Thoughts About ‘Learn to Let Go’ and Why It’s Bad Advice

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When I write blog posts, I always try to shake off any thoughts about the future talkbacks I’m going to receive. Trying to dodge hostile comments when you write is a surefire recipe for mediocre posts. Even now, as I’m writing the headline of this post, I can already envision the reactions. The organizational culture of all startups operates under pretty straightforward rules, and ‘Thou Shalt Learn to Let Go’ is one of the commandments being preached.

To let go = Good
To give 100% independence to employees = Good
A CEO that is involved in the minor details = Bad
Micromanagement = Bad

But is that really in the best interest of the organization and its employees? Not necessarily.

Failing to let go does not have anything to do with one’s ego but rather with the company’s vision.

From the get-go, I’ve always been involved in every aspect of the business – from the smallest product detail to the development process. However, I’ve simultaneously tried to ‘let go.’

As mentioned above, the inability to ‘let go’’ is usually perceived as a symptom of an overinflated ego, distrust in the capability of others, and the habit of petty nitpicking. I was constantly caught in the tension between ensuring that everything complies with the company’s vision and trying to let go. In the past couple of months, I ended the struggle and went back to my hands-on self. I’m now closer to the product, marketing, and development. But, most importantly, I allow myself to be much more ‘petty’ and argue the details that do not feel suitable for the company.

We are all fighting time constraints. Every startup CEO out there is buried under a pile of action items at any given moment. Usually, the pile contains an endless list of genuinely crucial tasks. Come to think about it, this is also true for all of the managers and team members working in startup companies. When I detect that a particular area of the business is operating perfectly without my interference, it clears a lot of time for me to focus on other important areas and makes me appreciative. So, why not let go of a big part of the areas and focus only on the critical ones?

I believe the basic assumption regarding ‘let go’ is wrong: You don’t trust people enough; therefore, you are controlling.

My view is entirely different: No one else possesses the full vision of how all the system’s parts connect. There is a fundamental difference between ‘good work’ and ‘suitable for the company at the moment.’

Did you ever wonder why it’s vital to keep the initial founders part of the company? Why it’s so hard to change an entrepreneur with an external CEO at the early stages? Why VCs invest not only in ideas but also in the people who build them?

The essence of startups (especially at the early stages) is transforming a vision into a reality—an up and running reality. It’s hard when the vision is unclear, perforated, or constantly changing. I feel that my involvement in the copy, product definition, and bug-fixing priorities is not an indication I’m any better than anyone. It’s because my role is to connect all the dots to create the exact experience I want our users to have. An experience built from so many components that only someone who has a 360-degree view can handle it.

I admit, there were times when I even underestimated managers who insisted on diving into the small details. Today, I understand that there’s a reason why the most distinguished CEOs were such ‘divers.’ It’s impossible to build a robust and innovative vision without being hands-on.

It doesn’t mean that I’m involved in every single detail at Oribi. Some areas operate perfectly without me, areas that are already established and connected to the vision enough. Others areas are less critical to the vision, and I’m less needed there.

Is ‘Letting Go’ Really Better for Your Reporting Employees?

The main reason I tried to ‘let go’ and give more independence to my employees was the prevailing perception that this is the proper practice for managing and nurturing people. This has led to constant tension: On the one hand, the product and the company were still not in a mature enough stage, and on the other, I really wanted to cultivate ownership and let the team lead.

Over the past few years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates. One of the most-discussed issues on those interviews was their previous managers. The most esteemed managers were not the ones who ‘let go’ but rather those who led fiercely and paved a very distinct path. Working successfully under such a manager also requires immense faith in them and the vision they build. A manager who is involved in all the details can either be the best thing that has ever happened to an employee or their complete demise. Working with a manager who doesn’t ‘let go’ does not in any way mean that there’s no room to initiate and contribute.
On the contrary, now that I allow myself zero tolerance for projects that do not fit the vision, there’s a better understanding of the roadmap among the team. My attention to detail helps them to be synced with the big picture. Within borders, one can create and initiate a lot.
During the past three months since I stopped ‘letting go,’ much of the features, microcopy, and company-culture decisions were led by the team and not by me. Insisting on adherence to our vision and being involved in the details gave rise to a better understanding of the company’s path and the creation of a true harmony – not the artificial kind that grows where fake ‘letting go’ is practiced.

And When’s the Right Time to ‘Let Go’?

We all have areas of expertise we feel are our forte. These are, almost always, the areas that bring us joy. For me, it’s marketing, the product’s roadmap, and finance. It is often hard to give them up. The biggest trap I see many executives fall into is holding on to a project or a position where they feel at their best rather than passing it on. This is a different ‘letting go’ than the one this post is about. It comes from fear of stepping out of one’s comfort zone or the dread of being replaced. If a team member accurately conveys the vision in a particular area, I let that area go (even if it’s my favorite thing to do in the world).

Another aspect is prioritizing. I believe that in order to build a stellar product, all the small details must be accounted for – from the features, through technical choices and even the team’s downtime. During the startup’s early stages, almost every aspect is instrumental (although there is still a hierarchy of importance). I have written quite a bit about focus in the past—the magic of building a startup is creating an entire world with a small team. At any given moment, the team and I know what matters the most, both within the micro and the macro. Some features are in higher priority than others; there are times when marketing is crucial, and times when it’s a nice-to-have, there are bugs that must be examined and fixed ASAP, and others that I am not even aware of.

So my mission for the past couple of months is to learn how to be ‘petty’ without feeling guilty. I guide the team on how all the dots connect and try to depict the vision that is forming in my mind as accurately as possible.

Who Should Be Your Beta Customers and How to Persuade Them to Join?

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One of the points that come up most often in my conversations with entrepreneurs is how to get through the ‘beta’ stage. During this stage, the product is far from being complete, both product-wise and technically. However, it’s still at a point where you can already start testing it with external users. Reaching the right beta users is critical. A company’s inability to gather proper feedback or create a stable process that can stretch as far as you planned can jeopardize the entire operation.

Phase 1 – Define Exactly What’s Needed

The single point of failure most companies fail to avoid is defining beta users. It’s very rarely clear enough. There is also little-to-no thought about the beta period and its results. Many times, since we’re dealing with a product that is not mature enough, we tend to operate under the preconception that anyone can join our beta phase. This preconception can be destructive.

What Is the Purpose of the Beta Phase?
There are a number goals, each completely different than the other, and requires a specific game plan. Here are the main ones:

Get Product feedback – Does the product bring value?
Get technical feedback – Is the product working well for you (technically)?
Get ready for the subsequent funding round – To identify organizations that can give positive feedback for investors.
To evaluate the primary funnel – What will the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) be? How many customers will be engaged? Etc.

How Many Beta Users Do You Need?
This is a principal decision that will significantly affect how you ‘recruit’ users.

10 beta users or less – Mainly suitable for B2B productial beta or technical feedback.
11-100 beta users – Usually suitable for B2C products or ‘soft’ B2B products.
101-1,000 beta users – Suitable for user-cost estimation stages or other parameters that require a larger scale.

Phase 2 – Who Are These People Who Are Willing to Use a Beta Version Anyway?

Let’s face it, being a beta user is not an amazing experience. For us entrepreneurs, it seems super exciting. For the end-users—not so much.

In my experience, beta users are divided into three groups:

Group 1 – Early Adopters
They love startups, are dying for innovative technologies, and are product freaks. Early adopters are usually very disciplined beta users. They are patient and highly generous when it comes to feedback. The problem with them is that they tend to drill down and over-focus on the details. For an early-stage product, this is inefficient.

Group 2 – Friends
This is my least favorite group. Unless you need pure technical feedback (i.e., run the product in several environments to see if everything works), I would avoid friends altogether. And I’m not referring only to close friends, but to anyone who has joined your beta test just because they know you – friends of friends, Facebook friends, your investors’ employees, etc. The main problem with this group is that they do not represent your typical user. Throughout Oribi’s history, I have refrained from asking friends to use the product. The only times I have recruited friends to help us was either in the very early stages of technical testing or for pinpoint feedback.

Group 3 – Top-Tier Users
This is my preferable audience. Even if your product is still buggy, there is probably a small percentage of your go-to audience that is so desperate for a solution that they will be willing to suffer the bumps. The great advantage of using this group is that they are your target audience and actually have the exact pain point you are trying to solve.

Should You Fight for Every Client?

The answer is no. Most users simply don’t fit your solution for various reasons. Take, for example, the number of beta users you actually need and multiply it by three. From my experience, this is roughly the ratio between users and churners. What I mean is, if you genuinely feel you need ten beta users, you should strive for 30 companies thatwill actually start using your product. Why do we lose so many users along the way?

The main issue is the user’s slow response time. While you rely on feedback for your upcoming funding round and are stressed for time, for your users, that will the beta is a low priority. One of the most common scenarios is: You had a successful meeting, you committed to starting the beta, and then… bottlenecks. “We can get to it at the end of the month after we release the new version,” “I’m OOO for two weeks,” “I need DevOps approval, and it might take a while,” and so on. Usually, a company is genuinely interested in participating in your beta, but it’s at the bottom of their priority list. I used to have the ‘must fight for every beta client’ approach, but today I’m in a different beta state of mind. I adopted the law of large numbers, i.e., to move forward with a bigger pool of companies and ‘abandon’ companies who are not responsive.
The feedback is not relevant. Another well-known scenario is when the input given is not what you were looking for. I had quite a few cases where beta users generated a lot of ‘noise’ in the system. Usually, it means they are not compatible with the user profile you need. It’s a little awkward to ‘fire’ a beta customer, but in most cases, it is a must.
You prefer investors don’t communicate with certain users. This issue is only relevant if one of the essential parameters for beta users is that you can put them in contact with potential investors. In Takipi, my former company, there was one step before one of our substantial rounds, where I thought it necessary for our investors to speak to a group of our users. Negative or critical types of people are less appropriate in this case.

How to Reach Your First Beta Customers

So there are two groups of potential beta customers you want to approach:
1. Companies that really (but really) need your product
2. Companies that your product is a good fit for
As long as you aim for a beta that includes several dozen users, you don’t need any marketing activities, in my opinion.

I like publishing organically on Facebook groups, Reddit communities, LinkedIn groups, etc., to bring in the first users. In my experience, it’s better not to use a ‘marketing’ tone but rather to disclose that you are in the preliminary beta phase and looking for first-time users. Describe the problem you are solving transparently. These posts will draw in your early adopters and those who are looking for a solution like you offer. These organic posts landed us, in the past, esteemed companies such as Foursquare (at their golden era) and Atlassian. Tend these reach outs with the utmost respect and use them sparingly. There is a limited number of social groups suitable for your needs, and you won’t be able to post such messages frequently.

Another option is to define a list of specific customers you wish to reach and use your connections (friends, employees, investors, etc.) to make intros. Bear in mind that this is different from fishing out for random companies using your contact list. The more your goals are, the more successful your beta is. Even if you find no connections to the target companies, don’t hesitate to reach out via email/Facebook message, LinkedIn message to the right decision-maker and give your pitch. You may get lower response rates, but the more accurate your pitch is and the bigger the company list is, the better your chances are. That’s exactly how I landed Twitter and LinkedIn.

Yet another option is to target a wider audience and run paid campaigns on Facebook or similar mediums. You don’t have to be Don Draper or go over budget. For the most part, reaching a limited number of users is pretty simple and cost-effective. And here, too, the early adopters will ‘find you.’ Indeed, for this strategy, you will need an essential website and onboarding process. It is quite possible to refer these users to a landing page that invites them to sign up for a beta, and from that moment, you will switch to a telephone connection with them.
However, this strategy requires a website and a basic onboarding process. You can also refer users to a designated landing page with a beta registration form and then simply contact them via phone.

How to Make Sure Your Beta Doesn’t Fizzle Out

You have a great meeting with a potential beta customer, they fall head over heels for your product, and you decide they’ll start beta immediately. But then they postpone the onboarding, and after initial use, they suddenly don’t sign in anymore.

This happens to all of us. This combination of an immature product and customers who are not in dire need is a recipe for tremendous momentum that fizzles out quickly.

The real art of beta is building momentum. Here, too, it is vital that you set distinct goals; in some cases, a few days of product use are sufficient to collect feedback. I make sure I set a clear schedule for beta clients before we begin. I even recommend putting it in writing; working with organized documentation promotes a higher commitment. I used to schedule five-minute bi-weeklies, to sync and establish the next steps. Scheduling these short appointments helped me move from ‘nagging’ to a place where it’s okay to call and touch base,

One other habit I developed in all the companies I led was encouraging the users to try the product while we’re on the first session. In Takipi, I would do a 15-minute demo. If the responses were positive, I would suggest using the time left to install the product on one of the client’s servers. In most cases, it works. Harness the customer’s enthusiasm to leap over the hurdle of self-serve installing.

Make sure you thoroughly understand why your beta is fizzling out. If the product is not suitable for that type of customer – there is no reason to waste precious time and effort. This way, if the product is not viable – you will fully understand the reasons why.

Should You Charge During the Beta Phase?

In my opinion, if you can charge – do it. Granted, there are very early stages of the product where it doesn’t make sense to bill users. However, from the moment the product gives real value, it is perfectly logical to charge for it. This way, you’re not only getting insight into how much customers are willing to pay (and for what features), but you also develop a deeper commitment.

How to Communicate That the Product Is Not Market-Ready Yet
As clearly as possible. My law regarding the beta phase is to ensure no harm comes to the customer’s existing conduct; not to slow down their website download time, crash their servers, damage information, etc. It’s sacred. Apart from that, it is perfectly acceptable to have bugs in your product. It is crucial to explain clearly what works well and what is still clunky and may cause issues. When it is clear to both parties that the company is still in the early stages, the dynamics change. The better you communicate your state of affairs, the more forgiving they will be when glitches occur. To a large extent, good communication upfront will prevent you from launching unsuitable pilots. If some users have zero tolerance for errors, they are probably not a good fit for your product at this stage.

Should I Look for Beta Users Abroad? Or Close to Home?

It is easier to find beta customers in your origin country (and manage the project successfully). But, this has some implications:

● Ironically, American customers are usually more ‘easy-going.’ In Israel (where I’m based) are, in many cases, very judgy. It’s perfectly ok to be judgy, but this is not your typical beta user. There is a good chance that the tolerance for trial and error is lower in certain geos.
● Investors prefer at least some of the beta customers to be in the US.
● US customers will usually teach you essential aspects of the adoption process of your product. Parameters such as security, training, etc., are usually less critical when working in Israeli companies, for example, than when you deal with an American organization.

If the purpose of your beta is only technical – there is no need to venture outside your geolocation. For all other purposes, it is vital that at least some of your beta customers are US-based.

What Have You Got Against Micromanaging?

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There are specific posts I’m reluctant to post, especially in times where we’re in recruitment mode. I wrote about this subject in a previous post called “Thoughts About ‘learn to release’ and why it’s bad advice” about a year ago. After posting it, I received countless comments from CEOs and executives who dared to ‘come out’ and admit that they are also micromanagers and believe it’s a positive tactic.

The common assumption in the startup space is that the ideal manager focuses on the bigger picture (road map, budgets, funding rounds, and recruiting key employees), while their reports have zero influence over any of those ‘key’ decisions. Managers deal with the high-level stuff and staff with the day-to-day tasks. Crossing these lines is not advisable. So, for instance, if an executive meddles with content changes, image placement, or email title—it’s considered wrong. Why? Both because it’s a waste of their precious time and because it’s the staff’s territory.

I believe that whenever we’re creating something, parallel processes are taking place – from the most high-level aspect to the most trivial item. Let’s look at another profession that combines building, creating, and managing – a film director. No one blames a director for picking on the smallest detail in the frame and ‘micromanages’ his crew until it’s fixed, right? What I mean is, there’s a common thread throughout each and every scale. The precise copy sent to all users in an automatic mailer is just as crucial to the business as annual budgeting. Each time I’ butt in’ with remarks on an inaccurate word, missing pixels, incorrect measuring logic, presentation design, etc., I still feel guilty.
Nonetheless, I do it quite often. Whenever the guilt crips in, I still wonder why. I haven’t found a good answer yet.

I’m in the details, not because my team is doing a lousy job. I genuinely believe that it’s a part of my job as a CEO who leads the product and marketing and connects the dots. I’m the person who ensures that the smallest (the teeny-tiniest) scale is in sync with the bigger picture. Micromanagement has always been associated with overbearing bosses who manage useless people. But I see it the opposite way – when I’m involved in the details, I can better reflect the bigger picture and the strong link between the company’s parts. To a large extent, it dismantles the old-school differentiation between what a manager should focus on and what his employees do. By delving into the bits and bytes, anyone can better understand the large scale and be more involved.

So let’s address the ‘small detail’ for a minute. Their impact is immense; user experience, each website page, how you measure, what your customers read. To a great degree, micromanaging is a respectful, inspirative way to manage a team. A manager or CEO only looks into the details because they are essential. Granted, not every asset is important, and it’s easier to tinker with insignificant matters than to solve the crucial issues. But significant decisions are not necessarily ‘big’ or ‘small.’

Over the years, I (happily) discovered that most managers I really appreciate also dig into every detail.

And how do the team members react? I’ll be honest, sometimes it goes well, and other times… well, it’s less welcomed. I think the main problem is not that we see things differently but rather a cultural gap. Many iterations/comments or drill-downs on the part of a manager are perceived by many as an indication that their work is not good enough. That’s very unfortunate.
In most cases, the team members lay an excellent foundation (much better than I could ever produce). I just review, add my pointers, adapt it to the company’s long-term targets and values, and connect them to the entire flow. When I deep-dive, it also means that we’re creating something that affects the core of the business.

I hope that more managers and their direct reports start seeing micromanagement and macro-management as two equally constructive styles (and understand how similar they actually are).

Company Growth in COVID-Time

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The tale of coronavirus is yet to be entirely told. The pandemic’s long-term side effects are still not clear (not just the epidemiologic ones). If you’re acquainted with this blog, you know I mainly deal with the backstage stories of my startup, Oribi. They’re not the shiniest success stories you usually read on such blogs. I simply tell real-life stories. No filters. In this post, I will share Oribi’s COVID-19 side effects, the doubts we have, and the trends we witness.

Mid-March. The World Is Changing. Should You Make Changes or Wait It Out?

The tsunami of change reached us mid-march without warning. Its immediate impact was an exceptionally high churn rate (abandonment of paying customers). It happened in that dramatic week in the middle of March when the entire world went into quarantine. The reasons for this churn surge are obvious: Some of our customers immediately pulled the plug on their marketing budget, and non-frequent Oribi users simply cut their ad budget. The high percentage of cancellation was, nonetheless, an absolute bummer. But! It had little to no effect on the company’s revenue. The more significant damage was a psychological one; Is a colossal crisis coming our way? How can we predict the changes that are bound to happen? And, most importantly, Do we need to shift things around immediately? Or is it better to wait it out?

When it comes to entrepreneurship, my philosophy is to move fast; not just when it’s crisis time. I believe that proper entrepreneurs make mistakes, a lot of mistakes. That’s why we must be comfortable with rapid changes. We need to pivot quickly, know what works and what doesn’t (even if it’s just a gut feeling), and make bold decisions. Coronavirus started when we were in a golden era of exponential growth. Everything worked like clockwork. But being a fast mover, I decided to take some drastic measures – immediately:

● Cut our Sales and CS workforce (after a long process of doubts and hard decisions)
● Cut management salaries
● Substantially cut marketing budgets
● Re-route our product roadmap

I want to elaborate on the last point, which is—in my opinion—the most crucial one. The uncertainty I (and other CEOs across the globe, I’m sure) experienced on that wretched week in March was extreme. We didn’t know if the world is heading towards a financial crisis, how long it will take, how the market will react, and whether our products will survive.

One of the essential principles of excellent management is focus. Startup resources are too limited to be spent erratically. The most successful companies started with one really good feature. Those who design a bunch of mediocre features – never excel. However, during that tsunami of uncertainty, I decided to adopt a different approach. Focusing was not an option. I knew that—in this dangerous climate—it’s too risky to put all eggs in one basket. So I turned our product roadmap into a 3-lane road that solves three opportunities.

Lane 1: Perfecting Oribi’s eCommerce solution.
Truth be told, even before COVID, this was a priority (over 33% of our customers are eCommerce companies). It was evident from the get-go that this industry will boom.

Lane 2: Advancing Oribi’s core technology—automatic detection of website visitor behavior.
We invested in integrating and exporting the data we collected to other marketing channels such as Facebook, Google, Mailchimp, etc. This was a major technological and product advancement for us, and the reason I chose this lane was the added value I sought to add to our product.

Lane 3: Adding more ‘sticky’ features.
Granted, all three lanes included developing aspects we’ve previously discussed, but going all-in on all of them is a very non-conformist approach for companies to adopt.

During the past couple of months, we went back to our pre-COVID one-lane roadmap. The main reason for that is our understanding that customers are back to ‘business as usual’ and went back to using our product the traditional way. I saw no use for a backup plan anymore. We finalized the final milestone of lane 2, put a pin in lane 3, and are still focusing on lane 1—eCommerce.

It’s hard to say in hindsight whether we made the right decision. Even though we were pretty lucky—having no need to make dramatic changes—had things gone the other way, every month of staying the course could have proved damaging for the company’s survival.

So What Works and What Doesn’t? Put the Pedal to the Low-Touch-SaaS Metal

The startup world is divided into:

● Enterprise-facing – organizations that generate huge deals across a smaller number of customers.
● Low-touch – SMBs that run smaller deals but target a large pool of clients.

These are entirely different companies with distinct DNA. What’s better? Good question.
There are many advantages to being a startup that sells to enterprises:

● The initial growth comes faster.
● Prospects are easier to reach.
● Less marketing effort is needed.
● Investors simply love you.

Managing low-touch startups requires a different mindset and a mature product. But I know now, without a doubt, that all the hard work pays.

At Oribi, we invested a lot in building an agile, marketing & sales-oriented operation. One that will allow us to immediately allocate budgets from one channel to another and gain measurable results in a short period.

Combining a robust marketing strategy and a short sale cycle (an average of fewer than two weeks) allowed us to quickly understand what works and what doesn’t. This is a huge advantage. The fact we could get immediate feedback on how much to invest in our marketing, what channels to use, and to what extent sales decreased – is critical.

Though we cut our marketing budget to a third in March, it still sufficed to test different audiences during April-May and understand who’s buying and who churned. We were able to keep a finger on the market’s pulse and decide when to go back to big spending and growth mode. Over March and April, we had fewer deals than our average. In May, it all bounced back, and we went back to marketing for growth. During June and July, the results were similar to the ones we had before the pandemic, and we penciled in a 10-15% growth in company revenue month over month. Moreover, we maintained the same stats we had for cost per new customer, amount of closed deals, and average deal size.

Another advantage low-touch companies have in times of world crisis is, well, being low touch. No need for face-to-face meetings with prospects, no tradeshow participation, and there’s literally no reason to travel. We were WFH-ready even before it was an absolute must.

Get ready for an exciting year for enterprises. In my opinion, coronavirus accelerates the processes that are long due. I predict that B2E companies will start emulating low-touch companies. All sales activities will happen online (even the complex, top-tier ones), and low-cost sale processes will be adopted.

The Influence of Remote Work

I was an advocate of remote work way before COVID-19. When I founded Oribi, I even entertained the thought of building a 100% remote workforce. Though working at an office has its pluses, it’s much less effective due to long corridor chit chats and even longer meetings. Working remotely also contributes to a more accurate measuring of the impact an employee has. I believe that KPIs and contribution to the business are more important than who clocks in more hours. Remote working also encourages independence and ownership, even if it means full control over when the work is done.
Just like in other companies, our productivity wasn’t affected. In some teams, we even had an increase. I also learned that somehow, I get more done despite the kids and the hustle and bustle around me.

But… And it’s a big but, while during the first lockdown, we didn’t feel them, the long-term ramifications are just around the corner. We are less aware of the state of our colleagues (both professionally and personally). Are my employees ramped up? Are they Content? Do they have any fresh ideas to contribute? I learned that I’d underestimated the importance of those chit-chats I complained about earlier.

At the end of the day, the key to a startup’s success is collective ownership. It’s teamwork; it’s culture. And it’s not something you can build or maintain over Zoom calls. My WFH policy is – there is none. Whether you prefer 100% remote or full-time office – it’s ok. But it means that some people have not met for almost five months. It’s now apparent that remote working is not a 1-2 months hiccup. So for the past couple of weeks, I’m wrapping my head around finding an alternative that will nurture relationships that are not dependent on physical proximity; online social activities, smaller think tanks, ‘pulse check meetings, etc. I assume that remote work is a trend that will outlive coronavirus. And it’s a positive trend in my opinion. The gap between not coming to the office at all and coming in 1-2 days per week is colossal.

Even though Oribi is growing at a steady pace, we still keep a weather eye on things at all times. We analyze customer behavior weekly, follow the trends, and adjust acåcordingly. And, like everyone else, anxiously awaiting to see where the world is headed. What will go back to normal, and what will be the new normal?

Here’s hoping for the best. I’ll keep you posted.

Forget About A/B Testing; It’s Time for A/Z Testing

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Back when I took my first steps in marketing, Apple’s site was my go-to reference. In those days, this website was considered the world’s best website. It was common practice to imitate their visuals, navigation bar’s UI, the content.

It took me just a couple of months to realize how absurd it is to emulate Apple. Most of their visitors landed on a website of a company they already know and love. They saw the brand multiple times before and, usually, have very high intent. My website visitors know little to nothing about our product, rarely manifest any intent, and don’t give us too much credit. There is absolutely no correlation between Apple’s best practices and what will help us attract and convert leads.

But why am I telling you about the Apple website in this post?

It took several years for me to understand that to run the traditional A/B test is to practically make the same sort of mistake over and over again. A/B testing is a methodology that—at its base—works well with companies that have online traffic in the masses and a solid business core. The problem started when this methodology started trickling down to startups and other organizations that are far from falling under these 2 criteria.

While I (and all other startups) was busy testing CTA colors, button labels, or a particular visual – the battle was already won. You need endless traffic, tens of thousands per month at least, to draw the correct conclusions. Also, you need to measure the performance of every step in the funnel. This means that—apart from high-volume traffic—you must also gain at least a couple of hundred conversions (usually it translates to paying customers) for the test to run correctly. For example, if you test the registration button’s copy to ‘Try it for free,’ you may experience a much higher click rate, but it won’t convert more users/viewers into customers at the end of the day (or funnel).

And, if we’re being completely honest, the vast majority of A/B tests have little to no effect on your bottom line. I mean, changing your button’s color from red to orange can absolutely increase your conversion rate by 1%. But if you don’t work for an enterprise, this increase is not a game-changer. It might not justify the budget you spent on testing, verifying, measuring across the funnel, etc.

So How Do You A/B Test if You Don’t Have a Lot of Traffic?

Since A/B tests are better suited for high-volume traffic websites, their best practices revolve around minor tweaks: Button copy, images, CTA color, H1, button location. Sometimes it’s more elaborate, but we’re not talking about significant changes.

These tests, run on a website with monthly traffic of a couple of hundred or thousands of visitors, are almost impossible to measure. A 10% increase in favor of A, when we have 400 visitors, is only 40 people. This is not a difference substantial enough to pass the verdict.

My viewpoint on testing within a company that’s still in the growth stage is don’t A/B test, but rather A/Z test – run radically different variants. Granted, it takes a lot of extra work, but it can indeed lead to considerable optimization.

Let’s take a landing page optimization, for example. These days, the most common practice is to build a page, publish it, make sure it’s performing well (more or less), and then run tests for relatively minor variations. My credo is to start off with at least 3 pages, utterly different in design, flow, and messaging. In contrast to traditional A/B tests (where low-volume traffic makes it impossible to draw concrete conclusions), A/Z tests provide clear-cut results regardless of the audience size. When I detect that one of the pages performs significantly better, I start creating versions to run against it – and so on.

Think of it like a Guess the Character game (or, for the developers among us, a sorting algorithm):

You usually start with questions such as ‘am I a man or a woman?’, ‘am I a real character or not?’, ‘am I young or old?’. This basic information guides you in the right direction. I believe that—similar to the game—there is a ‘correct answer’ to what will convert better. And this is the best way to get to it. To continue with this metaphor, the way most marketers run A/B tests is like starting the game asking: ‘Am I a 55 or 56-year-old man?’, ‘am I a cartoon character that wears pink or red shorts?’. These marketers wrongfully assume that starting with the more fundamental questions distances you from the correct answer.

How to Begin A/Z testing?

I usually start with 3 super-different versions. From my experience, testing the messaging or the flow produces more actionable results than playing with design. I focus more on the message I’m conveying and the user journey than which colors or images I show them. Not that I don’t believe that design has an immense influence on the success of a funnel. It’s just that its importance is secondary to that of the message.

One of my favorite practices is to create a benchmark version. This version is built to measure how the more radical/unusual ideas perform compared to the more standard approach. For some companies, being out-of-the-box creative is less effective. I like following the suit of companies like Fiverr, Wix, etc. because I know they run endless tests on their websites. In some cases, the ‘benchmark version’ performs amazingly, and in others, the more creative approach wins.

… But This Is so Much More Time-Consuming

You’re dead right. Building 2 completely different pages takes much more time than just changing a button’s color. I think that choosing your battles is the key to any test you run. I focus almost solely on the more conversion-oriented pages, i.e., landing pages, homepage, pricing, and product pages. Treat your preliminary design process as a ‘pilot’ and don’t over-invest in it.

Here are a few landing page tests we ran:

And here are a few flow tests we ran on the signup process:

● A single form that includes all the fields

● Additional registration types and a multiple-step signup

● Product animation showcased side-by-side with the signup form

● Breaking the signup flow to one screen per step

Another strategy that saves me precious developing hours is to test the messages on Facebook Ads and email campaigns prior to on-site implementation. It’s much easier to produce a few images or short videos that carry super-different messages and run them one against the other. When we run these ad tests at Oribi, we see considerable differences in click-through rates and registration rates. I make sure to measure registrations and not put emphasis on the clicks. You can create a fascinating ad that will attract many clicks but not translate into conversions.

Here are a few examples of a few very different commercials that helped me test messaging:

Another viable way to check your messaging is by testing the subject lines of emails you send to your subscribers (a list of at least a couple of thousands of contacts will help you perform a more accurate test). In the next week, we’re launching a few features to cater to marketing agencies. We can use a few variants:

● Oribi can help you attract more clients
● Now you can finally communicate to clients the amazing work you’re doing
● A list of the new features (let them work out the benefits themselves)

Before I build a dedicated landing page, I intend to send 3 email versions with these messages (naturally, the list will be evenly divided).

I know what you think: If the message is the single most crucial element, why can’t I A/B test the H1?

Firstly, if you don’t have the budget to run more radical tests, this should be the first A/B test you’re running. It will yield substantial results, much more meaningful than any other test. Again, I would try 2 different approaches and not minor variants of the same message.

In order to check if your message works well, it needs to be represented throughout the entire page. For instance, at Oribi, one of our best-performing messages is “Say Goodbye to Old Analytics Tools.” If we only change the title, the rest of the page will be out of context. We need to echo the innovation on every single fold.

If you only change the H1 regardless of what lies underneath, your page may under-perform not because the message is not enticing but because there’s a context gap.

Split Testing Is Not an Absolute Must

Granted, it’s not far-fetched. However, one of the main elements that over-complicate optimization tests is the need for split testing. Split tests are done by routing 50% of your website traffic to version A and the other half to version B.

And, again, startups unnecessarily take a leaf out of the big enterprises’ book.

Measuring small iterations (promoting in different seasons, messaging tweaks, etc.) over a vast amount of traffic can help you draw truly important insight. But for a small organization with low-volume traffic – it’s just not as crucial.

Whenever I want to test a new version, I usually replace the old one (control) for a couple of days (without running both versions simultaneously) and compare the performance on an even time period. As long as no major discrepancies in segmentation are detected – the results are reliable. It allows me to draw conclusions much faster (since 100% of the traffic is referred to the new version) and saves me time-consuming tinkering with another tool for traffic routing.

What CEOs Want from Marketing

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Founder and CEO of Oribi, Iris Shoor, joins host Dave Gerhardt on this week’s episode of the B2B Marketing Leaders podcast. Currently serving as CMO at Privy, Dave is also known for having founded the DGMG community and is widely regarded as one of today’s leading B2B brand builders.

Dave and Iris chat about Iris’s path from marketing leader to CEO, discuss what CEOs want from marketing, and dive into topics like managing freemium funnels and enterprise sales motions. Plus: learn why their best channels have been Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, and why Oribi doesn’t have a blog!

Listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
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How to Retain Agency Clients By Showing Them Success

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Iris Shoor, founder and CEO of Oribi, sits down with host Jason Swenk in this week’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass podcast. Listen in to hear about Iris’s personal story, why she decided to build Oribi, and how she helps her team reach their goals through personal development. You’ll even come away with tips on how digital agencies can use Oribi to show their clients success in funnels and campaigns.

Listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
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How can you measure the performance of your Shopify store‪?

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Tune in to this week’s episode of the Shopify Across the Pond podcast to hear Oribi’s founder & CEO, Iris Shoor, share her insights on how to better measure your marketing.

Listen at the links below or on your favorite podcast app.

How Oribi Will Help You Easily Drive 20% More Conversions

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This week’s episode of the Marketing School Podcast features none other than Oribi’s founder & CEO, Iris Shoor! Tune in to hear Iris chat with Neil Patel and Eric Siu about how Oribi’s unique, no-code analytics solution is taking the marketing world by storm.

Listen at the links below or on your favorite podcast app:

Creating A Google Analytics Competitor With Iris Shoor

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Iris Shoor, founder and CEO of Oribi, joins host Brent Weaver in this week’s episode of The Digital Agency Show podcast.

Iris and Brent will chat about Iris’s personal story, why she decided to build Oribi, and the value and impact that Oribi offers agencies. Find out how Iris fights against a giant like Google and listen as she shares about the #1 habit that has contributed to her success: spiritual work.

Listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast app:

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