What I learn from Eric Yuan – Zoom founder

Everyone is using Zoom – a video/audio call + collaboration tool now. Many companies try to introduce a work from home solution as quick as possible. And, Zoom is a perfect solution because its ease of use and its call/video quality. We tried to use Skype before and we were very frustrated with its service quality. We then jumped to Zoom and really like the solution.

I am curious to learn more about the person who founded Zoom. His name is Eric Yuan, a Chinese immigrant to the US. These are what I learn from his story.

  • It starts with solving a problem. Eric got the idea of creating Zoom when he was in China. He had to visit his girlfriend (now his wife) who lived 10 hours away.
  • Never, never give up. To fulfil his vision, he determined to move to the US. His VISA applications were declined 8 times. He got it in the 9th effort – 2 years later.
  • You have to listen to your customers. When he was working with Webex and then Cisco, he heard a lot of customer’s frustrations about the solution at the time. He tried to introduce a new, better solution, but the company didn’t accept the idea. So, he left and founded Zoom.
  • You don’t have to hire the highest qualified people on paper. Instead you should hire those with self-motivation and a self-learning mentality.
  • Company’s culture is the number 1 thing that determine the success of the failure of a company. And, it starts from the top.
  • If your employees are not happy, you cannot expect any success from anything.

He also encouraged us to jump into the startup journey. It’s hard, super hard but it’s worth it. This is something I want to do too, to start my own business. I just don’t have the courage to do it yet.

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Going niche

No product could serve everyone (well except water and electricity). Minimum viable audience (MVA) is the way of survival. It’s about time for hospitality companies to adopt a laser-cut niche product (and marketing) strategy.

American Express GBT (Global Business Travel) is a good example. They are a credit card company focusing solely on businesses. They just launched a service called “Rest Assured Solution”. It’s an online travel booking platform for business travellers. Their research shows that some of business travellers make bookings outside the company’s policy because they can find cheaper rates out there. As a result, GBT incorporates this rate guarantee feature in this service.

Who are your minimum viable audience?

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*Credit: I took the minimum viable audience from Seth Godin – my (book) marketing mentor.

Subscription model

Do you know Panera, a restaurant chain in the US? They recently offered a $8.99 coffee monthly subscription. Customers can take unlimited coffee under this offer.

They decided to offer this program after a few months of testing. They saw more than 200% increase in the frequency of visit, which is expected. The best part is there have been about 70% increase in food attachment. It’s like they use marketing money in this subscription offer to sell their core product which is food.

Can you add a subscription model to your product or part of your service? If you can and want to, I suggest you to build a strong financial model to justify it. A wrong calculation could cause a major issue.

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Who is Sara Blakely?

Do you know who Sara Blakely is? I didn’t until I came across this article – 10 Marketing Lessons From Sara Blakely. She is a founder of Spanx, Inc., an apparel company that focuses on pants and leggings. She introduced a footless pantyhose.

What are the 10 lessons we can learn from her? The article is a good read (and you should read as it takes only under 5 minutes). The key takeaways I got are the following:

  • Be unique. I like that she suggests that you should be able to tell yourself in 30 seconds how you or your product differ from others.
  • Failure is nothing more than just a signal to you that you are in the wrong path. Embrace it and try again.
  • Plan and setup goals. I do it every week. I list what I need to achieve each week and each month.
  • Think big. You may or may not achieve it but you should set a goal to achieve something bigger than yourself. Something that could change the world. Something that would help customers have a better life.

I summarise her points from 10 to 4. I think my next move would be starting up my own company. I have been working for other people for too long.

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Programs VS Campaigns

I explained to my colleague yesterday that we cannot rely on having marketing campaigns (e.g. promotions, contest) to sustain the business. My reason is we would never have enough resources or ideas to run 40-50 campaigns. We need to have 1 or 2 long term programs as a backbone with some campaigns as necessary.

I differentiate the 2 terms as the following – marketing programs are longer term marketing activities that consistently generate performance for the business. Marketing campaigns on the other hand have shorter term expectations, with specific purposes.

We need both. But, you will be more efficient if you can have one or two successful, backbone programs and run campaigns on top of them.

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Your cost structure

I was asked this question by my senior management team multiple time. The question is – how can we reduce our product cost per unit? They also put pressure on me to increase the offer price in order to reduce our cost per unit. The problem is it is not that simple.

Everyone knows that in any cost structure there are fixed cost and variable cost. In our case, the fixed cost contribute more than 55% of the total cost. It means we have inefficiency in our operations. By increasing the offer price, it means we pass our inefficiency to customers. As we are in a hospitality industry, customers can always buy holiday packages somewhere else. There are a lot of cheaper deals out there in the market.

The only 2 ways to reduce our cost per unit in this situation is 1) reduce our operational costs (e.g. reduce the size of the call centre) or 2) sell more packages even though it means we have to reduce the price (to drive more quantity to dilute the fixed cost).

It looks to be an interesting year answering the same question.

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Customer segmentations

Do you think we focus too much on millennials as a business? I do. I don’t mean to say that they are not important. They are a new generation with a different kind of behaviors. They possess different behaviors when compared to other generations because of the environment they grew up with. However, they are not the only generation that we should focus on. In fact, I am not sure if we should focus on customers based purely on demographic factors like ages, genders, etc.

Segmenting customers bases on psychographic or behavioral factors are something we should look at. Why? I am in mid 40s. But, I like many things the millennials like. I like new gadgets, new smart phones, new social media sites. Better yet, I have higher purchasing power than the millennials.

My point is when imagine who your customers are (aka your customer personas) think about their behaviors. Your “David” persona could be males, love technologies, like adrenaline travel experiences, drive expensive cars, watch Netflix. As you can see, David could be anyone across 3 generations – Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Y. The important bit is you have to craft your message to David about what he likes to get his interests, regardless of his demographics.

Get your customer personas right. Craft relevant messages to them. This is a formula for success in 2020.

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Are there bad customers?

It might sound harsh and bad for any business. But, I think there are bad customers out there. By ‘bad’, I mean the customers that talk or spread information about your business in a negative way. You can call them a ‘detractor’ from an NPS (Net Promoter Score) perspective. Some of them are worse than being a detractor.

I experience this situation myself. There are a few bad customers. No matter what we do, they are never happy or satisfied. They always find something to criticise the company, the product. They spread bad words on social. Their goal is to ensure that other customers get their messages and their opinions.

My way of dealing with them is not ideal. I first tried to assist and provide the best service I could to them, with the hope that I can change their mind. In doing so for a year and they are still the same, I gave up. Now, I only monitor them. I had to remove 3 of them from our social groups.

My thinking process is there are about 99.9% of our customers that we need to look after. We should not spend 90% of our time dealing with those 5 or 6 bad customers. You wouldn’t be able to change their minds no matter what you do. If possible, just let them go.

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SEO is overrated

Don’t get me wrong. I believe SEO is important. I google almost everything that I don’t know or want more information. The point I want to make here is that we should write or create content for the benefits of customers. In other words, we create content with customers, not bots, in mind.

If you want to read about what need to be done, SEO wise, you can read this article. There is nothing new there but the first point is clear – good content is still king. I used to read a blog post which was written for an SEO purpose. It was weird because it followed all SEO recommendations to target the bots.

Write for your audience. Offer solutions to your customer’s problems. It may take a little bit longer for someone to notice. But it’s worth it. That’s my SEO recommendations for 2020.

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Creating your own ecosystem

Do you have your own audience? If you don’t, you will have hard time as I do. We often want to drive short and long term performance, we normally do this through campaigns or promotions. When we have offers, the next thing we need is who to send the offers to. In my case, we have to pay for other companies’ audience. It’s expensive and is not effective. That’s why we start to create our own audience or ecosystem.

We use Hubspot as a CRM system. We invite customers to join our environment with content. We nurture them with content. And, from time to time, we offer them promotions. We still have a long way to go. Maintaining meaningful and engaging ecosystem is not easy. It requires a lot of things to be right e.g. content, segmentation, etc.

If you are interested to create your own audience, you can start with a Facebook group. It’s free and easy to setup. Please understand though, there are a zillion Facebook groups out there. You must ensure that your group add value to group members.

Having your own ecosystem is rewarding. But, it requires a different thinking. I encourage you to to do it.

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