Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Canadian Angel Investor Reveals His Million-dollar Mistakes

Tuesday’s first GROWtalks event in Montreal was a day filled with growth hacking, metrics, lean analytics, a bit of swearing and invaluable advice based on first-hand experience.

Among many talented speakers the event featured a local angel investor and CEO of Fiveby.tv, Greg Isenberg. A candid Isenberg told the audience about how he lost over $1.5 million dollars over his still-young career building companies.

Below is a recap of his eight biggest mistakes, and what the entrepreneur said he could have done differently.

1. Good copywriting is underrated: Compelling copy is key to conversions and also making your brand human, friendly and fuzzy. Developers can’t write copy that well, that’s what marketers are for.

Lesson: Great copy is a huge differentiator. It connects your audience to your brand and it has a direct impact on retention and engagement.

“Copy is so important because it communicates your vision and helps you solve your products,” said Isenberg. “If you can’t do that right you’ll have little conversion rates and your not going to have a consistent brand image.”

2. Influencers are a big deal: Scale users quickly by onboarding communities. Isenberg worked with schools, trading rooms and blogs. Influencers hold the key to these communities.

Lesson: The best way to onboard influencers is the old school way by building a real relationship. Pick up a phone, email them or best yet, take them out for drinks.

“I love sitting behind a computer because it’s my safe haven, but the truth is that relationships is key to getting these people involved,” he said.

3. How to sell to influencers: Onboarding influencers is more difficult than Isenberg thought and he didn’t make a compelling enough offer to get important influencers involved.

Lesson: Influencers love feeling special, so the best way to get them involved is to make them feel like they’re very important. Tell them their content is the best and that you want it to be front and centre.

4. Ride those waves: New technology opens up opportunities for disruption, like iOS and the app ecosystem, CSS3, HTML5, etc.

“When you’re focusing on your business keep an eye out for the bigger picture, and not just in terms of the competitors,” said Isenberg. “How does the emergence of a new technology impact your business and how does that create opportunity?”

Lesson: Always question how outside innovations can provide opportunities for you to grow your business.

5. Distribution, distribution, distribution: Strategic alliances with partners helps create value-add for their user base and helps you get traffic (and SEO juice).

Lesson: Embeddable widgets that allow users to distribute content across the web are particularly powerful when it’s the strategic partner’s content. “Find your most compelling feature that can be embeddable and do deals.”

6. Create exclusivity, urgency and scarcity: Who says fear of missing out doesn’t exist on the web? Invite-only increases hype and word of mouth and people like to be a part of an exclusive club.

Lesson: Emulate a land grab by providing users the ability to claim “land” on a first-come-first-serve basis (ex: About.me’s vanity URL registration before launch).

7. The dos and don’ts at conferences: Isenberg launched one of his previous startups at Finovate ’11 NYC. The team rushed the launch and built features that were cool to demo but not valuable to customers. Instead of building strong products and widgets that would have provided them with solid SEO the team invested in a mascot during what would turn out to be a very unmemorable weekend.

Lesson: Launching at conferences, although it might be good for morale, PR and setting a date to launch, is not always good for the company. Only launch at a conference if it coincides with your product roadmap.

8. Become a viral baker: Just as design and development have processes, so should growth hacking. User acquisition shouldn’t be an afterthought to product development.

Lesson: the most beautiful products don’t win, it’s the one’s that are marketing machines from the core.