All posts in “Startups”

How to see another company’s growth tactics and try them yourself

Every company’s online acquisition strategy is out in the open. If you know where to look.

This post shows you exactly where to look, and how to reverse engineer their growth tactics.

Why is this important? Competitive analysis de-risks your own growth experiments: You find the best growth ideas to adopt and the worst ones to avoid.

First, a warning: Your goal is not to repurpose another company’s hard work. That makes you a thief. Your goal is to identify other companies who face the same growth challenges as you, then to study their approaches for solutions to draw from.

As I walk through uncovering a competitor’s tactics, keep in mind which competitors are worth looking at: For instance, you should rarely over-analyze early-stage companies. They’re unlikely to be methodical at growth.

Meaning, if you blindly copy their site and their ads, it’s possible you’ll be copying tactics that are not actually responsible for their growth. Their success may instead be from network effects or other hidden factors.

Instead, it’s safest to get inspiration from companies who’ve sustained high growth rates for a long time, and who face the same growth challenges as you. They’re likely to have sophisticated growth operations worth studying deeply. Examples include:

  • Pinterest
  • Airbnb
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Uber

If these aren’t your direct competitors, don’t worry. You don’t need to audit a direct competitor’s tactics to get incredibly valuable insights.

You can look past direct competitors.

You’ll gain useful insights from auditing the user acquisition funnel of any company who has a similar audience and business model.

Examples of audiences:

  • Wealthy consumers
  • Enterprise businesses
  • Middle-class adults who use Chrome
  • Dog owners
  • And so on

Audiences matter because their behaviors and needs differ wildly. Each requires its own growth strategy. You want to audit a company whose audiences is similar to yours.

You also want to ensure the company shares your business model. Examples include:

  • A high-touch sales process with multiple phone calls
  • A consumer ecommerce site with easy checkout
  • A self-serve SaaS signup with a freemium plan
  • A pay-to-play mobile game
  • And so on

Each model may necessitate different ads, landing pages, automated emails, and sales collateral.

Never implement another company’s tactics blindly.

There’s an effective process for growth analysis, and it looks like this:

  1. Source potential growth ideas.
  2. Prioritize them.
  3. A/B test them.
  4. Measure if an A/B variant significantly outperformed its baseline and whether the cost of implementing the winner would be worthwhile.
  5. Only then should you implement it.

Here’s a brief example before we dive into tactics.

Let’s pretend we’re a SaaS company offering consumer banking tools, and that we’re struggling to get users to onboard our app. Our hypothesis is that visitors are bouncing because they don’t trust us with their sensitive information.

Our first step is to define both our audience and our business model:

  • Audience: Tech-savvy, adult consumers.
    Business model: SaaS freemium funnel.

Our next step is to look for companies who share those two aspects. (We can find them on Crunchbase.)

Once we have a few in hand, we look for how they handle customers’ sensitive information throughout their funnel. Specifically, we audit their:

It’s time to learn how we audit all that. I’ll share how our marketer training program teaches marketers to do this on the job.

CoinBits launches as a passive investment app for bitcoin

Erik Finman is a twenty-something bitcoin maximalist as famous for his precocity as he is for his $12 bet on the currency a few years ago.

Now, Finman, who built his first company while still in High School, is launching a new startup called CoinBits, which allows users to passively invest in bitcoin.

The idea, according to Finman, is to democratize access to the currency by letting everyday folks invest nominal sums through well-known mechanisms like roundups on transactions made with a credit or debit card or through regular transactions from a customer’s savings or checking account to bitcoin through CoinBits.

Every transaction also helps Finman’s own bitcoin holdings grow and makes the young entrepreneur a little wealthier himself through his bitcoin holdings.

Users can make one-time investments of $10, $25, $50, or $100 dollars through the web-based platform and can establish a level of risk for their holdings.

Finman’s app collects no commissions on transactions and 98% of the Bitcoin is stored offline — for safety.

“Overall, investing in Bitcoin is complicated and can feel almost impossible,”. said Finman. “Coinbits allows you to put that spare change in Bitcoin. For example, if you spend $1.75 on French fries, that remaining 25 cents is invested automatically.”

Withdrawals are handled by CoinBits which will give users same-day processing for a 50 cent-fee and offers an easily downloadable record for accountants to deal with any gains or losses associated with bitcoin.

Given the fractional nature of these investments, and the volatility of bitcoin, it’s hard to know what real value investors can reap from these small transactions, but it’s a less risky way to experiment with building bitcoin holdings than take a huge flyer on the market.

Livekick raises $3M to use live video for one-on-one training

Livekick, a startup that gives customers access to one-on-one personal training and yoga from their home (or hotel room, or elsewhere), is announcing that it has raised $3 million in seed funding.

The company was founded by entrepreneur Yarden Tadmor and fitness expert Shayna Schmidt. Tadmor said that with all his travel for work, his fitness routine “really eroded,” so he contacted Schmidt and asked her to train him remotely — they’d connect via FaceTime, he’d mount his phone at the gym and she’d supervise his workout.

“We trained this way for a while, and then we realized: Hey, this is something that other people can really benefit from,” Tadmor said.

So with Livekick, users can sign up for one, two or three live, 30-minute sessions with a remote trainer, who they’ll connect with via the Livekick iOS app or website. (After a two-week trial, pricing starts at $32 per week.) The workouts will be tailored to the space and equipment that you have access to, and the trainers will also assign other workouts for the rest of the week.

Tadmor and Schmidt contrasted this approach with companies like Peloton and Mirror, which are bringing new exercise equipment and classes into the home, but which don’t offer one-on-one interaction with a trainer. Tadmor said this individualized approach is not just better tailored to each user’s needs, but also more effective at keeping them motivated. And Schmidt said the live interaction also ensures that people are doing their workouts correctly and safely.

Livekick screenshot

As for the trainers, Schmidt said this gives them a new way to find clients, particularly during their off-hours.

“For trainers, the hours that user are never booked are usually noon to 4pm — they never get a client because people are at work, obviously,” she said. “So we can give trainers in London those hours because for a user in New York, that’s morning. We can really fill their schedules [and] help them make some more income.”

Beyond consumer subscriptions, Livekick also offers a corporate program called Livekick for Travelers. And just to be clear, the service isn’t just for frequent travelers, as Tadmor noted: “If you live in New York, you have access to a lot of fitness options, but most people don’t. You’ve got to do a lot of commuting to get to a studio with great trainers, and so part of what we’re trying to bring is really let you do that from the comfort of your home.”

And while we recently covered the launch of a similar service called Future, Livekick actually launched in September, and Tadmor said the average retention rate has been over six months.

The round was led by Firstime VC, with participation from Rhodium and Draper Frontier.

“With its leading technology and ethos to make exercise accessible and affordable, we believe Livekick has the capacity to improve the lives and health of millions,” said Firstime’s Nir Taralovsky in a statement.

CFIUS Cometh: What this Obscure Agency Does and Why It Matters to Your Fund or Startup

How the government plans to fight foreign investment in tech companies and venture capital

On January 12, 2016, Grindr announced it had sold a 60% controlling stake in the company to Beijing Kunlun Tech, a Chinese gaming firm, valuing the company at $155 million. Champagne bottles were surely popped at the small-ish firm.

Though not at a unicorn-level valuation, the 9-figure exit was still respectable and signaled a bright future for the gay hookup app. Indeed, two years later, Kunlun bought the rest of the firm at more than double the valuation and was planning a public offering for Grindr.

On March 27, 2019, it all fell apart. Kunlun was putting Grindr up for sale instead.

What went wrong? It wasn’t that Grindr’s business ground to a halt. By all accounts, its business seems to actually be growing. The problem was that Kunlun owning Grindr was viewed as a threat to national security. Consequently, CFIUS, or the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States, stepped in to block the transaction.

So what changed? CFIUS was expanded by FIRRMA, or the Foreign Risk Review Modernization Act, in late 2018, which gave it massive new power and scale. Unlike before, FIRRMA gave CFIUS a technology focus. So now CFIUS isn’t just an American problem—it’s an American tech problem. And in the coming years, it will transform venture capital, Chinese involvement in US tech, and maybe even startups as we know it.

Here’s a closer look at how it all fits together.

What is CFIUS?

Image via Getty Images / Busà Photography

CFIUS is the most important agency you’ve never heard of, and until recently it wasn’t even more than a committee. In essence, CFIUS has the ability to stop foreign entities, called “covered entities,” from acquiring companies when it could adversely affect national security—a “covered transaction.”

Once a filing is made, CFIUS investigates the transaction and both parties, which can take over a month in its first pass. From there, the company and CFIUS enter a negotiation to see if they can resolve any issues.

Luckin leaves bitter aftertaste, now trading below IPO price

In the first few days following Luckin Coffee’s initial public offering, the stock chart for LK looked like a roller coaster. Now it’s looking more like a freefall.

The Chinese Coffee chain successfully completed its highly anticipated offering roughly a week ago, raising over $550 million after pricing at $17 per share, the high end of its $15-$17 per share range.

Luckin was met with a warm reception from the markets, with the stock skyrocketing roughly 20% to a greater than $5 billion market cap in its first day of trading. However, concerns over the company’s lofty valuation, major cash burn and uncertain path to profitability have caused the stock to nosedive since.

Luckin has around 25% since closing its debut trading day at $20.38 per share, and 40% from its intraday peak of $25.96. As of Friday’s open, Luckin stock sat at $15.44, now well below its IPO price.

Leading into the IPO, Luckin had already been the topic of much debate. Luckin had filed for its public offering just a year and a half after its founding. And prior to its filing, Luckin had raised over $500 million in venture capital through four fundraising rounds that all occurred just within roughly one year’s time, per Pitchbook and Crunchbase data.

As Luckin’s valuation continued to level up, many questioned the sustainability of its business model and heavily discounted pricing strategy, with Luckin’s limited operating history already pointing to substantial losses and heavy cash outflows.

The concerns have followed Luckin into the public markets and it’s unclear whether the stock’s early struggles are just growing pains or a broader indication that public investors have limits to the levels of nascency and unprofitability they are willing to accept and bet capital on.

As one of the few publicly-traded early-stage growth companies, and likely the only one in the “coffee” vertical, Luckin lacks similar companies for investors to compare the stock to and also seems to lack a natural investor base – with the story a bit too foreign for typical tech sector investors and a bit too hectic for your typical food and beverage investor.

What is clear is that much is still misunderstood regarding the company’s unique history, its growth strategy, local market dynamics or otherwise. We’ll continue to keep an eye on Luckin stock to see whether the picture gets a bit brighter once investors get more comfortable with the story and as management proves its ability to execute.

For now, check out articles on Extra Crunch written by TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton and Rita Liao for deep dive primers into Luckin and all its moving parts.