The MKT1 interview: Growth marketing in 2021, hiring versus outsourcing, and more

Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich are the founders of of MKT1, a strategic marketing firm that does much more than just marketing. As we mentioned the last time we spoke with the company, it offers a plethora of services ranging from marketing consulting and organizing recruiting and mentoring workshops to angel syndicate investing.

The two founders took to Twitter Spaces on July 20 with TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton to talk about about the growth marketing industry. They offered some new perspectives, like thinking of growth marketing as an engine and other subdivisions of marketing that make up growth marketing, as the fuel.

After talking about what they were seeing in marketing, we opened the floor for a Q&A session that founders took advantage of to ask how to know when to hire a marketer and when is it good to outsource.

Below is an excerpt from the Twitter Spaces event, edited for length and clarity.

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What is growth marketing?

Emily Kramer: I think the easiest way to think about it is: Marketing consists of the fuel and an engine. Growth marketing is the engine and content marketing, product marketing, comms, events — all of that are your fuel. It’s building that engine: Everything from building marketing ops and making sure that you’re tracking and can get everything out the door, to what you’re doing with email, ads, SEO and on your website. All of these things that are used to drive your audience throughout your funnel.

“Marketing consists of the fuel and an engine. Growth marketing is the engine and content marketing, product marketing, comms, events — all of that are your fuel.”

It’s not just getting someone to sign up or getting someone to be a qualified lead to pass over to sales. It’s also supporting the customer success team and the product team. Anything that is communicating with your audience in a one-to-many way is how I think about the marketing function. Specifically growth marketing in general — it’s a full funnel, it’s the engine, and it’s ever changing.

We in marketing have 5,000 names for everything, including growth marketing. You’ll often hear in top-down sales organizations it is called demand gen, but I really think of demand gen as a subset of growth marketing focused specifically on driving leads to sales. That’s kind of what it is and how I define it. Every marketer you talk to would define it a little bit differently.

What does the landscape of growth marketing look like in 2021? What are you seeing in summer 2021?

Kramer: We’re seeing two major shifts. One is thinking about how community is a part of this, or at least throwing around the word “community” for things that have always been done. “Community-led growth” is obviously a big buzzword; that’s basically getting people in conversation to drive growth. The phrase “product-led growth” is another, and that is really just another way to describe self-serve.

Having growth marketers who can collaborate with product growth roles and product growth teams and having one centralized team has been a trend over the past 10 years. But now the term product-led growth is what we use for all of that. Marketers love to rebrand even their own functions.

Kathleen Estreich: A lot of companies are starting to think about growth marketing earlier. We’re seeing a lot of companies thinking about hiring their first marketer. It used to be you’d hire at Series A, but because all the funding rounds are sort of being moved up a level, a lot of seed-stage companies are thinking about growth earlier.

The skill sets of growth marketers are in high demand. They always have been, but it feels pretty acute right now. Given that a lot of the companies are raising money earlier and starting to try and build that traction faster to grow into the valuations, we’re starting to see a huge need. Pretty much every company we talked to is wanting to hire and thinking about growth levers they should be using earlier.

Where is there an oversupply of folks? Where is there an undersupply? Where’s the demand today? What’s underutilized today?

Estreich: In general, marketers are in pretty high demand. Product marketing in particular has been pretty interesting. We’re seeing a lot of folks in product marketing roles, because typically, the first marketer at a startup is someone who has product marketing experience and there are many companies being started and they’re looking for product marketers. And finding someone who has the experience in product marketing, who’s not just coming from a big company.

I think product marketing at a larger organization, you’re very much tied to a product line; you’re doing just product marketing. But at an early-stage company, you’re not doing just product marketing; you also need someone who understands distribution. So we encourage a lot of companies to hire someone that is what we call a pi-shaped marketer: Someone who has depth and competence in two areas of marketing.

Usually it’s product marketing and growth marketing, and finding that person is really challenging in a normal market. I would say in this market in particular, it’s a pretty tough role to fill. But if you can find the right person, you might have to make some trade-offs on either the level or the experience that you’re bringing someone in. But if you can find a person who has competence in product and growth marketing, I think that’s someone a lot of companies can benefit from in the early days of building their marketing teams.

Kramer: I’ve had a couple of startups that I’ve talked to, even in recent weeks, and I’ve heard, “Oh, our first marketer is going to be a community marketer.” That role is evolving and changing a lot. Back when I started doing startup marketing, about 10 years ago, community really meant social media, and it doesn’t mean that at all anymore. So finding people that have had that exact role before is really difficult.

In some cases, when people say community marketing, they mean they’ve done a lot of content, virtual events or customer success. I think when people post that role, it’s kind of like square peg, round hole or not knowing if it’s square peg, round hole. I sometimes see this mismatch on roles that are posted and the talent that is actually available.

I think my advice to marketers based on that is: Really read the job description, and maybe the title — does it match exactly what you’ve done, or does the title even match what you think you should be doing? Maybe there’s an opportunity there to kind of educate on what you can do and also educate on how to define roles in really early-stage companies.

When is a good time to start working with a growth marketer?

Estreich: A question we hear quite often is, “When do I know is the right time to hire my first marketer?” One of the things that Emily and I often tell founders is, the founding team is the first marketing team. You’re doing a lot of the early messaging and positioning. Usually kind of the early vision — that’s probably how you raised money. I think the way to think about it is to take a step back and ask, “Okay, what are the needs? What are the things that we’re trying to get done?” And thinking about product-market fit.

I think a product marketer, growth marketer or pi-shaped marketer is generally the first person that you would bring on. You want to make sure before you bring your first marketer that you actually have a product that’s ready to go to market. And if not, then it’s probably worth waiting until you have the product out there with some semblance of a handful of customers. Once you have that, then it might be time to start thinking about who that first marketer is.

I think the first marketer then is usually some combination of a product marketer with growth experience or a growth marketer with product marketing experience. Someone who, like Emily said at the beginning of the call, has experience with your business model and is ready to roll up their sleeves, because the first marketing job when you’re an early-stage company involves wearing a lot of hats, testing a lot of hypotheses and doing a lot of the work.

So you want to make sure that you don’t hire someone too senior who is not going to want to do the work. They’re just going to want to hire a team, which you’re probably not ready for. You also want to make sure they’re not too junior and they don’t even know what to do yet. Finding that balance, a midlevel person, is also going to be important.

Kramer: You mentioned that a product marketer can help you find the right niche to focus on. I think you should have some customers and a starting place. A better way to describe product marketers is actually audience marketers — they are figuring out how to communicate what you do to a specific audience. You probably have some idea, but they’re going to help you continue to explore within your team, like, “Should we expand to other audiences? Should we stay within this niche? What do those different audiences need? Are we talking to customers? What are they saying?”

They are responsible for knowing everything about your audience and also helping you grow into and test new audiences. That’s a huge part of the product marketing role. But again, it can be really risky to bring that person on too early at the sacrifice of building product and getting things out the door.

Is MKT1 seeing any trends with B2B and growth-stage businesses around the balance between hiring FTEs and outsourcing certain marketing functions?

Kramer: Early on, I think founders think, “I don’t need to hire a marketer. I’m spending so much time on marketing, but I don’t need to hire a marketer, or I’ll just hire a contractor or agency for content. I’ll hire a contractor or agency for paid or for SEM or even for SEO.” Then you end up with all of these contractors. But contractors, even the best of contractors, are only good when they have a contact or someone to help them review things, and when they have clear instructions on what they need to do. Because you’re working with so many clients, you can’t get up to speed on all of that quickly.

The management overhead of a contractor agency is sometimes just as much as doing the work yourself, especially if you are not experienced in that area, because of all the back and forth. Many times, marketing is more iterative than some other areas of the business where you can hand over some things, especially when it comes to the creative aspects, because you’re figuring out what your brand is. There’s just going to be a lot of back and forth.

I think there are a couple of areas where agencies and contractors are better to hire. One of those areas is paid searches. You won’t need to hire an SEM specialist for a while. And it is definitely a specialty; it is a unique beast and kind of changes a lot, what’s working and what’s not. Having someone who understands how that works and is inside AdWords all day is really helpful, so that’s a good area to bring someone on. So no matter the size of my marketing team, I think I’ve always had a search agency to augment. Even when I’ve had a dedicated search person on my team, I’ve still had an agency to augment them. That’s something you’ll always need; you’ll need different agencies as you scale to do different things.

I think another area where it makes sense is on the content side, to augment the content people or your product marketer. Again, you need to have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to write about, what you’re trying to say, what your unique perspective is, what your brand is, before you start paying a contractor to write a bunch of content. Because what you’re going to end up with if you do that, is just a bunch of content that doesn’t really say anything; it doesn’t really drive a goal.

So content, paid search, always really good areas. And then as you scale — not at the beginning, most likely there are some exceptions depending on what type of business you are — but PR is the other area where media relationships, I mean, we’re talking to TechCrunch here, but like they can probably speak more to this. But media relationships are something where economies of scale really come into play. So having an agency that is a master in media or has a bunch of media relationships makes a lot of sense. That’s more later on. PR, content and paid search, but make sure you have people internally to manage them or it can become more detrimental than helpful.


Source: Tech Crunch

The Lilium electric Jet will use batteries manufactured by Germany’s Customcells

Electric air taxi startup Lilium has tapped German manufacturer Customcell to supply batteries for its flagship 7-seater Lilium Jet.

The battery IP is the result of “multiple players,” a Lilium spokesperson told TechCrunch, but the manufacturing will be the sole job of Customcells. While Lilium declined to specify the number of battery systems as part of the agreement, it confirmed that Customcells will be manufacturing guaranteed capacity until 2026.

Customcells specializes in high-performance lithium-ion batteries for the aerospace, automotive and maritime industries. The manufacturer recently announced a new joint venture with luxury sports car maker Porsche AG, dubbed Cellforce Group, for the low-volume  production of batteries for racing cars and performance vehicles.

This is just the latest partnership Lilium has announced in recent months as it prepares to shift into component and vehicle testing. The Munich-based eVTOL company has developed an international network of partnerships with suppliers like Japanese company Toray Industries for carbon fiber composite; Spanish aerospace supplier Aciturri for the Jet’s airframe and Palantir Technologies, one of its investors, for software services. In June, Lilium added aerospace manufacturing giant Honeywell to its roster for the Jet’s flight control and avionics system.

Lilium’s decision to outsource major components to established manufacturers is a departure from many of the other leading eVTOL developers, like Joby Aviation, which have chosen to keep much of the engineering and production in-house. The strategy has a few advantages. For one, Lilium doesn’t have to spend millions – possibly hundreds of millions over time – in manufacturing facilities, or production and testing equipment. But the key advantage, Lilium executives suggest, may lie with the certification process.

Like other eVTOL manufacturers, the Lilium Jet must receive regulatory approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate commercially in the EU and U.S., respectively. Lilium, in line with other major would-be players in the industry, has set an ambitious target of 2024 for commencing commercial operations. Established aerospace suppliers may use components that have already achieved a minimum performance standard recognized by regulators, which could save time in the certification process.

“Collaborating with experts, aerospace partners, is a deliberate choice for us,” Lilium’s chief program officer Yves Yemsi told TechCrunch earlier this year. “It will help us to reduce our time to market and still be safe.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Score a free month of Extra Crunch with your TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 pass

Whether you’re just starting to build your SaaS empire or you’re further along in your journey, you don’t want to miss TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 on October 27. This day-long virtual event, dedicated to the increasingly sophisticated world of software-as-a-service, features some of the sector’s biggest names, plenty of actionable advice and ample opportunity to network for, well, ample opportunities.

Learn how to scale, how to manage growth — of your business and of the massive amount of data it generates — and how to keep your products and services safe in an increasingly cyber-hostile world. And that’s just for starters.

Bonus Alert: Buy a TC Sessions: SaaS pass and receive a free, one-month subscription to Extra Crunch, our members-only program featuring exclusive daily articles for founders and startup teams.

Extra Crunch membership gives you the inside scoop and helps you stay ahead of the tech, business and investing trends every startup founder needs to know. Since Extra Crunch launched in 2019, we’ve posted more than 2,000 articles.

You’ll have access to exclusive articles on topics like market analysis, growth and fundraising. Here’s a quick peek at just some of the recent titles available to Extra Crunch subscribers:

Your membership also includes access to our weekly virtual event series, Extra Crunch Live. We hosted more than 40 events during 2020, and we built more interactivity into our 2021 format. We added a bunch of new stuff, too — like Pitch Deck Teardowns. Check out what’s going on with Extra Crunch Live in 2021.

We’re not quite ready to share the TC Sessions: SaaS event agenda, but register for updates and you’ll know when we announce new speakers, add events and offer ticket discounts.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Join your global SaaS community to learn, inspire, connect and grow a stronger business. Buy your SaaS pass here and scoop up a free month of Extra Crunch goodness on us.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Drivers for Elon Musk’s Loop get a script about their ‘great leader’

Drivers for Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas have been instructed to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.

Using public records laws, TechCrunch obtained documents that detail daily operations at the Loop, which opened in June to transport attendees around the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) using modified Tesla vehicles. Among the documents is a “Ride Script” that every new recruit must follow when curious passengers ask questions.

The script shows just how serious The Boring Company (TBC), which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially its founder, Elon Musk.

“Your goal is to provide a safe ride for the passengers, not an entertaining ride. Keep conversation to a minimum so you can focus on the road,” advises the document. “Passengers will pepper you with questions. Here are some you may be asked and the recommended responses.”

If riders ask a driver how long they have been with the company, they are instructed to respond with: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” The document goes on to note: “Passengers will not feel safe if they think you’ve only been driving for a week (even though that could mean hundreds of rides). Accordingly, do not share how long you’ve been employed here, but instead, find a way to evade the question or shift the focus,” the document advises drivers.

When asked how many crashes the system has experienced (the script uses the term “accidents”), drivers are told to respond: “It’s a very safe system, and I’m not sure. You’d have to reach out to the company.” Riders should expect similarly vague responses if they wonder how many employees or drivers TBC has, or how much the tunnels cost to dig. (About $53 million in total).

The use of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that is branded “Autopilot” is clearly a sore point at TBC. Clark County does not currently permit the use of the various driver assistance features anywhere within the Loop system, including automatic emergency braking or technologies that make the vehicle aware of obstacles and keep the vehicle in lane.

Officials even require mechanics to check the vehicles to ensure these are not activated.

“In addition to completing the actions under the initial inspection checklist, maintenance staff will verify that the automatic features of the vehicle, such as steering and braking/acceleration/deceleration assist (commonly known as Autopilot) are disabled for manual loop operation,” the document reads. The following checks will be conducted on a daily basis by CWPM technicians, according to the Vehicle Maintenance plan viewed by TechCrunch.

If a passenger should ask whether the Loop’s Tesla vehicles use Autopilot, drivers will give a response. However, this content was marked “Public Safety Related Confidential” in the documents TechCrunch received and was redacted, as were many other technical details.

TechCrunch’s repeated requests to officials to explain this decision went unanswered.

He who shall not be named

The script also covers responses to questions about Musk himself: “This category of questions is extremely common and extremely sensitive. Public fascination with our founder is inevitable and may dominate the conversation. Be as brief as possible, and do your best to shut down such conversation. If passengers continue to force the topic, politely say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really can’t comment’ and change the subject.”

Nevertheless, the script provides a number of replies to common Musk questions. Ask what Musk is like and you should expect the answer: “He’s awesome! Inspiring / motivating / etc.”

Follow up with: “Do you like working for him?” and you’ll get a response that could have come straight from North Korea: “Yup, he’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.”

Should a customer wonder how involved Musk is in the business, the driver will tell them: “He’s the company founder, and has been very involved and supportive.” Questions about Musk’s erratic tweets will be brushed off: “Elon is a public figure. We’re just here to provide an awesome transportation experience!”

One question, however, seems to hint that not everyone is happy working for Musk: “Is it true what I’ve read about him in the papers that he [is a mean boss / smokes pot / doesn’t let employees take vacations / etc.]?” Your driver’s rather equivocal response will be: “I haven’t seen that article, but that hasn’t been my experience.”

On a side note: While the hundreds of pages of training documents and operational manuals that TechCrunch obtained detail strong policies against drug use and harassment at the Loop, the word “vacation” does not otherwise appear.

Tech that’s allowed

Because Clark County currently forbids the use of automated driving features in the Loop, human drivers could be part of the system for some time. But the system is home to plenty of other advanced technologies, according to design and operational documents submitted to Clark County. Each of the 62 Teslas in the underground Loop has a unique RFID chip — as used in contactless payment systems — that pinpoints its location when it passes over one of 55 antennas installed in the roadway, stations and parking stalls.

Each vehicle also streams data to 24 hotspots through the system, sharing its speed, state of charge, the number of passengers in the car, and whether they are wearing seatbelts. Riders should be aware that every car is also constantly streaming real-time video from a camera inside the passenger cabin. All this data, along with video from 81 fixed cameras throughout the Loop, is fed to an Operations Control Center (OCC) located a few blocks away from the Convention Center. Video is recorded and stored for at least two weeks.

In the OCC, an operator is monitoring the camera feeds and other sensors for security threats or other problems — such as a driver using their own cellphone or speeding. The OCC can communicate with any driver via a Bluetooth headset or an in-car iPad that displays messages, alerts and a map of the car’s location in the tunnels. Vehicles have strict speed limits, ranging from 10 mph within stations to 40 mph on straight tunnel sections, and must maintain at least 6 seconds of separation from the car in front.

During testing this spring, the documents reveal that Clark County officials found some drivers were not following all the rules. “When asked about the speed limitations, several drivers replied with wrong straightaway and/or curved tunnel speeds. None provided at station, express lane, or ramp speeds,” reads one document. “Drivers were not announcing to the passengers to buckle their seatbelts. When asked, [some were saying] that they are optional or not required.”

Several drivers were also failing to maintain the 6-second safety margin with cars in front. TBC told Clark County that it would provide refresher training in those areas.

TBC, Clark County, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which oversees the LVCC, did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.

The LVCVA recently signed a contract with Alphabet’s spin-out urban advertising agency, Intersection Media, to sell naming rights to the Loop system, which it hopes will net it $4.5 million.

TBC is currently building two extensions to the Loop to serve nearby hotels and ultimately wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with more than 40 stations. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.


Source: Tech Crunch

Snapchat adds My Places feature to Snap Map, recommending spots to visit

As more people are venturing out into the world this summer (safely, we hope!), Snapchat wants to make it easier for people to find restaurants, stores, parks, and other interesting spots in their neighborhood. Today, Snapchat is starting to roll out the My Places feature on its Snap Map, which connects users with over 30 million businesses. Users can log their favorite spots, send them to friends, and find recommendations.

My Places has three main tabs: Visited, Favorites, and Popular. Visited lists places you’ve checked into on Snapchat, and Favorites saves, well, your favorites. But the Popular tab is particularly interesting, since it marks the first time that Snapchat is using an algorithm to provide personalized recommendations to help people engage with the world around them. The algorithm considers where you are, what you’ve tagged or favorited already, and where your friends and other Snapchatters have visited.

This further differentiates the social-forward Snap Map from more established resources like Google Maps and Apple Maps, which you can’t really use to find out what restaurants your friends like. Sure, Snapchat can’t give you directions to that trendy sushi bar, but it’s not meant to, just like how Google Maps isn’t meant to show you what bar all your friends went to without you last night.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Snapchat shared survey results indicating that its users are more likely on average to engage in “post-pandemic” activities (is that a good thing?), and added that 44% of Snapchatters turn to the Snap Map to find places around them that they’re interested in.

With over 250 million monthly active users on Snap Map, the company announced an update in May called Layers, which lets partner companies add data directly to their own map. So far, Snapchat has collaborated with Ticketmaster and The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation website — these partnerships help users see where they can find live entertainment, or what great restaurants are hidden in plain sight. Snapchat plans to further integrate Layers into Snap Map and My Places later this year.

Last week, Snap announced that during Q2 this year, it grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Year over year, the app grew 23%.


Source: Tech Crunch

Twitter ‘acqui-hires’ the team from subscription news app, Brief

Twitter’s recent acquisition spree continues today as the company announces it has acqui-hired the team from news aggregator and summary app Brief. The startup from former Google engineers launched last year to offer a subscription-based news summary app that aimed to tackle many of the problems with today’s news cycle, including information overload, burnout, media bias, and algorithms that promoted engagement over news accuracy.

Twitter declined to share deal terms.

Before starting Brief, co-founder and CEO Nick Hobbs was a Google product manager who had worked on AR, Google Assistant, Google’s mobile app, and self-driving cars, among other things. Co-founder and CTO Andrea Huey, meanwhile, was a Google senior software engineer, who worked on the Google iOS app and had a prior stint at Microsoft.

Image Credits: Brief

While Brief’s ambitious project to fix news consumption showed a lot of promise, its growth may have been hampered by the subscription model it had adopted. The app required a $4.99 per month commitment, despite not having the brand-name draw of a more traditional news outlet. For comparison, The New York Times’ basic digital subscription is currently just $4 per week for the first year of service, thanks to a promotion.

Twitter says the startup’s team, which also includes two other Brief employees, will join Twitter’s Experience.org group where they’ll work on areas that support the public conversation on Twitter, including Twitter Spaces and Explore.

While Twitter wouldn’t get into specifics as to what those tasks may involve, the company did tell TechCrunch it hopes to leverage the founders’ expertise with Brief to build out and accelerate projects in both those areas.

Explore, of course, is Twitter’s “news” section, where top stories across categories are aggregated alongside trending topics. But what it currently lacks is a comprehensive approach to distilling the news down to the basic facts and presenting balance, as Brief’s app had offered. Instead, Twitter’s news items include a headline and a short description of the story, followed by notable tweets. There’s certainly room for improvement there.

It’s also possible to imagine some sort of news-focused product built into Twitter’s own subscription service, Twitter Blue — but that’s just speculation at this point.

Twitter says it proactively reached out to Brief with its offer. As part of its current M&A strategy, the company is on the hunt for acquiring talent that will complement its existing teams and help to accelerate its product developments.

Over the past year, Twitter has made similar acqui-hires, including those for distraction-free reading service Scroll, social podcasting app Breaker, social screen-sharing app Squad, and API integration platform Reshuffle. It also bought products, like newsletter platform Revue, which it directly integrated. The company even held acquisition talks with Clubhouse and India’s ShareChat, which would have been much larger M&A deals.

“We’re really glad we ended up at Twitter,” Hobbs told TechCrunch.

“Andrea and I founded Brief to build news that fostered a healthy discourse, and Twitter’s genuine commitment to improve the public conversation is deeply inspiring,” he said. “While we can’t discuss specifics on future plans, we’re confident our experience at Brief will help accelerate the many exciting things happening at Twitter today,” he added.

Hobbs said the team remains optimistic about the future of paid journalism, too, as Brief demonstrated that some customers would pay for a new and improved news experience.

“Brief pioneered a fresh vision for journalism, focused on getting you just the news you need rather than as much as you could withstand,” remarked Ilya Kirnos, founding partner and CTO at SignalFire, who backed Brief at the seed stage. “That respect for its readers made SignalFire proud to support founders Nick Hobbs and Andrea Huey, who are now bringing that philosophy to the top source of breaking news — Twitter.”

To date, Brief had raised a million in seed funding from SignalFire and handful of angel investors, including Sequoia Scouts like David Lieb, Maia Bittner, and Matt Macinnis.

As a result of today’s deal, Brief will wind down its subscription app on July 31. The company says it will alert its current user base today via a notification about its forthcoming shutdown but the app will remain on the App Store offering new features that allow users to explore its archives.


Source: Tech Crunch

Apple tweaks controversial iOS 15 Safari changes in latest beta

Apple is responding to user complaints and feedback about the controversial changes to the Safari mobile browser with today’s launch of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 beta 4. The new Safari design first introduced at WWDC had moved the tab bar (URL bar) to the bottom of the screen — a fairly radical change for one of the iPhone’s most-used apps. It was meant to make the controls easier to reach, if using a phone with one hand. But critics said that the change made other often-used features — like the reload button or Reader Mode — harder to find and use, impacting the overall usability of the mobile browser itself.

To Apple’s credit, it’s clearly been listening to the feedback.

In the pre-iOS 15 design, the tab bar sits in its traditional spot at the top of the screen, with an easy-to-access Reader Mode button (the double A’s) on the left and the reload button on the right. At the bottom, you’d find the forward and back buttons, a share button, reading list and tabs buttons.

The iOS 15 design did away with all these useful access points to commonly used features, favoring the reachability of the tab bar over everything else. Instead, it used a three-dot “more” menu to hide everything else that you may want to do when browsing the web — like reload the website, share a link, view the page in Reader Mode, save an article to read later, and and so on. The list of actions that could be taken grew to over 20 items long, as a result.

On Apple pundit John Gruber’s The Talk Show podcast, he noted the new design wasn’t even popular inside Apple in the weeks leading up to the Safari announcement at WWDC. The internal sentiment among some was that the new design may look cool, but wasn’t all that usable, he claimed.

TechCrunch’s Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino, who had joined as a guest on the July 21 episode, agreed that in theory, the idea of having less on the screen was a good idea. But in practice, it just didn’t work.

“When you actually use it, you realize that it actually clutters the screen more and makes it a little more confusing,” he said. “And it doesn’t give you much more screen real estate unless you take action — like scrolling — which makes it kind of weird.”

With the beta 4 update, Apple is trying to fix some of the issues that arose from this change in its new betas.

For starters, it has re-added a Share button to the tab bar, and put additional controls under that menu. Sharing links it probably one of the most-common tasks for web users, so it makes sense to put the button back in a place where it only takes one tap to use.

There’s also once again a reload button in the tab bar next to the domain name, though it’s a bit smaller compared with prior versions.

Meanwhile, a Reader Mode button will appear in the tab bar when Reader is available, and it can be accessed with just one tap.

The tab bar will also now minimize when you’re interacting with buttons on websites. Before, it had gotten in the way, causing usability issues where website buttons remained unreachable.

On iPadOS 15, users will notice tabs now appear on a standalone tab bar below the URL by default. The streamlined, compact tab bar that displays the URL and open tabs in one line — which was introduced in iPadOS 15 — can be enabled in Safari Settings.

It’s worth noting that Apple isn’t the first to rethink the mobile browser design in this way.

A former Google Chrome design manager, Chris Lee, recently wrote about his work on a similar redesign for the Chrome mobile browser with a bottom URL bar that Google ultimately decided never to launch. He said the changes had also received mixed reactions at the time. The new design had gained a cult following in the tech community but mainstream users found the changes “disorienting,” he explained.

There is something to be said for the muscle memory with using an app that’s launched as frequently as Safari is. Although you may like the placement of the bar (I initially did!), over time, you may find that the changes made it more difficult when you wanted to do more than simply visit a website or swipe between tabs. And there’s a learning curve when it comes to remembering not to reach for the top of the screen for the shortcuts to various actions, too.

The Safari update is one of several tweaks arriving with the new beta releases, which also include a way to share focus status with select contacts, a new XL widget size (which Apple Podcasts on iPad is using), and other, smaller updates.


Source: Tech Crunch

Dan Olsen leads a product-market fit masterclass for the Startup Alley+ cohort

Yes Virginia, there are advantages to exhibiting in (the sold-out) Startup Alley at TC Disrupt 2021. Out of all the early-stage startups ready to exhibit on September 21-23, Team TechCrunch hand-picked 50 to form the Startup Alley+ cohort.

Startup Alley+ is a VIP experience designed to help founders grow their business and increase their opportunities right now in the run-up to Disrupt.

Hold up: Don’t miss the opportunity to meet and network with all the innovative startups you’ll find in Startup Alley — including the Startup Alley+ cohort. Attend Disrupt for less than $100 — if you buy your early bird pass before prices go up on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

The VIP experience includes three masterclass sessions on crucial topics that all startup founders need to, well, master. Case in point: product-market fit. It’s an elusive and yet essential first step to unlocking growth. You can’t build success without a product that quenches the demand of a thirsty market.

On August 24, Dan Olsen will conduct a masterclass on the art and science of product-market fit. Olsen, a product management trainer and consultant, works with CEOs and product leaders to build strong product teams. His clients include Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Box and Walmart.

A best-selling author of The Lean Product Playbook, Olsen has literally written the book on product-market fit. In his masterclass, How to Create Product-Market Fit, Dan will draw on material in the book and share his simple but effective framework. He will explain his Product-Market Fit Pyramid and The Lean Product Process, a six-step methodology that guides you through how to:

  1. Determine your target customer
  2. Identify underserved customer needs
  3. Define your value proposition
  4. Specify your MVP feature set
  5. Create your MVP prototype
  6. Test your MVP with customers

Dan will illustrate these concepts with real-world examples and a comprehensive case study.

We’re especially excited to have Dan present his masterclass because he’s firmly rooted in TechCrunch lore. Way back in 2009, a company called YourVersion — founded by Olsen — won the peoples’ choice at TechCrunch50, the precursor to Disrupt.

Olsen’s product-market fit expertise — and his personal connection to the early-stage founder experience — will help the Startup Alley+ cohort learn how to turn product management into more of a science than an art and improve their odds of success.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place September 21-23. Don’t miss your opportunity to attend for less than $100. Buy your early bird pass here before the deal expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Same-day delivery apps need more than speed to survive post-pandemic

We have entered a whole new era of e-commerce centered on speed and convenience. Business leaders are being forced to prioritize delivery capabilities and push for more accelerated delivery services.

“Fast/reliable delivery” was the most important online shopping attribute among the more than 8,500 consumers queried for PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, making it clear that delivery services will only become more crucial across the e-commerce landscape.

Now that consumers have grown accustomed to same-day (and same-hour) delivery service models, customer expectations for delivery options will only increase.

In fact, according to a recent report from the mobile app intelligence platform SensorTower, the top food delivery apps saw continued growth in January and February 2021, with installs up 14% year over year. And yet, despite climbing user growth, DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub remain unprofitable. So how can business leaders design rapid delivery models that meet consumer expectations — and still make money?

If your delivery service results in a poor customer experience, you’ll be less likely to win customer loyalty just because you offer faster delivery.

The challenge: Delivery apps need more than speed to drive profitability

To remain competitive, delivery apps are rethinking their services and broadening their offerings.

“Amazon powers next-day delivery,” Raj Beri, Uber’s global head of grocery and new verticals, said in May. “We’re going to power next-hour commerce.”

But speeding up the delivery process won’t necessarily drive revenue. More importantly, if your delivery service results in a poor customer experience, you’ll be less likely to win customer loyalty just because you offer faster delivery.

The primary challenge faced by delivery apps, or any e-commerce company looking to add delivery services as part of its offerings, is building a foundation that enables not only speed and convenience for the customer, but one that takes into account all aspects of the customer experience. For example, when delivering food, the business responsible for the delivery must make sure the food is handled safely and remain free of any contaminants. The temperature — whether hot or cold — must be maintained throughout the delivery process and the order itself must be correct.

The solution: Same-day delivery relies on sophisticated technology platforms

The “Uberization” of everything, combined with dramatically elevated consumer expectations, will take much more than a delivery app and fleet of drivers for businesses to be profitable. To follow through on the promise of same-day delivery services, a number of things need to happen without any missteps between when an order is placed and when it shows up at the customer’s door. The more complex the product being delivered, the more difficult the delivery process becomes.

To enable same-day delivery services while also reaching profitability, a delivery app must take into account the technology needed to meet customer expectations. It involves much more than simply designing an app and growing user numbers. A truly successful same-day delivery model that provides an exceptional customer experience relies on a sophisticated software platform that can simultaneously manage various aspects of the customer journey, all while making it appear seamless from the customer’s point of view.

Profitable delivery services are built on automated systems powered by artificial intelligence systems and robotics. The technology must come first, before the app and before user growth. Any other delivery business model is putting the cart before the horse.

Domino’s Pizza is a brand that has perfected the delivery process and vastly improved the overall customer experience by making technology core to their business model. The key moment came when the brand defined itself as an e-commerce company that sells pizza. It committed to data applications and implemented a robotics technology platform that enabled electronic delivery systems that added speed and efficiency to the delivery process. In April, Domino’s began rolling out a robot car delivery service to select customers in Houston via Nuro.

GrubHub is also taking steps to integrate robotic capabilities into its delivery process. According to recent reports, the company announced it would be adding self-driving units that deploy drone-like robots to deliver food to college students. The program, which will roll out on a limited number of U.S. college campuses this fall, aims to reduce delivery times and, hopefully, costs.

This focus on technology is crucial in the world of delivery apps, or for any businesses forced to compete in the newly emerging category of next-hour commerce. The key to building a successful, profitable business model is to invest in technology platforms that can connect all components of the customer journey, from opening an app and clicking on a product to purchasing the product and scheduling the delivery, and beyond.

Same-day delivery: Where to go from here

In a world where everyone wants to open an app on their phone and have whatever it is they need to be delivered within an hour, it’s tempting for business leaders to focus on the delivery app itself, whether they are building their own or partnering with another company. But focusing on the app is a shortsighted view of same-day delivery models.

Instead, business leaders must use a wide-angle lens and consider every single aspect of their customer journey: How do customers engage with their business? How do customers search for and find the products they offer? What does it take to complete an order and what conditions must be met before the order can be delivered? Also, what happens after the order to ensure it went smoothly and to the customer’s satisfaction?

Some businesses are finding success partnering with delivery apps, but this comes with the risk of putting your brand’s reputation in the hands of another company that acts as a frontline employee with customers. Other companies are adding delivery service options to their current e-commerce model, relying on third-party software that can be plugged into an existing technology stack. Unfortunately, this comes with limitations and is not viable for regulated businesses that include multiple components.

The only way to ensure a seamless customer experience on top of same-day delivery services is to build a proprietary software platform that puts the technology at the heart of your business, which allows you to automate key processes, adding speed and convenience to your delivery model. It also makes it possible to integrate robotic systems that can expedite orders, include artificial intelligence protocols that can accelerate business growth, and scale your delivery model as your business expands.

Thriving in the new era of e-commerce

“Next-hour delivery” is a catchy tagline that is sure to gain traction among consumers, but whether it will help drive profitability remains to be seen. As the CEO of a firm that has built a profitable business model centered on same-day delivery services, I’m skeptical that the promise of next-hour delivery will drive more revenue if the technology powering the delivery systems lacks automation, artificial intelligence and robotics.

It’s true that businesses will be forced to compete on same-day delivery. But another truth that has emerged since the pandemic is that this new era of e-commerce comes with heightened customer expectations that won’t be met on speed alone. Consumer satisfaction hinges on more than the amount of time it takes to move an order from an app to the customer’s door.

To succeed in the delivery service market, business leaders must ask themselves a number of questions: Which parts of their business are needed to complete a same-day delivery order? Is the ordering process intuitive? Can the order and delivery be monitored by the customer? Is the order correct when it arrives? Does it meet the customer’s expectations?

And, most importantly, is their business built on a technology platform that can support the entire customer journey and delivery model, from product discovery and purchase to same-day delivery and beyond? The businesses that answer yes to these questions are the ones I expect to thrive in the post-pandemic world.


Source: Tech Crunch

BoldVoice wants to help nonnative English speakers find (and flaunt) their voices

When Anada Lakra and Ilya Usorov first moved to the United States, they struggled to find their voices. They both knew and understood English, but when it came time to speak up, their accents became a hurdle. Usorov, for example, watched his Russian-born parents struggle to advocate for themselves, which limited work opportunities. While Lakra, who just started college at Yale University, was constantly asked to repeat herself.

“Will I be able to express myself clearly enough? Will I be understood? Will I be as impactful?” Lakra remembers questioning herself. “My accent pronunciation made me feel like I really wasn’t my full self — and I lost a little of my personality.”

It’s an issue experienced, to varying degrees, by many of the roughly 65 million nonnative English speakers in the United States. Viewing accent as a hurdle in jobs, confidence and relationship-building, the duo teamed up as co-founders to build a solution.

Now, Lakra and Usorov are launching BoldVoice, an accent coaching app that helps users refine their pronunciation of the English language. The New York-based startup, currently going through Y Combinator’s summer 2021 batch, raised a pre-seed round of about $605,000 from the accelerator and XFund.

Hollywood, meet edtech

BoldVoice has a very specific user in mind: nonnative English speakers who learned the language on paper but now need help speaking and interacting with people.

The startup uses short-form videos, taught by Hollywood accent coaches who traditionally help actors, to deliver content. The curriculum is built around three Ps: posture, to help with the physical feel of using an English R versus a Spanish R; phonology, the vowels and consonants; and porosity, which is the musicality of an accent. So far, there are two Hollywood accent and dialect coaches on the platform: Ron Carlos and Eliza Simpson.

“We’re really thinking about this in the same way that an actor will learn an accent for a new role,” where they have to pick it up very quickly, Lakra said. “We want to bring the same discipline and process to everyone at home, so we have Hollywood accent coaches who are trained voice speech and dialect coaches” as well as advisers who have degrees in linguistics.

Beyond its short-form videos, the company plans to integrate artificial intelligence into its product. When a user practices a speech, BoldVoice records the speech sample, feeds it into an algorithm and, over time, will be able to recommend more tailored exercises to their weak areas. It is using open-source software currently but is developing its own AI algorithm for the future. Real-time feedback would be a feat.

BoldVoice

Image Credits: BoldVoice product screen

The sign-in process is pretty simple. Users are asked to set goals around accent confidence, explain English proficiency and identify native language, as well as the situation in which they want to improve, which can range from in the workplace to social settings. Users are also asked to commit pronunciation practice for 10 minutes a day, with the option to say no.

Image Credits: BoldVoice/TechCrunch screenshot

They are then given a lesson plan, which is only accessible through a subscription. The company charges $10 a month or $70 a year, which is meant to be more accessible than private accent coach tutoring, which can hit $200 per hour. There is currently no free experience for BoldVoice beyond a one-week free trial.

After launching a little over a month ago, BoldVoice has attracted 1,000 users, most of whom come from India, China, or are Spanish speakers. The company is focusing on creating “hyper-personalized” content around these core users, and will have its work cut out for it: There are 121 languages spoken by more than 10,000 people in India, with the Indian constitution officially recognizing 22 languages.

The owl is watching

BoldVoice is looking to dig into the crowded market of language learning startups at a key time for the edtech subsector. Language learning unicorn Duolingo is set to go public this week, which could cast a golden halo on other consumer edtech businesses. The company has already raised its expected price range ahead of its public offering, a confident move. Other companies such as Busuu and Babbel have also made progress in carving out spheres of language learning.

But Lakra doesn’t think any existing language learning apps have won over the accent market yet. She explained how learning a language is about memorization of vocabulary and grammar, while learning an accent is about working out your mouth through tongue exercises. The latter, which BoldVoice focuses on, doesn’t yet seem to be a priority for other businesses.

She’s not wrong. Duolingo excels at reading and writing literacy, but it has not yet shared any known efficacy studies about its pronunciation efforts. The company tried launching a chatbot in its early days to help users practice conversations. The highly requested feature flopped, though, as 80% of users didn’t use it — a reaction that CEO Luis von Ahn thinks underscores how difficult it is to get consumers to practice speaking.

Duolingo is now building investment in a team around speech recognition technology, as well as eyeing M&A opportunities. BoldVoice, which similarly uses bite-sized content and streaks, could bring its product of confidence to Duolingo’s mission of motivation.

Beyond the complementary yet competitive landscape, BoldVoice’s challenge ahead may just be that it is playing in a sensitive area. Someone’s voice is an integral part of their identity. BoldVoice will need to balance helping people, while also not erasing what makes them them.

Lakra thinks that they can strike the balance. Her perception of the user is constantly evolving.

“Users are already telling us that it would be awesome to get more tips around public speaking or how to interject in a meeting or how to give feedback politely,” she said. The requests are all about how to culturally and linguistically use English in a professional English-speaking environment, and BoldVoice is working with coaches to create content beyond pronunciation and into cadence, projection and intonation.

“We definitely want to move and make this a tool that helps people not just say the word the right way, but just feel confident in everything they say.”

boldvoice-co-founder

Image Credits: BoldVoice. Co-founders Ilya Usorov and Anada Lakra.


Source: Tech Crunch