Right people, impressive speed, and a sales-first approach drive business. This is proved by the story of Ruslan Nazarenko, a startuper and a marketer who boosts the impact of marketing automation, denies tech trends for the sake of hype, and knows firsthand what a dream team is like.
Ruslan Nazarenko is a founder of several startups, mentor, and brand ambassador.
Ruslan’s startup journey: his first product, an online store with a bunch of services ranging from equipment rental to the production of quadcopters, appeared when Ross was 16. At the age of 18, he sold his product, joined Pibox, a cloud-based HQ file messenger, and then built the first version of Amoly to automatically gather data for financial metrics analysis. Later on, some features of Amoly 2.0 were borrowed to design Quokka, a one-stop solution for e-commerce, SaaS, and sales.
Are all of your startup ideas based on your personal experience and tech issues you strived to tackle?
I would say yes. Initially, my products are intended to be hands-on tools to make life easier to a certain extent. It’s common knowledge that we are all dying for customer development and jobs-to-be-done, which is an absolute necessity, but at a later stage. Building a solution without relevant domain knowledge seems far from simple. So, scratch your own itch, and customer development and jobs-to-be-done will give you a cue on how to do it right.
Take my current startup as an example. In order to compare the results, I manually uploaded the list of people who ignored emails from my client and tried to show them the very same message on Facebook. The email open rate was 77% instead of average 21%. And then it hit me.
Building a solution without relevant domain knowledge seems far from simple. So, scratch your own itch, and customer development and jobs-to-be-done will give you a cue on how to do it right.
The tool is as simple as ABC — we connect it to an Email Service Provider (ESP) via OAuth, URL key, or webhooks, and it fixes the problem of unopened emails and saves time by letting our clients avoid routine manual procedures.
Do your startups have much in common technologically?
No, they are totally different. One is a SaaS example; another deals with analytics, thus using neural networks, machine learning, and pattern recognition to focus on historical data.
You are staying ahead of the trends — machine learning solutions are registered in Top 10 tech trends 2018.
Actually, we have never set a goal to design anything trendy. Here, machine learning is a way to optimization, and if there is a chance to go without hype techs, I always take it. Hype brings unwanted attention and implies an artificially high price without the particular practical value.
Why so sceptical? Has any hype tech ever missed your expectations?
That’s not the point. It’s always tricky when machine learning or, let’s say, blockchain are on everyone’s lips, and the specialists, companies, and ecosystem related to the hype tech begin to inflate. This buzz results in the abundance of scum; I mean the case when somebody has passed a course on Codecademy or DataCamp and thinks they are machine learning gurus.
There are two sides of hype; quite reasonable one is associated with venture capital funds or startup accelerators that announce they are currently focus on data science or medical technologies. In this case, the projects which haven’t been attractive to investors before get a chance to finally join the venture ecosystem and start to solve really complex problems.
Another thing is when the hype is spread by media and conference sessions, but in fact, the solutions are superficial and of little value.
Let’s switch to values. One of the formulas for a successful startup is ‘idea + team + funds’. What about your people and the belief that startup team members should do things for the best of motives?
I used to share this idea. If the founding team includes skillful guys who know life and have already launched their own companies and sold the products, immediate financial benefits are secondary. Personally, I think that if you compete globally and cut corners on salaries, then something goes wrong.
If there is a chance to go without hype techs, I always take it. Hype brings unwanted attention and implies an artificially high price without the particular practical value.
Currently, I have a dream team consisting of a product manager, a CTO who can perform every single task even saying 'no' at first, and a front-end specialist ready to buy the MacBook to fix the bug. I knew these people before starting the company, and now I’m lucky to do business with them. I have found out that managing people makes me feel ill at ease, but thanks to my team, I can fully concentrate on doing marketing. That is what I truly love.
Any other insights you have formulated over the years of startup launching?
Speed is top priority. Earlier in my career, I bet on stability and a solid five-month development process. The truth is that it lasts longer and might be completely useless in the end. Now I tend to reduce the scope of tasks when it comes to the next product. It took us about two months to make Quokka, and it is likely that we will need a couple of weeks to bring another idea to life.
You are a frequent visitor to Quora, and your answer to “How do you start a tech startup as a non-technical person” sounds as follows: “Don’t think about how to code. Focus on how to sale.” Is it about the code’s minor importance?
I had a funny conversation with Allan Grant, a founder of Talkable and Hired, in this regard. He looked back on the start of Hired — the only thing the company had was a landing page, and they processed incoming requests manually. I strongly support his idea of focusing on sales first in order to inspect your target audience, their needs, and expectations.
Pick the right team and carefully consider the product as a key point of traction. If you can go without coding, it’s better to do that. Sales first.
During our first launch, we got issues with Facebook and API. Enormous support from a vast Facebook-related community gave us a push to go on.
“First you get people, then you get traction, and then you get money”, that’s what Allan mentioned in terms of the sequence of steps. Pick the right team and carefully consider the product as a key point of traction. If you can go without coding, it’s better to do that. Sales first.
One of the top tech trends 2018 according to Forbes is mobile. Have you ever thought about shifting there from web?
I’m closely connected with mobile as a brand ambassador at Branch Metrics, yet my major focus is martech and data. A mobile app for my current project is in progress, but it will be more about a notification tool than something proactive.
I can’t but ask about your mentoring activities at Startup Grind and Google Launchpad. What are the tips and tricks you share with entrepreneurs?
I’m for the open knowledge and always ready to help enthusiastic people get initial traction and scale their products. Typically, a new product launch refers to a universal framework that starts from BetaList, Product Hunt, Hacker News, answers on Quora and Reddit, guest blogging, Community Partners, and cold outreach. It’s a minimum set of steps required to further encourage investments.
How to deal with hype tech? Is it a buzzword rather than a key to customer’s problems? We referred to Vitali Usau, an Emerline Head of Research and Development, for his vision.
As a matter of fact, I share the idea of getting along without hype tech if their publicity is in the foreground.
Blockchain, machine learning, and the Internet of Things are right on trend now. This is definitely quite useful tech stuff, yet many companies turn it to account using only as a competitive edge over similar solutions, but not as a tool needed to complete the task. It happens due to keen demand from the investors and leads to unjustified overhead.
Blockchain is ample proof of such use cases.There are too many restrictions that limit the application field of the technology. Today, some startups announce publicly that Blockchain used for designing their solutions serves as a pillar of security. But in fact, the more members are involved in the network, the more secure Blockchain will be. It means Blockchain-based networks created from scratch are not that secure after all.
Another thing is a small volume of data to be stored and the time spent for performing and validating transactions. This reduces the list of business scenarios where Blockchain could be efficiently applied.
In a nutshell, I’d recommend carefully analyzing the benefits businesses gain from trendy technologies, doing your research, and asking for the expert advice before introducing them into your solution.