Do You See the End of Your Startup Runway?

I used to work for Dateline NBC as a producer. There was a Senior Producer,  our boss, something of a field general, who was flown out from New York for all the big stories.  He was a gruff figure with a heart of gold, and he barked orders well. He had an expression: ‘Don’t panic until I tell you to.’ I always liked that, so I pass it along to you now.

Every startup has only so much runway. At first you’re developing your app as efficiently as you can, using resources slowly. Then you’re doing customer development interviews, using a few more resources. Then you’re building your community using cheap, slow resources like connecting with friends, family and colleagues. In time, your burn rate increases. You might need advertising or media buys, and you go for the spend. Then, as almost always happens, for various reasons user adoption slows. You’re just not getting the signups you need. You know that if investors like one thing, it’s traction. You need user adoption to look good, and even more importantly, to learn.

With the end of your runway getting closer, you need answers, ideas, a fresh take. Changing direction is hard, but as Ash Maurya points out in his book ‘Running Lean,’ most startups fail because they offered a solution to a problem too few people had, worked on the wrong problem, or sometimes most subtle and hard to see, they didn’t change direction to fit the data presented to them by users.

Working on crowdfunding campaigns and teaching online media, I’ve seen campaigns slow down and hit a dip – even a pothole. What worked to get them back on track? Here are some suggestions.

-Reach out to influencers. If you can get a journalist or bigtime blogger to write something about you, you can boost user adoption and awareness.

-Look for social connections that are fresh. A coffee company I know realized that cyclists drank a lot of coffee and started marketing to them in Meetups, Facebook, and in email. Result: more caffeine and more sales.

-Make shareable content. Short videos are shared more often. Pinterest posts make the rounds. Look to some channels that you haven’t tried yet.

-Revisit your ‘first circle’ contacts.  You’ve probably tapped out family and friend connections, right? There will be among them a few influencers who are social media masters. Give them something remarkable to share: a great new video, free trial, special offer or giveaway, and get them to share it.

-Listen to users and customers. How open are your channels to what they’re telling you? Can you talk with a few directly and ask what’s going on? Not a survey or automated something – but an actual conversation or at least a video Skype. Your existing customers and users know something. They know why they are customers and users.  Ask the right questions, and they might unlock the secret of your success with them so you can spread it further.

-Don’t panic until I tell you to.