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Building a Solid Marketing Foundation for Early-Stage Startups

In Conversation with Andrew Lee Miller

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Andrew Lee Miller, Startup Marketing Consultant of Growth Expertz.
Andrew shared insights on building and scaling businesses, emphasized the significance of data-driven decision-making, highlighted common mistakes made by early-stage startups, and discussed effective lead-generation strategies for startups with limited budgets.
Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

When there are major technological innovations, there’s only one generation that’s negatively impacted and it’s the people that refuse to adapt and learn.

Andrew Lee Miller
Startup Marketing Consultant of Growth Expertz

Hey. Hi everyone. This is Ranmay on our show E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Andrew Lee Millers who is a 15-year bootstrap startup marketing expert, also known as Andrew Startups. Welcome to our Show, Andrew.

Hey Ranmay, Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.

Great. And Andrew, before we go forward and hear insights about your startups and the journey so far, I request you to, introduce yourself so that our audience understands who are we speaking to and your journey so far.

Of course. So I’m an early-stage startup marketing guy. So at the very birth of digital marketing, I was graduating from college in 2007.

And I had a startup of my own, and I realized I’m not passionate about all the other aspects of running a business, but I was very passionate and somewhat talented even early on with marketing. So long before the term growth hacking existed, I developed a large skillset in different digital marketing channels and went and worked for various companies.

Drove 190 million startup exit, two other small exits after that. And then I wrote a book about how to growth hack early-stage companies. I do public speaking around the world. I have an agency and a coaching program. Online courses are all focused on helping early-stage bootstrap startup founders. A lot of people and agencies overlook early-stage startups cuz they don’t necessarily have the biggest budget. But for me, it’s the most exciting, passionate, early risky, and rewarding time. So that’s what I focus on.

Super. As you mentioned, you have led three successful VC banks and startup exits. Could you please walk us through some strategies around it?

Yeah, of course. That’s a very broad statement, but essentially Different startups can exit at different times, but an exit isn’t the only successful goal. And I’ve had several companies that are still around now that I helped launch that are doing eight, nine figures, but for the exit specifically, a lot of growth hacking stuff is the major hockey stick moment that leads to an exit.

And just an example is, let’s say. The first exit I was head of marketing was in the Middle East, and it was a classified site, and we had about 20 or so competitors at the time, but our product was superior. We were the only product out there that was asking for a local mobile number.

So we were ensuring the safety of our users, we were reducing the number of scams, better user experience. And so when you have that level of confidence in the product and service and what you’re putting out there, You can be very aggressive with the marketing, and that’s what I specialize in, is helping founders realize that we can do these.

Different kinds of strategies don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. They cost a lot of time and effort and the consistent scientific tests. And with this company, we did lots of those tests. One of the, which that led to the 190 million exits was scraping all the mobile numbers of all off of all of our competitor sites and then bulk SMSing those people at scale, thousands of people per day.

Hey, I saw your car online. You should check this website. Hey you, I saw your job online. You should use this website, and the product takes over. After that short message, I don’t need to be overly sales and send a massive paragraph. I send a short line, and then the product took over and we had thousands and thousands of new users a day.

People were realizing that these old other competitors had inferior products, and all of those companies went out of business very quickly, and this company led to the exit. So that’s an example of the types of strategies. But I do many other things. We do PR and we grow hack PR without needing a budget. We do influencer marketing, content marketing, search marketing, and all of that. Can be driven originally without a large paid advertising budget. And that’s what I specialize in.

Great. And you have been part of so many early-stage startups, how, what do you believe are the most critical steps that one should take, in the early stage when you are just, venturing out into the market with your business ideas or even funding, what are those important, critical steps at the beginning of the business launch, product launch?

Great question. So all startups, when they reach out to me, they say they’re ready to grow. Hey, we want thousands of users, but that’s not the first step for me, First step is what I call finalizing the marketing foundation.

That means finalizing the product for virality. So I’m going through the product, making sure that it’s optimized. There’s no bugs, there’s everybody. It could be a website, could be mobile, could be even service and experience, but whatever it is, we wanna make sure that’s optimized or pushing people to bring in social shares, referrals, import contacts, review on the app store, whatever it is.

We want to make sure that the product is ready for marketing first. We’re moving as much friction as possible from the conversions that we want to happen. Then it’s analytics, then it’s your search ranking. So if we’re doing the SEO of a website and finalizing the website, that’s part of the online foundation or the marketing foundation.

Then it’s an app store listing if there’s a mobile app. And then the last part of that is really like the social bios and the messaging of the company. So that’s step one. You need to finalize all of that. And a lot of times, it’s a kind of a fight back and forth with the founder. They wanna move fast. Oh, Andrew, it’s good enough. But the more we can optimize that, the better the next phase will be, which is going to market. And so with going to market, depending on the budgets we have a blend of paid and unpaid channels. If there’s no money and there’s plenty of time to grow the company, then we focus on growth hacking and organic channels that don’t cost any money.

If we have a big budget and very little time and we need to grow fast, we lean more heavily on paid user acquisition. But overall, This phase two is about testing different marketing channels and developing a marketing strategy that’s based on data and what we work for. So figuring out what landing pages, what features, what call to action, what prices, what products, what types of content, and what channels work the most.

And then in phase three, it’s scaling that up. And that doesn’t always mean just pouring a bunch more money on the fire. That can mean scaling up certain channels and initiatives with more teams oh, social media working well, and hiring a social media manager. So phase three is all about scaling those things up.

And then somewhere along the lines after that, phase two, we should be able to raise money as well, if that’s a desire for the company. And so the resources are then there and we scale those things up after that.

And then, initially a lot of businesses make those mistakes, right? And that is why they lag versus their competition. So what is your advice or, out of your experience, what are those common mistakes that any business should avoid in that early stage?

So one mistake I see founders make a lot is thinking that they know everything you don’t know. I don’t care if you had 30 years of success in the construction industry. When you make your startup, you don’t know what you don’t know, and so you can only trust the data. I have 17 years of experience in the industry. You can listen to what I say, but you have to still test everything that I say as well. You cannot just take what Andrew says as fact, so problem number one is not being data-driven.

You cannot trust your hunch. You cannot tell me that blogging doesn’t work for your industry or whatever. We have to test it, and so being data-driven, testing everything is number one. The second problem I see a lot of is thinking that the company is ready for marketing. Just because they’ve been developing the product for so many years.

Andrew, this, you’ve helped so much. We finalized the product, it’s done, and we’re ready. I’m like, no, actually, we need users to tell us that the product is ready.

So we finalize the product and that marketing foundation. Then we usually push it out to beta testers if we haven’t launched yet, and we’re not just pushing it out to friends and family.

A lot of times founders do that. Oh, my mom and grandma said the app is amazing. Of course, they’re not gonna tell you about bugs. They’re not gonna know how to accurately test the product for actual deficiencies and issues. So we get real beta testers paid and unpaid early users, influencers in the space friends and family partners, and all the above to test the product. And then in the aggregate, if we see data showing that they’re using it multiple times, referring it to other users recommending it to friends, or even giving five-star reviews organically, loving the features that we have, then. Only then is the company ready to go to market. Those are the two main problems that I see a lot.

Very well described the self-diagnosis problem. A lot of founders, already believe that they know the problem and then they come up with, give me this as a solution. As marketers we should be the ones, acting as doctors, understanding the problem, and then providing a solution versus, what problem they have come up with their understanding and just, devising the solution that way.

Okay. And then what has been, your one challenging experience in a growing and early-stage startup, and how did you overcome those challenges?

So I had my first project in San Francisco raised two and a half million dollars. I joined, it was a travel technology company and we were trying to be B2C. We had some algorithms for personalizing hotel and flight searches. So the idea was we’re gonna make the next Expedia or the next Travelocity, or the next booking.com website. Two and a half million dollars is not enough money to compete with a company spending a billion dollars a month on paid search which is actually what their budget is@booking.com, booking group. We had to pivot to B2B, and this is 10 years ago. I didn’t have any experience in B2B marketing, so rather than leaving the company, I thought, you know what? This is a great opportunity for me to learn. So I started reading and consuming everything, going to events, and listening to courses.
Investing time and money into learning B2B marketing. And we were in, in two and a half years, we were able to drive an exit for that business, solely driven by marketing. And I did that through really learning how to do PR for a B2B company, learning how to do content marketing. We researched and wrote, and created a white paper on the future of personalization for the travel industry. I did the whole PR campaign around writing and releasing that white paper that drove the leads. That eventually led to a pilot that eventually led to the exit of that company. So that was a very big challenge. One of the biggest in my career. It took two years to fully become an expert in B2B marketing.

And what’s funny is at the time I was like, I’ll never do this again. And now I’m almost solely focused on doing marketing for B2B SaaS companies because over and over again I can replicate the same strategies. This was a SaaS company as well. And it’s a lot less loose ends than B2C marketing. So I’m absolutely in love with B2B marketing as well now, but I do both.

And so that was a challenge, but I overcame it, and it led to an $11 million exit for a company that only raised two and a half million dollars. So we were pretty excited about that.

Superb. Those maths are good for sure. And then talking about, startups, a lot of startups, most of them want leads from day one, right?

Because they want their phones ringing. So what is your lead generation strategy for, startup businesses? Because we, when we sit down with these founders, they just want their phones ringing just like yesterday. Of course. So how do you work out these plans?

I love founders that recognize that leads are the most important thing. And that’s why I was saying I like B2B because you only need two things, promotion, and leads. You need leads to have conversations like you said, the phone ringing, but the promotion helps close those deals because when you reach out to someone, it’s not enough to just send them a message and, oh, I’m, they need to be interested. No, you need content from other reputable sources talking about your business, talking about you, talking about the problem that you’re solving, to instill confidence in that customer and push the deal along. And the promotion can be PR speaking at conferences, doing podcasts, and getting interviewed in the media.
Those things add to the success rate of that outreach. But from an outreach perspective, there are two main channels.

And it differs depending on your business if you’re selling solutions to restaurants. A lot of restaurant owners can be protracted and approached via TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, but for the majority, it’s email and LinkedIn.

And so I create strategies starting with manual outreach and then eventually, like I said, in phase three, scaling up using automation. But we start by one doing the user persona research and coming up with ideas for the different people we want to target. Oftentimes founders will be like, oh, any business owner can be a customer.

Eh, let’s drill that down to the guaranteed most early adopter user personas, and let’s test two or three of them to figure out who is it. So where are they? What age are they? What stage of business are they? We want to test what industries they’re in, and what roles inside the company. We can test a lot of the stuff.

To answer those questions by doing manual outreach organically via LinkedIn and email. And so we start that off manually. And then I have some software that I’m not gonna share for free on this podcast that we use that scales up either of those strategies with automation and keeps the phones ringing as we said.

Great. And with startups comes a word, like just next to it, budget and resources. A limitation of it. Correct. What is your advice to those startups with limitations on budgets or, starting with just and you’re looking to scale on a shoe-shoe screen budget? So yeah, your advice to them.

So it depends on where you’re at and what kind of business and what kind of industry it is. But I think the first thing is, Learning what growth hacking is and learning how to optimize your product, and your experience for virality. So that’s the number one thing, is how can I squeeze more juice out of the customers I already have or the product I’ve built, or the time I take to acquire one user or the customer, how can I turn that into a marketing engine to create more?

So that’s what’s called a K factor, and that’s the most important thing I think from the beginning. If you have no money, how can you turn every new user into five or 10 new users? The second thing is, By my growth hacking book called The Startup Growth Book, it’s startup growth book.com. I the whole book, I wrote it with no ROI for myself to help black, brown, female, and international founders far away from venture capital get access to growth hacking strategies.

And there are 10 different chapters and every chapter talks about freeways to use every marketing channel. And I think that product hacking is the first thing, but then it’s how you hack into existing communities to get access to those users. And I think beyond that, the lead generation that we were talking about is a great way. It’s just sending messages to get your early customers. And then the last thing is partnerships. So a lot of times it is easier to close a partnership that will lead you to thousands of customers than it is for you to get thousands of customers on your own if you don’t have the budget to do so. As I was telling you, Ranmay, before we started recording, a large part of my business is partnering with the app. And mobile app and web development agencies around the world that build MVPs for startups. A lot of times when they’re finishing up with their client, the client doesn’t know marketing. So it’s a great way for me to start helping that client. So we work together. To drive that partnership drives business revenue for my businesses. So thinking about what partnerships can you work with, to start your business, and get some revenue coming in the door, because those partnerships tend to work pretty quickly and then that revenue can be reinvested.

I’ll just give an example. I had a startup, an e-commerce startup in my coaching program, which normally I’m coaching tech startups, but I liked the product. It was the world’s first camel milk skincare line a few years ago. And they didn’t have a ton of money, and the coaching program was quite expensive for them.

And so I spent the first month finalizing the product and the messaging and everything that we said, the marketing foundation, but to go to market, we started through partnerships. So rather than them doing D2C E-commerce online, which costs a lot of money, you need to get thousands of traffic to your website.

We focused on partnerships with hotel spas instead, and in one month of outreach, they had reached a hundred thousand dollars in sales to hotels and a high-profit margin, which I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but they were able to reinvest that money into paid user acquisition, focusing on direct to consumer, and they’re still around today doing very well.

Great. And before we let you go, Andrew, this has been an engaging conversation. It brings me to the burning topic of today in marketing or digital marketing and overall industrial this thing what is your take on, AI chat GPT and, content writers getting scared for their jobs, how do you think it’s all gonna pan out in another five, 10 years maybe?

Yeah. So I think you shouldn’t be scared at all about anything if you should be adapting and learning and changing always. And these are tools to make your job better. They’re not tools to replace you. That’s just media bs I think that there with any major technological innovation, there are often large shifts.

There used to be phone numbers that people would call 50 years ago to ask, like for information about anything. And now we have Google. And of course, that job changed, but those people didn’t become homeless on the street. They have to adapt and change. Usually, when there are major technological innovations, there’s only one generation that’s negatively impacted and it’s the people that refuse to adapt and learn.

So for myself, I was working remotely for the last 15 years, so covid and the way that all these things changed, didn’t change my lifestyle very much. I benefited quite a bit from the lockdown and all the things. I wrote my book during that time and I wasn’t able to travel as much, so I saved a lot of money it helped me quite a bit, but I was very already ahead of the curve, whereas some people who had an office-based job that couldn’t do their job, were very impacted. And so I think number one is figuring out how to adapt and use the tools for what you need to do, rather than being scared of them and staying away and talking negatively about them. Number two is, future-proofing your career by, assuming that the technology is going to get where it says it’s gonna get, and figuring out what you can do that the technology will never be able to do.

So if you’re a creative writer, For your copyright or anything, it’s the creativity that can’t be done. And so you can use chat GPT to write your rough drafts. You can use it to create ideas and lists. But the human brain still it’s not going to add, it’s not gonna be able to erase our creativity.
So if you can add that element into what you do and make that a unique selling point of working with you, I think you’re gonna be okay. And for me, everybody’s oh, chat GPT is erasing the need for marketers. I have my business booming and I’m helping more startups now than ever, and we are using chat GPT to be more efficient.

I, in my book and my online courses, I talk about 50 different tool recommendations. I haven’t made an online course about chat GPT cuz there are a lot of 19-year-olds doing that, and that’s fine. But I think it’s just another tool in our arsenal to be effective marketers. As an early-stage startup, we have a million things to do and chat about.

GPT has helped me and my clients create social media content and strategy, write rough drafts of blog posts, and find reporters and writers that we want to contact for PR. Get stats that we use for press releases and social media, so it’s a research assistant more than anything. And most of those jobs are done by, unpaid interns at early-stage startups and stuff. And so it’s not erasing any major jobs at this point.

I just love the way you underplayed the entire thing. Superb. And then, before we let you go and we wrap this up Andrew, I would love to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.

Let’s do it.

I thought of asking you about your favorite book now that you’ve traveled so much, you have written yours, so I’ll skip that question, right? Yeah. So are you a morning person or a night person?

Morning person. Okay. Usually 7:00 AM every day I wake up, I don’t take my first call until 10:00 AM so I have three hours.

No matter if I’m gonna work a 12-hour day, I have three hours for myself to gym. I live on the beach, I go walking on the beach. I cook a big breakfast every day. I clean the house and, sometimes journal and things. And so I have to have that morning time for myself because I tend to work until late in the evening. And so the morning is my free time.

Great. You got to stop because we are all gonna feel jealous about your life. You, at least your morning life. And you also have an ocean and that background,

right? Yeah. This background’s not true. True. But yeah. I live on the beach in Porta Baard in Mexico. I go back to San Francisco for big conferences and events and clients. It’s just a direct flight. But that was the way that Covid helped me. Like I was saying, I was doing 10 or 15 countries a year traveling, doing public speaking. That’s why I’ve been to India so many times. There’s an amazing startup community in India as well.

In 2019 I did 17 countries doing public speaking and then 2020 hit and I was able to settle down and that’s why I picked Mexico. It’s one of my favorite countries.

I was just saying, that background pick of yours, which is a default background. This thing is so related.

right? This is San Francisco, this is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where I lived there for many years, but about 10 miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge. Right.

And what was your last Google search?

Let’s find out right now. I don’t know. I’m gonna, I’m checking my history. We’re gonna do, put me on the spot. Google. Let’s see. You’re not gonna believe this. Yeah. In English. That’s what I last, so I told you I work with,

what does that mean in English?

You’ll get a lot of money.

Yeah. Yeah. And so that was my last search to translate that. So I was on a call with a partner of mine and we are doing, we’re basically, like I told you, I work with Indian development agencies, Uhhuh, and we’re working on a new way to start doing marketing from the very beginning of product development.

So I’m coaching some of their biggest clients on marketing, messaging, and product development from a marketing point of view from the beginning. And so they Texted me that, or they said that on the call, and so I Google searched what that meant. And money will rain is what it means. I think so, yeah.

Loads of money. Loads of money. Money will rain is the literal meaning of it, yeah. I, what we say is you’ll get loads of money, so don’t worry.

There you go. It’s a good thing to hear.

Yeah. So especially for business owners. And then, Andy, if a movie was made on you, what genre would it be?

Action Movie

uhhuh. Okay, super. And the thing you like the most about your work?

Freedom. Okay. I have not, I’ve never had a boss in my life and I think a lot of people who have stressful work situations with a bad boss die from that stress early. And so I like to study all the senior citizens I meet in my life.

And I have my grandparents who live in an old, community of successful people in their eighties and nineties. And I ask all of the people who are the healthiest at 90 years old, a hundred years old, none of them had a stressful work life. And so for me, at a young age, I and my father and my mother are both entrepreneurs.

I realized that money is good, but at the expense of giving up, your health is not worth it. And so I found something early on in life that I was passionate about and I stuck with it. But I made my own rules. I never allowed, even when I was working at someone else’s company, I’m working with the startup founder.

You can tell me what we need to do. But we’re working together as a team, and I, that’s still to this day. I don’t work for my clients. I work with my clients. We both want the same result. I will work harder than you even tell me to work because I want that result. I don’t work really in a stressful environment, and I’m very free to do what I want, and what I want is what the client wants.

Superb, very nicely, you articulated it. I have a boss, but a super cool one. So stress-free life, Lucky me. Great. So I knew it was lovely, speaking with you, understanding your thought processes, and the way you have scaled startups, and done some exits on the way as well. Successful ones. And I’m sure our audience would have benefited a lot. And really can’t thank you much for taking out time for being on this podcast.

Thank you, Ranmay.

Thank you.

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