Testing New Startups With Proto-Selling Techniques With Janeesa Hollingshead

Testing New Startups With Proto-selling Techniques With Janeesa Hollingshead

Last Updated on December 10, 2020

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About Janeesa Hollingshead

I’ve spent the past decade launching and building lines of business for companies ranging in size from idea-stage startup to multi-billion dollar post-IPO tech unicorns. I have a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ohio State University, and I started my career helping entrepreneurs get funding as the digital marketing manager for Fundable.com (now Startups.com). From there, I became heavily involved in the startup scene in Columbus, Ohio — acting as the CMO for Cap City Biohackers, part of TechColumbus’ expert network for entrepreneurs, and working with companies such as 2Checkout and Astute Solutions in their digital marketing departments.

I joined Uber in 2015 to launch and develop the rides business in the US and Brazil, spearheading efforts such as developing rider reengagement strategies, identifying driver-partner fraud, and forming partnerships with organizations like the Kentucky Derby.

Beginning in 2016, I was responsible for developing Uber Eats’ launch strategy and playbook in the Midwest spanning marketing, operations, and sales. In this role, I managed efforts like the McDonald’s/Uber Eats partnership roll out in multiple states and an aggressive sales strategy to gain market share in key cities.

As the first Uber Works operations team member, I was responsible for the initial org design, strategy, and processes for all non-technical functions. As the Head of Expansion and Local Operations, I successfully transitioned the ops team from a single-city focus to a centralized + local operations team model to grow to $20mm in annualized revenue and positive variable contribution margin within 7 months of our public-facing launch.

About JJ Studio

I formed my current company, JJ Studio, with one of my former colleagues from Uber in July 2020. At that time, Uber was seeking strategic alternatives for Uber Works, and we weren’t sure if that would result in the full team being laid off or sold as part of an acquisition deal. We wanted to ensure that we had a backup plan in case of the worst outcome.

My partner (Julia Lemberskiy) and I formed JJ Studio to have two main arms of business. The first is marketing, operations, and expansion consulting services for other businesses. We use this line of business to fund the second arm, which is exploring our ideas for various products and services. We’ve tested things like The Laptop Light (www.thelaptoplight.com), DeliverSweet (www.deliversweet.com), and Direct Mail for Salons (www.directmailforsalons.com) as part of the secondary arm of our company.

How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?

Our first few customers of JJ Studio were acquired through our networks. Once word got out that Uber Works was closed down and the two of us were branching out on our own, we received many inbound requests for services. We also used Upwork to help secure several customers while we were getting started.

We’ve grown our annualized revenue to about a quarter million dollars in the past four months. We’ve partnered with dozens of customers on the consulting side of our business since July.

How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?.

Our company grows through a number of channels, including:
1. Direct mail
2. Social media (both organic and paid)
3. Warm referrals from existing customers
4. Upwork
5. Inbound leads via our website

One unique approach that we take is in how we test new audiences, ideas, and positioning. We reinvest profits from our business into proto-selling efforts, where we test our hypotheses via Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of advertisements on a small subset of people. If the results are promising, we move forward with the new audience/idea/positioning with a larger investment. This allows us to pivot and test things quickly without massive investments before we have proof of future success.

What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?

I highly recommend that founders replicate my proto-selling techniques to get their first thousand users. Many people follow the “lean startup” methodology of building, gathering feedback, and then making adjustments to their offerings. However, that requires quite a bit of time and investment that isn’t necessary.

Instead, I would recommend that entrepreneurs hire contractors to cheaply and quickly mock up product images or websites and then invest a few hundred dollars into Facebook or Google ads to validate what they intend to sell. They should be able to secure at least a few sales from these proto-selling ads, which they can then use to fund a larger build out and inform where to focus with additional marketing dollars. This drastically cuts the time and money founders spend on market validation and creating a minimum viable product to get to market.

Additionally, many founders are afraid to ask their networks for referrals until they feel their offerings are perfect. I would encourage all founders to get feedback from their networks on Linkedin, Facebook, email, and other channels throughout their launch process — and to ask for referrals while they’re at it. You never know who your network may be able to connect you to!

What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?

Many new founders, especially in the consulting world, will take on any customers to try to get their businesses off of the ground. In doing so, they’ll likely take on customers whose budgets are too small for the amount of time and effort it takes to service them.

Founders should be selective with the customers with whom they choose to work. If you take on a client who dominates too much of your time, you won’t be able to spend sufficient time on building your business or seeking other clients who are better matches for your needs. It’s better to have fewer clients who pay more in the consulting game.

If you do take on a client early on who is hindering your ability to grow your business, it’s best to close out the project gracefully and move on. I recommend “firing” the bottom 10-25% of your clients every quarter to make room for larger clients.

On the new product side, I would say that others may not be aware just how much you can outsource if you aren’t an expert. For instance, I had never created a physical product before The Laptop Light — it would have taken much more time and effort for me to mock up the product specs and build the physical prototype than to have someone else do it. Founders should not be afraid to use online platforms to connect with experts in functions where they’re lacking to ultimately save both time and money.

What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?

The craziest thing that’s happened to me over the past few months is that a client hired me as a subcontractor for one of their clients. I completed the work, but the end client’s point of contact turned out to not be providing updates to their company’s founder — and so the founder thought the work was not completed and refused to pay. My direct client entered into a legal process with them to compel them to pay, the end client’s founder countersued to attempt not to pay, and they ended up settling the issue after the facts came to light.

However, the direct client still has not paid the invoice a month after the fact. I’m learning how to structure my contracts to better guarantee payments in these types of subcontracting arrangements as a result.

What Are Your Favorite Books?

On the fiction side, I love the Game of Thrones series! I read them very quickly and can’t wait for the final book in the series to be completed.

For nonfiction, I love anything by Malcolm Gladwell or Robert Greene. I’m really enjoy understanding the psychology behind what motivates myself and others and have found the principles to be extremely helpful in working with others.

Anything You’d Like To Plug?

I’d love to plug JJ Studio for marketing, operations, and expansion consulting services! We focus on startups and series A/B companies. Our website is www.jjstudio.agency.

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