The bloody truth about the startup fairytale

Great White Shark, preditor, threat, risk,
A shark attack is rare, but not as rare as a successful startup business.


Sharks kill five people every year. Five out of 7.4billion (and counting). It’s hardly a significant proportion, is it?


In fact, it’s so unusual, every time a shark attack is reported anywhere in the world it becomes global news. It’s a big story and people are fascinated.


No-one cares that billions of people go swimming every year. There are billions of instances of that happening, it’s not unusual. But a shark attack… Wow.


That’s just how the news works. There must be some intrigue. There must be a break in the usual narrative for it to be informative and compelling. It must be uncommon to be newsworthy.


The misconception is that this only happens with ‘bad news’. That somehow something is only newsworthy if it is gruesome or negative – like a shark attack.




Introducing the fairytale of the successful startup


A quick search for “startups” and a scan through social media and online news channels paints a wonderful world of free stuff, unicorns and angels (fairytale anyone?).


We read inspirational articles in entrepreneurial magazines and quotes from those who have ‘made it’ telling us to: “dream big”, “be the difference” and “reach for the sky” … Okay, that last one might be Woody from Toy Story, but you get the idea.


This is news. It’s a break from the usual narrative. It’s a shark attack.


700,000 new startups in the UK every year


There are almost 700,000 new startups created in the UK every year (and that number is growing by the way). There is more than £1.5billion in seed funding invested into early stage startups by angel networks every year. The news is filled with rousing stories about how awesome it is to be an entrepreneur, how fun and exciting startupland is and how much funding is available to new businesses. The streets are lined with gold, don’t ya know?


Why no stories about startup failure? Why aren’t we hearing about those who go bust or don’t make it past that first year of happy-clappy startup school with the free beer and seed investment?


No-one cares


There are hundreds of thousands of them every year. It is so commonplace it’s not a news story. We don’t talk about it because it’s mundane – it’s the norm.


So WTF is happening to those 700,000 new startups and that £1.5billion angel investment every year? Where are the 3.5million businesses that have been created in the UK since 2011?


What are we doing?


I’m calling time on startup fairytales. We need to start learning the lessons of those serial catastrophic failures. We need to shout from the rooftops about what is going wrong. Why are 77% of seed-funded businesses not reaching Series A?


Sure, celebrate the successes, but understand the context in which they are successful. If the successes are the news, then there’s a shitload of work still to be done.


If you’re an entrepreneur on the front line of startupland right now, enjoying your new-found flexibility, cosy co-working community, the buzz of chasing seed investment and everyone telling you how brave you are: beware.


I used the analogy of a shark attack earlier so, keeping with the theme, if you are unfortunate enough to be one of the 90-odd people attacked by a shark each year, you still have a 90% chance of surviving.


Yep. Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of surviving a shark attack than you do getting your startup business from seed round to Series A.


Not such a fairytale after all, eh?


So, what’s the answer? Create fewer startups? Stem the tsunami of startup accelerators and business incubators flooding the market?


Nope. Of course not. We are experiencing a startup revolution. The UK is more startup friendly than it has been for a long time. Close to three-quarters of a million new businesses are being created every year and the vast majority are supported, in some shape or form, by the thousands of startup accelerators and support systems popping up all over the country.


That’s a good thing. No, that’s a great thing!


But therein lies the rub. We got so excited with all the ‘startup stuff’ that we forgot we needed to build businesses.


The average UK business accelerator programme now runs for just 21 weeks. Twenty-one weeks! That’s great for knocking startups into shape with a business model and securing seed funding, but 21 weeks is nowhere near long enough to build a sustainable business.


So what happens? More than 60% of those fresh-faced, inspired and energised startups go pop. Business survival rates are as poor (in fact, they are marginally poorer with ONS figures for 2006 recording five-year survival rates at 45%) than before our startup revolution began.


That’s simply not good enough.


We need to recognise that building a business takes time. Finding the right investor and nurturing relationships with staff and suppliers (not forgetting customers) takes time. By all means “move fast and break stuff”, but 21 weeks is even pushing it for Zuckerberg’s Facebook.


Not for startups who get excited by seed investment


We created Moonshot to partner with entrepreneurs interested in building multimillion pound ventures. Not startups who get excited by seed investment.


Our partnership is non-exclusive, we don’t insist our business builders only work with us and in fact many of our Moonshot businesses started out in one of the UK’s fantastic accelerator programmes. However, we are there to slingshot them from ‘accelerator graduation’ to multimillion pound exit. That’s what we do.


If you’re an entrepreneur on the front line of startupland right now, enjoying your new-found flexibility, cosy co-working community, the buzz of chasing seed investment and checking in with your awesome mentor: take heed.


You might feel comfortable in the tepid shallow water, but soon you’re going to take your seed funding and leave the kiddy pool to venture out into the cold, expansive ocean.


Are you prepared for what’s coming?


A Blockchain mindset

Blockchain, crypto-currency


It’s time for founders and startups to get real when it comes to managing their investors…


I’ve spoken with oodles of investors recently. Before this I spoke with and indeed interrogated a whole raft of startups. What I wanted to get to was the truth about startup founders and their relationships with their investors. What I found was astonishing and needs to be fixed.


something happens once the deal is done and the startup founder is off and running.


Initially when investors speak to startups, the startup founders love the investors. I guess it’s like dating and the startup founder has big puppy-dog eyes. The investors just love this and lap it up. After all, they need to really like and have respect for each other as one is selling equity in its company while one is purchasing that equity at an agreed valuation. A valuation that is generally based in assumptions, comparables, due diligence checks and some bullshit. But, something happens once the deal is done and the startup founder is off and running.


The “long-lasting relationship” becomes a one night stand


For some reason, the investor relations part of the equation falls by the wayside and the founder no longer has puppydog eyes. What should have been a long lasting meaningful relationship in essence becomes a one night stand. And this has to stop.


The Blockchain and all that it encompasses is built on trust. In short, our lack of trust in each other means we need contacts and legals to make things tight. Blockchain creates more certainty in anything that it is applied to. Which is why it is so prevalent in crypto-currency. Blockchain mindset means a cementing of trust that is immutable. All the relevant players on a specific Blockchain all sign up to the trust element. This produces the key and the security code. And this is what is needed in the realms of startup funding. In short, a whole lot more honesty… from all sides of the table.


Founders who have taken in cash need to be open and honest about themselves, the right team, where the business really is and what is keeping them up at night. If this means telling the investor that they are stuck then so be it. Investors on the other hand need to be more willing to understand the founder and where the business is. In most cases you will get bad news or news that does not correlate with the forecast. It is at this time that the founder needs you to enable and not berate or criticise or generally give them a hard time.


If we could develop a Blockchain mindset in our startups and our investors then so many more ventures would succeed.

How to get the best from your Facebook ads

Facebook, DIY


The Facebook Ad platform is an increasingly popular tool for entrepreneurs and startups because of its relative ease of use, accessibility and customer reach. However, it can quickly become a drain on your all-important finances if your ads don’t perform the way you need them to. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get the best from your Facebook ads without breaking the bank.



Understand your customer’s pain


Before you even think about placing – and paying for – an ad on Facebook you need to know who your customer is and what “pain” they are feeling.


I’m not talking about the kind of pain that is solved by popping an aspirin (unless, that is, your company sells aspirin). I mean what excruciating problem is your customer facing that your business can solve – what is your customer’s “pain”?


Have you done enough customer research to really get to grips with your customer? How do you know it’s enough? Quick tip, it’s definitely not enough if:


  • Your customer research is based on feedback from friends and family
  • You are your own target customer so assume everyone “like you” has the same pain
  • You’ve asked “a handful” of potential customers
  • You have relied solely on desk research


To get the best from your Facebook ad you’re going to want to know more than just simple demographics (ie gender, location, age). While those things are important for your targeting (more on that later), your ad message needs more refinement based on the things that stress your customer out, what annoys them, what makes them happy, what do they need help with, what they are searching for?


You’re a startup founder with limited cash to throw around, don’t waste it pushing ad messages that don’t resonate with your customers. Spend the time doing your research at the outset and get more bang for your buck.



Image over text


Okay, so you’ve done your research and you know that your customer is desperate to find a product that can help them with x, y and z. Lucky for them, x, y and z is exactly what you offer.


So, you design a graphic, including your brand name, with some bullet points about features and benefits of your awesome product. It’s perfect – it has all your brand messages and it looks great, really professional. Your customer is going to love it – you’ve even tested it during some of your face to face customer interviews and people have told you they love it. It’s a sure thing, right?




Facebook is pretty specific about what kind of content it likes, and what it doesn’t. You may have noticed when adding some of your images to Facebook’s Ad Manager that a little exclamation mark appears beside them warning you that the content may limit your ad’s reach.


This is down to Facebook’s 20% rule. Previously, if an ad image contained more than 20% text then Facebook would reject it and the ad wouldn’t run. That rule has relaxed slightly in the past couple of months, with Facebook now generally approving the content but restricting the number of times the ad is shown. Either way, if you want to get the best out of your Facebook ads, keep text to a minimum.


If Facebook decides your ad contains too much text it will restrict the amount of people who can see it.




Target carefully


It’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole when using the targeting tools in Facebook’s Ad Manager. You’ll probably have an idea of the demographics you want to reach regarding location, gender, age group, income bracket etc. However, there is so much more to choose from and instinctively you’ll want to add as many interests and behaviours as you can possibly think of which may be relevant to your business. Be careful.


Facebook’s default setting is for your target audience to be interested in AT LEAST ONE of the options you tick. You probably start off with the best of intentions – let’s say you are Moonshot and you want to target entrepreneurs, so you tick the “entrepreneurship” box. So far so good, right? But then you continue to target lots of other interests you think are relevant to your customer: “startups”, “investment”, “Dragon’s Den”, “Marketing”, “Recruitment”, “Sales” …


customer insights Facebook targeting
Keep your audience relatively broad to begin with and use your results to increase focus.


Do you see what’s happened? Now, I’m not only targeting people who are interested in “entrepreneurship”, but also anyone who is interested in “recruitment” (and possibly NOT entrepreneurship). My train of thought has led me down a path that looks like I’m increasing the size of my relevant audience, but actually I’m just targeting people who probably aren’t my main customer.


One way around this, of course, is to change the settings to include everyone interested in “entrepreneurship” AND one or two other things. However, be careful not to go too niche too quickly or you risk missing out an entire audience who would be interested in your product (for example, if I’d chosen “entrepreneurship” and “Dragon’s Den”, I may miss all the people who are interested in one and not the other).


The best target audience for your business is specific to your business (funny that). Keep your ad targeting relatively broad to begin with – selecting those who have an interest in AT LEAST ONE of two or three very closely related topics. Run the ad with a modest budget for about one week and, once your ad has finished, review the data and find out more about those who engaged. That way you can refine your target audience demographics specific to your business based on solid data.



Beware the Boost


I’ll delve into this in more detail in another blog, but suffice to say Facebook Boost is to Ads what McDonald’s or KFC is to gourmet cuisine. It’s fast and easy, but not necessarily good for you and you may not like the results.


A Boost can be useful if you’re trying to encourage more engagement with one particular piece of content (for example, you’ve developed a great video and want to encourage more shares, likes, comments etc).


However, if you’re trying to drive traffic to your website or encourage customers to submit a form (or some other means of lead generation) then it’s important your run a specific ad.


Not only is an ad geared to deliver on your goal (ie lead generation, website traffic, ecommerce etc), but it also allows you to be more targeted with your content and there’s no need for it to be shown to your existing customers (especially useful if you are running an introductory promotion suitable for new customers).


Facebook Ads with specific action buttons are better for encouraging customers to visit your website, while Boosts are used to increase engagement with specific content.


Facebook is fast becoming one of the most powerful advertising platforms in the world, but it’s not a magic wand. Do your research, understand your customer, test your ads, check them against Facebook’s own guidelines and beware of lazily boosting your content hoping it’ll generate leads. Your marketing budget is precious, avoid wasting it as much as you can.



Should I write a blog for my business?


“Should I write a blog for my business?” Google the answer and you’ll find arguments on both sides (including contradictory headlines from the same publication!):


“Why your small business must start a blog!”


“10 reasons your small business shouldn’t start a blog!”


It’s no surprise it’s one of the most common questions I get asked by startup founders and business builders.



So, what is the answer?



Hosting relevant, engaging and up-to-date content on your website is without doubt a fantastic asset. It improves your SEO by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise on your chosen subject. It provides content which you can then use across your other marketing channels to ‘hook’ new customers into your site. And it enhances the customer experience on your site by providing additional opportunity to engage with your brand, your product and, well, you.


So why wouldn’t you write a blog? Why the debate?


The key point is the content must be “relevant, engaging and up-to-date”. Without these magic ingredients, your blog can quickly become a colossal waste of time (time you don’t have to spare when you’re creating, operating and building your own business).


So a few things to consider before deciding whether a blog is right for your business…



Simon Sinek it



Start with why. Ask yourself why you are thinking about writing a blog in the first place. What is its purpose?


Answers usually include:

  • demonstrate expertise
  • improve SEO
  • increase engagement
  • improve conversion rates
  • increase website traffic
  • reduce bounce rate


But why do any of these things? If you’re a commercial business, it all comes back to one thing: sales. If you’re looking to generate sales then start there.



What do I need to do to generate sales and how can I do that?



Advertise online, advertise offline, host events, network, cold call, email campaigns, blog… There’s an endless list of activities which can contribute to an improvement in sales figures and yes, one of them is blogging. But is blogging fundamental to your sales strategy? Is it the best use of your time right now?


If your providing a service or need to communicate your expertise in a specific area, then the answer might very well be yes, in which case crack on (providing you have a content plan that comprises more than just “buy our stuff”).


But if not, don’t feel obliged to start a blog just because you have a website. Your time is precious so prioritise what is going to have the greatest positive impact on your commercial targets rather than what you think you “should do”.


Consider some alternatives to answering your customers questions which don’t necessarily wed you to a regular publishing schedule or demand continuous fresh content such as:


  1. FAQ page
  2. Chatbot
  3. Scheduled chats on Twitter
  4. Scheduled Facebook live event



Do you have the time?



It’s happened to all of us: visit a website, click on the blog, and the last entry was three years ago… Hmm, what impact does that have on my impression of that business? Not a positive one.


It’s arguably the most common blogging mistake business owners make. Build a shiny website, create an awesome blog and enthusiastically publish a couple of posts every week! Then weekly becomes monthly, monthly becomes quarterly and soon the last post was three years ago.


The thing is, it’s common because no-one thinks it’s going to happen to them. Everyone who starts out writing a blog does so with the unwavering belief that they will commit to it and it will stay up to date… Honest!


So, what happens?


  1. You run out of fresh content ideas so start writing about your granny’s chicken soup recipe (more on that later)
  2. Your business grows, your priorities shift elsewhere and you forget to update it (also known as “I don’t have time”)
  3. You’re not optimising or promoting it so it makes zero impact on your marketing, you become disillusioned and stop updating it because “it makes no difference”
  4. Managing it just becomes a giant pain in the ass so it’s easier not to bother
  5. All the above


The point being, before you decide if you should write a blog for your business, take time to plan how you are going to make it sustainable.


  • How often are you going to add fresh content?
  • Who from your team is going to contribute?
  • Who manages (and markets) it day to day?
  • Who plans future content ideas?
  • Who tracks its performance and identifies what’s working and what isn’t?
  • How do you make sure it’s serving its purpose?


To publish a great blog, you need to have an operational plan in place to deliver the blog frequency you want, market it through various platforms, and track the impact of your content (and learn from it).



What content do you want to share?



There are two aspects to this and yes, you guessed it, it has something to do with granny’s chicken soup recipe.


A great blog post which boosts your SEO and serves up useful content doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and research. Google is becoming increasingly “human” in the way it scores top ranking content. Pay attention to this next sentence because it’s the secret to all SEO activity… Ready?



What you write about must be relevant to your business and your customers.



Yep, it’s really that simple. And yet so many still get it completely wrong. In simple terms, to boost your SEO you should write content that does two things:


  1. It’s useful and informative for customers and answers their questions (ie what they are searching for on Google)
  2. It sits well within the context of your website and is relevant to your business (e.g. If your business sells adult-only holidays, you won’t gain much by espousing the joy of having children – even if the topic is “trending”).


If you run out of useful business-relevant content and resort to waxing lyrical about granny’s chicken soup you’re going to lose your audience (and therefore Google rankings). Unless your business is Granny’s Chicken Soup Company, in which case have at it.


You will (hopefully) know your product, your business, your brand. You will even (again, hopefully) know who you customer is and why they would be interested in your product. But that information alone won’t help you write a blog.


Your blog content needs to be useful. It needs to go beyond the benefits and features of your product and be of genuine value to your customer (otherwise you’re better off just placing a few banner ads and be done with it).


Take some time to build a content strategy for your blog. What do you want it to achieve? If you have nothing to say beyond a 1000-word sales pitch about how awesome your product is then think again (no one wants to read that, or at least I don’t!).


There’s a myriad of strategy templates and matrixes available on the web to help plan your content. It’s also worth checking out some of the free tools available such as Buzzsumo, Google Trends or Google AdWords Keyword Planner to see what customers are searching for relative to your industry.


Tools like Google Trends can help you identify useful content.


Finally, and this one will blow your mind, ask your customers what they want to know! Your existing customers are a goldmine of potential blog content. Find out what they’d like to hear more about and write it for them. What better way to ensure it’s useful and relevant?



In summary



The reason there are so many conflicting answers to this question on Google is that there is no right or wrong answer to capture all businesses. It comes down to your team, capacity, resource, rationale, commercial objectives and marketing strategy.


Think about why you are considering starting a blog for your business and ask yourself whether it’s the right option, right now.


  • Is there a better way to achieve your immediate commercial objectives?
  • Can you commit the time?
  • Do you have something useful to say?