One Startup’s Growth Journey in Chinaccelerator

Written by Chris Zhang, Chinaccelerator Program Manager 

“You have been in the acceleration program for 1.5 months, and you only have 1.5 months left. Do you want to keep spending time on talking about the problem, or start to implement the solution that we discussed for more than 5 times? Die or improve, Your decision.” CZ said.

(image from pixabay)

Then Amy, CEO of the company couldn’t hold back anymore. After trying for 1.5 months to fix her OKRs (MAU was less than 10%) while dealing with team’s resistance of making changes, and stress of going through every single details herself, finally couldn’t help herself and started to sob…This situation might appear depressing and hopeless, but that’s the moment when the startup’s growth started to take off.
This company is a B2B company that has been around for 2 years before joining Chinaccelerator. They were doing okay. By that I mean, they had a running product and they could sign one client approximately every two months. They have a good team and their business model is working. But somehow, they were not successful yet.
Your gut starts, data decides  – Oscar RamosPartner & Program Director, 

Chinaccelerator
 
CZ: “Alright, guys. Tell me about your DAU and MAU – daily and monthly active users.”Amy: “… How do we get these numbers?”
This is one of the trial questions we ask when the startups just start their growth hacking session in the beginning of the program. By answering this question, we can get a clue about how far along the startup is on their growth path.We often see early stage startups, that know the meaning of these OKRs, but don’t know how to find the number. This normally means the startup is building their product based on their own preferences and assumptions; they don’t actually know how well the product is performing.So how can startups tell if they are providing value to their users and if their users are taking the right steps? We believe data is king. That’s why we always have our startups set up a tracking system to cover all the bases: Marketing, product, sales etc.Here are some tools our startups use to track their products’ performance: umeng.com, appsee.com, talkingdata.com, growingio.com, hotjar.com etc.Almost all of the tools have a free trial, that our startups use to determine which ones are most suitable for their product.

CZ: “Now, you know for sure what is working and where the dropoffs are, go back and take screenshots of every step your customer takes while using the product.Start from where a user finds out about your product, then registers as a first time user. Then look at how a user explores your platform to complete certain tasks. Print out the screenshots and put them on the wall.”
It sounds like a lot of logistics, but user journeys are important for several reasons:● Demonstrating the vision for the project:User journeys are a great way to show your stakeholders what you are trying to achieve.● They help us understand user behavior:User journeys can help you work out how users are going to interact with your system and what they expect from it.● They help identify possible functionality at a high level:

By understanding the key tasks the customers want to do, you can find out about new possible features.

● They help you define your patterns and interface:

By understanding the ‘flow’ of the users interact with your software, you can start to think about what sort of patterns can help support those tasks and what kind of interface the user needs to accomplish them. (credit: theUXreview)

Below is a tour booking website’s user journey that you can check out as reference:

                                                                      (Credit: Visual Paradigm Online)
Align your team. Keep your shit tight– William Bao BeanManaging Director, ChinacceleratorGeneral Partner, SOSV
Amy: “It has been 1 month since we found out that we have less than 10% of our registered users that are using us every month. Besides that, the biggest problem is that a lot people drop off at the registration page. We have to solve this problem.”CZ: “And it has been 1 month since you came back to us with the same problem. We have pointed out where and how to solve it. You want to keep on talking about the problem, or start to implement the solution we discussed for more than 5 times? Die or improve, your decision.”
Tears came out from Amy’s eyes. She covered her face with both of her hands, then put her head in her arms, sobbing: “How can I align my team in this program? They have been building the product for two years. They are resistant to making changes.”2 minutes later, after she calmed herself down. She picked up her phone, looking determined, dialed a number: “Jack, could you come to the meeting room and take Stella with you? I want you to attend the meeting with me together.”5 minutes later, Jack, the CTO walked in, looking surprised when he saw Amy’s eyes. While Stella, the product manager, appearing guilty.
CZ: “Here’s the data for your product, Jack and Stella. Anything you find that we can improve together?”Jack looked at the data, confused. He thought deeply for a short period of time before he started speaking. “Clearly, we need to change the registration process. Also, we need to find a better way to remind users to come back to our product. I suggest we do…”
He kept on talking for another hour, coming up with a series of constructive proposals on site. But, Stella was still frowning: “These are great proposals. But guys, any system you can recommend to keep track of the progress? Especially for these product managers who don’t have a tech background.”Do product managers have to have a technical background? It definitely helps, but we do see good product managers without a tech background, too. For those who are new to the role and need to start quickly, we recommend to learn scrum. Scrum is a process framework that has been used to manage work within complex projects. Below are some simple steps we guide them through:1. List user stories and tasks in backlog2. Decide on the priority and come up with a weekly sprint or one sprint per two weeks3. 15 minutes daily standup meeting with the whole tech team, go through what has been done yesterday, what to work on today, and what help is needed.4. Take notes on time, organize and review backlogs everyday.

There are a few good tools to track the process. To start fast and simple, below is a framework we built using Trello:

After the meeting, Jack went back and had a meeting with the tech team, and Stella quickly started to build the framework and had one more meeting with Amy. That day, they worked until 11pm and it lasted for the following 2 months…
Amy: “As the CEO of the team, I really should have trusted my team more and should have involved them in the proper meetings earlier. Now, I’m so proud of my team. I have been trying so hard to find a co-founder, but two of them are just like my co-founder now. I’m so lucky.”
 
Market like a pirate– Ryan ShukenGrowth Hacker
Amy: “Guys, good news, now our weekly active users have increased almost sixfold, and the registration rate even increased sevenfold. As a B2B company, our problem now is how to get more qualified leads.”
Good question. After you made something people want, how do you market it and get more traction? We always have our startups set up their funnel with this pirate format – AARRR: Acquisition -> Activation -> Retention -> Referral -> Revenue.
At the acquisition part, one of the frameworks I like the most is called the bullseye framework from a book Traction: A startup guide to getting customers by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.
Outer Ring – What’s possible
  • Brainstorm all 19 traction channels:
    Targeting Blogs; Publicity; Unconventional PR; Search Engine Marketing; Social and Display Ads; Offline Ads; Search Engine Optimization; Content Marketing; Email Marketing; Engineering as Marketing; Viral Marketing; Business Development
    Sales; Affiliate Programs; Exisiting Platforms; Trade Shows; Offline Events; Speaking Engagements; Community Building.
  • What would success look like for each – i.e. to move the needle?
  • Do this thoughtfully
Middle Ring – What’s probable
  • Choose the 3 most promising & keep at strategy level
  • Each test should validate or invalidate an assumption specified beforehand
  • Capture valuable quantitative date
Inner Ring – What’s working
  • Pick core channel to move the needle
  • Direct all efforts & rescourcing here
  • Continue cheap testing + A/B testing for better strategies within / optimisation
  • Other channels may be used as feeders for core channel (cannot have own strategy though)
For activation, keep in mind that your customer is important. To break down your user personas, here’s one template I use it with our startups together.While we are designing content theme or drip marketing, we always refer to the frustration or goals. In terms of the messages we deliver, we design it around the bio, quote and personality. As to the design side, we look at brands and influencers to generate inspiration which is also easier to echo with users. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all, and there are always other tactics you can use.
As to retention, referral, and revenue. Again, track the right data, make actionable plan, A/B test all the time.In Amy’s company’s case, they found drip marketing to be effective than others methods. For the following two months, the deals they closed was eight times more than before.
 
Some people just tell you where the water is, we actually walk with you to go get a drink.– Chris ZhangProgram Manager, Chinaccelerator
Typical startups’ journeys in Chinaccelerator are like:Stage 1, feeling excited and nervous: “They are awesome. I’m going to listen to them, and we are going to grow so much after this.”Stage 2, feeling stressed out and some start to work until 2am almost everyday: “F**k this shit, how hard can it be. I can do it.”Stage 3, feeling impatient: “Why aren’t we making as much progress.” Some start to give up on attending meetings.Stage 4, some feeling brighter: “So this is how it’s supposed to be? Probably we are on track now.” Some keep missing meetings.

Stage 5, when we host program review meeting with all the startups together, some startups feeling grateful, fruitful and fulfilled. Some startups feeling disappointed: “I should have used Chinaccelerator more. I wish I could have a 2nd chance to go through the program again.”

 

We have been through this progress with 150+ startups for the past 8 years. We are not only familiar with the stages, but also have been through the stages with startups ourselves. Once you are in Chinaccelerator, we see you as our family. Besides investing cash and our time in you, we are emotionally connected with you, too. When we see you struggle, we feel pain. To help you struggle less, we explore the road for you. So when you are staying up until 2am, Chinaccelerator team is also up.
 
“We hand hold startups on a lot of stuff in the program, but the goal is that when startups finish the program, they are able to explore and get a drink themselves. Because, eventually, it’s your company. How to do it. Your decision.”
Chinaccelerator
Afterword
The story is based on true journeys of several startups in Chinaccelerator.Thanks to all mentors and partners for being with us together on optimizing status quo and making changes for the future.Specially thanks to all experts in residence for being in the office every week with the startups.Join us. We would like get a drink with you together.

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