No matter whether you’re offering your course in a webinar, personally, or in a sales page, your narrative must be filled with excitement. Because, whenever your customers feel apathy in your speech, their motivation to listen to what you’re saying weakens.
But, the word selling causes something weird on you; It seems there’s a voice in your ear saying: “Calm down… You don’t want to annoy anyone.” And this voice makes you slow down your narrative, and takes your enthusiasm to the ground.
Sales has often been called “the transfer of enthusiasm”. The more enthusiastic and convinced you are about what you are selling, the more contagious this enthusiasm is and the more your customer picks it up and acts on it.
Hence, if you want to sell your course or workshop, be truly ENTHUSIASTIC about it.
Yeah. I know… Talking is cheap.
But, let me share three tricks that always help me to overcome apathy.
Isn’t it exciting to tell someone good news?
Like telling your parents they’ll become grandpas for the first time. Or telling one of your employees she’s promoted.
Knowing that your message means good news for the listener is enough to make you eager to say it.
And that’s exactly how you must treat your course sales from now on.
It’s not about a sale for your business. It’s good news for your customers about a positive transformation in their lives.
Hence, the key to unlock your enthusiasm lies upon your understanding about how better their lives will be.
It means the deeper you know the problem your course is solving and its consequences—frustrations, wasted time, wasted money, wasted energy, broken relationships, sleepless nights—the more you see your program as good news.
So, the secret is always to address a relevant issue that, once solved, will mean good news for your customer.
But, wait… How can you be sure to address a really relevant issue?
By digging deep into your customers’ lives. Interview them, read forums about the topic, enter group discussions, or derive insights from your own experience.
Don’t stop digging until you find something truly relevant.
It Definitely Works!
Eliminating hunger in the world is definitely good news. However, if you cannot deliver it, you’re making an empty promise.
And guess what? An empty promise will kill your enthusiasm to sell your course.
You don’t want to fool anyone, and any doubt you have about your promise will mine your excitement, and make your speech very mild.
So, the next step to kill apathy in your course sales narrative is to be sure you’re offering an effective program.
Once you’re certain that your course is really effective to solve the problem, you’ll never feel you’re “pushing too hard” anymore.
Instead of picturing yourself begging for your customers’ money, you’ll see your efforts as giving them chances to solve their problems and improve their lives.
In summary, the more you work to raise your course effectiveness, the more enthusiastic you’ll be about selling it. You won’t be concerned about annoying people, because you know they’ll thank you and leave great testimonials, when they finish your course.
It’s Soooo Worth It!
Do you enjoy wasting your money? Neither do your customers.
So, the third mindset shift you must go through is to put yourself into your customers’ shoes and see your course as an investment decision.
Really. Go in front of a mirror. Pitch your course for 1 minute. Pause.
Now, analyze the investment decision you’re asking your customers to do.
Start with how much you’re asking in terms of time, energy, and money. This is the overall investment they’ll do, once they decide to enroll in your course.
Now, ask yourself how much your course is giving them back—time, energy, money, health, relationships, etc. This is the return on their investment.
Finally, ask yourself—as if you were the customer—“Does this offer makes a lot of sense? Is the promised return much higher than the investment it requires from me?”
If you’re answer is ‘no’, ‘not really’, or ‘kind of’, it’ll be hard to be enthusiastic about it.
In this case, think hard about ways to reduce what you’re asking (their investment), as well as to increase what you’re delivering to them (their return).
Your enthusiasm will come only when your answer for the questions above is a huge ‘YES’.
Wanna be 100% enthusiastic about selling your course or workshop? Be sure it:
Addresses a BIG PROBLEM in your customers’ lives
SOLVES THE PROBLEM effectively
Delivers a HIGH RETURN on your customers’ investment (time, money, and energy)
Do you want a ton of 5-star, extremely positive testimonials about your course? Then, make sure to help your customers achieve their goals.
One of the biggest mistakes you can do when building your course or workshop is to think it’s all about organizing and presenting your knowledge to your customers.
But, the truth is: your customers care less about what you know and more about the results they’ll get from it. It means they’ll give you great testimonials about your course, as long as it has produced positive results in their lives.
Do you want to guarantee strong results for your clients in your next course? Then, work hard to build: a clear roadmap, powerful frameworks, and smart safety nets.
A Clear Roadmap
Your customers want to achieve great results but they don’t know how to do it. Therefore, the first element of an effective program is a clear roadmap.
A roadmap shows all the important milestones and major steps that must be completed in order for your customers to achieve success. The milestones and the steps in your roadmap must also be linked to one another so your customers understand they’re all part of your program’s journey.
Maybe you already presented the roadmap on your free webinar. But, it’s important that you assure your customers clearly understand it, before moving on to teaching them the first framework.
The better they understand the roadmap…
…the more engaged with your program they’ll be
…the less doubts they’ll have about how to perform the required steps
…the more resilient they’ll be about the potential hurdles (once they understand the importance of each step, they’ll find a way to accomplish them)
…the more they’ll leave you positive testimonials
Just knowing what to do and why to do it (roadmap), still won’t make your customers able to perform the steps by themselves. That’s why you have a second mission when designing your program: to build powerful frameworks.
In your program’s context, a framework is the fundamental structure to execute a specific task. It’s the recipe behind a specific achievement. Your customers will use your frameworks to know what to do, how to do it, and in what order.
You should love creating great frameworks. Why?!
Because every time you build an effective framework, you transform your expertise into pure results for your customers.
You see?! It’s the point when you stop just teaching concepts, and start producing results through your know-how.
More than that, when you build a great framework, you increase your value as an expert because you just got your clients a better—or easier, or cheaper—way to perform a task.
Without frameworks, your program will be just informational. So, when designing your course, be sure to create frameworks that are both clear and effective.
The better you design your frameworks, the faster your customers will get to their final goal.
But, how to build great frameworks? By always answering these two questions:
“What are the steps my customers need to perform in order to achieve each milestone in the roadmap?”
“What is the clearest way to guide them to perform each step?”
It’s very tempting to simply stop in the first two elements of the equation (Roadmap and Frameworks). But, your course’s effectiveness is at risk if you don’t care about a third element: “Safety Nets”.
You know that net placed under an acrobat when she’s performing her show? Yep… In case something goes wrong, she doesn’t hurt herself.
I know… Your customers are not hanging their bodies 20 meters above the ground. But, as an acrobat, they’re also testing their limits.
When you ask people to invest their time and energy to learn and practice something new, it’s very likely they’ll fail somehow.
But, why would they fail, if you’re already providing them with a brilliant roadmap and powerful frameworks?
In fact there are many reasons why. Here are just some examples:
They’re very busy and cannot find enough time to dedicate to your program
They’re too tired (after working the whole day) to pay attention to what you say
They may not have money to invest in the tools or equipment you’re asking them to buy.
And so on…
Let’s suppose you’ve built a course about “how to include financial planning in kids’ lives”. Although you put your efforts to produce a great course, very busy parents will find it difficult to attend it, or to sit for hours and teach their kids about finance.
Hum… What about including audio only episodes such as podcasts (so they could attend your course while commuting)? Or maybe shorter lessons and a slower progress plan (so they could perform the tasks in a longer time-frame)?
Providing your clients with smart safety nets will help them get rid of potential hurdles in their journeys and, consequently, increase your program’s effectiveness rate (number of people who attended your program vs. number of people who achieved expected results).
To guarantee positive testimonials about your first (or next) course, don’t forget to:
Present a clear roadmap, so enrollees understand and believe in the process and go the right direction
Build powerful frameworks, so they take the right steps in the right way to produce solid results
Design safety nets, to help them deal with and overcome the hurdles in the way
That’s it; Three pillars that equal success for your customers and positive testimonials about your program.
P.S.: Your success on building these pillars is strongly related to your ability to niche down.
Do you want to avoid building a program—course, workshop, etc.— that falls into the “just another course” zone? Then, you must consider to niche its scope down.
While it’s tempting to build an “ultimate” course that encompasses everything you know about a topic, it mines your efforts to entice potential customers to buy it.
But, what are the advantages of niching your program’s scope down?
I’ll give you three.
1. Niche Down to Get Your Customers’ Attention
The first reason why you should niche the scope of your course down is to make your customers listen to you.
Different customers deal with different problems. Also, these problems happen in different contexts. That’s why each person describes their struggles differently.
The magic of niching down happens when you use in your narrative the same wording your target customers use to describe their problems.
Check out these two examples of courses’ promises about the same topic (marketing):
“Learn everything about marketing in my 3-day workshop.” (very generic promise)
“Build an effective digital marketing routine for your brick-and-mortar business, in 3 days, in my workshop.” (specific)
While the first promise may be completely ignored by your audience, the second one does ring a bell inside their minds. When they hear (or read) words like “brick-and-mortar” and “digital marketing”, their senses open up to your message: “Brick-and-mortar? Digital Marketing? Tell me more about it…”
In summary: when you base your course’s promise on your expertise (e.g.: marketing), your potential customers will see your offer as part of your strategy to be successful.
However, when you design it based on a specific outcome (e.g.: digital marketing for brick-and-mortar businesses), they’ll perceive your course as their strategy to succeed.
2. Niche Down to Increase Your Program’s Effectiveness
Increasing your program’s effectiveness is the second reason why you should niche its scope down.
First, it’ll have a positive impact on the perceived effectiveness.
Customers are not stupid; They know that their specific contexts demand different approaches. So, when they realize your program was designed for their specific situations, they’ll give it more credibility. Isn’t it likely that a specific program will provide better methodologies, frameworks and tools for a specific case? No doubt about that…
Second, niching down will also have a positive impact on the real effectiveness.
Since, you’re providing your customers with better frameworks, they’ll start achieving better results. As a consequence of this focus, the number of success cases will rise. In turn, these cases will boost your program’s future sales—via testimonials, case studies, etc.
3. Niche Down to Be Seen as a Specialist
Finally, niching down will increase your reputation as a specialist.
If you want to be recognized as a reference for a topic, you must know that topic upside down. The more you talk (or write) about that topic, the more your audience will see you as an expert.
But, when you try to address a broader topic, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed. Even if you try hard to learn and produce content about that topic, people won’t see you as a specialist.
Imagine two different professionals who offer a program that promises to teach you how to plant beautiful trees in your garden.
The first professional, named Sam, has a course called: “Learn how to plant beautiful trees in your garden”.
The second one, named Sarah, has a course called:”Grow beautiful fruitful trees in your garden, with low maintenance costs and zero-stress.”
So, if you want to build beautiful fruitful trees that require small effort and money, who do you think is more capable of delivering results? Yep, Sarah.
In summary, if you’re building your course or workshop, start with a specific scope.
This narrower scope will help you to:
Make your customers pay attention to your offer
Build the credibility of your program
Build your reputation as a specialist in that specific topic
At this point, maybe you still have a doubt: “But, there are successful generic courses. Aren’t there?”
Yes, there are.
But, if you still are not recognized as a specialist nor have built massively successful courses in the past, you should go narrower.
Let’s think about it…
Every outcome demands an investment—of time, energy, and money. When you choose a bigger scope for your course, you’re also asking a bigger investment from your customers. The bigger their commitment is, the higher the friction to buy will be.
This additional friction will require from your customers a stronger belief that they’ll get the results they want. This stronger belief will only be possible if they have proof it worked for other people like them in the past.
So, the logic is to start with a smaller scope, help your customers achieve success, then go to bigger scopes.
Okay. You’re excited because you’ve scheduled some customer interviews. You know this is a great opportunity to generate insights that will boost your startup development. But, some entrepreneurs simply waste this wonderful opportunity because they ignore one or more of the following customer interview tips.
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
The more your customers talk, the higher the likelihood to generate great insights.
But, how will you make them talk? Using a magical ‘trick’ called open-ended questions. These questions start with ‘WHY’, ‘HOW’, ‘WHAT’, and they’ll demand from your customers longer answers than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Let me give you an example; Let’s suppose you’re doing interviews with potential customers for your flowers lovers app.
You may decide asking a closed-ended question such as: “Is it hard to find the right seeds?” And hear: “Yes.”
Or you may ask an open-ended question as: “How do you find the right seeds?” And hear: “I start by checking with my neighborhood what were the seeds he has planted in his garden. Then, I select a different one. It’s like a healthy competition… who has the most beautiful flowers, the most exotic, the tallest ones, etc. We have a lot of fun in our ‘mini-war’. And some of our neighbors are already joining the game. The size of the challenge grows every year, because it’s harder to find such unique seeds.“
Have you notice the difference? Besides the second answer is longer than the first one (duh!) it revealed more useful insights too. It was also more spontaneous, which helps you preventing yourself from inducing your interviewees to answer what you would like to hear.
2. Simply Shut Up
Every time you’re talking, your customers are not. So, be sure to open your mouth only in appropriate moments—to build rapport, to deepen or to change the topic, to clarify any blurry point.
But, why do we have problems to being quiet during customer interviews? Because we’re driven by the willingness to be:
Respected: we fear that the person we’re talking to will judge us badly if we stay too quiet. So, to make sure we’re not ‘stupid’, we try to dump everything we know about the topic and related matters.
Accepted: human beings need to be accepted so we constantly try to please other people. And to demonstrate we agree with them, we end up talking.
Right: No one enjoys being wrong. Indeed, we should recognize our failures as a means to learn, but the truth is we always prefer to be right. During customer interviews, this willingness to be right may trick us into trying to convince the interviewee about our point of view. If the interviewee doesn’t agree with us, we assume she didn’t understand it and we start ‘explaining’.
After each interview recap the moments you opened your mouth. Were you trying to be respected, accepted or right? If this was the case, work hard to avoid doing it again in the next interview.
3. First The Forest, Then The Trees
Many times, the most powerful insights are hidden in the less obvious places.
For that reason, you should begin your interview with broader questions, in order to understand your customers’ context. Once you capture the big picture, you’ll know which aspects are worth being further explored.
By being broad and open to the unknown, you’ll allow yourself to generate insights from:
Interesting quotes: that reveal hidden beliefs, paradigms, prejudices, ideas, etc.
Unexpected statements: something that goes to the opposite way you’re expecting it to go.
Additional problems: complaints about different issues than the one you’re addressing with your solution (maybe a more relevant one).
Adaptations: Self-made solutions or adaptations customers are already doing to partially or completely solve the problem (when something bothers them, they can be reeeeally creative).
4. Be Curious
From all these customer interview tips, this is definitely the most powerful one. If you are really curious about your potential customers’ lives, all the rest becomes much easier.
So, I have a challenge for you: instead of just focusing on putting a checkmark on the task, I want you to take a humbleness pill and work hard to understand how different and amazing your customers are.
When you truly empathize with your potential customers, you become apt to understand their fears, goals, thoughts, frustrations and logic. All these elements are fundamental if you want to make them open their wallets to buy your solution in the near future.
Yes, you may come up with ‘smart’ questions before the interview starts. But, don’t forget that many of the smart questions cannot be anticipated. So, trust in your curiosity to formulate powerful questions during the interview.
5. Don’t Pitch
Simply put: interviewing is about being open to discover; pitching is about presenting to convince.
Do you see? They go to very different directions.
That’s exactly why you must keep in mind that the interviews are all about the customers.
Every time you choose to pitch your idea—instead of listening to your customers—you waste an opportunity to discover what is running in their minds.
Besides that, if they believe you’re pitching, they tend to be less honest too—they may agree with you and say things like “It’s a great idea!” so you don’t become disappointed.
6. Stop Assuming Things
Another common mistake is to take some assumptions for granted.
If you’ve ever said something like “I didn’t ask him, but of course he does that.”, be careful.
In this very beginning, don’t consider something as ‘too obvious‘.
Maybe, you would act in a particular way. But, since you don’t know your customers’ context, you need to ask.
You’re painting a picture from scratch. You know the elements you want to use to paint it. But, you don’t know what kind of picture it is. Let your customers guide your masterpiece.
I love the word ‘why’… Why?
Because it’s so short, but at the same time it’s soooo powerful.
It’s like a small key that opens your customers’ minds and reveal their context, goals, logic, values, judgment, and dilemmas.
So, every time you want to put some color to grey answers—like a ‘yes’ or ‘no’—simply ask ‘Why?’, and be prepared for a ton of powerful insights to come.
Places: “in my house”, “at work”, “in my family’s ranch”, “in the restaurant”
Times of the day, week, month, year: “after finishing my work”, “on the weekends”, “on holidays”, “when I’m doing laundry“
Events: “on my vacations”, “when I visit my grandmother”, “when we visit our clients”, “when we plan our budget“
Goals: “I want to be more productive”, “I need to do it faster”, “I wish I could be a better father”, “one day, I will…”, “I want to save more money”
Constraints: “I would if I could”, “I cannot do X because of Y”, “I don’t have a good memory”, “but it’s so expensive for me”
2. The Relevance Of The Problem
If I told you I can solve the biggest problem in your life… Wouldn’t you be absolutely crazy to hear what I have to say? That’s a great reason for you to do customer interviews: to be sure you’re solving a problem people really care about.
To do that, during the interview, check if:
The customer mentions the problem before you do: instead of asking how your customer deals with the problem you want to solve, ask her how she handles the situation (in which the problem should be happening). If she doesn’t mention the problem, maybe it’s something not relevant at all (or she doesn’t realize its relevance yet).
The customer expresses a strong negative feeling about the problem: even if your interviewee mentions the problem, you still need to check her reactions about it. Can you sense a high level of frustration in her narrative? If you can, they definitely may be crazy for a solution. If not, try to understand why she is not as frustrated as you expected her to be.
3. The Consequences Of The Problem
During customer interviews, your mission is also to uncover and understand every single consequence the problem causes to customers. Sometimes, customers are not even aware of all the consequences.
So, have in mind all the chain of consequences the problemcan cause to your customers. When customers are talking about the problem, pay attention to everything that happens after the problem emerges:
Do they get angry? Frustrated?
And what does that anger make them do?
And by doing that, what happens next?
And so on…
4. Customers’ Wording
The words your customers pick to describe their thoughts and feelings about the problem are magical.
When you know these magical words—and understand their meanings—you start entering your customers’ minds.
Once these magical words find their way back to your customers’ eyes (in a sales page, for example) or ears (in a podcast episode or a video) these customers get instantaneously sucked into your narrative.
Therefore, avoid doing your own interpretation of the words you hear. For example, don’t hear ‘exhausted‘ and register ‘fatigued‘. Nor write down feeling ‘upset‘ when your customers said ‘miserable‘.
5. Current Alternatives (to your solution)
To understand how amazing your solution is to your customers, you must first understand what alternatives to your solution they have on their hands.
And I suggest you look for alternatives in three different categories:
Products and services that solve—even if partially—the problem you’re addressing.
Adaptations or self-made solutions your customers might have created to solve the problem or reduce the effects the problem has on their lives.
Doing nothing: Yes. Doing nothing about the problem and accepting its consequences must be considered as an alternative. Sometimes, simply facing the consequences is preferable to investing time or money in any kind of solution.
6. Level of Excitement About Your Solution
The more excited your customers are about your solution, the higher the probability they’ll pay for it. And you can capture this level of excitement by paying attention to customers’ keywords such as:
“How much is it?
“Where can I buy it?”
“Is it already available?”
“I would love to use it even if it’s not finished yet.”
These and other statements that clearly show your customers’ strong intention to take action, should be considered too.
CAVEAT: Statements like: “This is a great idea.”, “You’re brilliant!”, “You’re going to earn a lot of money from it.”, “This is what the world was missing.”, “How hasn’t someone come up with that before?“ SHOULD NOT be considered as evidence of excitement (especially if they’re coming from your mom or best friend).
7. Rationale and Friction Points
Finally, customer interviews will help you to anticipate your customers’ rationale to decide if they’ll buy your solution or not. Inside this rationale, you’ll find several potential barriers that can make them say ‘no’—instead of ‘yes’—to your product, like:
“It’s too expensive.”
“It’s too complicated/hard to use.”
“It’s too boring.”
“It’s too big/small.”
“It’s too ugly.”
“I’m not sure it will solve my problem.”
“It’s too unstable.”
“It’s too risky.”
“It’s too laborious.”
“It’s not good enough.”
Every time you hear one or more of these negative statements, don’t be sad. Use them to start digging deeper into your customers’ rationale and to find ways to overcome these barriers.
Okay. Before investing a lot of money, time, and energy in building a solution, go talk to your customers and build THE solution they’ve been looking for.
Finding the right people to partner with, takes time and patience. If you still don’t have money to build your business, use your time to develop relationship with potential partners.
Look for people who will complement your skills and that have the same values as yours.
Start by identifying the benefits your startup could provide to partners and, then what benefits a potential partner could add to your business.
Building strong partnerships completely changes the outcomes of your business. But, don’t expect them to happen naturally. Start designing and nurturing ideal partnerships for your business, in order to make them become true.
6. DEFINE AND BUILD YOUR VALIDATION METHOD
After defining a strong rationale for your idea, you must test and validate its riskiest assumptions in the market—in the fastest and cheapest way.
To do that, you may count with an infinite number of validation methods. In a previous post, I presented you 5 methods to validate your solution. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you to do it right now.
Defining a validation method and building a first version of your solution is super-powerful to generate insights (and much easier and cheaper than building a full-feature product).
7. DESIGN YOUR MARKETING FUNNEL
Just building a great product won’t make people naturally come and buy from you.
As an entrepreneur you must design a clear marketing funnel that conveys a strong strategy to intentionally make people purchase your solution. Consequently, this funnel will be the basis of your marketing metrics and initiatives.
There are some great free and paid online services you can use to design your marketing funnel. One tool I like using is funnelytics.io.
8. BUILD YOUR REPUTATION
If you don’t have enough money to build your solution, yet you may find some time to start developing your reputation in the industry.
Start engaging in conversations about the problem you’ll solve through your solution. These conversations might happen through social media, blog posts, podcast episodes, etc.
Why is that important? Because when you have a strong reputation on a specific topic, people will listen to what you might say about a potential solution.
And guess what… You’ll have a solution that precisely solves their problem. Such a coincidence. Right? Of course not, it’s pure long-term strategy.
9. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE INDUSTRY AND LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN ABOUT IT
Learning is definitely one of my passions. The more I learn, the easier it becomes to understand some of the world’s dynamics.
While you’re still preparing to execute your business, you may start absorbing a ton of knowledge about your industry from sources like:
Researches and publications
Social Media Accounts / Influencers
Social Media Groups
The knowledge you’ll gain will help you to take well-based decisions about your business and drive it faster towards success.
Abartys Health is a startup from Puerto Rico. It has created a system that allows seamless data flow and communication between insurers, doctors, and patients. Today, it has more than 1 million patients registered, 700,000 providers enrolled and $11 million in Annual Recurring Revenue.
In our 21st episode, Dolmarie Mendez tells us Abartys traction story and how she turned a (very) tough moment in her life into a startup that is saving lives.
The notes below are just part of the interview. Listen to the audio to get the whole episode!
THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION
What is the
problem you’re solving and what is the solution Abartys Health is providing to its
Today, we give insurance
companies and providers a centralized place, where they can exchange
information—like their credentials and all the documentation that evidence
they are capable and they are up to date with all their license and
documentations in order to treat a patient.
A very high
percentage of patients in the United States—to be exact 10%—die in the
emergency room because they [payers and providers] don’t know anything about
that patient. They don’t know if they are allergic to something—to penicillin
about the patients is crucial in order that those patients get the right
treatments. So, having the right information from the provider and having it
available for the patients are crucial in order to be efficient. Abartys is providing a solution to
mitigate the fragmentation in the healthcare systems.
A VERY TOUGH TIME
How did you
have the idea to build such a system?
In 2014, I had
an infection. I had a shock—a bad reaction to crop—while I was in one of my
continuing education trips. I had poisoned food—something that sounds simple
to treat. But, if it’s not treated right, it can bring complications later.
I had a sepsis
and I spent six months between hospitals. They didn’t know what was happening to
me and no one was able to treat me in the right way, with the right treatment.
I said goodbye
to my family because they told me I was not going to recover. My weight was 81
pounds—I’m five, three inches. So, imagine, very small. I lost my hair, my intestinal
flora. And I remember like yesterday, praying: “Oh, my God, if I recovered from
this, definitely I’m going to dedicate my life to collaborate some way to fix
And I remember like yesterday, praying: “Oh, my God, if I recovered from this, definitely I’m going to dedicate my life to collaborate some way to fix this.”
That is the
foundation of Abartys Health. After that, I got obsessed with wellness,
prevention and making sure I have access to clinical data. That is the essence
of our technology: access to clinical data and access to providers’ data.
ZERO MONEY, BUT MANY CONTACTS
money did you have when you decided building something together?
We had no money.
I was a vice-president of a benefits management
agency at that moment. So, we proved our concept with the clients that we
already have in here, managing their benefits. It’s about being strategic and wise
about how you move all your stakeholders around you. When you are going to
start a company, you need to keep your job, unless you have a good amount of
money saved that you can go without nothing.
So, we started
conversations with some of our friends, and a friend—of a friend of a friend—put
us in contact with some people that could make some recommendations. Then, Lauren
realized she had a friend that ran the physicist’s department at the University
of Puerto Rico. We explained everything that he wanted to know and his first
words were: “You are both crazy.” It was feedback that we were getting from
We explained everything that he wanted to know and his first words were: “You are both crazy.” It was feedback that we were getting from everybody.
I know a ton of people in the healthcare industry here. So that gave me some perspective and data bank to go on talk and ask for feedback. And the feedback was: “We trust you. If you make that, just call me because I’m going to buy it immediately.”
MONEY FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
What did you
We needed to
bring people with a fresh mind or thinking out of the box, that you just explained
the problem, they learn from knowledge transfer, and they say: “What about this?”
We built a lab with
students from the University. We were not able to pay them. At the beginning,
it was just our word: “We cannot pay you.”
Then, at that
moment, I spoke with my employer and we had a good number of clients in the
company—that were my clients—and they trusted me. So, I told him: “Hey, I
have this personal commitment and I really want to do this.” And he trusted me too.
He said: “I’m going to fund your project.” That’s our seed investor and that’s
where we saw our first capital seed—$562,000.
We used that
money to build the company and to start with the technology.
When did you
have something to show people?
We used another
technology—a B2C product that you can buy online to manage wellness products—and
it was like a third-party technology. We got the license and we started with
two insurance companies here and employers to give them wellness benefits. We
did clinics on side, physical exams on side.
And then we
challenged that vendor: “Hey, can we take lab results? Can we process the lab
results?” And we did it.
But we wanted
something bigger. Because when we finished—after our case studies—we
realized that we had the capacities to make this bigger. And then we said: “We’re
going to build our technology.”
We went to Parallel18—an international accelerator here—to visit another startup, in the first generation, that had something we thought we could use as part of our solution. When we explained everything to them, we already had the platform to start managing membership. And they said: “You don’t need another startup to do that. That’s an easy thing.”
And we applied
for the second generation [of Parallel18] from our cars. I remember we had like
one hour left to submit the application and we got accepted. We were very lucky
to be part of the second generation.
There, they give
you $40,000 without equity and we invested all the money to start paying the
guys that were working for free.
WORDS FOR STARTUP FOUNDERS
startups, we are told: “Don’t show your idea. Don’t tell anything. Don’t talk
to everybody.” And you need to be wise about that. It’s not about not talking;
it’s about how to talk about that. And it’s something that we did very, very
The feedback is very important. You need to take that feedback. You need to read about everything. I stayed in the medical office the whole day to look at people and see their reactions. You need to involve in the problem in a way that you have to feel it into your skin. If you don’t live what you’re trying to solve with your startup, honestly, it’s very difficult to achieve your goals. Because it’s a very rocky road.
If you don’t live what you’re trying to solve with your startup, honestly, it’s very difficult to achieve your goals.
going to get hit by a bus. And you need to start it all over again, go back and
think “what happened here?” and learn from your bad experience.
All of them are
good experience, because you’re learning something from it. So, there are no errors,
no failures. There is no negative. It just depends on how you learn from it and
what are you going to do to mitigate that?
The other thing
is that do not underestimate yourself. That is something very important. While we
raised capital, I was pregnant—and we raised $1.5 million. At that moment,
Lauren and I were single moms. And I remember one investor telling us “Never
say anything about your children. You don’t have a family, that is not true.”
And our investors, they love the fact that we are women and we have children. We raised 1.5 million in 2018 while I was pregnant, and now we raised $3 million while Lauren was having her baby.
MORE ABOUT ABARTYS HEALTH
Abartys Health (Website; Facebook; LinkedIn) is a Puerto Rico based technology company founded in 2016 by Dolmarie Méndez and Lauren Cascio focused on centralizing and improving healthcare processes by creating solutions that streamline data, communication, and services for the three major components of healthcare – patients, doctors, and insurance companies. The Abartys Health system provides a consolidated solution to many of the inefficiencies contributing to the almost $1 Trillion loss in healthcare every year. The company has Developed a health technology system that is moving healthcare from the existing dis-jointed state to a centralized hub.
Among the solutions that the company has created for the Healthcare Industry, Abartys has built the first truly shared digital provider data management system to increase data quality, drive down costs, decrease credentialing approval waiting times and to ultimately reduce the total long-term staffing, hosting and integration costs of maintaining and man- aging multiple applications in support of costly credentialing, online look up and compliant provider directory management.
Cityfurnish is a startup from India that offers online furniture rental. It was founded in 2015 by Neerav Jain and Saurabh Gupta and today it has more than 10 thousand subscribers, $3MM in Anual Recurring Revenue.
In our 20th episode, Neerav tells us about the beginning of the journey, the idea validation process, the marketing channels that were successful and more.
The notes below are just part of the interview. Listen to the audio to get the whole episode!
FLEXIBLE AND AFFORDABLE
What is the problem that you’re solving for people in India?
I did my undergraduate in New Delhi—the capital of India. While I was studying there, we were three friends staying in an apartment. As we realized later on, more than 70% of the apartments in India are either unfurnished or semi-furnished. So, we also ended up in an unfurnished apartment.
That actually led us to a problem which we faced at that time: there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs. So that was kind of a problem statement: If you don’t want to buy new furniture or old furniture, there needs to be a solution for it or an alternative […]
[…] there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs
Then, when we were leaving college, the second problem occurred. While we’re moving out of that city, it’s not easy, and it’s very painful actually to either discard or resell the furniture. So, that was a kind of an awakening to us that the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate. […]
[…] the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate.
At the same time, an average Indian shifts between jobs
every 18 to 24 months. That does not resonate with their lifestyle. Because if
they’re looking for something flexible and affordable, buying does not
solve that problem.
SUBSCRIBE, INSTEAD OF BUYING!
How are you solving the problem for them?
We wanted to provide flexibility and affordability to our users. The way we do that is that we provide them a rental subscription plan that you can pay a monthly affordable rate. You can select items by packages, or by combos, or you can select it individually as well.
So, an average two-bedroom apartment, including furniture, furnishings, and appliances, will cost you roughly around $80 a month if you’re taking furniture from us, in India. And that resonated very well with the users.
TWO HUNDRED INTERVIEWS
Okay, let’s go back to September, 2015…
The day zero scenario was actually very funny and very
challenging. We follow this book, The Four Steps to Epiphany. There was this
very good saying: “For every assumption, you need validation.”
The way we went about it was that first, we needed to validate: “Is there a need for rental furniture or is it something we just want to solve, but there is no market need for that?”
That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews. So, I did around 200+ manual interviews, in which I asked two major questions.
First was “If you’re living in a rental house and if that is unfurnished, how will you furnish it?” As I expected more than 95% said, either they will buy new furniture or old furniture.
My reason to ask that question was to understand: “Is there an awareness already about furniture rental available in the market or will we have to create that awareness and category as we go about that?”
That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews.
The second question we asked them: “If we provide you two-bedroom furniture and appliances, rental solution, around $80 a month, does that excite you?” And an astounding 89% said “Yes”. And we got our first 20 subscribers through that interviews itself.
So that was a big resonance for us, though the category awareness was not there. But if the category awareness is available to the users, the conversion is there. And there is a market sizable need, which we need to solve.
Did you count on any money at that time?
That time it was on ourselves. First of all, to do the interviews and surveys, we didn’t need any money at that time to start with it. Even the website was something which I and Saurabh did in the house.
So it took very limited budget to start with. But, as soon as we started getting orders and to buy the inventory and to fulfil those orders, we started using our savings to fund that.
What are your backgrounds?
I come from a furniture industry background. I did my undergraduate in Commerce. Post that I was working with Pepperfry—a retailer of furniture in India.
Saurabh is graduated from IIT in Computer Science. He has done his MTech from there. He has worked in companies like Vodafone and HCL and Mdocs, for close to 10 to 15 years before we’ve both started in one more venture—prior to Cityfurnish, That did not work eventually.
Post that, we started Cityfurnish. We knew each other for I think like two and a half years before we started Cityfurnish.
GOOD ENOUGH TO LAUNCH
Was this first version much different from what we have today?
The first version was very limited. We just had five
options in total for furniture, at that time. The homepage and the products
page were kind of similar. You just placed an order, then everything was done
manually at our end. We used to call the customer, send them the emails,
collect their KYC over the email.
Now, most of it is automated. The customer can have multiple
items, view, place the orders, do the payment and upload documents also on the
We have done a lot of iterations from 2015 to today. And
in every iteration, the theme which is consistent is that our users should get
more trust and confidence while coming on to the Cityfurnish website.
TRACTION AND CONFIDENCE
When did you start seeing traction coming?
To be very frank, when we were doing these 200 interviews
is when we got the first 20 subscribers. That was a very happy moment for us,
because we were just stopping random people coming out from metro stations and
just asking them. Actually, those 20 guys did place an order.
So, it was a very good validation and that increased the
confidence for the complete team a lot. Maybe towards the April of 2016 was
when scale actually started coming up a little bit, because we were doing a
very good number of orders—in Delhi at least.
Then, we became a little bit more confident that we could
expand into one more city. And that’s how we scale to Bangalore. So, that was
the confidence level we were waiting for and once we got it, we expanded to Bangalore.
THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE
From 50 subscriptions in 2015 to more than 10,000 subscriptions in 2019. What were the marketing channels you used to acquire so many users in that period?
As one YC was saying: “do things that are not scalable for marketing”. So, we did a lot of this kind of thing.
There are a lot of expats and communities for expats. So, we used to do a lot of marketing promotions on Facebook and inter-nations related groups to target the expat community. Because we had a very good start in the expat community in terms of the orders that were coming in.
And then we started tapping into those and started converting into referrals as well. Around 35% of our orders are towards organic and referrals. In the beginning, most of our orders were towards organic and reference—through word of mouth and to reference. So, that worked really well for us.
As we started scaling, we understood that, in India, most of the apartments that are available for rentals, are available through the broker’s channel community—real estate agents and brokers. We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us. Now, you will see that we have an Android app called Cityfurnish Partner, on which a real estate agent can come on board and become a channel partner.
We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us.
And whenever he is working with a tenant or a landlord, he can input those leads into the channel on the partner app and our team calls them and then converts those leads, to fulfill those orders. So that was a very interesting and a very different approach towards increasing the orders. And that worked really well for us.
YC GOT ME
You were part of Y Combinator Winter 2019 batch. What was the most valuable learning you got from this three-month program?
I think the biggest advantage or learning from YC is the
YC community in itself. Wonderful founders and peers you are working with,
amazing pedigree of founder partners who are working with YC who are helping
and guiding you. So that experience is invaluable, to say the least. YC
community has a very good factor to make everyone push harder to excel in their
work. The weekly office hours that they have make everyone accountable in a way
that everyone is motivating and pushing each other.
What would you say to startup entrepreneurs that want to build a successful startup?
One major key thing I would say is that you should not do a startup because you want to do a startup; You should do a startup if you’re looking or if you’re able to solve a problem. So like, that major difference between those two things, I think is a key enabler to take through all the pains and sorrows which are going to come. And if you are doing it for the right thing, and you’re trying to solve a problem, eventually you will be able to find a solution for it.
Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here.
MORE ABOUT CITYFURNISH
Cityfurnish (Website; Facebook; Pinterest; LinkedIn) is revolutionizing the furniture industry by providing quality furniture and home appliances on easy monthly rental. With the immense focus on product quality and customer service, we strive to become most preferred name in furniture industry by customer’s choice.
According to Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn founder) and Chris Yeh (writer, investor and entrepreneur), “blitzscaling” is the strategy of prioritizing speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty.
Indeed, it’s impressive when founders make their startups huge really fast. Like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and other companies that didn’t exist just a few years ago. And now…
In fact, for some startups, aggressively growing is the best strategy to achieve a robust success.
But, how on Earth is it possible? That’s what you’ll see inside “Blitzscaling”.
Why you should read Blitzscaling
Because it effectively translates authors’ experience on startup development into powerful insights on…
The growth factors and limiters of your business model: the ability to exponentially scale your startup relies on maximizing the growth factors and minimizing the growth limiters of your business model. Growth factors are: market size, distribution, high gross margins, and network effects. Growth limiters are: lack of product/market fit, and operational scalability.
The patterns and principles to build a high-growth business: in this book, you’ll read about 7 business model proven patterns and 4 principles of business model innovation. Why reinvent the wheel?
The key transitions and counterintuitive rules of management:speed over efficiency. Remember? The decision to blitzscale will bring a ton of chaotic consequences for your startup’s management practices. What do you do when massive growth demands more people than you’re able to hire? And when you start receiving thousands of customers complaints? Yep, hard stuff…
Whether to blitzscale your startup or not: Reid and Chris made it very clear: there are contexts in which blitzscaling makes sense and others it doesn’t. Be aware of the criteria to decide blitzscaling your startup or not.
So, if you want to prepare your startup to grow at high rates in the near future, you should start by reading Blitzscaling.
What exactly the
problem that you are solving is? And what is the solution that BeOn is offering
to its users?
First of all, we
need to integrate the community to exchange information about security in the
same place. A big problem that we have when we talk about security is that
nobody knows what’s happening around their houses and offices.
We want to integrate information on everything that’s happening about security, health, environment, traffic and fire problems, so people can see what is happening around their places and also to help public staffs.
With this integration, we provide a lot of good timing to all
these staffs to work with security and this problem in any place.
BETTER THAN RADIO
How did the
idea come to your mind?
We worked for a
long time with security—almost 20 years. Here in Brazil, the security
problems were growing and we had a lot of places that we wanted to work
together to have more safety in their neighbourhoods.
First, we worked
with radio communication—one condominium talked with another condominium by
radio. But it has costs.
So, we started thinking
about how we could make these people exchange information with no costs. We thought
about an app, and this app is BeOn. We’ve been working in this solution since
GETTING AN EXPERT
What were the first steps you took after having the idea?
First of all, we
made a big project with everything that we could develop in this platform—the
best ways and the best platform we could have.
For sure, we
didn’t have enough money to put everything working. So, we looked for someone
that is an expert in technology, and we started working together with this
expert. After that, we made a project to develop the MVP.
And how did
you contact him and how did you make him to jump on board?
We looked around all Brazil to find somebody to develop with us this project. And we found that guy very near us. He lives in São Leopoldo—a city very near Porto Alegre. Actually, it’s a company called Mura. This company looked at our project and wanted to be inside the project with us. So, we paid them some money and they came to be our partners in the project.
MONEY TO START
Were these “friends
and family” funds or did you have to raise the money from someone else?
No, only friends
and family. And after two days we launched the platform in the market, a friend—CEO
of a bank—wanted to put money in the business.
You’ve mentioned about the beginning of the idea in 2016. How long did it take for you to release the MVP?
Well, we worked
hard. We draw all the features that we needed in almost four months. We talked
too much and we planned too much the features that we needed in BeOn in the
first MVP. After that, we had almost six months developing the app until we
could put it in the market.
How was this
first version like? What features did it have?
The features were almost the same that we have today. We’ve just changed the way they appear. We are from the market and we know what people need. This is the difference to have one MVP that you’re really giving people need. Because of that, we didn’t make big changes.
What were the
best strategies or marketing strategies that you use to get users coming to
needs our app. We were talking with Google, two weeks ago, about Waze. People
that use Waze are people that need to go in their own cars. BeOn is used by
everyone—an old woman or a child. They need to have information about security.
So, it is very important for people.
And when we put
BeOn in the market, all the newspapers and TV programs, wanted to use BeOn to
explain that people can use technology to have more security. So, we had 32
exposures in Brazilian newspapers and TV programs. It helped us a lot to show
people what BeOn is.
We also had a
lot of influencers that helped us—on the radio, on the newspapers and on
social— to explain people about BeOn.
All these things
together helped us to explain people what BeOn is and make them download it.
How do you deal with users’ data security?
This is a very
good question for us, because we don’t have any data about the user. The only
information that we have is the number of the telephone; Nothing else. You can
put your name or not, but we don’t show the name—and we don’t know if the name
is real or not. For us, it doesn’t make a difference.
However, if somebody starts to put information that is not true, we can show the phone number for justice or for the police, and they can start to make an investigation. But we don’t show this information on the platform.
A piece of advice you would give to startup entrepreneurs…
To start a
project is not an adventure; It’s hard work. People really need to know very
deeply what they are doing.
Sometimes, you have an idea and you think your idea is the best thing in the world; And you start working. But you really need to know about the market.
An idea can be good, but the difference is how you work on your idea, put that idea in a project and how you work to somebody see value in your idea.
For me, it’s important to have a lot of knowledge about what you are doing and about what people need, to have success in your project.
Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here.
MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER
Gustavo Caleffi (LinkedIn) – Fundador e Sócio diretor da Squadra Gestão de Riscos; Fundador e CEO APP Be On Segurança Colaborativa; Administrador de empresas, com MBA em Direccion de Seguridad en Empresas pela Universidade de Comillas (Espanha); Certificado pela Universidade Israelense ICT (International Institute for Counter Terrorism) em “Segurança Global e Certificado pela empresa israelense ISDS em “ Advanced VIP Protection Course; Especialista em Gestão de Riscos Estratégicos e Segurança; Autor do livro “Caos Social A Violenta Realidade Brasileira”; Atua no segmento de segurança há mais de 20 anos; Inúmeros artigos publicados em diversos veículos de comunicação; Instrutor de lutas há mais de 20 anos; Palestrante em eventos nacionais e internacionais sobre o tema Prevenção em Segurança, Gestão de Riscos Corporativos e Gestão de Segurança de Grandes Eventos; Responsável técnico por projetos em inúmeras empresas multinacionais e nacionais e também em grandes eventos como Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lolapalooza, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Planeta Atlântida, Circuito Banco do Brasil de Música; Reconhecido pela Brigada Militar do RS com as medalhas “Brigada Militar”, Serviços Distintos” e “Serviços Relevantes a Ordem Pública” e medalha “Tiradentes” pela Polícia Civil do RS.
MORE ABOUT BEON
BeOn(Website; Facebook; Instagram; Youtube) is the solution that have the purpouse to save the world, from a free Community Security APP that communicate and integrate community, public staff (police, fire department, transit department), public managers and private security staff. The APP treats security, fire, traffic, health and environment emergency communication.
Gains For security: Prevent information about suspects acts and suspect people; Help to reduce the response time of state and county security mechanisms.
Gains For Fire Fighting: Rapid community communication, promoting greater agility in a first fire fighting, minimizing the risk of major fire; Easy way and agility for fire Fighters identify the geolocation of emergency call.
Gains For Health: Enables professionals in the area (doctors, nurses, firefighters) to assist the victim until the ambulance arrives; Anticipation of situation reporting to emergency call centers, including photo, streamlining understanding of state agents’ need; Preservation of lives by the possibility of first aid care before the arrival of ambulance.
Gains For traffic: Roadblocking information for community rerouting in the region; 911 call location geolocation facility; Anticipation of the situation report for emergency call centers, including a photo, speeding up the understanding of the need by state agents, especially speeding up cases in which firefighters’ support is needed for cutting tools
Gains For Environment: Community information in case of lost child or animal, facilitating and speeding up the identification of those responsible; Natural Disaster Communication Agility in Micro Regions; Form of utility reports for the entire user base, such as road flood closure, landslide
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