An award-winning entrepreneur and founder of Apples and Pears Holdings, Tonisha is passionate about elevating new and existing businesses. The LEC Bootcamp is a 21-week coaching programme to help female entrepreneurs start and scale their ventures through activities, discussions and workshops.
In this session, Tonisha welcomed Founder and Lightning’s Growth Director Meg Dilnot and Product Managers Sam Dickie and Victoria Davies. The participants reviewed their achievements to date and quizzed the F+L team on tech-related queries - here are some of those questions:
- How can start-ups reach an MVP as quickly as possible?
Sam - There are several ways to achieve an MVP. In the past, start-ups would hire freelancers or agencies to build their products, which is still an option today, but it can be very expensive. In the past 5 to 10 years, however, the process has become more democratic due to the new technologies available, particularly no-code tools. Knowing how to code is no longer mandatory for tech founders as there are many tools online that can be used together to build a product. This also makes the process much cheaper and indeed quicker. From the start, founders have full control over their projects and can make changes whenever needed, which is really empowering. The first step is to consider the minimum requirements you need and research the tools available, then take it from there.
- What advice would you give for managing a successful business as a fresh start-up?
Victoria - If you’re a new founder and already have an MVP, business process mapping is a good tactic to help you grow. That means having a full understanding of what you need to do to make your business work, identifying the areas where you can make it more efficient and reach more customers using technology. To achieve that, you break into each of your business functions and look at each step of your operations and/or customer journey. A Product Manager can guide you through the details, but here’s an example of business process mapping:
It’s a very powerful way - especially if you have a business running already - to understand what’s happening and where your biggest opportunities are to either do more, get more customers or offer something totally new.
- What are some of the best methods for building an unforgettable brand?
Meg - Start by remembering what your brand is - it has to reflect you, but it also has to resonate with your audience. More than what your brand looks like, it’s about bringing value to your customers.
Follow Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model:
- Why: it’s what enables you to be authentic. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and base your decisions on this. It’s the core of your brand, so keep reminding yourself about it and also make sure your customers understand.
- How: it’s not a problem if someone else already does what you’re doing - you just need to do it differently. Knowing what’s unique about your process can guide you when you’re describing your unique selling proposition.
- What: This is the obvious bit and the part that most people jump to. Whatever you do, from products or services you sell to the communications channels you use, should all be aligned with your ‘why’. If it isn’t, don’t do it.
Obsess over your audience. Protect and serve them, whether they’re prospects or existing customers because, once you release your product to your customers, your product is no longer yours but theirs. And your job, from that moment on, is to look after it and make sure it’s doing what they need it to do.
Focus on quality over quantity.
Be consistent and predictable. When customers know how you (as a founder and as a company) are going to react to something, that’s when you know you’ve nailed it.
- How do you balance checking out the competition without encroaching on copyright matters (i.e. activity ideas, design and content)?
Meg - You won’t infringe any copyrights as long as you don’t copy anything. For example, if your competitor writes a blog about a subject, you can also do the same, as long as you write your own article with your own perspective. Don’t feel you can’t do something just because someone else has done it - you just need to do it better.
Sam - Look at how you position yourself. Your competitors might be focusing on a slightly different demographic, geographic location or price point. There are so many ways to position your brand that there’s a good chance the companies you consider competitors are not actually targeting exactly the same people with the same product and the same value proposition you are.
Look at their reviews and see what their customers are saying about them, what they’re doing well and not, and then double down on what they’re lacking.
Finally, don’t be scared of them - in fact, it’s more worrying if you can’t find any competitors at all, as this might be a sign that there’s no demand for your product.
Tonisha - It’s important to look at your competitors because they have already validated the market. It’s nice to be the first one, but it costs money - you have to educate the user, convince them to try it out and then get feedback, so it takes a lot of time and requires a bigger marketing budget.
Even big companies look at their competitors and try to replicate what they do, but with their own branding and style - fashion websites, for example, are all very similar and whenever one of them changes their website layout, you’ll see others follow suit soon after.
It’s not about copying what your competitors do, but identifying patterns amongst all your competitors - if they’re all doing something, they’re delivering that predictable element that customers want, so why wouldn’t you?
Victoria - When it comes to website design and user experience, looking at big competitors can really help you. Product Managers are constantly testing and improving how the flow of the website works, and if some elements are considered common sense today (such as the basket on the right top corner of an e-commerce website), it’s best to do the same as it reduces the friction for your customers. Don’t overthink - focus on selling your unique product to your customers instead.
- Would you advise focusing on only one app market platform (i.e. Apple Store vs Google Play, IOS vs Android), or launch on both?
Victoria - We always recommend focusing on one, and you’ll notice that a lot of apps do that anyway. The main reason is that you can launch faster and, once it’s live, you can make improvements faster too. You’ll always iterate a lot on the first version of whatever your release, so when you have just one it’s much simpler to think about the changes you want to make and the impact those changes will have on your customers. With one app you can validate your business proposition, understand who your customers are and decrease the risks, so when you decide to put the investment in to build the other app, you know exactly who you’re launching to, what your users will find useful and what your return on investment should be.
Sam - There are a few ways you can find out which one you should build first. Step 1: create a basic landing page with an email capture and one question: have you got an iPhone or an Android? Drive some traffic to it and see what people are answering.
Another: do some online research. Depending on your targeted geographic locations, the majority of users might be on IOS or on Android, so that’s an easy answer. Think about where you’re building it and who you’re building it for.
- In your experience, is it better to just create a chargeable app rather than a free or light ad-supported version?
Sam - That’s a tough one. I’m in two minds, but for me, the ultimate form of validation is when someone pays for your product. We’ve all seen so many companies that launch a free app, do incredibly well, but then fail to monetise it after. This strategy of launching free to acquire as many users as possible and figure out the business model later on can work extremely well but can also fail completely.
“Freemium” is great as an acquisition strategy - you can get a lot of people onboard and, after a free trial, you can push them into the journey to pay for it. Or you can bring them in for the freemium and offer features behind a paywall.
Ultimately, if you’re confident enough that your product brings enough value and users will be able to see the perceived value, there’s no reason why you can’t start charging up front. You’re, after all, putting a lot of time and effort into it.
- Does everyone have to build a mobile app, or can you just build a web app? And how do you decide?
Sam - No, you don’t have to go for a mobile app, in the majority of cases. A lot of people navigate towards a mobile app straight away, but start by thinking about why you need an app. Is it for mobility? Is it a service that people need to use or access on the go? Are you targeting a particular demographic that’s just used to using mobile apps? In the past 7-10 years this has become such a saturated market that getting a mobile app in an app store and getting it to index it well so it’s searchable is increasingly harder, then getting people to download it and register with it… it’s just a lot of friction. While with a website, it’s just a URL. Websites today are fully optimised for mobile, they will look great and can behave in the same way, so you can start with a website and test the demand for it.
Victoria - A lot of the founders we work with mention at the very beginning they want an app, and it all depends on what you want and your current situation. If you already have a website that’s doing well, you can consider a mobile app, but think about what extra value it gives to your customers and how you want to deliver that.
If you really want a mobile app, there are ways to validate if you want to invest in it before you commit to building it. Tools such as Adalo and Glide help you create what feels like a mobile experience and even launch on a mobile store, so you can test if a mobile is what will give your customers the value they need.
- Can you have a free app and just make money from ads?
Sam - With ads, you need tons of people downloading and using your app to get any substantial revenue coming through. I wouldn’t use that as a main source of revenue initially because for the first six months to a year you might not have that amount of traffic. It takes time for a website to build up an audience, and when it does, then you can turn on the ads.
When that does happen, ad placement can be a good way to generate revenue - when someone notices that a lot of their traffic comes from your website, they contact you and offer to pay to have their ad placed on the top of your page, for example.
Another way is through affiliate links.
And, of course, a newsletter with a lot of subscribers can also be an option, as you can start placing ads or sponsored content there as well.
Victoria - If you know how many people visit your app and how much you make per click, you can use simple Math to work out whether your investment into making the app capable of hosting ads is worth it.
Sam - Keep in mind that there are a lot of pop-up and ad-blockers available now, which easily kills that market and companies have to be constantly trying to find new ways of showing their ads.
It’s also good to consider that ads can detract from the value of your website. If there are loads of ads in the middle of your content, interrupting the user journey, it will reflect badly on your company. Try to do that tastefully.
Victoria - Bringing back what Meg was saying about who you are as a company: does your ad strategy link into your values and who your customers are? If you’re a very ethical brand, you don’t want to be advertising any company because that detracts away from who you are and the core of your business.
- What are the types of design you need when you’re building an app?
Victoria - As a Product Manager, I look at what we should build and why. For example, what are the most important features and what will your customers find the most valuable? A Designer will look at the visual aspects like colours and branding. Then together you have UX design (which sometimes it’s a role in itself), that will look at the layout of the page and the hierarchy of information to work out how it flows and ensure it makes sense to your customer. Illustrations and Graphic Designers will look into the assets, the look and feel you want your brand to have.
There are a lot of different job roles in tech, so it’s down to what you want to build, how you want that information to be portrayed to your customer and what’s the look and feel you want to deliver.
- What are the key considerations if you’re designing a service-providing app?
Victoria - Go back to the process mapping to identify the services you’re going to offer and the steps the customer will take to understand what you do, what the benefits are, what and how they’d pay for it and what happens after. Focus on launching something that allows people to see your services and buy them before you start worrying about details like “what if there are too many options?”, “what if they can’t find what they’re looking for?” or “how do I search and filter?”. We all get in the mindset of marketplaces where you can do all of that, but, unless you have thousands of services, it doesn’t have to come in your first version.