow when you do start spending.

If your customer support team is overwhelmed now, I don’t recommend trying to grow until you address the issues driving most support calls. Once you’ve addressed these issues you’ll have fewer barriers to adoption and will be able to grow without overwhelming customer support.

This will enable customer support to go above and beyond expectations, which is an important way to drive customer loyalty and enhance word of mouth.  This approach pays more dividends today than ever before – as I explain in this post on Social Media.

Update: See comments for additional thoughts on extreme customer support.

Brand Experience Over Brand Awareness

Back in the “Dotcom Bubble” days billions were wasted on brand awareness campaigns for startups.  Today most entrepreneurs understand that brand awareness campaigns are a waste of money for startups.

Instead, it’s much cheaper and more effective for startups to focus on creating a fantastic brand experience.  While startups often realize the importance of brand experience, they focus on it too early, fine tuning things that customers don’t care about.  Instead, wait until you understand why certain customers love your product; then obsess over every element of this customer experience.

Apple is probably the best tech company out there on coordinating a perfect brand experience for its target users. I cover more on brand experience in this blog post.

Driving Growth

Once you’ve achieved all of the previous milestones, then you can focus on driving growth.  CEOs must take an active role in driving customer growth whether or not they have an interest in marketing. Nearly all of the risk and upside in a startup is in your ability to gain customer traction and then drive scalable customer growth. The CEO should not abdicate this responsibility to the marketer.

It’s important to stay aggressive and take all slack out of the market (make it completely uninteresting to pursue the market for any other competitor).  Your early advantage is the ability to iterate on the customer feedback loop and leverage strong customer loyalty to drive word of mouth.

While ROI lets you know if a user acquisition channel is sustainable, the key focus should be on exposing lots of the right people to your fantastic product experience.  It’s much easier to get passionate and creative about this than purely thinking about things from an ROI perspective. Of course positive ROI is essential for any customer acquisition program to remain in the mix.

When it’s time to hire a marketing leader to partner with the CEO, this post explains my recommendations for an ideal startup marketing leader.  The most effective startup marketers are relentless about experimenting with channels until finding things that work.

Start by building out free channels such as listing in directories and basic SEO.   When you begin building paid channels, extra effort should be put into channels that show strong potential for scale.

Unfortunately you can’t count on effective online tactics working forever.  I’ve seen many hot online marketing tactics lose their effectiveness over time.  This is because online tracking makes it easier for marketers to quickly figure out what actually works.  As a result we start piling into the most effective tactics.   Eventually online tactics get saturated, as explained in this post.

Business building

Fast growing businesses are difficult to manage.  This is the point where you should bring in some experienced operations people if they aren’t already on the team.

It Won’t be Easy

Finally, the top three risks to growing via these milestones are:

  1. You lose patience and decide that one or more of the milestones really aren’t that important.
  2. VCs and/or board of directors lose patience because you did not achieve conceptual agreement on this approach from beginning.
  3. You delude yourself into believing that for “our type of business” customers really don’t need to consider our product a “must have”.  For us, “nice to have” is good enough.

Building a successful business is hard.  Hopefully this milestone driven approach to growing your startup will make it a bit easier.

Update: It’s hard to write a blog post on “milestones to startup success” that covers every type of startup.  Some startup types may need to reverse the order of some of these milestones.  For example, with marketplaces (EBay, social networks, dating sites, etc.) user gratification increases with more users so there is a bit of chicken and egg here…  Ad supported sites also benefit from early scale. Many of the articles linked to from this blog post also cover exceptions such as when a startup should start charging (it’s different for enterprise targeted startups).

Brand Like Starbucks (for Startup Marketing Success)

Like millions of other people, I’m working at a Starbucks today (on my PC, not behind the counter).  Despite some recent financial hiccups, Starbucks has built an amazing brand over the last 20 years and rocketed the category of high end coffee shops into mainstream existence.

Starbuck’s process of building their brand is a great example for any startup.  There was no heavy spending on brand advertising.  At Starbucks it’s all about the brand experience.  They obsessed over everything – from the quality of the cups to the quality of the toilet paper.  The music, colors, furniture…  It’s all an orchestrated brand experience.

The cost of this brand building was nothing compared to the losses someone can incur on massive brand building campaigns.  Starbucks is a great concrete example of why spending a lot to build brand awareness is a waste of startup resources.

Laura Reis (Marketing Guru) Responds to Brand Extension Question

Below Laura Reis responds to my question – “Is brand extension is ever a good idea?”

Thanks for your email Sean. The laws of branding are simple, but applying them is not always easy. There are times when line extension is the best way to go. But you need to remember that it does dilute the brand in the mind.

Some companies focus on a customer and then sell them a wide variety of services. USAA is a good example, selling all types of insurance to Army officers. The line is extended but the customer is focused.

The software industry does have some differences. Microsoft can get away with rampant line extension because they have a monopoly on the operating system. But in areas where they face strong competition this strategy has not worked, MSN, Money are far behind.

Good luck.

– Laura

Keeping up with Marketing Newbies on Web 2.0

Often the least experienced marketers are the most effective at taking advantage of a new marketing medium.  This is difficult for more experienced marketing veterans to swallow.  But with experience comes preconceptions about what works and what doesn’t work.

It really wasn’t that long ago that I was the new marketing kid who got the web better than the old school marketers.  In 1996 I began marketing on the web with very little prior marketing experience.  I was able to rationally invent a system that was perfectly tailored to the web rather than trying to retrofit my previous methods. This system helped my company, Uproar, lead our category with a much smaller marketing budget than our competitors (Sony, Microsoft, Yahoo…).   Their experienced marketers couldn’t keep up with the more nimble neophytes.

Now that I am more experienced, “getting” Web 2.0 is a little tougher than it was the first time around. This is despite having a Blog and being an avid Podcast listener.  I’ve even bought advertising on Blogs, Podcasts, and Digg.  Yet, I have been unable to get a good enough ROI to continue advertising on these mediums.  I’m fairly confident that Web 2.0 marketing could be an important part of my marketing mix, but I just haven’t figured out how to tap it yet.

It’s probably not completely age/experience related.  Seth Godin is a rare experienced marketer that picks up on new trends very quickly.  He has written quite a bit about Web 2.0 marketing, despite being burdened by significantly more years of marketing experience than me. But, who knows if he has actually effectively applied these theories beyond launching his own Web 2.0 site called Squidoo?  Another group that has tapped Web 2.0 properties for a good return is spammers – but for a real brand spamming does more damage than good in the long run.

If anyone knows a reputable company that has effectively tapped Web 2.0 properties to drive marketing results – please let me know.  I’ll just reverse engineer the marketing approach that some newbie wiz kid probably thinks is totally logical.

Great Marketing Monger Podcast on Branding

I highly recommend listening to the latest Marketing Monger podcast. If you’re not familiar with Marketing Monger, it is a series of podast interviews with marketing experts from various fields. I was previously unfamiliar with today’s guest Tom Asacker and wasn’t thrilled when I heard the topic was branding. Generally I find people that focus on branding are a bit lacking in the area of “accountable” marketing, but I found myself constantly agreeing with Tom and learned quite a bit about branding. I will definitely spend some time reading his material as he might finally help me articulate a viewpoint on branding that better gels with metrics driven marketing.

Fast Company Article on Outsourcing Cool

I read an interesting article in Fast Company on the outsourcing of cool. The article states that “Big companies are outsourcing “cool” to nimbler, closer-to-the-ground outsiders. They might as well farm out their souls.”  According to the article, the primary driver of this outsourcing of cool is risk avoidance from company insiders.  While I agree with this assessment, I think another driver is that it is easier to defend an outsider’s work and not appear defensive.

This article got me thinking about the role of cool in my marketing efforts.  I am often so quantitative that I don’t spend enough time focusing on less tangible things like having a “cool” brand.  But is cool really important?  Absolutely.  A cool brand gives you loyal customers who become product evangelizers.  Part of their identity becomes association with using a cool product.  Why wouldn’t they talk about something that in a transitive way makes them cool?


Unfortunately you can’t measure cool – heck you can barely define it.  Also, cool for one target user segment may be totally uncool for another segment.  All of these things make the pursuit of cool a tough endeavor.  Still, with or without outsiders, “cool” is a worthy quest.