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Content marketing strategies, social media tactics, and inbound marketing tips

How a Recruitment Software Provider Used Sniply to Educate the Market

How a Recruitment Software Provider Used Sniply to Educate the Market

The trouble with leading a prospect customer to an interesting article online is that, often, the call to action that you are able to place on the article, should it even be your own article, is difficult to make visually appealing to click, especially if the article is published in the format of the hosting publication.

The Software as a Service (SaaS) sector for recruitment is no different, in fact, it can be even more difficult. With so much competition in the market, ongoing additions to features, ‘nice-to-haves’ becoming ‘must-haves’ overnight; losing your reader to a competitors article could be the difference between ringing the bell in the office and starting all over again.

Vacancy Filler Recruitment Software, a UK-based provider of an advanced applicant tracking system, have started to ‘toy’ with the idea of using Sniply within their marketing department – and with some great success!

The Sniply product has allowed them to create eye-catching CTAs for their articles, which helps to keep prospect customers reading more of their content, or helps to achieve the overall goal of bringing them back to their website. Wait there, I’m not done – you don’t even have to use the CTA on your own article, which is just fantastic! This ahas allowed them to share content from their partners, or even from leading industry experts, whilst applying a relevant CTA to the article, again, achieving the desired goal of bringing the reader back to their website.

As the Marketing Manager at Vacancy Filler Recruitment Software, I know that this is great for us as a company; we know that our product is one of the easiest to use, with a great range of features, and is very competitively priced as a result of our base-product implementation model – this results in a quick implementation with minimal IT involvement – and we know that our product can drive a huge ROI, but it is simply educating the market as to who we are and what we can help them achieve, and Sniply really helps us to do that.

We have big plans for Sniply in 2015 as we make it a key part of our marketing strategy, with the aim of increasing awareness to our product on a global level.

How to Use Social Media to Drive Conversions

How to Use Social Media to Drive Conversions

Are you ready to take your social media marketing to the next level? If so, then you will want to start taking a conversion-oriented approach to social media. In this post, we are going to look at some ways you can use social media to drive conversions.

Add Links to Your Profiles

This one seems like a no-brainer, yet lots of businesses do not use the spaces allotted for website links on their profiles and pages. In addition to the obvious fields, there are others that can help visitors to your social profiles navigate to your website. These include:

* The website field and bio for your Twitter profile.

* The website field and short description for your Facebook page.

* The Publications and Projects section of LinkedIn profiles.

* The links and introduction section of Google+ profiles and pages.

* The cover photos on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn profiles and pages.

For profiles and pages that allow you to have more than one link, you can optimize for conversion by having one link to the homepage of your website and one to a landing page geared towards converting social media visitors into email subscribers, leads, or sales. These links should be in place before you start promoting your social media profiles or added as soon as possible.

A great example from Autosend:


Grow a Relevant Audience

Your business most likely does not need a million followers. Nor does it need fans that are bought in packages or acquired through iPad giveaways (unless you actually sell iPads). Unless you are trying to create the next ICanHasCheezburger, the only followers and fans you should strive to gain are relevant ones.

Relevant social media audiences are those that are going to be interested in your products and services. If you want to buy followers and fans, you should use official social media advertising such as Twitter Promoted Accounts and Facebook Ads. These allow you to create ads shown to your business’s target demographic.

If you want to use giveaways to grow your audience, then use relevant giveaways. If you offer a web analytics service, then give away a free year’s subscription to your platform. Unlike the people who would enter a contest to win an iPad (and never visit your page again), those who entered to win a free year’s subscription to your platform would be the ideal audience to sell to later.

Provide Value

One way that you will help grow a relevant audience and keep your relevant audience engaged is to provide value. The key to providing value in a way that encourages conversions is to do so in relation to your business.

A retail store that sells pet supplies could easily do this by going out on Twitter and searching for people in their region asking questions about pet food, pet toys, etc. Each question that they answer could lead someone to discover his or her website, see them as an authority on pets, and eventually go shopping at their store.

Service providers, such as wedding photographers, could do the same. They could simply go into local wedding groups on Facebook and answer questions. Through providing tips on how to take great photos, they will likely attain great leads.

A great example from When I Work (shameless plug):


Promote Content with a Call-to-Action

Another way to provide value on social media is by creating and sharing valuable content from your blog. People prefer to consume content over advertisements on social media.

Therefore, if you are sharing great content, they are going to click through to read it. When they do, make sure you have an informative post followed by a strong call to action to get the visitor to go from reader to lead or customer.

Get Fans on Your Email List

The next best thing to getting someone to convert from social media into a lead or customer is to get someone on your email list, another medium through which you can work towards conversion. You can do this as a part of your content with a call to action promotion strategy.

You can also do it by creating lead magnets specifically geared towards encouraging people to submit their email address to your list, such as informative ebooks or reports. Whenever you publish a new lead magnet, create a landing page for it that focuses the visitor on nothing but submitting their email address. Then promote that landing page to your social media audience.

A great example from Groove:


Create Highly Targeted Ads

In addition to organically promoting your business to drive conversions, you can use social media advertising to reach the right audiences. If you know your ideal customers well, you should have no trouble creating ad campaigns that are shown to highly targeted audiences.

Facebook, for example, will allow you to target single men in a certain age bracket who live in San Francisco, are interested in exotic sports cars, and are CEOs of tech companies. LinkedIn, on the other hand, will allow you to target men who live in San Francisco, are CEOs of tech companies, and who are members of groups like exotic car owners and enthusiasts.

The goal of a highly targeted ad campaign is to have a small reach of people who are the perfect fit for your customer demographic. These ad campaigns should drive visitors to conversion optimized landing pages. This strategy should ensure that you are spending a smaller budget on a higher-converting audience.

Use Remarketing

Another way to use social media advertising is remarketing. So far, Facebook and Twitter both allow you to create custom audiences and tailored audiences based on visitors to your website that have had a cookie placed on their browser. You can use these cookies to match ad campaigns to specific pages people have visited.

Remarketing is the reason you can go to Facebook after browsing Staples’ website and see the same desk you were browsing in your news feed. Because you are targeting audiences that have visited your website, you stand a much higher potential to convert them into sales.

In Conclusion

As you can see, you have many opportunities to optimize your social media presence for conversions. Be sure to take advantage of all of them to ensure your social media campaigns result in positive ROI.

3 Easy Steps to a Successful B2B Strategy

3 Easy Steps to a Successful B2B Strategy

When it comes to B2B social media marketing and what’s considered a success, most people in the field of B2B sales are unlikely to give it any praise. In most cases if you were to ask a B2B company what they thought of the whole process of social media and lead generation, they’ll laugh and say its non-existent (do you have any source or website for this?). I’m going to take a wild bet here and say that they’re social strategy sucks.

Whilst everyone else gives their social strategy the time off, you can be sitting down and getting hyper focused with your approach. Besides if everyone else has a lack of adoption of B2B social strategies that means there’s less clutter out there to try and get over. It’s a win-win situation and all for you.

So firstly we need to get an idea of what the mindset is of someone who is tasked with a B2B social strategy. They’ve probably been told that social will be considered a success when it becomes a viable lead generation tool, one that brings in something more than followers and Likes. So with this mindset the B2B marketer (who in most cases is a member of the sales team and is tasked with dedicating a couple of hours per week on social) then goes about promoting the company and most importantly promoting the products that you offer with an added reminder as to why they’re the best at it.

This style of social strategy is destined to fail, a very slow and long winded failure. All you need is to flip the switch on one or two aspects of your strategy and the difference will be visible right away.

1. Designate Someone:

You should have someone specifically working on the social strategy, it’s not just about a simple update or share of a company topic, it’s about communicating throughout the web (which is huge by the way) to your audience in the hope they become customers.

When you’ve got the social strategy handled by someone else who’s got a whole host of other things on their plate it’s unlikely they will give social  the focus and attention it deserves. Make sure that someone who is designated to the role already has some understanding of your company. Social media should be used as a medium for communications with prospective customers therefore response to key traffic/audience will need to be efficient and quick – there’s rarely enough time out there to be able to go and ask around what the right answer to a question might be.

2. Content Strategy:

Run a keyword research, compile your findings of successful articles that rank well and see how you can add to their content. This will ensure you have an understanding of the content out there and will push you to create your own content strategy.

By taking time to check your metrics and look deeply into who your followers are you’ll be able to see what content is loved and what doesn’t work so well. The end game here is for you to create exceptionally educational content that helps and guides your audience – become a thought leader in the industry and instantly you’ve got leads – people love to follow the best and smartest in their industry.

Content strategy takes away a lot of trial and error but it helps if you start by looking at who the key influencers in your industry are and what they are working on or writing, and if you can get their input, do it!

Realistically a content strategy is all about knowing what’s coming up, having it all done in good time and being able to build hype, maintain the hype and follow it up with something else from analyzing the data.

3. Give it Time

This is the most crucial aspect of any social strategy. For many companies the seniors just want business and that means leads and sales being a numbers game, managers know that if X calls are made today then the % chance of a lead coming in increases. With social being hard to track and monitor it begins to fall down the rankings for lead generation.

Given time though, most decent social and content strategies can and do begin to work incredibly well. However it’s a case of testing and learning constantly before a single effective and efficient strategy is found.

Most B2B managers need to take a step back and give the social strategy time to see fruition; otherwise their lack of patience will just turn the social strategy into another wasted opportunity. Social is a long term investment so long as the investment is made into the right areas of social.

[Interview]: 3 Communication Tips for Big Brands from a Former C-Suite Executive

[Interview]: 3 Communication Tips for Big Brands from a Former C-Suite Executive

The number one marketing challenge of any big corporate brand is building a personable relationship with customers. With the rise of social networking, the internet has become the holy grail of communications to the masses. Never before has it been easier for brands to connect with customers all across the world.

1e23951I sat down with Ferg Devins to discuss how big brands can create meaningful conversations with customers. Ferg is PR and communications professional who spent 30 years working at Molson Coors, most recently as the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Canada. Today, he leads his own consulting firm called “The Devins Network” where he helps brands drive strategic tactical conversations.

From our interview I gathered three key learning points and highlighted them below:

1) Social networking is a two way conversation

Often time people make the mistake of siloing social networks like Facebook and Twitter as a platform to just push messages. In reality, this is entirely not the case. Push messages are actually seen more commonly as spam. A study recently conducted by Kahuna shows that a whopping 60% of smartphone users opt-out of push notifications.

“20 years ago, we would sit around a dinner table, have a conversation and that would be networking. Today, the dinner table conversation is taking place on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any number of social networks out there.”

Ferg reiterates how a good conversation involves a dialogue, much like something you would have at dinner. The challenge brands face is finding a way to be part of these intimate dinner conversations.

A simple way to spark a meaningful conversation is to write and send personable tweets. Whether it’s in reply to a customer complaint or giving someone a virtual high five, the opportunity to connect with customers around the world is endless. Companies who do this well will build strong loyalty and a rich brand.

2) Understand what the audience desires to hear

To deliver great content, one must figure out and understand what the audience wants to hear. Learning what is and isn’t important about your product will steer your communication positioning the correct way.

“As opposed to a regular tweet, you could ask a simple question, it will provoke a customer response.”

An easy way to do this is getting direct feedback from customers. Whether it is in the form of a survey, email reply-thread, or a tweet, asking your customers for answers will help shape your communication strategy. As always, a personalized message is king – no one wants to read something automated. Here’s a great post outlining how you can craft such messages.

3) Timely responses

Timeliness is an extremely important factor when building your brand. Moments of happiness lose their appeal over time. What would resonate with you more? A reply from your favorite coffee shop saying thanks for visiting 45 minutes after your morning tweet or 24 hours? The general rule of thumb is “sooner the better”.

“If you tweet me within the hour, that means something! But if you tweet me back in 3 days it has less meaning. Response time is so critical. Anything over 24 hours is less impactful”.

Given the popularity of social networks, customers today have high expectations of brands. A recent study concluded that a Twitter response within 1 hour is expected by 53% of people when asking a question and 72% when making a complaint. Not only is it important to be timely with positive interactions but even more so when dealing with negative interactions.

I would like to thank Ferg for agreeing to do this interview and for sharing his insightful thoughts. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and visit his consultancy, The Devins Network. To wrap up this up, we asked Ferg a few fun questions!

Unique Fact

I do great political impersonations. Check them out on Youtube!

Pet Peeve

The misuse of social networking in politics.

Book Recommendations

The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol

Cups of Coffee a Day

Too many.

Favorite Saying/Quote

Life is not a dress rehearsal.

[Interview] How Upstart Avoided the Four Common Mistakes of Community Building

[Interview] How Upstart Avoided the Four Common Mistakes of Community Building

Community building is an integral part to growing any business. Nielsen recently published a research report that states 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family. So how then does one convert regular users into vocal advocates? Although each business has its own unique path to developing a strong community, there are some common practices to be avoided.1

I sat down with Brigitte Bradford, a startup marketer based in Palo Alto to discuss how she helped Upstart overcome the common mistakes in community building.

Upstart is a business that provides loans to students and new graduates. It solves the problems that young adults go through to secure a financial loan. By taking academic backgrounds and work experience into consideration, Upstart sees more than just a “credit score” and offers reasonable loans to high potential applicants. Started in 2013, Upstart has since raised more than $7 million in seed funding and was part of the Thiel Fellowship.


1) Simplifying  messaging

“The best start-up idea is not the most complicated one”

What would your business look like on a car bumper sticker? How would you explain it in a tweet? These were the questions Brigitte asked herself when customers expressed difficulty explaining Upstart to friends. Upstart first launched with a novel financial product. On top of considering academic backgrounds and work experience during the underwriting process, Upstart had a unique loan system called the “Income Share Agreement”. Instead of a traditional loan with principals/interest, borrowers agreed to share a percentage of their future income for 5 or 10 years.

Startups often make the mistake of trying to change too many things in an industry to be “disruptive”. A fine balance needs to be made. How do you expect customers to advocate for you when they can’t even sum up the different things your business is trying to accomplish?

Evernote is a great example of an online business that boasts a simple ‘cut to the chase’ tagline. They pride themselves on being “one workspace” – an application that lets you store notes whether its on your phone, computer, at work, or at home.

2) Parking emotions at the door

“If the markets aren’t listening or responding, then you have to let go and do what people want.”

It can be hard not to get emotionally attached to your startup – after all it’s a product made by you! With Upstart, although many users appreciated the unique underwriting process, it became clear that there was a strong market and interest for a more traditional loan. Using the same income prediction model at the heart of their original  offering, the company began exclusively offering a more conventional 3 year fixed rate loan.

By listening to their customers, Upstart has since experienced 100% month-over-month growth. Not only did this change attract new customers but it made it easier for current users to share and advocate for Upstart. Additionally, features that you take out today could very well come back at a later stage of the business. Boasting this “customer-first” mentality is important when community building.

3) Own your messaging

“If you are calling yourself disruptive, own it, be willing to put yourself out there.”

Part of having a brand is owning that relationship you have with customers. When you think of your best friend, would you classify that relationship as authentic or fake? Hopefully its authentic. This same principle applies when building a community. This is how Brigitte describes Upstart:

  • We are a smart, hardworking bunch
  • We boast an open door policy (Send anybody an email anytime – [email protected])
  • We love data
  • We want to empower people financially with information and services that utilize technology

The personality that you are forming in your mind right now is exactly how Upstart is. From their open email policy to lightning fast customer service, Upstart truly lives up to who they promote themselves to be. For example: they just ran a bold, “hipster-esque” advertisement on Facebook, receiving likes, dislikes, and even media coverage. Upstart ran a unique email campaign entitled “Are you financially smarter than the average American?” – Sparked by recent news suggesting how US citizens generally have lower financial IQ than other OECD countries, Upstart created a 10-question quiz that challenged blog readers. This was extremely well received and generated a large number of views and referrals. By embedding core values into the company DNA, your customers will have a better expectation and appreciation of your brand.

4) Engage in ways your competitor can’t

“…the things our competitors are not doing well, how much time would it take for us to do that stuff well…”

Nothing rallies people together more than solving a problem. Every business answers a problem or need. Companies use this subject matter to their advantage! When Upstart created their blog, they wanted to ensure it embodied the company’s core personality and mission. Looking at the blogs written by large American banks, a lot of complicated financial jargon was used. To contrast, Brigitte made sure that every article was written in a friendly, easy to understand manner. Gifs, graphs, and pop-culture references were even used to add a more human element to this traditional, boring financial content. Brigitte mentions its important to respond to customer feedback with quick adaptivity. If readers enjoyed the blog post on credit scores, then write 3 or 4 more articles on different angles of credit scores! Always test your market and maximize customer responses.

Upstart: The Kickstarter for People


A huge thanks goes out to Brigitte from Upstart as she shares these best case practices in community building. If you are interested in learning more about Upstart be sure to check out their website and follow Brigitte on Twitter! Comments or suggestions for community building? I would love to read them so write them out below. To wrap things up, here are some fun questions I asked Brigitte:

Pet Peeve:

People who say they are bored.

Cups of Coffee a Day:

On average 2 – 3 big cups of coffee a day.

Morning Ritual:

10 minutes of meditation and 10 minutes of yoga.

Book Recommendations:

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Check out our team’s summer reading list!

Unique fact:

Travelled and volunteered in Tanzania for 2 months.

Favorite Quote:

Upstart lives by the “Just Do it” model – At the office, if you need to do something, just do it. If you have to apologize later that’s fine! No need to ask for permission, just get stuff done.

Why Your Shocking Headlines Don’t Work!

Why Your Shocking Headlines Don’t Work!

The Problem

The Shocking Truth Behind … 10 things you need to know about … We’ve all seen (or written) these headlines before. It seems like the common theme in articles on how to write headlines, is that they ask you to add shock value. The presumed consequence is that the reader is more likely to click on the link and read the content. However, the question then remains is how effective are these headlines? There must be a reason why this strategy is used over and over again. However, the problem, as I argue, isn’t with the strategy but rather with how it’s implemented. This is why it works so well for websites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed and not for others.

“A little bit of scarcity in a market of infinite supply can create unstoppable demand.” 

This is why the uniqueness of the title is so important regardless of whether or not the content is unique. There is an infinite supply of content online, thus any level of uniqueness in your post title and content gives you a competitive advantage. This is why a shocking headline tends to have an added click-ability that other headlines do not. However, with a finite amount of eyeballs, sensationalism has quickly turned into a race to the bottom.

The problem that most content writers do not realize, lies in disappointing content to an interesting headline. The shocking headlines are effective only in so much that they deliver on the shock factor that they provided in the content that people read. An entire twitter account has been created to save readers the disappointment of exciting headlines, called: @savedyouaclick. The sole purpose of this account is to answer the petty questions in the headlines some websites provide in a word or two. To be honest, if your headline or content can be summed up in a word or two then you are better off revising your content altogether. Give the reader content to read beyond the simple answer to a bait in the headline.

Why Do Buzzfeed and Upworthy Work?

This is particularly why headlines by Upworthy and Buzzfeed work, Vox acting manager writes: “Most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met — the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines,” Patel said. “BuzzFeed headlines pay off particularly well because they actually make fairly small promises and then overdeliver,” he wrote. “It’s validating, which is maybe the most valuable payoff of them all.”

We continue to click on article after article by Buzzfeed because we know from our previous experience that the article’s title will usually deliver on its promise on the headline, this creates a cycle of readers who keep coming back for better content. However, for other blogs or articles that do not necessarily deliver on their promise, the readers might click once or twice, but they certainly won’t keep coming back to read more.

The results are even more disastrous when news outlets start dipping their toes in these shocking and clickbaity headlines. CNN got a lot of backlash for attempting a shocking headline that does not directly relate to the facts of the case they were presenting.

The Solution

So if you must write a shocking headline, because we all want our content to be read, there is an easy formula to going about shocking headlines.

1. Write a headline that intrigues the reader but make sure that the content is up to par with the promise you make in the headline.

2. Play a game with your headline. That’s right, ask a question in your headline that drives the reader to guess an answer, then verify that answer in your content. BUT, provide the reader with more content and substance beyond the quiz game style question. This way if the reader guessed correctly or incorrectly they still continue to read and find your content interesting. Such that they would share it with others prompting them too to guess and continue to read your content.

Do you have any additional tips or experience with shocking headlines? Let us know in the comments below!

[Interview]: How Sweet Tooth Turned their First 30 Customers into a Multimillion Dollar Business

[Interview]: How Sweet Tooth Turned their First 30 Customers into a Multimillion Dollar Business

One of the toughest challenges startups face is the transition from small fry to big fish. The secret “growth” formula behind each business is very different! The race to the top is seeing who can determine their proven growth strategy first while capitalizing on itSteve Deckert.

I sat down with Steve Deckert, Co-Founder and Marketing Lead for Sweet Tooth and discussed with him some of the early stage growth tactics his team used to grow their business from 30 customers to over 3000+.

Sweet Tooth is a Canadian-based E-commerce loyalty platform for online businesses. The platform helps brands increase sales through points-based programs and campaigns. Started in 2011, Sweet Tooth has since raised more than $2.25 million in seed funding.

From our interview together, I highlighted three key learnings points below:

1) Pre-sell your Product

“We identified a need, where no solution existed.”

Before Steve and his co-founders built a product, they had already generated sales.  How? By speaking to potential customers and simply asking if they would put money down for Sweet Tooth to be built. Not only does pre-selling provide early financial funds to carry out development costs, but it also acts as the strongest form of customer validation.

Magento is an opensource E-commerce platform that helps businesses sell to customers online. Browsing through the Magento forums, the Sweet Tooth team noticed a need for a loyalty rewards function. After talking to 300 people through cold emails and phone calls, around 35 people expressed interest in a solution. Steve mentioned that even if he could not get a customer to pre-pay, he would try to get them to verbally commit.

2) Involve your Core Customers

“If you make other people successful, you will generally be successful.”

Your first set of paying customers are extremely important because they act as a sample size of the bigger market. Their feedback will help you determine whether your product and marketing is working or not. Involving your customers in the product development phase of the business will create an evangelical-like relationship. As Steve puts it, if you make other people successful, in general you will be successful as well. Your core customers can help create half of your users through word of mouth marketing.

What really helped kick-launch Sweet Tooth were positive testimonials and reviews on third-party websites. By establishing a personable relationship with customers, Steve and his team were able to rally a team of vocal ambassadors. People who will verbally market your product to others, for absolutely no cost to you!

To this date, Steve is still in touch with many of his first customers. He always tries his best to meet in person or video call for meetings. The customer sales team has since been expanded to offer the same great service to Sweet Tooth’s 3000+ customers.

3) Be Human

“If you understand people enough, you can present things in a way people want to be a part of.”

The last piece of advice that Steve shared is the the importance of preserving a human element while building a business. At the end of the day, your business is for the people! If you can put yourself in your customers shoes and make a connection, they will be on your team. This could means tweeting at individual customers, sending personalized emails, or showcasing the employees behind Sweet Tooth. Essentially, anything that helps build a human connection between business and customer.

In the online web product industry, customers would much rather pay an up-front cost over a subscription fee. When Sweet Tooth made this exact change after their 2.25M seed funding, part of their easy transition was due to strong customer relationships.

Becoming the standard for loyalty online

Starting as what was originally a side project, Sweet Tooth today is a fledgling startup growing at a healthy 15%+ customers per month. Things are looking really exciting for Sweet Tooth as they hope to launch on other platforms. Their goal? To become the standard for loyalty online.

I would like to give a huge thanks to Steve for sharing his words of wisdom. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out the company blog. To end things off, here are a few fun questions we asked Steve!

Pet Peeve:

When people don’t believe in themselves.

Cups of Coffee:

Usually 3 extra-large cups a day.

Morning Ritual:

Wake up, read the news, clear our emails & notifications, shower, food, head to work, and grab a coffee.

Book Recommendations:

Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a must for any entrepreneur. Anything by Seth Godin.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers:

Definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! I remember once getting two of the same Ninja Turtle puzzles for Christmas and I decided to keep both since I loved them so much.

Favorite Quote:

This is my own quote – “Life is a vacation”.  Just as we go on “vacations” to experience new things and feel different, this same approach can be used for life! You only have one life. If there is anything worth doing, you should be happy doing it.

[Interview] How Vanhawks raised $820,000 on Kickstarter in 30 days for their Smart Bike

[Interview] How Vanhawks raised $820,000 on Kickstarter in 30 days for their Smart Bike

The Valour Smart Bike, by Vanhawks, is a light carbon-fibre bike that is connected to your smartphone. Using Bluetooth and built in sensors, commuters can now travel via GPS without checking their phone, be notified of blind spot traffic, and measure calories burned.  Vanhawks successfully raised more than $820,000 in pre-orders on Kickstarter. We sat down with Vanhawks Co-Founder and COO, Ali Zahid, to find out the secrets behind their successful launch.
Ali Zahid (Right)
Ali Zahid, COO (Left) & Sohaib Zahid, CEO (Right)
Tell us a bit about yourself.

I went to Queens University, studied bio-medical computing, dropped out and went to an incubator called FounderFuel in Montreal.  Spending four months there, I helped launched a Kickstarter campaign for our smart bike – Valour.  Since our initial success, we have now grown month over month, moved to Toronto, and currently have a 10 person team.

Start-ups traditionally face the dilemma of choosing who to target and when.  How did you decide who to target as first adopters?

We did a ton of market research. Yes, although anyone can buy a bike, who can afford one at $1000? I did a lot of customer interviews through my network. For example: at the time I was recruiting for some consulting firms, and was able to ask them about our initial product.  I also flew down to San Francisco and interviewed people who worked at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple etc. In the end, I conducted more than a thousand interviews!

A perfect group we identified were employees of large tech companies. Developers make a good amount of money and since they work in tech, would be intrigued by the idea smart bike. The other group of people we wanted to target were those who wanted the “finer things in life” – People who like Monocle, GQ, Uncrate, and Hypebeast. The last group of people we wanted target were those who were willing to spend money on things for “looks” because we knew our bike was pretty good looking.  From these interviews, we determined that Vanhawks is more of a lifestyle brand over a biking brand.

When we actually interviewed bikers, we realized that bike enthusiasts were not our main target – these were people who cared about every single detail of their bike. “I want this feature, I want that tube..etc.” – this was not our brand. Our brand is for the daily commuter – a person who wants to get from point A to point B.

How did you gather all this information?

When conducting each interview, I used google docs to store my answers and took a picture of the actual person. When designing my interviews, I tried to come up with interview questions that really drove numbers. I ended up asking a lot of questions that may seem mundane but were actually really valuable to me. At the end of each interview, I would get to know each person on a more personal basis.  I really cared about what they are doing because at the end of the day it is for the people.

Vanhawks Phone
Users can connect their smartphone’s GPS to their bike
How did you reach out to potential customers?

Reddit was a huge resource, but there is a lot of trolls so watch out. SF2G – is an online group of people who live in San Fran, work at Google, and love riding their bikes to work. I started the conversation on the forums and got them really excited. A good friend and mentor at Shopify also helped me out by setting up an interview station at the Shopify offices in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.

Reaching out to Queens Alum was a huge win.  I pinged everyone who worked in big tech companies in the San Fran area and they helped leverage their network for me as well. The biggest thing for me was becoming each person’s friend on Facebook – this helped because once you are friends on Facebook, you can become more personable. I try my best to keep up with my contacts, weekly, monthly and not lose of track what they are doing. If I ever find something interesting I’ll always be sure send them a quick message about it.

Building a strong customer relationship is really important. For example, every customer has my personal phone number. Sometimes I get calls at 3AM and I’m always friendly.  We are also a first mover in the industry – no one has ever done this before – so it’s a really interesting time for us, we created a whole new market for ourselves. One day we gave all our Canadian backers free shipping – although this was not much, it helped create a cultish following of people. We think heavily on investing in the brand and how to turn customers into people that love you so much.

How did you specifically drive traffic to your Kickstarter page?

A really good video helps a lot! We also lined up a lot of press prior to launch – that really helped drive views. I also contacted every person in my contact list, even if I just emailed them once before. I wrote each person a personalized message, asking them how they were doing while telling them about Vanhawks – that was about 2000 people. I did the same thing on my Facebook which totaled about 1200 people.

I also made this unique sharing mechanism – when clicked on, people would be taken to a sharing page which made them share the project on Facebook/Twitter before taking them to the actual Kickstarter page. I even wrote a unique personal message on the share text that spoke about my story.  This worked really well because even if my contacts couldn’t support me financially, they were able to share it across their own networks as well.

Kickstarter Vanhawks
Surpassed initial funding goal by 800%
How long did it take to do all this?

*Laughs*  You gotta hustle. These things you can’t cheap out on. Two days before launch I didn’t go to sleep because I was so busy writing out all these messages. And then for the next three days, I barely slept as I was replying to all the emails that I’ve gotten. In total, I didn’t have sleep for week – it was crazy! You have to put in the hustle and you have to put in the time.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to launch a Kickstarter campaign?

There is no hack to Kickstarter, it’s like any other product launch. It’s a lot about customers, it’s a lot about creating a want for a product, to find what the perfect target. Remember to create something people want and it isn’t always something that we [the founders] want. Put a lot of work into it and put a lot of passion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you will learn faster. Be humble.

Pet Peeve:

When people can’t make decisions.

Cups of Coffee a Day:

Usually 1 – Americano either in the early morning/evening

Morning Ritual:

Well before my bag got stolen, I used to do this thing where I would write down three things before going to sleep that I wanted to do the next morning.

Book Recommendations:

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Transformers or Ninja Turtles?

Ninja Turtles – They were my kid cartoon!

Favorite Quote:

It’s not really a quote but I live by this thing: if something is not making me happy, then why am I doing this? I’m very keen on happiness and driving value by creating happiness.  I wrote a medium post about this.

If you enjoyed this interview please be sure to follow Ali Zahid on his next big steps.  Vanhawks is a great example of the hustle entrepreneurs need to take in order to achieve financial success.  In my 30 minutes with Ali, I could tell he was a down-to-earth, hardworking, and generally awesome guy. How could you not help somebody who always smiles and wants to help others?

Future crowdfunders take note – although engineering and business acumen are important when running a Kickstarter, building a strong community of supporters is just as important as well. That all begins with the right attitude, and Ali Zahid scored 100%.

How Fencing Can Teach Us A Lesson On Marketing

How Fencing Can Teach Us A Lesson On Marketing

How Fencing Can Teach Us A Lesson On Marketing

En garde. Prêt. Allez.

That’s the start of a fencing bout. It’s also how you should run your business.

For those of you who don’t know what fencing is, allow me to give a quick introduction. Fencing is a sport that is played with three distinct blades: sabre, foil, and épée. Each weapon has a special style of attacking the opponent and wielding it. There’s also a specific foot sequence you have to follow when fencing and that’s the beauty of it. Fencing is a sport that can teach you the importance of patience and aiming for a certain target. This can be translated to launching a new product line or startup. Not only that, but if you think hard enough, fencing can teach all of us a certain lesson, it doesn’t even have to be about marketing.

Take what I just said and try to imagine how fencing can fit into marketing. The weapons, the movement, the rules. Do you notice that each component of fencing is a certain set of things you need to know if you were doing marketing? Below, I’ve outlined my reasons why fencing can teach us a lesson on marketing.

Take the offensive: 

Sometimes business can be rough, and at times it seems the hardest thing to do is getting it off the ground. Don’t just freeze there on the piste (fencing playing area), move around even if it means you’ll lose! It’s always better to try something than stay in one position, the same could be said about a business. Don’t waste 5-6 months coming up with the “perfect” marketing strategy if you can execute 3-5 mini marketing campaigns in 1 month. Whenever I was in a fencing match, my coach always told me to take the lunge, when you have the priority. Make a calculated observation, but what’s stopping you from trying out something different?

Brock Open Day 2

If you’re a foilist (like me) do some stepping rhythm and then perform a flèche to penetrate your enemy. Like managing a business, sometimes it’s better if you can perform something extraordinary. For example, think of a guerrilla marketing campaign that can penetrate the market and catch your target market’s attention in one fell swoop.

Defensive: Another important component of fencing, or running a business, is the ability to know when you have to stop for a minute and reposition yourself. What you don’t want to get yourself into is a sticky situation where you’re cornered on the piste. Once you’re trapped, you can’t do anything else; Or can you? Fencing is all about opportunity. Business and marketing is about spotting a possibility and seizing that window of opportunity. If you feel that your marketing efforts aren’t working or your initial target isn’t your target audience after all, identify the right segment and reposition yourself. That’s the same for fencing, if you miss your strike, move back and reposition yourself before a counter attack.

In fencing, parrying is a staple to defending yourself and performing a riposte once you have the right-of-way. Managing a business is the same, it’s important to protect yourself at times and wait for the perfect timing. Once you see that chance, take the offensive. It’s important to take precautionary steps, but not to the point where you’re only defending. If you only defend, you’ll leave an opening for your opponent to lunge and take the point. You must strike that balance between offence and defence so you ensure your business or marketing campaign succeeds. If you ever find yourself stuck, it’s about finding an opportunity.

Look to the point of your blade and lunge.

3 Secrets to Building Emotional Attachment to Your Brand

3 Secrets to Building Emotional Attachment to Your Brand

At Sniply, we have no marketing budget, no Google Adwords, no public relations team, and no marketing department. Yet within a short few months, we managed to acquire thousands of users and start generating revenue. Sniply has been featured on more than 30 blogs and publications, an impressive feat for a top-tier PR agency, let alone a brand new startup. In fact, Sniply links have already generated over 7 million clicks!

How did we do this. Quite simply, we built a really strong brand and more importantly, relationships. We had no need for a marketing budget thanks to an army of product evangelists. Our users and fans support us by writing about our story and constantly sharing our product whenever they can.

twitterHere are three key lessons to consider when building your brand:

1. Build a brand capable of weakness and vulnerability

Have you ever met someone that just seems too perfect? It is difficult to build relationships with these people. This is also how most brands behave. They flaunt their achievements, bombard you with press releases, and such perfection makes it difficult to connect with them.

Building a brand is like building relationships. By revealing your insecurities, you invite others into your world. At Sniply, we take pride in our weaknesses and vulnerability. Several months ago, we applied to Y Combinator, a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. Even though we were rejected, we still publicized our whole experience.

We published our entire application and interview transcript, thus sharing with the world our first big failure. The story attracted more than 15,000 readers and resulted in a tsunami of supporters.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 3.24.03 AM

When we decided to publish our failures, we invited everyone into our story. Entrepreneurial journeys are filled with shining victories and crushing defeats. Brands are so caught up in flaunting their victories that they often forget the power of displaying vulnerability and the joy of simply being human.

2. Build a brand that expresses gratitude and appreciation

Have you ever met someone that constantly asks for favours and never gives anything in return? Meaningful bonds are formed through mutual support and reciprocated appreciation. It starts with the genuine expression of gratitude. At Sniply, we make it a daily activity to show our appreciation for the users who take the time out of their busy days to try our product.

We delight them with personal messages and craft thoughtful gifts. We strive to understand their personal needs, beyond our product, and we do everything we can to just be a good friend.

We engage in genuine conversations with no sales goal whatsoever. In a business culture that is dictated by the bottom line, we break just about every rule when it comes to productivity. Yet, time and again, these relationships create evangelists, and these advocates become the lifeblood of our exponential growth. Showing people you appreciate their time and expressing your gratitude can make the difference between a transactional relationship and a meaningful one.


3. Build a brand that is more about them than it is about you

Have you ever contributed to a project but never received the credit you deserved? It is safe to say everyone appreciates being acknowledged for their time and effort.

A brand is essentially a personality and they can be delightful or insufferable. As a startup, you may never have the resources to compete with larger players, but you can always pour your heart into crafting your company’s persona.

At Sniply, our About Page is less about our team, and more of a hall of fame for the people who made a real difference on our journey. We feature our mentors and advisors. We showcase our evangelists, fans, and friends. We are proud to have their support and they are delighted to be acknowledged.


Building a strong brand is really not that complicated. Treat your brand as a child and teach it to be a good person. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated by your friends. Start by applying what you have already learned living all the years you have — as a human being.