5-Bit Friday’s (#6): Weekly snacks from the startup/tech universe
On creating effective homepages, startup lessons from the trenches, growth loops, communication strategies, and the product shaping framework.
Hi, I’m Jaryd. 👋 Every other week, I pick one startup/company you probably know, and do a deep dive on how they kickstarted their growth, and drive growth today.
Plus, every Friday — I bring you 5 short-form insights and takeaways from the startup/tech universe. (this!)
If you haven’t subscribed yet, join the other folks interested in growing a company by subscribing here:
❤ If you enjoy this post, throw it a like by clicking the heart up top to help more people find it.
Happy Friday, friends! 🍻
Welcome to the sixth edition of our new series — 5-Bit Friday’s!
There’s lots of great stuff to cover this week — so let’s get right to it.
How to create a more effective homepage - 4 tactical steps with 12 tips + checklist
Quick housekeeping: If you enjoy getting these short-form snacks from the best entrepreneurs, writers, investors, product and growth experts, and operators — as well as discovering new sources for your information diet — consider subscribing if you haven’t yet, and perhaps suggesting How They Grow to somebody else who might enjoy these summaries each week. 🙏
How to create a more effective homepage - 4 tactical steps with 12 tips + a checklist
Wednesday’s deep dive was on Stripe, who have a beautifully crafted homepage that is admired (and copied) across tech. And it just so happenes that earlier this week, Emily Kramer, author of the MKT1 newsletter, wrote a piece on how to create an effective homepage and used Stripe as an example.
So, let’s kick this week off with Emily’s insights on how to create a more effective homepage that converts.
Here’s Emily to get the ball rolling:
At least once a day, I see a startup’s website and think, “I have no idea what this company does.” If I am able to get a sense of what the company is building, many times I have no idea who they are building for or why someone would choose this product. And I don’t think I’m alone here. We’ve all scrolled down through an entire homepage and just thought, “huh?”
Many (most?) websites, especially for early and growth-stage companies are ineffective. They don't tell visitors who the product is for, what the product does, and why the product is better. When your homepage content and copy miss the mark, your conversion rate suffers, and all of your top of funnel efforts are wasteful.
I second that. And here are Emily’s 4 steps for improving homepage conversion, specifically around copy and content, which she goes on to say: “When you nail your copy and content, your audience understands exactly what you do, feels spoken to directly and specifically, thinks you’re credible, and wants your product now.”
Here’s an overview of these key levers:
Step 1: Make a usable 1-2 page messaging guide
To start, the first thing you want to create is a short 1-pager where you get alignment on your top-level messaging. Your goal here is to create messaging building blocks that can easily become your copy for web and other marketing assets as well as get early buy-in on the them. You’re not writing copy yet.
The very first step though before you even get to that is doing some basic audience analysis and persona development, as well as some competitive landscaping that helps you map where you fall in the ecosystem.
From here — this is the framework for your building blocks:
Additionally — you want to have:
Benefits with relevant proof points (i.e features)
Use cases with relevant personas
How your product works with ~3 clear step
Step 2: Plan your homepage layout
In this day and age — if your site is too difficult to navigate and too visually complicated for users — I really think there is no excuse.
There are so many excellent examples out there (Stripe being one of them), as well as tools and templates with great design, to have something low quality.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
For early-stage startups, just follow a proven formula, adapt it a little bit, and use copy, color, font and visuals to make your site different. Your goal is a clean, simple-to-scroll-through, easy-to-scan website that converts.
Here’s that proven formula for B2B:
Top nav: Includes links to the product page, resources, pricing, etc. Plus a sign-in link and primary CTA button.
Hero: Include top-level messaging building blocks and (optional) product screenshot, diagram or video.
Social proof: Usually logos, sometimes logos + quotes. Include a heading that describes who your customers are.
2-3 benefits sections that include product images (stylized or screenshots; static or animated).
Use case and/or persona section (optional), include 1 or both of these:
~3 use cases in one section and how you apply them to your product, usually with links to separate pages on these use cases.
~3 different audiences or ICPs and how these personas benefit from the product, with links to pages for these audiences.
How it works section (optional): preferably including a clear diagram.
CTA Bar: Restate why someone needs your product now, with a primary CTA button. This should always be right above the footer.
Step 3: Use messaging building blocks to add copy to each section
Now take the messaging building blocks you’ve already gotten buy-in on and turn them into copy and content, section by section.
Step 4: Finesse your copy
You’ve figured out what sections of content you’ll have on your website, you’ve used your messaging building blocks to create rough copy and visuals for these sections, now you need to finalize copy and ship it.
Emily gives us 12 great tips on how to write clear and compelling copy that passes the read-out-loud test, for the right audience. Here’s the very short version:
Don’t model your website after a late-stage company
Don’t ship your pitch deck
Don’t get too vision-y up front, instead make it clear you solve an immediate pain for the audience
Don’t try to speak to everyone
Be clear over clever
Don’t assume people know anything about you
Compelling over comprehensive
Expectation set and redirect with CTAs
Passes the read out loud test
Copy is only half the battle
Nearly every single person who uses your product will visit your homepage, whether it’s to sign up, request a demo, log in, navigate to help content, etc. You need to nail it. So, if your homepage doesn’t tell me what your product is, who it is for, and why it is better than other options, you need to drop everything and fix it.
— Emily Kramer
Here’s a handy landing page checklist Emily put together. If you’re a marketer, consider joining her newsletter for strategic advice and tactical help on building (mostly) B2B marketing.
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: How to create a more effective homepage, by Emily Kramer
Startup to exit — lessons from the trenches
Starting and building a company is hard. Shocking.
Fortunately, there are loads of founders before us who have been through the trenches (or are currently living in them) that are kind enough to share their lessons with us to make it a little bit easier.
To use a Warren Buffet quote I love say:
When people tell me the they’ve learned from experience, I tell them the trick is to learn from other people’s experience.
Suril Kantaria recently posted his lessons — from startup through to exit — and I can’t tell you how much this resonated with me. I had my own startup a few years ago and this really rung true to my experience. I made many of the mistakes he did and I really thought he put this together is an insightful and concrete way.
I highly suggest reading the full thing — but here are my takeaways:
Don’t found a startup. Find a problem. Good startup ideas are not about pattern recognition, modernizing, or finding wedges—they are about solving a specific problem. The problem must be obvious and specific, and you should know who “good fit” customers are.
Visions around startup ideas without defining a problem are dangerous. They are often solutions to made-up problems or, even worse, alternative realities to things that are working just fine.
Write memos, not decks. Decks are great at packaging an idea in an easy to scan format, but longer memos force more writing and density around an idea. A snappy 10-slide presentation is for investors — your memo is like your strategic white-paper for the market opportunity.
Don’t pitch to users when validating your idea — have unbiased interviews. It’s tempting to take your idea and go ask people if they need it or like it. Bad data. Early customer research (with actual discovery) is all about unbiased interviews that really help you find actual problems. You might find out nobody cares about the problem you thought was important —but this will accelerate time to product-market fit later.
Be wary of taking on VC funding too soon. “VC funding is a powerful drug. However, the high fades and is accompanied by amplified lows. Most people don’t talk about the pressure, the late-night investor calls, the rising expectations, the compressed timelines, the recurring fundraising circuit, and the constant external signaling.” Sure, raising money can accelerate growth, but if you do it before you have traction and PMF, your “company is a ticking time bomb and managing cash burn is your only defense. There will be no shortage of external pressures to spend more now and raise more later.”
Don’t waste time being in “stealth mode”. Startups win on execution, and hardly ever fail because someone stole the idea early on. Stealthiness inhibits frequent market signal and greatly increases time to PMF.
The only metric that matters is product market fit. Vanity metrics like new hires and press coverage are a waste of time. Even cumulative user counts or metrics that can only go up are problematic. Find metrics that move up and down that signal PMF and make that the north star in the beginning.
(NB) Find the right customers, forget the rest. Bad-fit customers can be attractive (yay, a big brand signed up) — but if they don’t need you right now, you can waste time and resources trying to make the wrong people happy — setting you down a death spiral. Focus only on good fits.
Take the time to build conviction on a specific problem before pitching sales and writing code. “This could take weeks or even months, but early customer research will accelerate time to product-market fit later. During this process, it will be easy to paint convincing but dishonest narratives. It’s critical to be brutally honest.”
When you bring a new product to market, you may make discoveries about your market or customer that reduce your belief in your product. If you’ve lost belief — this is a startup killer. You need to make a move here, and those are really: (a) shut down, (b) restart/pivot, or (c) try sell the company. Working on something you don’t really believe in will just kill the business slowly.
If acquirers come knocking, serve them tea. If you’re not looking to sell, still take the call. And on that note — startups are bought, not sold. Startup’s actively looking for a buyer risks being perceived as a failing, problem-ridden entity. Suril actually shopped around with the intent of selling, but packaged his meeting as “partership opportunities” to overcome this.
There’s a lot more detail in the full piece 👇
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: Startup to exist: Lessons from a first-time founder, by Suril Kantaria (via Lenny’s Newsletter)
Growth loops, not funnels
“How does your product grow?” is simply the most important question to be able to answer.
Growing is the entire reason why products and companies exist (especially in venture-backed startups). Companies that continually grow also provide the largest positive outcomes. More importantly, personally in your career if you drive growth at your company, you are rewarded vs others who do not drive growth.
So, what’s the best way to answer that question? 🥁
First, what’s a loop?
Well…it’s not a funnel.
[Source: How Notion Grows]
Here’s Brian Balfour again explaining:
“One of the common answers to ‘How does your product grow?’ is a picture of a funnel. The funnel AARRR framework was originally created by Dave McClure. It was a great starting point. It helped me and millions of others level up their game. But the framework is now > 11 years old and since then we've learned a lot about how the fastest software products grow.
The biggest thing we've learned is that the funnel framework is too micro of a view in order to answer ‘How does your product grow?’ It helps explain a specific step within a Growth Loop, but misses the larger picture of the loop itself.”
He goes on to list various reasons why growth funnels are problematic, which I by-and-large agree with. They are:
Funnels create strategic silos. Product, channels, and monetization need to be thought about together. They are interlinked. But the funnel framework leads a lot of teams to treat these as silo'd layers — and silo'd strategic thinking is the cause for most distribution failures.
Funnels create functional silos. Funnel-thinking leads to teams being structured around funnel stages, vs working together to drive a holistic growth engine.
Funnels operate in one direction. Put more in at the top, get more out at the bottom. It doesn’t go the other way. “There is no concept of how to reinvest what comes out at the bottom to get more at the top to continue to feed growth over time. In other words, no compounding effect. This means we have to keep putting more into the top to get more at the bottom. More money, more people, more tactics, more channels, more, more, more. This is unsustainable.”
In other words (and I just came up with this and I love it) — it leads to funnel-vision. How has nobody come up with that yet?
Anyway… the benefits of growth loops over growth funnels are:
Loops are compound interest. With a loop, one cohort of users or one set of actions within the cycle re-invests itself at the beginning of the next cycle, and so on.
Loops are defensible. They bring together how your product, channel, and monetization strategies work cohesively together in a single system rather than treating them as discrete silos. This makes them more specific to you, making them harder for others to copy.
Loops lead to holistic thinking and decision making. Because loops force you to see the entire system as one functioning thing vs looking just at just one level in a funnel, you approach growth and investment decisions with a better macro view.
Loops are a fantastic growth framework — and if you’re in the growing-things business (which I figure you are), learn more below 👇
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: Growth Loops are the New Funnels, by Brian Balfour (via Reforge)
Communication is the job — 8 concrete tips from Boz
Meta’s CTO, Andrew Bosworth — AKA Boz — wrote a really great essay on communication. He’s a really insightful writer and I’m very glad I stumbled onto his website with all his essays.
I’ll probably feature more from him in the future, but today, I bring you “Communication Is the Job”, by Boz. Here’s why…
There are a lot of people who build things in Silicon Valley. They spend their time writing code or designing flows or building models. But how do they know what to build? Well, they work with a group of people whose job is to connect them with the information they need to answer that question. Those connectors in turn work with people whose job is to collect that information in the first place. This pattern repeats throughout.
The success of all these information connectors and collectors depends on precisely one skill: communication.
Each of us are always communicating. Try as we might, we cannot help it. Saying nothing can often be even more damaging than saying the wrong thing. The people around us are so eager to understand the world around them that in the absence of true communication, they will attempt to find a signal in noise. None of us gets to control what others are hearing or how they are interpreting things. We can only control what we contribute to that milieu.
Here are Boz’s strategies to communicating well and making sure he gets most people most of the information most of the time:
Layer Your Message. Usually we have a big theme or central topic to convey, then focal points around that, and then even further down longer explanations of each. Laying your communication in a structured way is a model for getting your message across to a large audience whose level of engagement will vary. This makes sure people can engage at their level of interest and get value.
Consider the Second Order Audience. You’re not just talking to the people in your meeting or who are getting your email. Messages get passed along, so you’re also always communicating to the set of people that everyone in your audience talks to. Focusing your message into a format that is readily repeatable by others with high fidelity can be a huge advantage.
Communicate Defensively. Before you communicate take the time to consider all parts of your audience and how you might be misinterpreted and then refine your message to reduce the likelihood of miscommunication.
Repetition is Key. Keep tying things back to the critical message so that people hear your main point several times — this is how we remember things.
Use Multiple Channels. If you want to make sure you’ve really reached everyone, get your message out in different ways. Email, meeting, slideshow, shared Zoom recording, etc.
Maintain Channels. The right text is worthless if nobody reads it. Building and maintaining strong channels of communication is critical to being able to communicate effectively.
Communicate Early and Often. Pretty self-explanatory. As Boz says, “people can deal with imperfect information but they can’t stand information insecurity.”
Debug Miscommunication. Miscommunication can happen, and while tempting to blame others for it, “make no mistake, when this happens, it is your fault. You have to sit down and ask questions from a place of humility to hear what they took away from what you said. Take full responsibility for any discrepancy from what you intended and make corrections with your entire audience.”
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: Communication is The Job, by Boz
While researching Stripe last week, I came across one of their product development principles that I made a note to circle back on here. It’s called shaping.
At Stripe, we talk about product “shaping,” which is a term I hadn’t encountered before. Shaping is the process of creating a rough solution to a concrete user problem — it fills the space between the broad strategy and the detailed product specification, or the PRD. This process front-loads a lot of the critical thinking about what you’re planning to build and why. Still, you haven’t necessarily fleshed out the requirements in a way where someone could go and implement them yet.
— Michael Siliski, Business Lead for Payment Experiences & Platforms at Stripe (via Bring the Donuts)
With this framework — when we shape work, we need to do it at the right level of abstraction: not too vague and not too concrete. Product managers often err on one of these two extremes.
Wireframes are too concrete:
When we go straight to wireframes or high-fidelity mockups, they define too much detail too early. This leaves designers no room for creativity.
You may be setting out to solve a problem with too much context.
Words are too abstract:
On the other end of the spectrum, projects that are too vague don’t work either. When a project is defined in a few words, nobody knows what it means.
You may be setting out to solve a problem with not enough context.
Enter, product shaping [the sweet spot]
Shaping is creative and integrative. It requires combining interface ideas with technical possibilities with business priorities. To do that you’ll need to either embody these skills as a generalist or collaborate with one or two other people.
Shaping is primarily design work. The shaped concept is an interaction design viewed from the user’s perspective. It defines what the feature does, how it works, and where it fits into existing flows.
You don’t need to be a programmer to shape, but you need to be technically literate. You should be able to judge what’s possible, what’s easy and what’s hard. Knowledge about how the system works will help you see opportunities or obstacles for implementing your idea.
It’s also strategic work. Setting the appetite and coming up with a solution requires you to be critical about the problem. What are we trying to solve? Why does it matter? What counts as success? Which customers are affected? What is the cost of doing this instead of something else?
— Ryan Singer, via Shape Up (Basecamp)
Shaping has four main steps
Set boundaries. First we figure out how much time the raw idea is worth and how to define the problem. This gives us the basic boundaries to shape into.
Rough out the elements. Then comes the creative work of sketching a solution. We do this at a higher level of abstraction than wireframes in order to move fast and explore a wide enough range of possibilities. The output of this step is an idea that solves the problem within the appetite but without all the fine details worked out.
Address risks and rabbit holes. Once we think we have a solution, we take a hard look at it to find holes or unanswered questions that could trip up the team. We amend the solution, cut things out of it, or specify details at certain tricky spots to prevent the team from getting stuck or wasting time.
Write the pitch. Once we think we’ve shaped it enough to potentially bet on, we package it with a formal write-up — AKA a memo or pitch. The memo summarizes the problem, constraints, solution, rabbit holes, and limitations. It goes to the betting table for consideration. If the project gets chosen, the pitch can be re-used at kick-off to explain the project to the team.
Basecamp have a really comprehensive (free) e-book around product development and shipping work that matters. I haven’t finished it yet, but below is the chapter that talks about product shaping.
⛏️ Source + dig deeper: Principles of Shaping, by Ryan Singer (via Shape Up: Basecamp)
And that’s it for this week! If you learned anything or just enjoyed this weekly summary, tap the little heart button below so more people can find it ❤, and please share it with a friend or two!
I also just want to say — thank you so much for reading, being here, and just overall supporting this project. 🙏 I’m really loving this, and I’m super grateful.
On that note — have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you in a week!
Did you miss the latest deep dive on Stripe? Catchup here…
How Stripe Grows:
What we can learn about solving hard problems, wizards, going deep on problems and moving fast, building products at the right time, and becoming masters at moat building.