Sales scheduling platform Chili Piper raises $33M Series B funding led by Tiger Global

Chili Piper, which has a sophisticated SaaS appointment scheduling platform for sales teams, has raised a $33 million B round led by Tiger Global. Existing investors Base10 Partners and Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI-focused VC) also participated. This brings the company’s total financing to $54 million. The company will use the capital raised to accelerate product development. The previous $18M A round was led by Base10 and Google’s Gradient Ventures 9 months ago.

It’s main competitor is Calendly, started 21/2 years previously, which recently achieved a $3Bn valuation.

Launched in 2016, Chili Piper’s software for B2B revenue teams is designed to convert leads into attended meetings. Sales teams can also use it to book demos, increase inbound conversion rates, eliminate manual lead routing, and streamline critical processes around meetings. It’s used by Intuit, Twilio, Forrester, Spotify, and Gong.

Chili Piper has a number of different tools for businesses to schedule and calendar accountments, but its key USP is in its use by ‘inbound SDR Sales Development Representatives (SDR)’, who are responsible for qualifying inbound sales leads. It’s particularly useful in scheduling calls when customers hit websites ask for a salesperson to call them back.

Nicolas Vandenberghe, CEO, and co-founder of Chili Piper said: “When we started we sold the house and decided to grow the company ourselves. So all the way until 2019 we bootstrapped. Tiger gave us a valuation that we expected to get at the end of this year, which will help us accelerate things much faster, so we couldn’t refuse it.”

Alina Vandenberghe, CPO, and Co-founder said: “We’re proud to have so many customers scheduling meetings and optimizing their calendars with Chili Piper’s Instant Booker.”

Since the pandemic hit, the husband-and-wife founded company has gone fully remote, with 93 employees in 81 cities and 21 countries.

John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global said: “When we met Nicolas and Alina, we were fired up by their product vision and focus on customer happiness.”

TJ Nahigian, Managing Partner at Base10 Partners, added: “We originally invested in Chili Piper because we knew customers needed ways to add fire to how they connected with inbound leads. We’ve been absolutely blown away with the progress over the past year, 2020 has been a step-change for this company as business went remote.”

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

By the end of 2022, all major browsers will have phased out third-party cookies — the tracking codes placed on a visitor’s computer generated by another website other than your own. Additionally, mobile device makers are limiting identifiers allowed on their devices and applications. Across industry verticals, the global enterprise ecosystem now faces a critical moment in which digital advertising will be forever changed.

Up until now, consumers have enjoyed a mostly free internet experience, but as publishers adjust to a cookieless world, they could see more paywalls and less free content.

They may also see a decrease in the creation of new free apps, mobile gaming and other ad-supported content unless businesses find new ways to authenticate users and maintain a value exchange of free content for personalized advertising.

The truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas.

When consumers authenticate themselves to brands and sites, they create revenue streams for publishers as well as the opportunity to receive discounts, first-looks and other specially tailored experiences from brands.

To protect consumer data, companies need to architect internal systems around data custodianship versus acting from a sense of data entitlement. While this is a challenging and massive ongoing evolution, the benefits of starting now are enormous.

Putting privacy front and center creates a sustainable digital ecosystem that enables better advertising and drives business results. There are four steps to consider when building for tomorrow’s privacy-centric world:

Transparency is key

As we collectively look to redesign how companies interact with and think about consumers, we should first recognize that putting people first means putting transparency first. When people trust a brand or publishers’ intentions, they are more willing to share their data and identity.

This process, where consumers authenticate themselves — or actively share their phone number, email or other form of identity — in exchange for free content or another form of value, allows brands and publishers to get closer to them.

Alyce, an AI-based personalised corporate gifting startup, raises $30M

Swag has a long and patchy history in the world of business. For every hip pair of plaid socks, there are five t-shirts you may never wear, an itchy scarf, a notepad your kids might use, and an ugly mug; and most of all, likely thousands of dollars and lots of time invested to make those presents a reality. Now, a startup that has built a service to rethink the concept behind corporate gifts and make them more effective is today announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business — and one sign that it may be on to something is its progress so far.

Alyce, a Boston startup that has built an AI platform that plugs into various other apps that you might use to interact and track your relationships with others in your working life — sales prospects, business partners, colleagues — and then uses the information to personalise gift recommendations for those people, has raised $30 million, a Series B that it will be using to continue building out its platform, signing up more users, and hiring more people for its team.

This round is being led by General Catalyst, with Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Manifest, Morningside and Victress Captial — all previous backers — also participating.

Alyce says that it has grown 300% year-over-year between 2019 and 2020, tackling a corporate gifting and promotional items industry that ASI Market Research estimates is worth around $24.7 billion annually. Its customers today include Adobe’s Marketo, G2, Lenovo, Wex, Invision, DialPad, GrubHub, and 6Sense.

As with so many other apps and services that aim at productivity and people management, Alyce notes that this year of working remotely — which has tested many a relationship and job function, led to massive inbound and outbound digital activity (the screen is where everything gets played out now), and frankly burned a lot of us out — has given it also a new kind of relevance.

“As everyone was flooded with spam last year unsubscribing soared,” Greg Segall, founder and CEO of Alyce, said in a statement. “When a prospect opts out, that’s forever. It’s clear that both brands and customers crave the same thing – a much more purposeful and relatable way to engage.”

Alyce’s contribution to more quality engagement comes in the form of AI-fueled personalization.

Linking up with the other tools people typically use to track their communications with people — they include Marketo, Salesforce, Vidyard and Google’s email and calendar apps — the system has been built with algorithms that read details from those apps to construct some details about the preferences and tastes of the intended gift recipient. It then uses that to come up with a list of items that might appeal to that person from a wider list that it has compiled, with some 10,000 items in all. (And yes, these can also include more traditional corporate swag items like those socks or mugs.) Then, instead of sending an actual gift, “Swag Select”, as Alyce’s service is called, sends a gift code that lets the person redeem with his or her own choice from a personalised, more narrowed-down list of items.

Alyce itself doesn’t actually hold or distribute the presents: it connects up with third parties that send these out. (It prices its service based on how much it is used, and how many more tools a user might want to have to personalise and send out gifts.)

Yes, you might argue that a lot of this sounds actually very impersonal — the gift giver is not directly involved in the selection or sending of a present at all, which instead is “selected” by way of AI. Essentially, this is a variation of the personalization and recommendation technology that has been built to serve ads, suggest products to you on e-commerce sites, and more.

But on the other hand, it’s an interesting solution to the problem of trying to figure out what to get someone, which can be a challenge when you really know a person, and even harder when you don’t, while at the same time helping to create and fulfill a gesture that, at the end of the day, is about being thoughtful of them, not really the gift itself.

(You could also argue, I think, that since the gift lists are based on a person’s observations about the recipient, there is in fact some personal touches here, even if they have been run through an algorithmic mill before getting to you.)

And ultimately, the aim of these gifts is to say “thank you for this work relationship, which I appreciate”, or “please buy more printer paper from me” — not “I’m sorry for being rude to you at dinner last night.” Although… if this works as it should, maybe there might well be an opportunity to extending the model to more use cases, for example brands looking for ways to change up their direct mail marketing campaigns, or yes, people who want to patch things up after a spat the night before.

Notably, for General Catalyst, it’s interested indeed in the bigger gifting category, pointing to the potential of how this service could be scaled in the future.

“At General Catalyst, we are proud to lead the latest round of funding for Alyce as the company has reimagined the gifting category with technology and impact. The ability to deliver products and experiences that both the giver and recipient feel good about is incredibly powerful,” said Larry Bohn, Managing Director at General Catalyst, in a statement.

Is there a marketing crunch in Israel? A chat with an Israeli Unicorn CMO

Israeli startups raised over $2 billion in March 2021 alone. As the startup ecosystem in Israel scales, so must the teams leading the growing number of Israeli unicorns. Is there a marketing crunch in Israel? How should Israeli startups think about marketing?

In the previous episode, we’ve heard from experienced CMO Hila Shitrit Nissim, and today VC Cafe features Ran Avrahami*, Chief Marketing Officer at Appsflyer, a leading SaaS mobile marketing analytics and attribution platform. In November 2020, Appsflyer announced a $210 million round led by Salesforce Ventures at over $2 billion valuation. Mobile advertising is at the forefront of Marketing, so I think you’ll appreciate Ran’s perspective.

VC Cafe: The common case in Israel is founding teams flying solo without a marketer until it’s imminently necessary. Do you think different categories or products require different timing in terms of adding on a marketer?

One way of thinking about it, is whether you are inventing a brand new category, or challenging / reinventing an existing one. If you’re inventing a category, marketing needs to come really early on, because market education and brand / community building is critical for business success. 

With challenging existing categories, the initial role of marketing is much more tactical: business support function and internal enablement, lead gen etc.. Both aspects of marketing are important; it just depends on the timely business needs.

VC Cafe: What’s the best advice or practical tips you have for founders with regards to marketing and branding at seed stage? 

First, focus on doing one thing and doing that thing really well (think ‘what do you want to be famous for’). Stay focused and block out the noise. This can be really hard for early stage startups, but it means the difference between being good or being great. For us it was creating memorable experiences, and a personal connection. We always go above and beyond to create unique activities. It is our speciality; it’s even been dubbed by our peers as our ‘moat’. If you’re hyper focused on your mission, you’ll be able to run fast. And running fast as an early stage start-up is so important.

Second, don’t follow a generic playbook. When I started at AppsFlyer I didn’t google ‘how to build a B2B marketing plan’. I focussed on small experiments. If something failed, I moved on. If something worked, I doubled down and worked on scaling it up. Once I got it down to a science, I’d repeat the process with something else. That to me is really the best practice. Experiment / Measure / Iterate. 

Third, above all, always provide value. Create win-win situations for you and other players in your ecosystem. This is key, especially when you’re operating with a “zero budget marketing” mindset. Playing an advisory role for reporters to share interesting data insights and leveraging our partners to create interesting industry content worked very well for us in our early days.

VC Cafe: There’s a rise in community led startups. What best practices have you seen in Israel when it comes to community building?

Be customer-obsessed. Focus on the “who”. When you’re doing what’s right for the end user, everything else falls into place.

Build trust, this is key. It’s the essence of community. Being transparent and working alongside your community are two important ways to build and foster trust.

I’ve said it before, but it’s an absolute must. Bring value. Make sure you’re solving a pain point. Nothing rallies a community more than problem solving.

Find your “super users”, the super passionate people that represent your customers at scale; they’re your champions.

VC Cafe: What’s expected from a CMO today has changed from 10 years ago. Is there a marketing talent crunch? 

CMOs are expected today to have a growth mindset and to be accountable for revenue, as well as building a brand for the long-term. And you know what? That’s fantastic. Gone are the days that the marketing org is only in charge of ‘making things pretty’. CMOs must grab a legit seat at the table.


Ran avrahami
Ran Avrahamy – Appsflyer CMO

*About Ran Avrahamy:
Managing a complicated relationship with mobile. (Too) early adopter. Loves being an entrepreneur, but hates that word. Now CMO at AppsFlyer – the leading mobile attribution & marketing analytics platform. Before joining AppsFlyer, Ran co-founded Scringo, empowering native apps with social & communication capabilities, and worked in various marketing & business development roles, helping startups grow.

The post Is there a marketing crunch in Israel? A chat with an Israeli Unicorn CMO appeared first on VC Cafe.

Sequoia Capital India on its early investment in Appier, the fund’s latest exit

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company's office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company’s office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Appier’s initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange yesterday was a milestone not only for the company, but also Sequoia Capital India, one of its earliest investors. Founded in Taiwan, Appier was the fund’s first investment outside of India, and is now also the first company in its portfolio outside of India to go public. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sequoia Capital managing director Abheek Anand talked about what drew the firm to Appier, which develops AI-based marketing software.

Before shifting its focus to marketing, Appier’s founders—chief executive officer Chih-Han Yu, chief operating officer Winnie Lee and chief technology officer Joe Su—worked on a startup called Plaxie to develop AI-powered gaming engines. Yu and Su came up with the idea when they were both graduate students at Harvard, but found there was little demand at the time. Anand met them in 2013, soon after their pivot to big data and marketing, and Sequoia Capital India invested in Appier’s Series A a few months later.

“It’s easy to say in retrospect what worked and what didn’t work. What really stands out without trying to write revisionist history is that this was just an incredibly smart team,” said Anand. “They had probably the most technical core DNA of any Series A company that we’ve met in years, I would argue.” Yu holds a PhD in computer science from Harvard, Wu earned a PhD in immunology at Washington University in St. Louis and Su has a M.S. in computer science from Harvard. The company also filled its team with AI and machine learning researchers from top universities in Taiwan and the United States.

At the time, Sequoia Capital “had a broad thesis that there would be adoption of AI in enterprises,” Anand said. “What we believed was there were a bunch of people going after that problem, but they were trying to solve business problems without necessarily having the technical depth to do it.” Appier stood out because they “were swinging at it from the other end, where they had an enormous amount of technical expertise.”

Since Appier’s launch in 2012, more companies have emerged that use machine learning and big data to help companies automate marketing decisions and create online campaigns. Anand said one of the reasons Appier, which now operates in 14 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, remains competitive is its strategy of cross-selling new products and focusing on specific use cases instead of building a general purpose platform.

Appier’s core product is a cross-platform advertising engine called CrossX that focuses on user acquisition. Then it has products that address other parts of their customers’ value chain: AiDeal to help companies send coupons to the customers who are most likely to use them; user engagement platform AIQUA; and AIXON, a data science platform that uses AI models to predict customer actions, including the likelihood of repeat purchases.

“I think the number one thing that the company has spent a lot of time on is focusing on efficiency,” said Anand. “Customers have tons of data, both external and first-party, that they’re processing to drive business outcomes. It’s a very hard technical problem. Appier starts with a solution that is relatively easy to break into a customer, and then builds deeper and deeper solutions for those customers.”

Appier’s listing is also noteworthy because it marks the first time a company from Taiwan has listed in Japan since Trend Micro’s IPO in 1998. Japan is one of Appier’s biggest markets (customers there include Rakuten, Toyota and Shiseido), making the Tokyo Stock Exchange a natural fit, Anand said, even though most of Sequoia Capital India’s portfolio companies list in India or the United States.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange also stood out because of its retail investor participation, liquidity and total volume. Some of Appier’s other core investors, including JAFCO Asia and SoftBank Group Corp., are also based in Japan. But though it has almost $30 billion in average trading volume, the vast majority of listings are domestic companies. In a recent report, Nikkei Asia cited a higher corporate tax rate and lack of potential underwriters, especially for smaller listings, as a potential obstacles for foreign companies.

But Appier’s debut may lead the way for other Asian startups to chose the Tokyo Stock Exchange, said Anand. “Getting ready for the Japanese exchange meant having the right accounting practices, the right reporting, a whole bunch of compliance stuff. It was a long process. In some ways we were leading the charge for external companies to get there, and I’m sure over time it will keep getting easier and easier.”

How our SaaS startup improved net revenue retention by more than 30 points in two quarters

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on. While all SaaS companies do, and must, home in on acquisition metrics, there’s also massive revenue potential within your current customer base.

I think NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there. NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale. Simply put: the power of compound math!

One of the biggest and most impactful changes we made was to move new business, retention and account management all under our chief revenue officer.

Over the course of two quarters, Terminus grew its NRR by more than 30 points, opening up incredible new levels of growth opportunities.

To boost our NRR for the better, I focused on three core pillars within our organization.

People

We took a holistic look at the organization and our org structure. One of the biggest and most impactful changes we made was to move new business, retention and account management all under our chief revenue officer. At the end of the day, it just makes a ton of sense to have acquisition and retention living under the same roof — why bother acquiring new customers if you can’t retain them?

We also rolled out a surround-sound team (around three or four people per customer) who onboard and help customers with their account from day one. In total, we have about a quarter of our company dedicated to this 24/7 support and hands-on guidance to ensure we’re enabling customers immediately.

Process

Side raises $150M at $1B valuation to help real estate agents go it alone

Side, a real estate technology company that works to turn agents and independent brokerages into boutique brands and businesses, announced Monday that it has raised $150 million in Series D funding.

Coatue Management led the round, which brings San Francisco-based Side’s valuation to $1 billion and total funding raised to over $200 million since its 2017 inception. Existing backers Matrix Partners, Trinity Ventures and Sapphire Ventures also participated in the new financing.

The round is notable in that the amount raised is significantly higher than the $35 million Side raised in a Series C round in November 2019. Valuation too increased nearly 7x compared to the $150 million valuation at the time of its Series C. Sapphire Ventures led that investment and managing director Paul Levine, who was previously president and COO of Trulia (through its IPO and multibillion-dollar acquisition by Zillow), joined the company’s board of directors at that time.

The startup pulled in between $30 million and $50 million in revenue in 2020, and expects to double revenue this year. In 2019, Side represented over $5 billion in annual home sales across all of its partners. Today, the company’s community of agent partners represents over $15 billion in annual production volume.

Side was founded by Guy Gal, Edward Wu and Hilary Saunders on the premise that most real estate agents are “underserved and underappreciated” by traditional brokerage models.

CEO Gal said existing brokerages are designed to support “average” agents and as such, the top-producing agents end up having to do “all of the heavy lifting.”

Side’s white label model works with agents and teams by exclusively marketing their boutique brand, while also providing the required technology and support needed on the back end. The goal is to help partner agents “predictably grow” their businesses and improve their productivity.

“The way to think about Side is the way you think about what Shopify does for e-commerce…When partnering with Side, top-producing agents, teams and independent brokerages, for the first time in history, gain full ownership of their own brand and business without having to operate a brokerage,” Gal said. “When you spend years solving the problems of this very specific community of agents, you are able to use software to drive enormous efficiency for them in a way that has never been done before.”

Existing brokerages, he argues, actively discourage agents from becoming top producers and teams, because agents who serve fewer clients can be forced into paying much higher commission fees on every transaction, which means the incentives between brokerages and top agents and teams are misaligned.

“Top producers want to grow and differentiate, and brokerages want them to do less business at higher fees and be one more of the same under the same brand,” Gal said. “Side, rather than discouraging and competing with top producing agents and teams, enables them to grow and scale their own business and brand.”

Today, Side supports more than 1,500 partner agents across California, Texas and Florida.

The startup plans to spend its new capital on “significant hiring” and toward an expansion outside of California, Texas and Florida — the three markets in which it currently operates. It also plans to boost its 300-plus headcount by another 200 employees. 

Israeli Startups and Marketing – 5 Questions with an Experienced CMO

When is the right time for a startup to bring on marketing? Are brand and storytelling important before product-market-fit? 

We asked Hila Shitrit Nissim*, an experienced CMO, to share her perspective on marketing in Israeli startups. Hila spent 12 years as the VP Marketing for Israeli venture capital fund Viola before embarking on an independent CMO career for startups.

The common case in israel is founding teams flying solo without a marketer until it’s imminently necessary. Do you think different categories or products require different timing in terms of adding on a marketer?

In my opinion, the sooner a marketer is brought on board, the better.

It does not need to be a full-time CMO, but someone who can bring the marketing perspective to everything you do in the early days is essential.  Being guided and supported in finding the product-market fit and experimenting with messaging can shorten time-to-market and save valuable resources.

Although this has been known for years for B2C companies, it is interesting to see B2B companies realizing the importance of marketing early on, as well. 

A marketer will help the founders to create the larger vision and story for the company, craft the desired brand essence and values, and explore various go-to-market approaches. These steps are vital to securing initial funding and attracting pilots, design partners, and customers. 

What’s the best advice or practical tips you have for founders with regards to marketing and branding at seed stage?

My advice is to talk to the market and to potential customers as early as possible and think about your company’s brand from day one. Many founders concentrate on perfecting their product, adding revolutionary features, and staying in stealth mode to avoid the competition. However, the earlier they talk to users and understand their pain points, the better the chances are of gaining traction and better positioning as they launch.
Every successful marketing strategy starts with a well-told story. Talking to your target audience gets you to that point. Among other tips I share, below is my favourite exercise

Try to answer these questions:

  1. Why should these people (buyers) care about our product?
  2. What makes our product so much better for their needs?
  3. How big is the problem we solve for them?

These are the first questions that will help you build the brand and create the right story for it. 

There’s a rise in community led startups. What best practices have you seen in Israel when it comes to community building?

There is an impressive pool of marketing talent in Israel, including brilliant community managers. Israelis are great at sharing experiences, tips, and encouraging and supporting one another and these are the basic elements of a strong community. Some of the largest communities on Facebook were created in Israel (i.e Supergirls, Hashavot, Hatochenistim and more) and this talent turned the best practices from social nonprofit communities into communities that cater to specific needs and business purposes. 

Companies that succeed in building a community have a great advantage in today’s world when users seek safe and supportive environments where they can also influence one another.  It also gives brands a way to differentiate themselves in a fragmented market, where traditional channels become very costly. 

What’s expected from a CMO today has changed from 10 years ago. Is there a marketing talent crunch?

The key change from a decade ago is the realisation by entrepreneurs that a great idea plus a strong technological foundation aren’t enough anymore. To grab people’s attention, you need to have a good narrative, build a professional website and collateral, be consistent and memorable, and creatively generate the demand for your solution while charging for it (hopefully at a premium rate). As a result, there is an increasing demand for strong marketing strategists and exceptional marketing professionals across all relevant domains – content, social media, user acquisition, SEO, creative and design, community management and more.

As a member of GCMO (a community of Israeli based CMOs from global successful companies) I see how attractive this field has become as we share dozens of new open positions every week. 

Hila Shitrit Nissim

* Hila Shitrit Nissim

Part time CMO for B2B and B2C startups.

With 20 years of marketing experience, Hila is passionate about building strong, meaningful brands and creating differentiated positioning in highly competitive markets. 

Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hilashitritnissim/

The post Israeli Startups and Marketing – 5 Questions with an Experienced CMO appeared first on VC Cafe.

How to successfully dance the creator-brand tango

I have been thinking about creators.

I am one: I put out an e-book on Gumroad about cold emailing. That is actually the low point of creativity in my whole life, considering I think I have it in me to be a scriptwriter, a stand-up artist or at least a mediocre YouTuber. I created a piece of art about spamming. What a fall!

There are successful creators, unlike me. But what makes them succeed, and how should brands work with them? Let’s get the definitions in place first.

Creators create and hence have an influence over their fans. Influencers exist. That’s the working definition we’ll go with.

Where brands go astray is when they expect creators to obtain products for their brands in the way that influencers do.

Brands work with influencers all the time. It doesn’t take a special skill to have a rotund posterior on which a wine glass can be balanced. Most of us don’t try such things. Yet some do, post it on Instagram and build multibillion-dollar fashion brands.

It’s art if an influencer does it. You and I have no business here, but brands embrace such influencers. Influencers monetize eyeballs directly (through brand partnerships) or through platform ad revenue.

Creators are morally superior — they earnestly create good, mediocre or bad content/art/internet moments through their good, bad or mediocre skills. That builds a niche fan following. 

They monetize through ads, brand partnerships or subscriptions 

Where brands go astray is when they expect creators to obtain products for their brands in the way that influencers do. Influencers influence. Creators endear themselves to their audience. Creators evolve and their audience base evolves along with them.

I have a framework for how brands can think about creator relationships and how to set goals for such relationships. 

Let’s call it FFS (Fan Follower Strength 🤦‍♂️) Framework.

Fans of a creator manifest their liking for the creator in one of these ways:

  • Appreciate
  • Advocate
  • Adulate

Depending on the scale of the audience base and their fan following strength, creators’ alternative revenue streams could be anywhere between that of a guy who does the opening act at an obscure club’s stand-up night to that of a cult founder.

fan following strength the fan following framework

Image Credits: Ashwin Ramasamy

How much influence a creator has depends on the distribution of fans they have in these stages.

The more adulation they get, the more they are ready to carry a brand or monetize on their own. While the number of fans decides the scale of an outcome (exposure, sales, etc.), at any scale a creator can monetize if they have more fans in the advocate or adulate stages.

A brand has to choose its creators both on the scale and the goals they have for the relationship.

A creator with millions of merely appreciative followers could be good for brand exposure but not immediate sales, whereas a niche creator who receives great adulation from their audience could not just move products but move their audience to visit your store to buy a product they promote.

Such creators — if they are able to maintain a high proportion of advocates and adulatory followers as they hit scale — could launch their own brands.

The relationship becomes troublesome when brands simply look at influencer marketing metrics (engagement, clicks, etc.) and ignore the FFS metrics (intensity of fan following as measured from comments, organic shares and engagement for those shares; the shelf life of the content measured by the longevity of comment interaction; fanfic creations around the creator’s content or about the creator, etc.)

Without the understanding of FFS metrics, brands end up partnering with creators at a life stage that could be incompatible with brand goals. A creator with a huge following does not automatically translate to sales if their fan following strength is skewed more toward appreciation than advocacy or adulation.