I got into the startup game about eight years ago. From exposure to product design when I was 17 to working on massive projects as a Senior Front End Developer at Accenture, I earned my stripes in various jobs and quickly developed a background in product design, front-end development, and a bit of marketing.
I met my co-founder, Ky, in college. He’s an electrical engineer and coder with an insatiable appetite for learning and a background of getting into small business in high school. I’m now 25 and Ky and I are working on a SaaS company called LinkMink. It’s a revenue-sharing service for SaaS companies who use Stripe, and we help companies grow revenue by sharing it with the partners who send referrals.
Ky and I knew that we wanted to build something, so one weekend, we got an AirBnb and told ourselves that we would come out with a business idea. That weekend, there were a lot of bad ideas, but ultimately, we came out with three:
#3 ended up being LinkMink and was actually the last one we tried, but once we got started we knew this was the best option.
I had known Nathan Barry with ConvertKit for a while and had seen how they used affiliates to grow so quickly. So, I asked him to advise us to build in specific features to fix the shortcomings of the software they were currently using.
Once we thought we had a MVP (minimum viable product), Nathan tweeted out a link to a simple landing page with an email form that literally just said, “sign up for the beta.” When someone signed up, we’d send them a link to a Google Forms survey that would ask a bunch of questions. I think we had maybe 20 people fill out the form, and from those answers, we narrowed it down to a handful of companies that we thought would be a really good fit. Then I started emailing back and forth with them to help in any way we could.
Our first paying customer came out of that handful that filled out the survey. At this point we had an MVP that did all the tracking and showed a few metrics but didn’t have any big features like automations or payouts.
We mostly used cold email outreach to talk to prospective customers. Specifically, I researched companies and sent the emails one at a time, trying to be very personable and helpful. If they’re interested I ask them for a 10-minute Zoom call to talk through questions and see a demo. It always ends up being at least a 25-minute call. To be honest, this was a long, hard process and was pretty discouraging at times.
We’re experimenting with more cold emails, Google Ads, driving via content, that sort of thing. We’ve found that the best sources of traffic thus far have been participating in online communities, like Reddit, IndieHackers, and Facebook groups.
We actually feel like we’re still working through this one. We have a nice onboarding flow, but we know now that our customers need additional help getting their programs started and we’re still figuring out how we’re going to deliver this value. Some options we’ve considered are consulting, lead generation for our customers, or maybe just helping them develop more content.
We’ve also found that email sequences are helpful. Our target in the trial is to get them a single referral in that window - that means they need an affiliate to sign up, and that affiliate needs to do one promotion.
We try to connect with customers who are heavily using LinkMink as often as possible to find out what is working and what isn’t. At this point, it’s just a Zoom call to touch base and talk about the things that are going well and the things that aren’t.
If a customer has an existing affiliate program, we do a free concierge migration for them. Before the purchase, many customers opt in for a personal demo of LinkMink, which just looks like a 30-minute call where we talk about the software and the specific implementation of it for their affiliate program.
We really look to open startups such as Nathan Barry, Intercom, Buffer, Dan Martell, and The Lean Startup as sources of wisdom. Also, The Masters of Scale podcast is really good.
Start talking to customers as early as possible. Build the smallest thing that you think will generate value for your perspective customer and promote that. Start building relationships as soon as possible. Make a list of 100 people you want to get to know and every Friday, spend a couple hours interacting with them or their communities.
If you’re founding a company but you don’t feel like you know anything about sales or marketing, just commit to learning one thing at a time. For instance, don’t read a book or article about marketing for startups; instead, find a resource on how to write, test and measure cold email. Work on one channel before you move to the next channel. Make sure you are able to generate traffic, convert the traffic to leads, and turn those leads into customers. Don’t waste time bouncing around between channels until you’ve nailed all three stages of that first channel.
If you’re a founder that doesn’t know about product or tech, then my best advice would be to focus on becoming a product person. If you don’t know the product then you won’t be able to sell or market it. Don’t worry about becoming technical. But in the early stages, you need to be able to talk to customers and find their pain, then translate that into a product solution.
One more tip if you’re not technical. Make a friend who is. Then ask that friend to interview and help vet anyone technical who you are trying to work with.
Feel free to visit our website at linkmink.com or check out my personal twitter @philipjamesa.