TL;DR: On Latitud Night, Courtney McColgan and Gina Gotthilh listed some steps early-stage startups should apply to nail user acquisition and gain traction in Latin America:
1. Discover your personas and have tailored communication. And you even need fancy software to make customization of speech a reality;
2. Think about digital marketing before building your product. It could give you the answer for what company you should build;
3. Keep track of your successes and prepare to scale them. Constantly register and analyze data to measure the return on investment;
4. Be truthful: is SEO really for your startup? Search engine optimization is not a worthwhile investment for every startup;
5. Do paid growth right. Even if you have money to spare, always be on your guard and track results since we're dealing with dynamic ad pricing.
If you're just beginning your startup journey, you might be spending most of your time making sure that you have the best solution and the best team on the block.
We know you want to be awesome, Julio. You already are.
But guess what? Convincing more and more people to make a purchase and staying with your company is just as important.
That's user acquisition and retention for you.
Easier said than done, right? We completely agree. And that's why we brought experts on user acquisition in Latin America to our most recent Latitud Night.
Courtney McColgan and Gina Gotthilf taught how to nail user acquisition and gain traction in early-stage startups.
As the CMO of Cabify, Courtney led the company's market expansion from series A through series D, across 120 cities. From the time she spent at Cabify, she knew a thing or two about building a unicorn in the region. So she was ready to build her own startup. In 2018, she founded Runa, an HR software that automates payroll for businesses in Latin America.
Gina Gotthilf is also a growth whizz. Before becoming Latitud's co-founder, Gina was the VP of Growth at Duolingo, the most downloaded education app in the world, leading the team that built its user base from 3 to 200 million. She also led Tumblr's growth in Latin America.
You can watch the full recording above – but we've also mapped out 5 essential steps to nail user acquisition and gain traction as an early-stage startup in LatAm. Yeah, we're your best friend ever.
You might be thinking that your first step in the customer acquisition journey is to invest in Facebook and Google ads. While it's a convenient option, Courtney shared that these were too expensive for Runa in its early days. So the startup started with an outbound strategy.
Runa cold-called and sent e-mails to potential customers. For Runa, these were the owners, the financial directors, or the HR leaders in SMBs throughout Latin America.
The speech was tailored to each persona. For example, CEOs are looking at how the software can reduce dependency on certain professionals. Financial directors are concerned about accuracy and information backup. Finally, HR leaders are searching for efficiencies that can extend their budget and help with culture.
You don't need anything fancy in your first days, like a CRM. Courtney says you can just have a Google Docs with communication templates, and have the sales team copy and paste them in their e-mails.
Ok, you think we're crazy for suggesting that. We know. But hear us out for a second.
Thinking about digital marketing before you have your product done could give you the answer for what company you should build. And that's before running the risk of spending a lot of money on development, only to be disappointed with the demand for your solution.
How much does it cost to get a click on your website? Can you get customers to even answer your first contact? Finally, can you get them to purchase your solution?
You can get all these answers before even having a product. "At the end of that, all that matters is how much it costs to get that lead and how many of these leads can convert to a sale."
Runa builds different landing pages for each of its new products and start to track how users progress through its sales funnels. These tests could last for just a single week.
Having basic processes is not an excuse to forget to register and analyze the data your actions generated, though. Courtney recommends always tracking every test you do in user acquisition.
This will help you measure which strategy gives you the most bang for your buck – and that's the one you're going to scale when the time comes.
And that's exactly when you should move your Excel spreadsheets to marketing automation, customer relationship management, and customer service softwares.
"As you start to grow, it definitely helps to start investing in a CRM. One of the things we didn't do at Cabify was investing in expensive systems. And then, when we were 20 to 30 employees and grew to thousands of employees, a lot of stuff broke. It wasn't scalable, we didn't have numbers to compare from two years ago. It was really difficult."
Runa tested a lot of growth strategies in its early days. They went from organizing speaking dinners with big potential customers to optimizing its content to appear on search results (a strategy also known as SEO).
"While developers were building the first version of Runa, we started building an article database with a lot of these keywords", Courtney explains.
On that note, she alerts that SEO is not worthwhile for everyone. Firstly, "payroll" just so happened to be a term that had a lot of related terms and high ranking potential.
"I recommend looking up some of the keywords that someone who's eventually gonna be a buyer would look up as they come to you. See how many searches there are. If there's not a reasonable amount of searches, it's probably not a worthwhile investment."
Another relevant point when talking about SEO is that it's a long-term bet. You can wait four, five, or even ten years to see its impact on sales. The good thing is that SEO pays off for a long time as well, generating constant traffic.
Gina always advises founders to use organic growth strategies as much as they can. Otherwise, you might get addicted to paying for growth, and end up not knowing where your blind spots are.
Still, there might come a time when you do need to combine organic with paid growth to get the necessary traffic.
You need to remember that prices for digital ads follow a bidding system and are in constant change. What might have been a terrible deal six months ago could be a golden opportunity today.
We'll say it again: even if you have money to spare, always be on your guard and track results.
"When I was at Cabify, we went from spending a couple of grand a month to US$2M a month. And I can tell you: the value we got at US$2M a month was not the same per user as what we're getting when spending a couple of thousand dollars per month", Courtney says.