Growth Sourcing: hacking Early Stage startups pipeline

Today was Day 7 of the JFDI.2013B Bootcamp. The last two months our team worked our butts off—but we did it! Ten awesome teams joined our family on August 29th.

The past 8 weeks I slept very little. My eyes were glued to the monitors, responding to hundreds of emails, checking on our funnel metrics, and working around the clock interviewing teams. The recruitment exercises we went through taught me a lot. We made some great strides, and some mistakes: there were also some humbling surprises. Here are the numbers and our journey.

Sourcing for teams

For an accelerator program like JFDI, we served a few groups. Startup founders were our customers—one side of the puzzle. We targeted balanced teams with solid domain knowledge. About 1000+ founders registered on our landing page, with 320 teams completed the application. Compared to other landing pages, I thought this activation rate was pretty good, at about 32.0%.

From the 1000+ that registered their interest, about 280 were people who pre-registered before our application opened, and 740 after the application went live on July 1st.

While the application was live in July (July 1st—31st), we were able to acquire about 5.2% of the eyeballs that landed on the landing page. This number alone, didn’t tell the entire story. But more below.

Channels

There were several channels we relied on to reach startup founders: social media, local tech blogs, co-working spaces, Meetups, mailing lists, AngelList, direct marketing, etc. We also used Facebook ads half way through—but that particular strategy had mixed results.

Conversion rates: establishing benchmark

In the first half of our recruitment in July, we were acquiring about 9.4% of the founders that landed on our page. We achieved this with the help of a lot of our friends on the ground. Announcements they made got founders from all over the region excited. About 34.7% of these founders, who registered, filled out the application—including some from the pre-registered founders (280 we mentioned earlier).

Conversion rates: with Facebook Ads

Half way through July, we switched on a few very targeted campaigns on Facebook. In terms of CTR, they performed superbly well. At the end of the campaign, we sent an average of 5-15% of eyeballs to our landing page via 13 ads.

Thanks to these ads, our visitor volume shot up six-fold after the ads went live. However, only 4.6% of the visits converted into registrations, which was a fifty percent drop in acquisition compared to the benchmark. The volume definitely made up for it. Ultimately, 38.3% of the registrants filled out the application—but if we took out the “rush” towards the deadline, that activation rate was 25.5%. More on this in a bit.

Facebook did bring us a lot of traffic (that we paid for). I would not have felt comfortable without running the ads—but I wasn’t sure of how effective it really was. It did result in a lot of Facebook Likes and a sizable mailing list for our community.

Long vs short application

We originally built upon our application questions from the previous recruitment season—we had 87 questions. Compared to TechStars application, they had 56. We thought this imposed a huge tariff on the completion rate of the registrants and decided to change that.

Shrinking the application did improve the conversion rate slightly. I discounted the last two days before the deadline, and the completion rates differed by 8% (∂ of 31.9% to 39.3%).

The rush: deadline

68.9% of all the applications finalized on the last two days before deadline (11:59pm, July 31st).

Direct outreach

We also recruited from teams through direct outreach; two of the teams that came onto the program were founders we got to know from previous interviews. There were also other teams we accepted either through referrals or discovery via AngelList. Good old sourcing couldn’t be ignored.

Conclusion

Early stage recruitment was tough, but the good news was: there were some really good teams in Asia. The hard part was in getting in front of the right teams (read: “customers”) at the right time (read: “stage”) and place (read: “market & geography”).

The process also provided a lot of insight for me on the power shift in negotiations. It was an entrepreneurs’ market—there were a lot of great programs for teams ready for growth.

I also had the opportunity to draw correlations on where to look for good teams. Leveraging our personal and JFDI’s network was a key, and some institutions and companies produced great entrepreneurs in Asia.

30-day recruitment period was a really short timeframe. Kudos to the founders for all making it to the start of the bootcamp within one month.

All of the above soundbites would be stand-alone blog topics. I planned to explore each of these further.

 
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Kudos
 
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