As we have said once before, startups are an everyday occurrence in the business world. Starting a brand new company can be complicated and at times exhausting, but time and again aspiring entrepreneurs decide to embark on this journey with a burning desire to succeed. The early days of every new business are crucial but also very brutal. Sometimes we look at some startups that made it big like Airbnb, Snapchat, Instagram and we assume their success was instant. And naturally, you wonder how to grow your startup?
Yet, any founder who started a business will tell you that the journey to success is not so straightforward as one might imagine. So, when you’re thinking about starting a new business any piece of advice from someone who’s been there before you should be treasured like pure gold. That’s why we asked three successful startup founders to tell us their stories.
Based on our interviews we share these tips on how to grow your startup from startup founders.
What’s “Collabree”/ “Virtuleap”/ “Payflow”? What differentiates it from the competition?
Anjali Rajabeharelle, Co-Founder of Collabree
It’s a digital solution that focuses to help patients improve their medication adherence via a mobile phone application. “We implement results from behavioral science in order to effect change. We particularly focus on helping patients with known biases that prevent them from following through on their medication plans.” – says Anjali.
For example, they help patients overcome present bias, focusing on long-term outcomes, rather than short-term, by providing a short-term financial incentive for being adherent. They also incorporate instant gratification and gamification into their app to help patients develop sticky habits.
Amir Bozorgzadeh, Co-Founder & CEO of Virtuleap
Virtuleap is a digital therapeutics company that combines neuroscience and virtual reality for cognitive issues. Founded by serial game entrepreneurs, Virtuleap develops digital therapeutics with chief memory officer Nelson Dellis (four-time USA memory champion) and is advised by neuroscience luminaries like Dr. Skip Rizzo of USC, one of the world’s foremost experts on VR neuroscience.
“We have created a library of VR application designs by neuroscientists that diagnose and train a range of cognitive abilities and make that data accessible through our enterprise platform.” – says Amir. They are working with leading medical institutions to validate the solution as an effective diagnostic and treatment for attention deficit and cognitive decline.
Benoit Menardo & Avinash Sukhwani, Co-Founders of Payflow
Payflow is an employee benefit mobile app that allows employees to take their salary on demand. Instead of getting paid once a month, the employees can withdraw what they have earned instantly. Payflow especially comes in handy when people have an unexpected expense or are struggling to make ends meet, and generally, it’s fairer.
“We see Payflow as an employee benefit, and we are really focused on people. The same way you go to a doctor to fix your health problem, you can go to Payflow to fix your money problems.” – says Menardo.
What are some of the biggest challenges in growing your startup and how do you approach them?
“We face the typical challenges of many young startups such as finding the right investors and getting the word out there that we are the best solution for the problem. We have a strong focus on the need for evidence to support that claim so rather than asking investors to take our word for it, we are currently set to begin a clinical trial to test whether our solution is effective in increasing medication adherence. ” – says Anjali.
Once they are able to show this, they can provide a stronger case for why Collabree can improve patient health outcomes as well as reduce avoidable healthcare costs due to non-adherence, which have been estimated at a staggering 125 billion per year in Europe alone.
“As a company at the intersection of emerging tech and the sciences, the challenges come down to achieving the smallest milestones, one by one, in order to create the initial momentum required to convince investors that your reality distortion field has the potential to become real.” – shares with us Amir.
“Due to the Corona pandemic, it has been a little more difficult to generate demand.” – answered Avinash. “Getting people into the funnel and getting companies interested is the most important thing for us. We have a very good conversion rate, which means that almost everyone who takes the time to understand what our product does and how can it help them- ends up buying it”.
How important investing in marketing is and what strategies have brought the best results to your business so far?
“So far our main strategy has been to establish partnerships with payors and early adopters who have an interest in bringing Collabree to market by word-of-mouth. These include pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, who would like to test whether Collabree can increase their topline in medication sales, as well as insurance companies, who could see the potential of Collabree in reducing unnecessary expenditures.” – says Anjali.
They also plan to launch a version of their mobile phone application live in stores soon, and then they want to begin to publish targeted initiatives in various channels to create more public awareness for the problem of non-adherence in general and for their solution specifically.
As an early-stage startup, they cannot afford many channels of traditional marketing. They do not have a budget to spend on advertising nor to hire individuals specialized in marketing. Amir added – “As the CEO, I serve as the only non-technical member of the team, and marketing naturally comes down to my relationship with journalists, participating in events, writing industry articles, creating partnerships with the ecosystem, so that that aspect of the business generates word-of-mouth and the like”.
According to Avinash, Payflow’s current strategy is a more traditional B2B approach, for which they use a team to cold contact potential clients through social media, email, and directly calling different companies. Investing in marketing has many benefits, however, startups don’t always have enough budget to spend on quality marketing campaigns.
What role content and social media will play in your marketing strategy for 2021? What are the other links in the chain?
Currently their marketing strategy is mainly focused on providing tailored to HCPs, payor organizations, and potential investors. They primarily use LinkedIn as their go-to social media outlet and often share content such as articles or blogs discussing research from behavioral science that is applicable to Collabree and can be implemented via the app. They also share updates regarding Collabree’s development and fund-raising progress. In the future, they are planning to publish articles showcasing the research supporting Collabree and introducing the clinical trial around the time of the start of the trial.
Social media and content need to continuously be fed and generated in order to offer the external world the visibility required to create potential positive reactions, like partnership requests, inbound sales interest, and journalistic coverage. This is a priority for Viruleap, but a passive one that serves more or less as the mouthpiece of what’s happening internally in the company in terms of product development and research/science.
Payflow recently started focusing more on social media to create brand awareness, especially on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. As Benoit explained – “We go for a little more organic strategy where we try to build a strong follower base through sharing interesting content for HR managers so instead of directly selling our product with ads we are creating value for the people we want to talk to, we are getting in touch with them and than we have a more manual marketing strategy.”
What is the ideal setup for a startup marketing strategy? Would you recommend building an in-house team, hiring a digital marketing agency, or maybe a combination of both?
As is probably the case with most early-stage companies, when you are starting out, you do most everything at least partially in-house with the occasional help from freelance services on a part-time basis.
“We are currently establishing partnerships with PR agencies that would better shape the narrative of how the Collabree intervention can help change the healthcare landscape and enable us to tap into their vast network of news outlets. So a combination is likely to be the most effective way to approach marketing for most early-stage companies.” – says Anjali.
In their case, for Virtuleap at the right time, hiring a digital marketing agency would be the perfect solution. For now, they are focusing, particularly strongly on PR.
“Our current strategy is to build an in-house team because we want to be true to our vision and the people that work inside the company understand much better who we are targeting and what are we trying to get out of it. Building an in-house team can be also a problem because it can scale your cost a lot if you hire a full-time team. Doing it with agencies also has its benefits, because you can access people with more experience and get teams that have helped other startups, so we are definitely not discarding that option, just for now we haven’t found the right match for us.” – says Avinash.
What marketing advice would you give to the early-stage founder figuring out their way to the market?
“This probably depends on what type of marketing is necessary for the startup, but for us, having a network of key players in healthcare such as pharmacies and insurance companies has been invaluable in providing opportunities to get the word out about Collabree. We invest a significant amount of time in growing this network and presenting Collabree to those businesses for whom our solution could make a significant difference.” – says Anjali.
“If you are in the jungle, looking around yourself you have different types of animals in the trees in the water, etc. By understanding what you are really clear and what you are not, you can be able ultimately to make decisions that cater to your race. Ultimately from my point of view, the product always wins first. Also, storytelling should be a feature of your strength that you should work on all the time. And know that making mistakes is a daily experience.” – says Amir.
“Before you can rely on any agency or before you make a ton of hiring in marketing, you need to understand your product well and understand how you want to sell/market. It’s also important to bring awareness to your product because if you don’t understand it you are not going to be able to transmit those values nor manage an agency or an internal team.” – says Avinash.
“Basically, my advice is to avoid middle management at the start. If you don’t have the experience to do it yourself, you can hire an intern or a junior profile.” – says Benoit.
These are some great tips from super aspiring startup founders.
If you are an entrepreneur in the making, this advice might be just what you need to help you make the right decisions for your startup. Needless to say, everything might not be applicable to you and your individual situation. The key is to pick what works for you and just start doing that.
And of course, if you need help improving or examining your digital marketing strategy – contact us! We would be happy to provide you with a free consultation and offer our services.