7 Tactics We Tried to Grow Our Company With and Failed

Growth. Money. Changing the world.

You want to be the one who will do it. You want to prove to your employees, colleagues, friends and family that you are able to crack it.

And when you really want something, you try a lot of things, right?

We experimented with enthusiasm, and since it sometimes worked, we are doing well, thank you.

But some of our trials failed miserably.

I wanted to write about these failures so you would know that it’s okay to try and fail. As solutions are limited, you can cross one out if it doesn’t work, and focus on all the others.

In this post I will list 7 things we tried to grow our company with so that you too will be brave to experiment, maybe try what we tried and learn from our successes and failures.

But before that let me tell you where we are coming from.

The brave team of Antavo who is not afraid to fail.

The brave team of Antavo who is not afraid to fail.

Not from Silicon Valley.

Not even from the US. The majority of our team is from a tiny dot on the world map, called Hungary. While we do have US advisors and UK investors, none of us on the leadership team is a native English speaker. Despite all of this, we knew from the beginning that we need to think globally if we want to be successful.

Our early-stage company never lacked time and effort (rather a strategy with proof of results) to earn customers. And we built up Antavo from scratch.

Here are some of our failed experiments.

Fail #1. Localization

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you did things before it was the right time? This is called premature scaling.

We let our customers build contest apps on our platform in 27 languages. Plus, we translated the platform into 4 languages other than English.

It was a mistake. Translating something occasionally for only one customer isn’t worth it, because from our perspective it slowed us down.

And the revenue from the countries of the two other languages was never outstanding.

You could run contests, sweepstakes and giveaways in any of these languages.

You could run contests, sweepstakes and giveaways in any of these languages.

Fail #2. Distributed development team

After Seedcamp invested in our company the founding with our CEO team moved to London and the development team stayed inHungary. But our CEO was deeply involved in the product development.

Unfortunately the long-distance relationship didn’t work that well. Our development slowed down.

Our CEO might have had been less involved, but back then we didn’t have the resources to hire anyone else. Otherwise he could have traveled more to keep track of the development in Hungary.

I know companies like Buffer or GrooveHQ who work remotely and do it smoothly, but we were never really prepared for it.

Zsuzsa Kecsmar, our CMO pitching. The business-part of the founding team was pitching and meeting potential clients in London. The development team needed a head, who was also in London.

Zsuzsa Kecsmar, our CMO pitching. The business-part of the founding team was fundraising and meeting potential clients in London. At such early stage roles may not be distinct, so the head of product was also part of the London crew.

Fail #3. Country managers

To conquer the world, we partnered up with country managers in Asia, Europe and South-America on a revenue share basis. They were responsible for sales, translations and first-line support.

We shouldn’t have done that. Back then there was no product-market fit yet. Traction was also relatively modest, making it hard to motivate partners on a pure revenue-share basis. Building supporting functionalities slowed product development down, we simply didn’t have enough resources to work efficiently with the country managers.

And we were not good at finding the right partners, even though we did our best after we teamed up with them.

We created a manual for country managers on how to drive traffic to the localized sites, how to engage with bloggers and do first-line support. I wonder if they read it at all…

We created a manual for country managers on how to drive traffic to the localized sites, how to engage with bloggers and do first-line support. I wonder if they read it at all…

Fail #4. Referral program

We built a tool to motivate our customers to invite their friends to use Antavo. Like Dropbox did.

Well, it didn’t work out. Why? Because we had a relatively low active user base at the time of release and our communication around it wasn’t strong enough. In addition when you are dealing with small businesses, you may have no customers with wide reach, i.e. real influencers.

At least we learned that people use our tool because they actually need it, and not because a friend invited them.

The good old Antavo Credit System. We shut it down in the spring of 2014.

The good old Antavo Credit System. We shut it down in the spring of 2014.

Fail #5. App directories

We wanted to get into large directories and deal with sites like AppSumo, Rewardlii or GrooveHQ.

We couldn’t. We didn’t receive a single reply from any one of them. (Was our pitch weak? Was our product weak? We will never know.) And we got close to zero customers from those where we were listed.

The only exception was HuddleBuy, which is a great company to work with.

To make your life easier, here is a list of potential software perk directories we have collected.

Fail #6. Customer thank-you cards

We thought we would send out thank-you cards to our customers on Valentine’s Day. We read somewhere that it’s so personal and engaging. (Maybe we read it on the website of a card-sending company? Dammit!)

Well. You know what happened. We sent out a vast number of cards and received a single thank you Tweet. (Thank for the Tweet buddy!)

That’s all.

The copy was wrong? The intention was wrong? Our customers are heartless people? Or they are too shy to share their happiness?

For sure some of them had wrong billing details when they paid us…

„The mail could not be delivered, return to sender.” We received many photocopies like this from our lawyer where our official address is. We sent the mails to our customers’ billing address, but they might gave us a wrong address.

„The mail could not be delivered, return to sender.” We received many returns to our London office. We sent mails to our customers’ billing address, some of which were incorrectly given at checkout.

We sent mails to our customers’ billing addresses, some of which were incorrectly given at checkout.

Fail #7. Tech-conferences

We attended some great conferences when we were starting out. As we are a technology company, we thought we’d go to tech conferences. We would go to the presenters, introduce ourselves and follow up.

Nothing happened. What were we expecting? A single meeting at a conference? It just didn’t cut it.

Since then we go to conferences to present only, except Social Media Marketing World and other very focused events.  (This year it was a blast. Zsuzsa, our CMO knows a lot of people there who are in the same place as us and were glad to meet them.)

You take a picture of the stage if the conference is pointless. You take pictures of people if you made real connections.

You take a picture of the stage if the conference is pointless. You take pictures of people if you made real connections.

Are these failures?

These are experiments that certainly failed.

Yes, experiments cost you money, time and effort, but you might never find your path if you don’t cross over some possibilities.

If you want to get ideas for experiments, read this post on growth hacking from Andrew Dumont of MOZ. Since then he built a startup and sold it. He must know a thing or two.

Where we failed you might succeed.

The referral program worked for Dropbox. And Buffer built an extremely successful remote development team.

Just get out there.

Experiment.

7 Tactics We Tried to Grow Our Company With and Failed by
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Andy Nemes

Andy is Head of Sales of Antavo, a marketing tool to create sweepstakes, contests and giveaways to Facebook, mobile and web. Connect with him on Twitter.
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  • http://fatehacker.com/ Joshua Parkinson

    Great article, Andy. Super valuable info for early stage startups! At Post Planner, I’ve tried almost all of these, sometimes with different results than you got. For example, we’ve been a distributed team from Day 1 so we HAD to make that work, our referral program has brought a ton of customers, an AppSumo deal we did in Jan2012 gave us HUGE lift, and the connections I’ve made at meetups & tech conferences like SMMW resulted in massive ROI. But localization hasn’t seemed to offer much return (although we haven’t updated our translations in over a year). I’ve thought of country managers and thank you cards/gifts, but haven’t pulled the trigger. After reading this, I probably won’t. :) Anyway, thanks for the article. Great stuff!

    • Andras Nemes

      Thanks so much for your feedback Joshua! Yes, distributed team can definitely work, you just need to find the balance between being a CEO and running to client meetings, raising money and managing your offsite development team. In the beginning its nearly impossible for sure. We tried to get to AppSumo (we love them btw!), but they didn’t reply to our initial request. Maybe the reason because we couldn’t offer a much different solution that they already offered to their clients, but this will change in the next month for sure when we bring out something really unique in the market. :)
      Keep up the great work at Post Planner, we love to read your content.

  • John Carr

    It’s very refreshing to read such a candid story about the things that went wrong. Sometimes I feel as if I’m the only one, even though I know I have lots of company. Kudos for your willingness to open up and show the world about your journey. THanks guys.

    • Andras Nemes

      You are not alone for sure John, trust me. :) It’s always hard to speak about your failures, but failures make us a better company for sure. But bear with us, in our next post we will talk about our success stories, that will be fun for sure as well!

  • Melisa

    Each strategy has pros and cons; negative experience
    is good as well, because personal mistakes teach the best. In order to avoid
    them in the future, ask team of professional
    writers