When I was at Stanford attending their eCorner talks (http://ecorner.stanford.edu/videos), 2 ideas kept popping up. The first is that one of the main challenges that startups face is hiring and firing. The second is a piece of advice – go out and sell.
I’ll leave the first idea to a later post and focus on the latter. Going out to sell is an intimidating task. This is especially the case for people who are more comfortable coding behind a computer screen. But selling is the key to success. After all, what is the use of an awesome product that no one uses. Hence, at Give For Free, marketing took top priority. Here are some of the things we did and some takeaways that I have learnt from doing them.
As part of our efforts to do our marketing right, we reached out to Singapore Freecycle Facebook Group’s admin, Adwin Ang, for advice. One of the key advice he gave us was to do a prelaunch. The idea was to create a prelaunch page to get people to sign up so that users come in all at once when the site launches – rather than having the users trickle in one by one. We therefore went ahead to build a prelaunch page:
Design of Prelaunch Page
The key takeaway is that a prelaunch is great to accumulate users before launching. In this way, when we launched officially, our platform would already be filled with gifts by other users. However, I feel that our actual launch lacked impact. While users were able to see many items on our site when launched, there was little else to do and nothing much exciting after that. Perhaps linking the lucky draw to the launch would have been a better idea.
Investment: 1 hour on prelaunch page
RoI: Good – but could have been better with a more impactful launch
2. Selling Face-to-Face
Selling Face-to-Face has to be the most time-consuming marketing technique. But the idea that you have to do things that don’t scale initially drove our team on to keep talking to people face-to-face. This included approaching professors for donation items as well as approaching students for sign ups. The key in all this is the pitch. Our pitch went something like this:
We are Give For Free and we are raising money for charities. The platform we built looks something like Carousell with one key difference – the money doesn’t go to the seller; it goes to a charity. For instance, if you want this BTT Book, all you have to do is donate $4 to SPCA and this book is yours for free from this user. All items are donated by users of our platform so if you have any items that you don’t need or use anymore, simply put it up on our site, and choose a price and a charity. If someone wants your item, they will donate to your specified charity and get the item from you.
The pitch was relatively well-received. Many feedbacked that they liked the idea. The key however, was in the action. This pitch needed to drive sign ups. Initially, all we did was give them a piece of paper so that they could go to the website in their own free time. This didn’t drive sign ups however. What I realized was that people wanted clear instructions of what to do. Once they received clear instructions – about 50% of them were willing to follow the instructions. This meant saying something like this:
We would like you to be one of our first few users of our platform. Could you navigate to this url and help us sign up? Just click on the top right hand corner to log in via Facebook and you’ll be able to see all our current items.
The key here is the word ‘navigate’. Once people went to the URL, I just had to tell them to click on the top right to log in and most of them did so. This generated a much higher RoI than simply giving a piece of paper and allowing them to do it in their own free time. The key takeaway therefore is that in Face-to-Face selling, give clear instructions of what to do so that people know exactly what you want and can do it quickly.
3. Lucky Draw
Our Lucky Draw involved a Mi Band 2 which we thought would help us onboard some users. The lucky draw didn’t work out as planned though – with only about 30 signups generated from this Lucky Draw. One reason could be that the Lucky Draw Gift wasn’t enticing enough. I feel that we should have instead linked the Lucky Draw with our platform – putting it as one of the gift items on our platform for FREE. In that way, users would have to sign up on our platform to want the item – creating the exact actions that we wanted. Furthermore, the launch might have been more exciting for users if they saw an item that was definitely a ‘good deal’.
4. Facebook Posts
Our team did several Facebook Posts and decided to promote one of them for $28 just to give it a try. The post we promoted was a post that described why you should not donate your old clothes to charity but should donate money instead. It was somewhat surprising, at least to me, that we got 96 likes for that post. More experiments need to be done to show that this is a higher number than the average promoted post but I was under the impression that most people would just zoom past the post – given that it was a long essay about donating clothes to charity. Apparently not. Perhaps content marketing does provide a good platform to garner users although more could have been done by our team to convert these Facebook likes into actual sign ups on our platform.
Our Team got a few Media Channels to advertise for us – namely SPCA and SoC Facebook Page.
SoC’s Feature Post
SPCA’s Feature of us on their website
However, I noticed that these features gave us only limited number of sign ups. In fact, it was Prof Ben Leong’s Facebook Post which brought us numerous sign ups and even a contact from a charity – Asian Film Archive – asking whether they could be one of our partner charities. This shows that posts that don’t sound like ads, but rather more like authentic promotions from end users tend to do much better. Of course, it helps that the source is Prof Ben Leong, a well respected Professor within NUS. Our team also contacted Mr. Brown and got a thumbs up from him although we have yet to get an agreement from him to feature us.
6. Posters + SoC TV Screens
Our team also went around pasting posters around school. On hindsight, our posters could have done with much BIGGER logos and much BIGGER URLs. What we did well – however – was to be different. It was hard for posters to stand out amongst the crowd of posters on the noticeboards. Our team pasted all our posters slightly slanted, and out of the noticeboard – generating more attention on them as it was out of the ordinary. We also pasted our posters in more prominent areas such as on the door of the Business Library after approaching their staff and getting approval from them. The key achievement here, however, was the team’s ability to use existing resources around school creatively – namely the SoC Clocks on Digital Monitors – to advertise our platform. We approached Zit Seng and quickly got approval and got it all set up within a weekend. I would say that these promotions went relatively well. Some Face-to-Face selling started off with them telling me – “oh, you guys are Give For Free”, which was always a nice thing to hear.
Marketing for Give For Free has taught my team so much about how to sell. We didn’t reach our intended target of 3000 registered users but we garnered more than 1700 unique users (from Google Analytics) and nearly 600 signups. For a platform that is a little niche – in that it probably will only appeal to the more charitable of people – I think this is a laudable achievement and that my team should give themselves a pat on our backs.