Disclaimer: This post will not contain any references to growth hacking.
It's extremely difficult to stand out as a startup these days - there's so many of them, and as consumers we're constantly bombarded with new offerings left right and center. Be that as it may, startups = growth, so we decided to think outside the box to get people's attention. And it worked.
EatAbout is the alternative to restaurants where you eat in the home of a chef; our userbase is growing an average of 16% per week and we achieved organic bookings in our second month. Without further ado, this is how we did it.
- Personal update email
- Personal letters #1
- Personal letters #2
- Corporate lunches
- Yellow flyers
- Media coverage
- Group payments
- Influencer events
Personal update email
What started off as an innocent way of letting our friends and family know what we're up to quickly proved to be an incredible tactic. In a nutshell, Felix and I emailed everyone we know to let them know that we'd quit our jobs to work on EatAbout. We mentioned that we'd likely not be joining them at the pub any time soon, and quickly explained our concept.
Looking back, this is the type of update email you'd typically send investors, but it just felt natural to keep our friends and family in the loop. The email was broken into 3 main parts: what we're up to, the coming months and how you could help us. The results blew us away - we received hundreds of replies on the first email from people offering their support. We received a ton of great introductions and advice, those early adopters we so desperately needed as well as people who wanted to become chefs on the site.
We still send this email once a month, and it's one of the highlights of the month for me. It's a time to reflect on what we've accomplished as well as what's to come, and a chance to let our friends know what's going on.
Personal letters #1
For this one we took to the streets, taking inspiration from our friends at Dojo. Instead of flyering the place up like typical marketeers would do, we wanted to do things differently. So we wrote short and honest letters about our journey, and printed ~20,000 of them:
For two weeks, we got up at 5am and headed out to high-footfall areas to hand out our letters, and again, we were astonished with the results. People are so used to get handed a flyer that they literally don't even see them anymore. But our letter got people curious - we even had people coming up to us to grab one.
Best of all, we got a lot of early customers wanting to try the EatAbout experience, along with future business partners and potential investors. We were even invited to present at Dragons Den!
Overall, people found our approach refreshing because we weren't trying to sell to them. We put ourselves out there to anyone who'd listen, and people just aren't used to that.
Personal letters #2
We all love supporting our local community, and how better to do this than by trying out your local chef? When we onboarded a new chef, we'd print out 1,000 letters, personally sign them and distributed them to houses around their neighbourhood.
Our friend recently wrote a great piece called The pen is mightier than the keyboard, and we believe that the personal touch in these letters made all the difference. People are so used to getting junk mail, but how often do they get handwritten letters these days?
After a while of sitting behind our computer screens, we decided that we needed to get out there and speak to our potential customers. We used what little resources we had to get the ball rolling - every day for 2 weeks, we stood on the street outside our flat in Camden and invited passerby up to our kitchen for £5 sirloin steak that we'd sourced from Smithfield market that same morning.
We got a lot of rejections at first, but as we honed our pitch we had more and more guests coming up to enjoy our steak. These lunches provided crucial market research that has proven invaluable - we got feedback on the concept, our website and lots of support in various shapes and forms.
Word of our lunches quickly spread around our local offices which started generating bookings directly through our site:
This one is old school, and that's why we love it. Do you remember those flyers you'd see around town back in the day, where you could tear off a piece of paper with some information if you were interested?
We plastered these all around town, and being yellow they stood out from the rest of the flyers people had up. We were surprised to see the uptake - we'd literally walk past flyers with most of their tear-offs removed!
On top of this we also had the pleasure of going on Soho Radio for the Stefan Means Business show - it was so much fun and I know Stefan is looking for other cool companies to interview. Get in touch if you'd like an introduction!
We released group payments last week and this has been a game changer. By making the lives of our users easier, they are the ones who are getting their friends involved. Instead of the person booking being charged for the entire meal, they now designate their friends and how much each person will be paying.
As a result, we're now getting an average of 8 signups per booking, and each guest gets to interact with the site and chef. This allows each chef to get a review from each diner and creates a great relationship with a wider range of people.
Word of mouth is huge, cannot be underestimated; without it your company will die. So we implemented a referral system much like Airbnb and Uber, whereby you can make £45 in credit for every user you refer to EatAbout.
When you refer your friend, they also get £15, so it's win-win.
Don't underestimate the results from analytics and just get it setup from day 1. We've employed every type of analytics under the sun, and they've been instrumental in helping us understand how people use our service at scale. These are our favorite services:
GoSquared: a fantastic service built right here in London that actually makes the data you'd typically see in Google Analytics actionable. See what's happening on your site right now, trends back in time, as well as all your users and their journey through your site.
Heap: the definition of setup and forget. I set this up when we first launched, and two months later had a treasure chest of data to make informed decisions upon. Typically, this type of analytics service will ask you to register events, or in other words actions that your users take on your site. Not only do they expect you to know what you want to know in two months, there's also a lead time whereby you might start tracking a specific event today but only get meaningful results in several weeks. With Heap, you know that any question you will ever have can be answered within minutes.
CrazyEgg: this tool will tell you where people are clicking and where they aren't, as well as what content people are actually looking at (or not).
Optimizely: once you have enough traffic hitting your site, this service makes it dead simple to A/B test everything from your copy to the color of a specific button to see what works best.
Google Analytics: we're using this one less and less, but nonetheless it's useful to have to gain an overview of the traffic hitting your site and what they're doing.
On top of these, we've also setup advertising pixels to help us track conversions and retarget our ads with AdRoll.
Every industry has their key influencers, and the food industry in particular is a thriving ecosystem in and of itself. We helped get the word out about EatAbout by inviting some key players to EatAbout meals where they indulged in fantastic food and heard our story.
This gave us an opportunity to get insight on the industry, get feedback directly from experts (and implement it), and meet people who believed in us from the beginning. People who champion us and our vision which is crucial to any business.
So there you go, that's how EatAbout achieved organic bookings in 2 months. Actually, we have some more tricks up our sleeves, but we'll leave those for another time.
Standing out from the crowd as a startup is an immensely difficult task these days, so it's time to think outside the box. Leave us a comment if you have any thoughts or feedback, or if you'd like to share an idea of your own!