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Today — April 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

A bug bounty alone won’t save your startup — here’s why

By Zack Whittaker

In this world, there is no such thing as perfect security.

Every app or service you use — even the websites you visit — have security bugs. Companies go through repeated rounds of testing, code reviews and audits — sometimes even bringing in third-parties. Bugs get missed — that’s life, and it happens — but when they are uncovered, companies can get hacked.

That’s where a bug bounty comes into play. A bug bounty is an open-door policy to anyone who finds a bug or a security flaw; they are critical for channeling those vulnerabilities back to your development team so they can be fixed before bad actors can exploit them.

Bug bounties are an extension of your internal testing process and incentivize hackers to report bugs and issues and get paid for their work rather than dropping details of a vulnerability out of the blue (aka a “zero-day”) for anyone else to take advantage of.

Bug bounties are a win-win, but paying hackers for bugs is only one part of the process. As is usually the case where security meets startup culture, getting the right system in place early is best.

Why you need a vulnerability disclosure program

A bug bounty is just a small part of the overall bug-hunting and remediating process.

Yesterday — April 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

What happens to edtech when kids go back to school?

By Natasha Mascarenhas

In just a few weeks, homeschooling has gone from a rarity to a baseline in homes across the country.

Jonah Liss, a 16-year-old student at International Academy of Bloomfield Hills in Michigan, was sent home out of precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the transition has been okay for Liss, who has used some of the extra time to create a service to help those impacted by COVID-19, he recognized that other students are experiencing some pain points; not everyone has access to the same technology outside of school, so they can’t complete assignments. The school, he says, isn’t giving tests because they have no way to prove students aren’t cheating. And learning doesn’t feel personalized.

“It can be difficult to learn in an environment where there is less structure, direct instruction and ability to ask as many questions as possible,” Liss said. His school is placing emphasis on Google Classroom, Hangouts, Zoom and Khan Academy — all currently free for schools that have been shut down.

Edtech companies are seeing a usage surge because they’re offering services for free or at discounted rates to schools that are scrambling to switch to remote learning. But when students return to campus, many of the hurdles to adopting education technology will persist.

And as edtech startups find their time in the spotlight, these emerging challenges must be addressed before companies can truly convert those free customers into paying ones.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Canceled conferences will force startups to focus on scalable lead generation

By Walter Thompson
Dan Wheatley Contributor
Dan Wheatley is CEO/co-founder of StraightTalk Consulting, a SaaS operations and growth consultancy that works with B2B founders to implement long-term, data-driven growth strategies.

Described by Sequoia Capital as the black swan event of 2020, the long-term economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on startups is still to be seen. However, one effect which is sure to disrupt the MO of many early-stage startups is the cancellation of events and conferences.

According to Forbes, more than 35.3 million people who were planning to attend an event have been forced to change their plans in recent months. And while some might lament being forced to leave their Metallica T-shirts and 2020 Summer Olympics flags in the cupboard, many startup founders are biting their nails at the prospect of lost leads and connections from events and conferences.

The silver lining: Forcing founders to wean themselves off conferences and events as a “go-to” business development tactic might not be a bad thing in the long run.

Based on my experience, many early-stage startups waste lots of time and resources doing the rounds at events without clear aims, using up lots of the founder’s time, without driving much business value. At an early stage in a startup’s journey, every tactic used needs to drive real ROI and ultimately be driving new business opportunities.

So let’s look at why missing out on events might not be the end of the world, and how startups can focus their time, energy and resources on more scalable and consistent lead-gen activities.

What’s my beef with startup events and conferences?

It is worth clarifying early on that conferences and events can provide valuable ROI in terms of lead generation and business development to startups that approach them in the right way.

The silver lining: Forcing founders to wean themselves off conferences and events as a “go-to” business development tactic might not be a bad thing in the long run.

Getting involved in events as speakers, taking part in panels or showcasing projects via pitch competitions offers the “Golden Ticket” that grants access to the speaker’s lounge, side events and dinners. This facilitates conversations with the most important investors, journalists and potential partners and clients in attendance on a level setting, rather than having to bustle for attention with the rest of the masses on the conference floor.

Aside from increasing the probability of real business development opportunities, taking part in a conference normally includes a free ticket, if not accommodation and travel costs being covered too.

On the flip side, in my experience, going to startup events and conferences as a lowly attendee offers very little tangible ROI, and can accumulate into a considerable expense too. However, as Forbes contributor Sophia Matveeva puts it, even a $10 event is expensive if it doesn’t offer ROI, “because the opportunity cost of events is not just money, it is also time.”

The value of attending events has to be assessed in relation to the time commitment required. If a meetup lasts three hours and includes an hour’s travel, and a large conference is a full-day commitment or even two days in a different location, the opportunity cost of the conference should be carefully weighed against time that could be invested in other lead-generation activities.

Can we approach events/conferences in a data-driven manner?

Unless founders track and assess the ROI from events in the same way as they would any other lead-generation tactic, the chances are that a pocketful of useless business cards and some branded swag (and possibly a hangover) will be the only returns from the time and resources invested.

Unless founders track and assess the ROI from events in the same way as they would any other lead-generation tactic, the chances are that a pocketful of useless business cards and some branded swag (and possibly a hangover) will be the only returns from the time and resources invested.

So how can we assess the value of events in the same way as we would, for example, paid ads? First, founders should be placing metrics on each individual event, such as:

1) Source of lead: Was this via speed-networking, or by reaching out via an event app?
2) Customer acquisition cost (CAC): What were the total costs of this event? Yes, beers count.
3) The number of leads: Only count warm leads. Business-card confetti at speed-networking doesn’t count.
3) The number of those leads closed: How many paying customers did this event lead to?
4) Lifetime value (LTV): How big were these tickets?
5) Sales cycle: How long did the lead take to close?

Assessing the value of particular events via metrics is possible, but it would take a long time. Founders would need to record data over the course of a year, allowing them to highlight which events on the calendar offer the highest chances of returns for the next year. However, the reality is that this requires time and resources, which many early-stage companies simply don’t have. Testing the effectiveness of events also requires trying different tactics, including:

  • Paying for a booth
  • Becoming a sponsor
  • Increasing the number of representatives in attendance
  • Paying for a ticket with increased access to side events, etc.

Testing these tactics makes sense for larger-ticket businesses that can expect $50,000+ returns from successful events. But for startups, the chances are that after blasting through lots of time and resources, they will most likely only highlight one of the 10 conferences they attended that offered real ROI. For any other lead-generation activity, this would be considered a massive failure.

Why aren’t events scalable lead-gen activities?

Making lead generation scalable requires monitoring the success rate of different tactics, doubling down (scaling) the activities that are working and putting fewer resources behind those that are not.

This requires founders to be in control of the levers in the sense that they have the ability to add more, reduce or adjust the scale at which different activities are utilized.

This is not really the case for events, for a number of reasons:

  1. Conference organizers control the content tracks/side-events/activities that take place during the events themselves. Unless they are organizers/sponsors, founders have few ways to exert influence at the events they attend.
  2. Even if a founder does highlight a certain event that brings in lots of leads, there are still a limited number of events that offer access to the right target audiences and cover themes related to particular verticals/niches within their geographic region.

Focus on more scalable lead-gen activities

In my opinion, it makes more sense to focus on lead-generation activities that offer startups more control. There are many different ways for startups to experiment with different tactics within more established inbound and outbound techniques:

Inbound lead generation:

  • Content marketing: Monitoring traction of webinar versus e-book, long-form versus short-form
  • Blogging: Trying different content formats, keywords and themes
  • SEO: Changing keywords, titles, themes and user intent
  • Paid ads: Testing different platforms, target users, content styles and themes

Outbound lead generation:

  • Direct emails: Sending emails at different times, including different content formats
  • Targeted social media messaging: Targeting different positions in a company, on different platforms
  • Cold calling: Using different amounts of representatives, targeting different target users

With the aforementioned techniques, there are fewer limits on how many different variations of these techniques startups can experiment with. They are also a lot more flexible in terms of scalability, meaning startups can invest as much or as little in each technique as they please. You can spend $10 on paid ads, or $1,000. You can have two sales representatives, or 200.

When deciding how to best spend lead-generation budgets, founders should ask themselves:

  1. Can I control the levers? i.e. the tactics I am using within these tactics.
  2. Can I scale to the capacity I need to; is there room for exponential growth?
  3. Can I control the rate of scale over time?

The final point is arguably the most important, but often overlooked. Startups need to be able to control the pace at which they scale, meaning they can increase activity when things are going well, but also reduce activity if things aren’t working out, or — in the case of COVID-19 — if the company needs to tighten its belt due to unforeseen, or uncontrollable circumstances.

The best way to drive sustainable growth is by establishing sustainable internal systems and processes. If you think of a business as an engine, we don’t know what the machine can handle until we test its capabilities. We have to be able to scale processes, as this is where we will find the weaknesses in the system. However, we also need to be able to back off when we do find the weaknesses without causing further damage.

Startups need to “stress-test” lead-generation techniques gradually. If a startup is investing $100 in paid media and achieving five sales-qualified leads (SQLs) per month. The next step is not to go “hey, it’s working,” and chuck $1,000 at it. The sensible next step would be to scale up the tactic by investing $200 and aiming for 10 SQLs per month.

Summing up

So, with events and conferences canceled for the foreseeable future, and a high probability that many event organizers will not be able to recover from their losses this year, startups should use this forced pause to re-assess their processes and strategies.

As they say, slow but steady wins the race. The end goal should always be to achieve consistency in processes that are scalable. When startups approach processes in a data-driven, consistent manner, it offers the chance to scale exponentially over time.

What we’ve learned from building 40,000+ links for clients

By Walter Thompson
Amanda Milligan Contributor
Amanda Milligan is the marketing director at Fractl, a prominent growth marketing agency that’s helped Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses alike earn quality media coverage, backlinks, awareness and authority.

Since our agency opened in 2012, we’ve learned a lot about how to build quality links through content marketing.

The industry has evolved for a variety of reasons, including Google’s algorithm updates and the state of digital media. We’ve had to change along with them.

Over the years, we’ve completely revamped the way we develop content ideas, report on results, identify pitch targets — everything except for our core belief: a combination of content marketing and digital PR is the best way to build top-tier links.

I want to share three of our biggest insights from our experiences adapting so you don’t have to start from scratch or wonder which of your processes needs an update.

Instead, you can get to building the best backlinks you can.

Building the best links requires original research

Break-even ads can generate free brand awareness

By Walter Thompson
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing team that trains startups in advanced growth, helps you hire senior growth marketers and finds you vetted growth agencies. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this growth report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of 1,000 startup founders and VPs of growth from later-stage companies. We have 400 YC founders, plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group or marketing training program.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.


How Gmail decides which emails go to spam

Anomalous data can lead to growth opportunities

By Walter Thompson
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing team that trains startups in advanced growth, helps you hire senior growth marketers and finds you vetted growth agencies. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this growth report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of 1,000 startup founders and VPs of growth from later-stage companies. We have 400 YC founders, plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo and Ritual .

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group or marketing training program.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.

No one wants your $25 referral bonus

Insights from Julian Shapiro of Demand Curve.

Even people who earn minimum wage can’t be bothered to refer a friend for a $25 referral fee. The most successful referral programs typically focus on app features that naturally incentivize users to invite friends and colleagues.

New Early Stage speakers to talk fundraising strategies, growth marketing and PR

By Jordan Crook

TC Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, and we are getting pretty damn excited about it!

The show will bring together 50+ experts across startup core competencies, such as fundraising, operations and marketing. We’ll hear from VCs on how to create the perfect pitch deck and how to identify the right investors for you. We’ll hear from lawyers on how to navigate the immigration process when hiring, and how to negotiate the cap table. And we’ll hear from growth hackers on how to build a high-performance SEO engine, and PR experts on how to tell your brand’s story.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, I’m pleased to announce four more breakout sessions.


Lo Toney

Toney is the founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, which was incubated and spun out from GV. Before Plexo, Toney was a partner with Comcast Ventures, where he led the Catalyst Fund, and then moved to GV where he focused on marketplace, mobile and consumer products. Toney also has operational experience, having served as the GM of Zynga Poker, the company’s largest franchise at the time.

Think Like a PM for VC Pitch Success

Your pitchdeck is not just a reflection of your business, it’s a product unto itself. Your startup’s success, and avoiding the end of your runway, depends on the conversion rate of that product. Hear from Plexo Capital founding partner Lo Toney about how thinking like a PM when crafting your pitch deck can produce outstanding results.


Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw

Shaw and Rubino are marketing consultants for Right Side Up, a growth marketing consultancy. Prior to Right Side Up, Shaw scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft and Texture, and has worked with brands like McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur Sealy. Rubino has worked with companies across all stages and sizes, including Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft and Stitch Fix.

Why You Need Podcasts in Your Growth Marketing Mix

Podcast advertising is widely viewed as a nascent medium, but smart companies know it can be a powerful channel in their marketing mix. Opportunity is ripe — get in early and you can own the medium, box out competitors and catapult your growth. Krystina Rubino and Lindsay Piper Shaw have launched and scaled successful podcast ad campaigns for early-stage startups and household name brands and will be sharing their strategies for companies to succeed in this often misunderstood channel.


Jake Saper

Jake Saper, the son of serial co-founders, has been obsessed with entrepreneurialism from a young age. His origin in venture capital started at Kleiner Perkins, and he moved on to become a partner at Emergence in 2014, where he became a Kauffman Fellow. He serves on the boards of Textio, Guru, Ironclad, DroneDeploy, and Vymo, and his self-described “nerdy love” of frameworks has only grown over the years.

When It Comes to Fundraising, Timing Is Everything

There are some shockingly common timing mistakes founders make that can turn an otherwise successful fundraise into a failure. We’ll talk through how to avoid them and how to sequence efforts from the time you close your seed to ensure you find the right partner (at the right price!) for Series A and beyond.


April Conyers

Conyers has been in the communications industry for 15 years, currently serving as the senior director of Corporate Communications at Postmates . Before Postmates, Conyers served as a VP at Brew PR, working with clients like Automattic, NetSuite, Oracle, Doctor on Demand and about.me. During that time, she also found herself on BI’s “The 50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry In 2014” list.

The Media Is Misunderstood, But Your Company Shouldn’t Be

With the media industry in a state of flux, navigating the process of telling your story can be confusing and overwhelming. Hear from Postmates Senior Director of Corporate Communication April Conyers on how startups should think about PR, and how to get your message across in a hectic media landscape.


Early Stage SF goes down on April 28, with more than 50 breakout sessions to choose from. However, don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s great app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today, as well as those already announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

So get your TC Early Stage: San Francisco pass today, and get the inside track on the sessions we announced today, as well as the ones to be announced in the coming weeks.

Possible sponsor? Hit us up right here.

As the venture market tightens, a debt lender sees big opportunities

By Connie Loizos

David Spreng spent more than 20 years in venture capital before dipping his toe into the world of revenue-based financing and realizing there was a growing appetite for alternatives to venture capital. Indeed, since forming debt-lending company Runway Growth Capital in mid-2015, Spreng has been busy writing checks to a variety of mostly later-stage companies on behalf of his institutional investors. (One of these, Oak Tree Capital Management in LA, is a publicly-traded credit firm.)

He expects he’ll be even busier in 2020. The reason — if you haven’t noticed already — is a general slowing down in what has been a very long boom cycle. “We’re in the late innings of a very long game,” said Spreng today, calling from Davos, where he has been attending meetings this week. “I don’t think the cycle is going to end this second. But where we went from a growth-at-all-costs mentality, boards are now saying, ‘let’s find a balance between top line growth and capital efficiency — let’s figure out a path to profitability.’ ”

Why is that good for Spreng and his colleagues? Because when a cycle ends, venture capitalists get stingier with their portfolio companies, writing fewer checks to support startups that aren’t hitting it out of the park, and often taking a bigger bite under more onerous terms when they do reinvest to counter the added risk they’re taking.

Caregiving startup Homage raises Series B to enter new Asian markets

By Catherine Shu

In many countries, an aging population coupled with a low birth rate is increasing the demand for qualified caregivers. In Asia, the need is especially urgent because rapid demographic shifts and changing social structures means family members who traditionally cared for relatives are unable to because they need to work, or live far away. Homage wants to help with a platform that not only matches pre-screened professionals and clients, but also enables caregiving organizations to scale up more quickly.

The startup announced this week that it has raised Series B funding, led by EV Growth, with new investors Alternate Ventures and KDV Capital. Returning investor HealthXCapital also participated. The amount of funding was undisclosed, but sources tell TechCrunch it was $10 million.

Launched in 2016 by Gillian Tee, Lily Phang and Tong Duong, Homage currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, with plans to expand into five more countries over the next two years. Before Homage, Tee, its CEO, worked in the United States, where she co-founded Rocketrip, a business travel startup backed by Y Combinator. Tee tells TechCrunch she realized the need for a caregiving platform while looking for carers.

“We saw that in ASEAN and the Asia Pacific region, there is really a need to build long-term care infrastructure,” she says.

This includes increasing the pool of basic caregivers to reduce costs, and also making it easier for families to be matched with professionals. Homage’s platform currently includes about 2,000 caregivers and focuses on elderly care, but also provides services needed by a wide age range, including rehabilitation care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

The platform was also created to give caregiving organizations a tech platform that allows them to expand more quickly and cost efficiently, in turn reducing care expenses for families. Homage interviews caregivers before they are added to the platform and partners with health organizations to provide continuing education and training. On the enterprise side, it helps providers with administrative tasks like compliance and bookings.

Tee says Homage’s screening process goes beyond interviews and background checks.

“From solving my own caregiving problems, I believe that a platform is needed, a highly curated one, so that every single individual has to be fully competency assessed,” she says.

For caregivers, this means building a profile, and in addition to the information they provide, Homage also works with nurses to evaluate how they are able to perform important tasks like manual transfer techniques. That information is then used by its matching engine.

“The human mind can take in so many details at once, so we have an algorithm for manual transfer techniques, like bent pivot transfers or two-handed transfers, down to that granularity,” Tee says. “It is captured into the system and that translates into mobility, and gives categories of mobility, so it helps us shortlist much better than humans can.” Then final assessments and matches are done by one of Homage’s operators.

Homage also provides compliance tools that collect information about licenses, background and health checks, AED and CPR training and other documentation. On the bookings side, Homage helps organizations manage fluctuations in demand, since many families only need carers a few days a week. Caregivers on the platform range from full-time nurses to part-time carers. It also helps organizations plan breaks to prevent burnout.

Tee says many caregiving organizations put together their own system for administrative tasks, and Homage gives them an alternative that lets them set up operations or expand more quickly.

Homage’s funding will be used to expand its base of caregivers, provide training, and new services, including its medical delivery service.

In a press statement, EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca said, “Increasing aging population and low TFR (total fertility rate) are inevitable. Urbanization and a fast-paced working environment make caregiving service one of the key services in our daily life. Gillian and the team have been consistently trying to make the on-demand caregiving service as accessible as possible, fast and reliable. We are proud to be part of the Homage journey to bring back caregiving with control, grace, and dignity.”

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