This is a follow up story for InfluenceKit. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! I’m Bruno Bornsztein, and I’m one of the co-founders of InfluenceKit. InfluenceKit helps content creators prove their value to sponsors. It also helps brands and agencies build stronger relationships with the influencers they work with.
We’re currently at about $13,000 MRR, and looking for ways to accelerate our growth in 2021.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
2020 was a crazy year (obviously), and we saw a significant impact on our business. Around March/April of last year, we lost about a third of our MRR, and it took another 5-6 months until we regained all that lost ground. Although it didn’t feel like panic mode at the time (both founders are fortunate to have other sources of income), in retrospect, it’s clear we lost a lot of momentum as a result of COVID. I try to remind myself of that when I look at our 2020 numbers and feel disappointed!
Your goal isn’t really to find out what people don’t like, and fix it, as much as it is to find out what people really love, and do more of that.
Last year totally abandoned a marketing strategy we’d been banking on to power a lot of growth: conferences. Starting the year, we had planned to attend ten conferences, either as a sponsor, a speaker, or just to network with content creators. We saw this as an opportunity to raise awareness about our brand among both our customer segments (influencers and brands/agencies). But as spring progressed, conference after the conference began canceling or going fully online, and we had to change plans.
One pivot we made was to start focusing on brands and agencies as a core customer segment. We discovered an organic referral loop within our product: content creators send reports to their sponsors; sponsors like the reports; they come to us asking if they can use InfluenceKit too. Then the sponsors invite the rest of their influencer partners to use us, and the loop continues. This has been the strongest driver of growth in the last year, but we need to optimize and accelerate it.
Customer support continues to be our not-so-secret weapon. Incredible customer support is one of those areas where a tiny, bootstrapped startup can actually outperform a much larger, better-funded company. Think about it: we can’t compete with Apple, Google, and the other big guys on almost anything, except customer support. We constantly delight and surprise customers with our speed and helpfulness.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Block your time. Pick big chunks of time on your calendar and mark them as ‘busy’. Don’t allow people to schedule calls/meetings during those times.
Read. Spend at least 30 minutes a day reading (not on your computer, not Hacker News or Twitter or Reddit). Grab your Kindle or a paper book, move away from your desk, and read. Do this during the day (not at night before bed!). If you don’t think you have time, see above. If you don’t think you have time, see below.
Learn what it means to be productive. Be realistic about what you can get done in one day. It’s probably less than five things. Make a list (I use the stickies app) each morning with 3-5 things on it. That list should include at least one non-work thing that makes your life better (i.e. “Go for a walk”, “Go surfing”, or “take a nap”). Then, do the things on the list. When everything on the list is checked off, close your computer and go do something else. It’s fine if, some days, there’s nothing on the list. Resist the temptation to add things to the list just because it’s empty, or short. It’s supposed to be short!
Note: don’t leave the “Go surfing” thing for the very end. Prioritize the make-your-life-better things on an equal level with the work things. They’re just as important. Your life is shaped by how you prioritize. If you prioritize work and put your family and your own fulfillment last, that’s how things will go.
This method helps you practice being the kind of person you want to become. If you want to become someone who can go surfing in the middle of the day, because that makes you happy, then you need to practice being that person!
It ain’t you, babe. Shift your mindset from “how am I going to get this task done?” to “who is the right person to do this?”
Only if the answer is very obvious “I am the right person” should you step in and start thinking about how to do it. The truth is, there are fewer of those things than you might think. The more you get to know yourself, and the more honest you are with yourself, the more you’ll realize you’re only good at some things, and there are lots of people out there who are a better fit to get a job done.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We’re committed to growing faster this year. Our target is to sign up 100 brand/agency customers by the end of 2020 (we’re currently at around 20!). It’s an ambitious goal, and one we won’t be able to accomplish on our own. That’s the idea: we wanted to set a goal that will force us to find the right people (employees? contractors? partners?) to help us achieve it. We wanted to avoid the alternative (setting a goal that seemed like something we could probably reach on our own).
I’m very excited about understanding our customers better this year. Although we already spend a lot of time talking to them (through support channels), we plan to set up a series of more formal interviews, aiming to better understand the job they’re hiring InfluenceKit to do, so we can provide more value to them and other potential customers.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
East of Eden. This book instantly jumped into my top five of all time. I had trouble putting it down. It’s about the nature of morality and the struggle for free will.
Who Not How. This book is not East of Eden! It’s not terribly well written, and like most self-help business books, I find it kind of cheesy. But the main point is compelling: you can’t do this all on your own. Or, rather, you could, but you shouldn’t. Every hour you spend finding someone else to do a job is an hour you’ll never have to spend on that job again. Every hour you spend doing it yourself is one you’ll have to repeat yourself.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
This is a bit tricky since I’m not sure I’ve mastered it myself! I’d say my greatest failures/time-wasting was when I’ve spent time building things because I thought other people wanted them. I’ve been much more successful focusing on things that I really needed, or other people told me they really needed.
When it comes to software development, my approach has evolved into something along the lines of “Don’t build anything until someone (who’s paying you) begs/screams at you to do it. Also, sometimes, build things just because you’re so excited about them that you can’t do it.” Balancing those two is a bit of an art.
Another tip that’s hard to internalize: don’t focus too much on negative feedback (i.e. from people who cancel or don’t sign up). Positive feedback from people who pay is much more useful. Your goal isn’t really to find out what people don’t like, and fix it, as much as it is to find out what people really love, and do more of that.
Finally: as much as I love the whole #buildinpublic trend, I’m worried too many folks are spending too much time on the ‘in public’ part. Business is not performance art, and some of the most successful entrepreneurs I know are not saying anything on Twitter.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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