Liz Rice of TankTop.tv joins Iqbal by the Thames to speak with Digital insight about her recent adventures: building mobile apps in Silicon Valley, + gives her thoughts on early stage funding in the Valley and in the UK, + app product management, customer acquisition, the value of good PR. Liz also recommends several tools that she finds especially useful.
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IQBAL: Hi, two of the main strands we are focussing on in Digital insight area) Learning from entrepreneurs,
and the second one is
b) Infrastructure and Ecosystems problems.
Whether its government funding, whether its problems with PR, how do we network, how do we get in touch with Angels, and with that in mind I’d like to introduce you to Liz Rice who’s been doing it over There and now is doing it over Here. I know that sounds slightly perverse, but I’ll let her explain what she’s been doing over there and here.
We had the most amazing fortune of being a very small team. Given a blank piece of paper and told go build something, preferably in mobile, oh and work in Sequoia‘s offices while you’re doing it. You know a fantastic opportunity.
We went from literally that blank piece of paper to 500,000 downloads, which can’t be beat, and now I’m back in the UK doing something new.
IQBAL: So do you think you could do that blank piece of paper experiment in the UK?
LIZ: I think it’s very hard to do that because there’s nobody funding that kind of idea from scratch. At least not that I found. “If you’re out there and want to fund something from scratch, come and see me.”
IQBAL: So an interesting question there regarding funding, which I know a lot of entrepreneurs come up against in the UK. Is the funding situation in the UK different, and if so how is it different? What is it that we really need to change? Does it suck?LIZ: My perspective is that coming from somebody who is right at the beginning of the funding journey. So there’s a ton of stuff about this that I don’t know. But my impressions of it are being based in Silicon Valley, you can go and demo a product and there will be people coming up to you going “what’s your funding situation?” and they’re basically offering you money.That hasn’t happened to me here. Maybe what I’m working on here isn’t such a good idea, but what i believe is the people who have money here are sitting back, waiting for people to talk to them.Even worse if you want to get me on a hobby horse, I can not stand the idea with a great idea would pay to pitch that to an investor. what a crazy idea is that. If an investor thinks its a good idea they are going to make money out of it.IQBAL: Paying to pitch is another can of worms. We’ll be exploring that in a later issue. It’s a thorn in my side as well. We’ll get Bill Morrow from Angel’s Densometime.So can you describe a little about your learnings. You said 500,00 downloads. What I’m interested in is how did you get the first 100 downloads or 1,000 downloads. That’s what is really interesting as an entrepreneur.
LIZ: We had advice from Sequoia basically to work with some marketing consultants who helped find a really fantastic PR company.
I know there’s two schools of thought for PR, but we personally learnt a lot from the PR company. They knew all the people to talk to.
They helped us to put together an amazingly complete pitch deck, pitch package if you like. We had a video that explained what the product was all about.
We had all the messaging succinctly laid out in Power Point bullets. The PR company did a great job reaching out to all the journalists who were really interested in what we were doing and we got fantastic coverage on day one.
I do think that PR exercise around a launch is something that as a startup you can do a lot of PR coverage yourself, I learnt so much from doing that with a professional PR company who really did a great job. And that on Day One we just has this massive peak of downloads.
IQBAL: That’s really interesting as we’re always told that the people in the Valley don’t pay for PR, and what they normally do is, do Viral or that low cost free marketing.
You go to any investor in the UK and they say, ‘no, you must go and get customers the viral way. You don’t need to pay for PR etc’.
So that’s quite interesting to see a VC say go out there and do PR. I’m in agreement with that.
What would you say in terms of the UK, because the scene is different here, to go about getting your first 1,000 customers here? And I’m putting you on the spot for that one.
LIZ: When I launch my next product this is how I’ll do it. I definitely believe in that same process. Whoever you are. If you’re one guy in a bedroom building a product on your own, or if you are a really nicely funded startup with access to professional PR that same principle of if you are going to get users interested in your product, you are going to have to explain to them what its about.
So spend a little bit of time thinking about how you would describe your product. What’s really important about your product. Who is going to interested in that product. And put together as much material as you can usefully do.
So when you go out to the press you’re giving them the information on a plate. I believe journalists are pretty lazy. That’s what they tell me, and if you can give them all the information they need and tell them why it is an interesting story and they are more likely to cover you.
While doing stuff virally and saying ‘hey you should try this’ goes some way it doesn’t unless you’re spectacularly popular it’s not going to get you everywhere. Its wise to have that PR messaging prepared as well.
IQBAL: I’m obviously not that popular as it hasn’t worked for me. Moving from the customer acquisition thread a little bit more to product development, because I think you did product development at Skype …
LIZ: product management actually …
IQBAL: … product management, product development, you say potatoes I say potatoes …
LIZ: Building stuff !
IQBAL: Building stuff Name a couple of tools which are really useful in the product development building stuff cycle that entrepreneurs …
LIZ: as a engineer?
IQBAL: as an engineer, whether it’s a SAAS based product, from management point of view I would use this tool. If you’re going to build anything. whether wire frame tool design. Just some tools that you actually that are really good.
LIZ: a recent thing that I just worked on for a couple of months. We put together a product actually about Twitter, about engaging with people on Twitter. It’s called AnAppCalledJack. Got to get a quick plug in for that one. Building that I came across Twitter Bootstrap. I guess there is a little bit of controversy as whether it makes all the sites look the same.
Definitely as someone with an engineering background and not a great feel of design skills it easy enough to enable me to really, really, really quickly put something together that looked quite attractive, if I say so myself.
Another tool that I’m a big fan of is MailChimp. You know everyone has to get their message out there. MailChimp gives you a really good free deal for I don’t know how many thousands of users you can have for free but its a pretty good deal and really flexible about the templating and responding that you can do. So you can guide users through a journey.
You can send them a Welcome email. Then you can send them a follow up three days later to see how they’re getting on which is all part of that user journey. Looking after them, making them feel loved and helping them if they’re struggling with any problems with the product.
IQBAL: So two last questions. As an entrepreneur, they say ‘you should always be pitching’ so I’m going to ask you:
1) What is your elevator pitch?
and the second one:
LIZ: Right now I’m working on a product called TankTop.tv. It’s about on demand TV listings, helping you find programmes that you really like to watch in amongst the 2,000 or 4,000 whatever that are available to you from all different services.
And what do I need to build it? I would love a designer who is really, really passionate about on demand tv and that kind of entertainment ecosystem. Because design skills I don’t have. I’d love to meet a really good designer.
IQBAL: So the lady needs a designer and she’s going to help you watch TV better, or make TV watching better.LIZ: yeah, to make it really easy to find stuff that you love.IQBAL: Liz thank you very much
LIZ: Thank you
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