Australian growth marketing agency Ammo helps startups calibrate their efforts

When you are the founder of a young startup, it is always very hard to gauge the right amount of effort to dedicate to marketing. Botch it and you risk looking unprofessional. Hire a traditional agency and you might be wasting time and money.

Australian growth marketing agency Ammo, in contrast, wants to make sure that its clients aren’t overinvesting nor underinvesting. Geared toward tech startups, it boasts that it has “supercharged the growth of over 200 innovative businesses,” from fintech and SaaS to hardware.

Ammo is based in Perth and an active member of Western Australia’s startup community, where it is “very highly regarded,” in the words of the survey respondent who recommended it to TechCrunch. But if that person decided to work with Ammo, they said it’s because “their results spoke.” (If you have growth marketing agencies or freelancers to recommend, please fill out our survey!)

After reading this, we reached out to Ammo’s director Cam Sinclair for insights on early-stage brand development, marketing readiness and more. Check out our interview below:

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you give us an overview of Ammo?

Cam Sinclair: Ammo is a growth marketing team based in Perth, Western Australia. We work with startups and innovative businesses to help them set and reach their growth goals.

Cam Sinclair

Cam Sinclair. Image Credits: Aline Kuba(opens in a new window)

We’ve been in this community for seven years now, and have a small, lean team from a variety of backgrounds — none of which are traditional marketing.

As a nerdy kid I loved tech and was fascinated by how business works. I always knew I wanted to find some way to help founders and innovators get their great ideas out into the world. After working in political campaigns, I realized that many of the skillsets overlapped with what startups need: moving fast, being lean, communicating well, being adaptable and staying flexible.

That inspired me to grow an “anti-agency” where startup founders could genuinely feel like they had someone on their team who understood their challenges and the risks they were taking.

How do you collaborate with startups?

Our services cater to every stage of the founder journey. When you’re starting, you’ll need a brand, strategy and the marketing infrastructure to reach early customers. As you’re growing, you’ll need ongoing marketing campaigns and automation that bolsters your funnel. As you’re maturing, you’ll need the broader reach that PR and ongoing strategic advice provides.

We like to keep engagements as flexible as possible because startups are always discovering new marketing opportunities or customer needs. Some relationships are ongoing, others are quick projects completed in a week. Our long-term relationships start with a growth strategy workshop, where we identify a north star metric so that everyone is pulling in the same direction from day one.

Our workshops help startup teams design a customer journey using the pirate metrics framework and turn that into a clear, step-by-step action plan which they can implement or outsource.


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There’s a survey on your site that encourages companies to check whether they are “ready for growth marketing.” What are the high-level points that make a company ready?

It’s really about having a small number of early fanatical customers — evangelists. Many people call it product-market-fit, but it’s really customer fit.

There is little point in lighting a rocket under a startup to grow and reach a wide audience without a clear, confident direction. Sure, you might get somewhere fast, but where are you going?

We’ve made the mistake of taking on clients who were too early for growth, so we know how important it is to say “no” when it’s not a good fit. We can direct all the traffic in the world to your website, but without customer fit you’ll be fighting for every sale.

Startups need to get a few things right to be primed for growth. Not every startup will be ready for what we can do for them. We’re focused on our own customer fit too.

For one-on-one work, who are your typical clients? 

Our most successful relationships are with startups who have already established customer fit and are looking to grow quickly. We work with B2B and B2C SaaS companies, as well as more traditional businesses who are looking to disrupt the way things are done in their industry.

We’ve grown startups in Australia and abroad, including neuroscience startup Humm, based in Berkeley, California. We worked with them to identify early customers and preorder channels while they were gathering initial investment, build a learning/experimenting system within the team as they grew and, more recently, provide advisory at a strategic level.

What mistakes do you help startups avoid when it comes to branding? 

After working with over 230 startups, we know what works and what doesn’t. Our clients work with us because they know we can help them avoid the pitfalls that inexperienced founders regularly fall into and make the most of the tight budgets that startups run on.

Marketing agencies are taking money that startups don’t have to build brand identities that startups don’t need. We would much prefer to see those resources invested into building their product and talking to their customers.

That said, it’s important for a landing page or slide deck to be believable to customers, investors and partners — and when startups underinvest in their branding, people are less likely to hand over their attention, email address and money.

For example, some clients often don’t even have suitable logo files or a wide enough color palette to create websites that effectively convert people into customers. If someone can’t clearly see your “sign-up” button when they land on your website because everything on your website is blue, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

Can you explain why you advise startups to create a “minimum viable brand”? 

The temptation in the startup world is to use a freelancer through an online marketplace (or even worse — letting an overenthusiastic employee create a logo in PowerPoint). But this usually results in a surface-level logo design without any consideration for how it might develop over time or fit within a larger brand identity.

Other startups might work with an agency to create a brand identity, and this can lead to brand overkill — stationery kits, photography, lofty mission statements and endless meetings. None of which pre-seed startups need yet. This process wastes time and money better spent elsewhere and traps pivoting startups with an expensive brand that can’t evolve as they do.

We take branding processes used by world-class agencies and distill it down to the core parts of the brand you need right now. This leads to a minimum viable brand identity that’s built to grow and created with the expectation that it will change as your startup does. It’s inspired by lean methodology and the minimum viable product (MVP) — it’s built to challenge assumptions and catch the attention of customers without overinvesting.

What’s the process you follow to help startups develop their minimum viable brand?

Initially we help them come up with a name.

Naming is important so we generally invest time into this part to avoid changing it in the future if possible. We want to make sure it meets the basic principles of distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likeability, extendibility and protectability (based on Marty Neumeier’s branding-in-business book Zag).

From there we design a logo. A good logomark (the “icon” part of the logo) is generally figurative and not literal. It should be scalable, simple and work in multiple environments including single color black or white. The logo is then complemented with brand color selections, fonts and simple imagery direction to create a basic but useful brand guide.

Most importantly, we believe your startup’s brand guidelines should be available publicly online, rather than in a PDF hidden in a folder on your Dropbox. Somewhere that you can direct your team members and partners to so you can ensure everyone can maintain brand consistency.

How does Ammo compare to having an in-house CMO?

Like a CMO, we’re strategic. But unlike a CMO, we have experience with hundreds of startups across dozens of industries — we can pull insights and lessons from unexpected places when we’re working with clients.

While we align closely with commercial goals like an in-house CMO, we also know the importance for startups to move quickly. That’s why everyone at Ammo rolls up their sleeves and gets things done for our clients.

We don’t have the mindset of taking months to develop an annual marketing strategy, we want to help our clients get in front of customers quickly, collect valuable data along the way and stay nimble to adapt when they need it.

How do you and your clients measure your impact?

At Ammo, we don’t measure time, we measure outcomes. At the start of every project we define what success looks like with the client. Every client is different, and we’re responsive to that. We check back in with ongoing clients in monthly meetings to see how we’re tracking toward the success metric we agreed on, adjusting as necessary.

All of this is measured through quantitative analytics, qualitative feedback from customers and gut instinct.

In the past we have described our role as making ourselves obsolete — that our clients would grow large enough to be able to hire their own in-house marketing team. Today we still retain many of these client relationships in different ways, by providing more strategic advice. Those long-term relationships are the greatest indication to us that we’ve had a valuable impact.

Tips for managing growth across iOS updates

“I’ve seen startups spend thousands of dollars inefficiently as a result of not having optimal signal in their paid acquisition campaigns. I’ve also spent millions at companies such as Postmates refining our signal to the best possible state,” says growth marketer Jonathan Martinez in a guest column for Extra Crunch this week. “I’d like every startup to avoid the painful mistake of not having this set up correctly, instead making the most of every important ad dollar.”

The TechCrunch team has been busy this past week, especially with Disrupt next week and the iOS 15 release date quickly approaching. If you haven’t already registered for Disrupt, it’s not too late to get a ticket. We’re excited for all of the sessions, including “The Subtle Challenges of Assessing Product-Market Fit” on Tuesday, September 21 from 2:05 PM – 2:45 PM EDT the Extra Crunch stage. The marketing world was full steam ahead this past week, Martinez covered how to optimize signal and Miranda Halpern spoke with Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink about the impact that iOS 15 will have on email marketers. We also had guest posts from Bryan Dsouza of Grammarly and Xiaoyun TU of Brightpearl. More details below.

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Marketer: Andrew Race, Juice
Recommended by: Orin Singh, Merchant Industry
Testimonial: “We were referred to Juice by a family friend of my company’s owner and as a personal courtesy they said they were giving us their best guy. Naturally we thought that is what everyone says but they were not kidding. Andrew was singularly leagues above our previous marketing company. Having someone so knowledgeable and willing to learn a new industry proved to be the turning point for us.”

In growth marketing, signal determines success: Martinez learned from his mistakes, and share the lessons learned with us. From selecting the signal, to how to enhance it, Martinez covers key aspects including how to take advantage of iOS 14. He says, “So how do you stay ahead and continue moving the needle on your growth marketing campaigns? First and foremost, constantly question the events you’re optimizing for. And second, leave no stone unturned.”

Marketers should plan for more DIY metrics as iOS 15 nears: The release of iOS 15 will change that playing field for marketers. They’ll have to rely on metrics that use zero and first-party data rather than relying on email open rates as the main metric. Miranda spoke with Sharma about how this release will impact the industry and what marketers should focus on. One tip from Sharma is, “Focus on down funnel metrics like clicks and conversions — that’s what it really comes down to and that’s the truest indicator of engagement.”

(Extra Crunch) Demand Curve: How to get social proof that grows your startup: Nick Costelloe, head of content at Demand Curve, dives into social proof and how startups can use it to their advantage. On social proof, Costelloe says, “Have you ever stopped to check out a restaurant because it had a large lineup out front? That wasn’t by chance. It’s common for restaurants to limit the size of their reception area. This forces people to wait outside, and the line signals to people walking past that the restaurant is so good it’s worth waiting for.”

(Extra Crunch) 5 things you need to win your first customer: Dsouza, product marketing lead at Grammarly, walks us through how to win your first customer. He includes explanations, how-tos, and practice use cases. Dsouza says,” . . .ask any founder what really proves their startup has taken off, and they will almost instantly say it’s when they win their first customer.”

(Extra Crunch) 4 ways to leverage ROAS to triple lead generation: TU, global director of demand generation at Brightpearl, walks us through ways to use return on advertising spending (ROAS). She says, “When you choose a return metric, you need to make sure it matches your company goal without taking ages to get the data.”

Tell us who your favorite startup growth marketing expert to work with is by filling out our survey.

Demand Curve: How to get social proof that grows your startup

When people are uncertain, they look to others for behavioral guidance. This is called social proof, which is a physiological effect that influences your decisions every day, whether you know it or not.

At Demand Curve and through our agency Bell Curve, we’ve helped over 1,000 startups improve their ability to convert cold traffic into repeat customers. We’ve found that effectively using social proof can lead to up to 400% improvement in conversion.

This post shares exactly how to collect and use social proof to help grow your SaaS, e-commerce, or B2B startup.

Surprisingly, we’ve actually seen negative reviews help improve conversion rates. Why? Because they help set customer expectations.

How businesses use social proof

Have you ever stopped to check out a restaurant because it had a large line of people out front? That wasn’t by chance.

It’s common for restaurants to limit the size of their reception area. This forces people to wait outside, and the line signals to people walking past that the restaurant is so good it’s worth waiting for.

But for Internet-based businesses, social proof looks a bit different. Instead of people lining up outside your storefront, you’re going to need to create social proof that resonates with your target customers — they’ll be looking for different clues to signal whether doing business with your company is “normal” or “acceptable” behavior.

Social proof for B2B

People love to compare themselves to others, and this is especially true when it comes to the customers of B2B businesses. If your competitor is able to get a contract with a company that you’ve been nurturing for months, you’d be upset (and want to know how they did it).

Therefore, B2B social proof is most effective when you display the logos of companies you do business with. This signals to people checking out your website that other businesses trust you to deliver on your offer. The more noteworthy or respected the logos on your site, the stronger the influence will be.

Social proof for SaaS

Depending on the type of SaaS product or service you’re selling, you’ll either be selling to an individual or to a business. The strategy remains the same, but the channels will vary slightly.

The most effective way to generate social proof for SaaS products is through positive reviews from trusted sources. For consumer SaaS, that will be through influential bloggers and YouTubers speaking highly of your product. For B2B SaaS, it will be through positive ratings on review sites like G2 or Capterra. Proudly display these testimonials on your site.

Social proof for e-commerce brands

E-commerce brands will typically sell directly to an individual through ads, but because anyone can purchase an ad, you’re going to need to signal trust in other ways. The most common way we see e-commerce brands building social proof is by nurturing an organic social media following on Instagram or TikTok.

This signals to new customers that you’ve gotten the seal of approval from others like them. Having an audience also allows you to showcase user-generated content from your existing customers.

How to collect social proof

There are five avenues startups can tap to collect social proof:

  1. Product reviews
  2. Testimonials
  3. Public relations and earned media
  4. Influencers
  5. Social media and community

Here are a few tactics we’ve used to help startups build social proof.

Choices and constraints: How DTC companies decide which strategy to follow

Companies typically have to settle on strategies that align with their customers, employees, investors, and regulators. The more they know about how the other side will decide, the clearer their own strategies become.

If regulators always prefer choice for consumers, then it is easy for a platform to allow multiple payment choices: Shopify allows multiple payment options from its partners, Apple doesn’t.

By regulatory intervention, it will have to now.

Nash equilibrium and Netflix time

Nash equilibrium is a fascinating, post-facto explanation for some of the interesting decisions you will often see in business.

In simple terms, Nash equilibrium states that if you have clarity on the other side’s decision, you can make yours without regret. In other words, there is no incentive to change strategy once each side knows what the optimal position of the other side is, in their combined transaction.

All physical products cannot escape retail, because ignoring retail means a smaller serviceable market. But it is a choice companies can make.

I see this playing out every weekend at home. I don’t mind reading a book alone or watching Netflix with my kid, but when I am available for Netflix and my kid decides to read a book, it is a bummer.

DTCs, DNVBs and game theory

In DTC, how companies decide their omnichannel strategy depends on how well they know what their customers’ choices are and what their ideal strategy will be. In many transactions, constraints are actually good forcing functions — they narrow down choices and help you arrive at an equilibrium faster and cheaper.

The marketing and public-market filing languages make for a fascinating read into the minds of companies.

When Warby Parker filed its IPO prospectus last month, the company referred to its digitally-native status in the past tense. The model was effectively flipped in 2020, as its share of online sales to total sales dropped from 65% to 40%. Meanwhile, its physical store count increased from 126 to 145.

4 ways to leverage ROAS to triple lead generation

Businesses that don’t invest in their future may not have a future to look forward to.

Whether you’re investing in your human resources or in critical tech, some outlay in the short term is always needed for long-term success. That’s true when it comes to marketing as well — you can’t market your product or service without investing in advertising. But if that investment isn’t turning into leads and conversions, you’re in trouble.

A “good” ROAS score is different for each company and campaign. If your figure isn’t where you’d like it to be, you can leverage ROAS data to create targeted campaigns and personalized experiences.

It’s vital to identify and apply the most suitable metrics based on business goals, and there’s no one best practice or one-size-fits-all method.

However, smart use of the return on advertising spend (ROAS) data can triple lead generation, as I discovered when I joined Brightpearl to restructure the marketing campaigns. Let’s take a look at some of the ways Brightpearl used ROAS to improve campaigns and increase lead generation. The key is to work out what represents a healthy ROAS for your business so that you can optimize accordingly.

Use the right return metric

It is paramount to choose the right return metric to calculate your ROAS. This will depend partly on your sales cycle.

Brightpearl has a lengthy sales cycle. On average it’s two to three months, and sometimes up to six months, meaning we don’t have tons of data on a monthly basis if we want to use new customer’s revenue data as the return metric. A company with a shorter sales cycle could use revenue, but that doesn’t help us to optimize our campaigns.

We chose to use the sales accepted opportunity (SAO) value instead. It usually takes us about a month to measure, so we can get more ROAS data at the same time. It’s the last sales stage before a win, and it’s more in line with our company goal (to grow our recurring annual revenue), but takes less time to gather the data.

By the SAO stage, we know which leads are good quality­ — they have the budget, are a good fit, and our software can meet their requirements. We can use them to measure our campaign performance.

When you choose a return metric, you need to make sure it matches your company goal without taking ages to get the data. It also has to be measurable at the campaign level, because the aim of using ROAS or other metrics is to optimize your campaigns.

Accept that less is more

I’ve noticed that many companies harbor a fear of missing out on opportunities, which leads them to advertise on all available channels instead of concentrating resources on the most profitable areas.

Prospects usually do their research on multiple channels, so you might try to cover all the possible touch points. In theory, this could generate more leads, but only if you had an unlimited marketing budget and human resources.

5 things you need to win your first customer

A startup is a beautiful thing. It’s the tangible outcome of an idea birthed in a garage or on the back of a napkin. But ask any founder what really proves their startup has taken off, and they will almost instantly say it’s when they win their first customer.

That’s easier said than done, though, because winning that first customer will take a lot more than an Ivy-educated founder and/or a celebrity investor pool.

To begin with, you’ll have to craft a strong ideal customer profile to know your customer’s pain points, while developing a competitive SWOT analysis to scope out alternatives your customers can go to.

Your target customer will pick a solution that will help them achieve their goals. In other words, your goals should align with your customer’s goals.

You’ll also need to create a shortlist of influencers who have your customer’s trust, identify their decision-makers who make the call to buy (or not), and create a mapped list of goals that align your customer’s goals to yours.

Understanding and executing on these things can guarantee you that first customer win, provided you do them well and with sincerity. Your investors will also see the fruits of your labor and be comforted knowing their dollars are at good work.

Let’s see how:

1. Craft the ideal customer profile (ICP)

The ICP is a great framework for figuring out who your target customer is, how big they are, where they operate, and why they exist. As you write up your ICP, you will soon see the pain points you assumed about them start to become more real.

To create an ICP, you will need to have a strong articulation of the problem you are trying to solve and the customers that experience this problem the most. This will be your baseline hypothesis. Then, as you develop your ICP, keep testing your baseline hypothesis to weed out inaccurate assumptions.

Getting crystal clear here will set you up with the proper launchpad. No shortcuts.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Develop an ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) framework.
  2. Identify three target customers that fit your defined ICP.
  3. Write a problem statement for each identified target customer.
  4. Prioritize the problem statement that resonates with your product the most.
  5. Lock on the target customer of the prioritized problem statement.

Practice use case:

You are the co-founder at an upcoming SaaS startup focused on simplifying the shopping experience in car showrooms so buyers enjoy the process. What would your ICP look like?

2. Develop the SWOT

The SWOT framework cannot be overrated. This is a great structure to articulate who your competitors are and how you show up against them. Note that your competitors can be direct or indirect (as an alternative), and it’s important to categorize these buckets correctly.

In growth marketing, signal determines success

Unlike a weak phone signal solely causing a grainy sound, in growth marketing, it can mean the difference between a successful program or a massive cash bleed. As we move toward an increasingly privacy-centric world, it is even more necessary for companies to nail down signal early on.

So what exactly is “signal” in growth marketing? It can carry many different meanings, but holistically speaking, it’s the event data in our arsenal to help guide decisions. When it comes to paid acquisition, it’s vital to optimize and pass back the correct event data to paid channels. This is so that targeting and bidding algorithms have the most enriched data to utilize.

I’ve seen startups spend thousands of dollars inefficiently as a result of not having optimal signal in their paid acquisition campaigns. I’ve also spent millions at companies such as Postmates refining our signal to the best possible state. I’d like every startup to avoid the painful mistake of not having this set up correctly, instead making the most of every important ad dollar.

The selection

When starting out, it may seem obvious to optimize toward a north-star metric such as a purchase. If spend is very minimal, that could mean that the conversion volume will be low across campaigns. On the flip side, if the optimization event is set at a top-of-funnel event such as a landing page view, the signal strength may be very weak. The reason that the strength may be weak is due to passing back a low-intent event as successful to the paid channels. By marking a landing page view as successful, paid channels such as Facebook will continue to find users that are similar to these lower-propensity users that are converting.

Let’s take an example of a health-and-wellness app with a goal of driving memberships to their coaching program. They’re just starting out with exploring paid acquisition and spending $5,000 per week on Facebook. Below is a look at their events in the funnel, weekly volume and cost per event:

Example of a health-and-wellness app and their weekly conversion volume at $5,000 spend. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

In the above example, we can see that there’s significant volume for landing page views. As we go down the simplified flow, there is less volume as users drop off the funnel. Almost everyone’s instinct would be to optimize for either the landing page view, because there’s so much data, or the subscription event, because it’s the strongest. I would argue (after extensive testing across multiple ad accounts) that neither of these events would be the correct pick. With landing page views as an optimization event, the users have an egregiously low propensity since the landing page view to subscription conversion rate is 0.61%.

The correct event to optimize for here would either be sign up or trial start because they have sufficient enough volume and are strong signals of a user converting to the north-star metric (subscription). Looking at the conversion rate between sign up and subscription, it’s a much healthier 10.21%, versus the 0.61% from landing page view.

I’m always a huge proponent of testing all events, as there can definitely be big surprises in what may work best for you. When testing events, make sure that there’s a stat-sig baseline that’s being followed to make decisions. Additionally, I think it’s a great practice to test events regularly early on because conversion rates can change as other channel variables are adjusted.

Flow adjustments

In certain cases, the current events that are set up aren’t optimal for paid acquisition campaigns. I’ve seen this happen frequently with startups that have long windows of time between conversion events. Take a startup such as Thumbtack, which provides a marketplace of providers who can help with home repairs. After someone signs up to their app, the user may place a request but not hire someone until a few weeks later. In this case, making flow adjustments could potentially improve the signal and data that you collect from users.

A solution that Thumbtack could implement to gather a stronger signal would be to add another step between the request being placed and hiring someone. This could potentially be a survey with propensity check questions that could ask how soon the user needs help or how important their project is from a 1–10.

Example of in-app survey responses to “How important is your project?” Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez.

After accumulating the data, if there’s a high correlation between survey answers and someone starting their project, we can start to explore optimizing for that event.

In the above example, we see that users who responded with “9” have a 7.66% likelihood to convert. Therefore, this should be the event we optimize for. Artificially adding steps that qualify users in a longer flow can help steer optimization targeting in the right direction.

Enhancing signal

Let’s imagine that you have the most ideal flow that captures large volumes of event signal without much of a delay to your optimization event. That’s still far from perfect. There are myriad solutions that can be implemented to further enhance the signal.

For Facebook specifically, there are connections such as CAPI that can be integrated to pass back data in a more accurate way. CAPI is a method of passing back web events server-to-server rather than relying on cookies and the Facebook pixel. This helps mitigate browsers that block cookies or users who may delete their web history. This is just one example. I won’t run through all the channels, but each has its own solution to help enhance event signal being passed back to it.

iOS 14 signal

This wouldn’t be a column written in 2021 without mention of iOS 14 and the strategies that can be leveraged for this growing user segment. I’ve written another piece about iOS-14-specific tactics, but I’ll cover it here on a broad level. If the north-star metric (i.e., purchase) event can be triggered within 24 hours of the initial app launch, then that’s golden.

This would bring large volumes of high-intent data that would not be at the mercy of the SKAD 24-hour event timer. For most companies, this may sound like a lofty goal, so the target should be to have an event fire within 24 hours that is a high-likelihood indicator of someone completing your north-star metric. Think of which events happen in the flow that lead to someone eventually purchasing. Maybe someone adding a payment method happens within 24 hours and historically has a 90% conversion rate to someone purchasing. An “add payment info” event would be a great conversion event to use in this case. The landscape of iOS 14 is constantly changing but this should apply for the immediate future.

Incrementality and staying ahead

As a rule of thumb, incrementality checks should constantly be performed in growth marketing. It gives an important read on whether advertising dollars are bringing in users that wouldn’t have converted had they not seen an ad.

When comparing optimization events, this rule still applies. Make sure that costs per action aren’t the only metric that’s being used as a measure of success, but instead, use the incremental lift on each conversion event as the ultimate key performance indicator. In this piece, I detail how to run lean incrementality tests without swarms of data scientists.

So how do you stay ahead and continue moving the needle on your growth marketing campaigns? First and foremost, constantly question the events you’re optimizing for. And second, leave no stone unturned.

If you’re using the same optimization event forever, it will be a disservice to your campaign performance potential. By experimenting with flow changes and running tests on new events, you’ll be way ahead of the curve. When iterating on the flow, think about user behavior and events from the user’s perspective. Which flow events, if added, would correlate to a high propensity conversion segment?

Constructor finds $55M for tech that powers search and discovery for e-commerce businesses

One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren’t getting to what they want fast enough — whether it’s finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way — they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.

Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers “billions” of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart’s Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.

The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners — which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.

It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition — a firm that helps underrepresented background investors back up-and-coming startups — was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor’s board with this round.

The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce — with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned firsthand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it’s almost always the case that the results don’t have what we want.

When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there — we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere — but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.

Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor’s CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what’s happened before you ever visit a site.

“One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you,” he said. “We think the process should be descriptive.”

As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.

“We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing,” he said. “The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience.”

Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.

Interestingly it hasn’t extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 2017 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company’s enterprise search suite.

There are, however, others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor’s that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.

This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.

“Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market,” said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms.”

Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms — currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore — as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.

Use creative automation software to amp up your brand’s lower-funnel assets

With the holiday season around the corner, growth marketers are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. E-commerce brands are now leaning heavily on social sales and digital advertising, but should also expect an omnichannel shopper — 62% of shoppers plan to purchase both online and in-store this holiday season, according to Celtra.

The marketplace is crowded. Digital marketing requires high volumes of on-brand creative assets, and it is tough to produce them fast enough without compromising on brand equity or storytelling. While marketing channels have exploded in volume, most creative production workflows are the same as they were 50 years ago.

But marketing is a monster that feeds on creative assets, requiring more and more each quarter.

The reality is, any paid impression is also a brand impression and a chance to differentiate in the market. In fact, paid impressions are often the only chance you get to influence some shoppers. That’s why creative — your brand, your design and your message — matters. In growth marketing, traffic, subscriptions, direct-to-consumer channels, testing and, ultimately, revenue all rely on creative to succeed.

Yet, lower-funnel assets are rarely brilliant in branding or even remotely interesting. Teams are limited in meeting global demands across more channels than ever, and the creative they produce is suffering. Brands don’t have the luxury of spending time on design craft and storytelling at scale. Conversely, most creative automation solutions that can assist with efficiency aren’t currently equipped to scale high-quality creative that prioritizes branding and design excellence.

Enterprises are suffering from a creative gap where their content and asset needs are growing fast while team resources and budgets are stagnant or even declining.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic AI bullet to solve the challenge. You can’t just buy creative technology in the hopes that it alone will bridge the gap. You need to rethink workflows and team collaboration. If you’re serious about elevating your growth marketing creative, you need to invest in tools that are built for scale and brand governance at once.

Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.