Blog

IRCE 2015

By Thomas Schiavone

Headed to IRCE this year? Let's meet up! We'll be at Booth 214 and would love to walk through integrations, get your feedback, and put a face to a name.

Here are the details:

  • IRCE
  • Booth 214
  • June 2 - June 5
  • McCormick Place West
  • Chicago, IL

Feel free to email us directly or click the button below if you'd like to connect at IRCE.

Connect with Us

Posted May 14th, 2015

How to Get Press

By

We've been working with a PR firm for a while now and we get a lot of questions about how to do PR. While this isn't a comprehensive guide, it's a good starting point for getting your startup in the press.

Goals

Before you do anything, you should define your goals for PR. Are you looking for more users or customers? Help with recruiting? Investor interest? Each of these have different PR strategies that work best, so it's important to clearly outline what you hope to achieve from PR.

If your goal is users, for a consumer app or site, a great place to start is Hacker News or reddit. These are combed by early adopters and if there's promise for your product, it will likely take off there.

Another great place to launch apps is on blogs. I don't follow these much anymore, but sites like AppGratis or other app-a-day sites used to be good places for distribution to early adopters.

If your goal is enterprise customers, Hacker News and reddit can also be great channels, especially if selling to developers or tech savvy business buyers. Beyond that, industry publications can be a good way to target potential customers. The great thing about these is that since there's lower readership -- they're more niche -- they're easier to get in touch with them.

Whether it's an attempt to gain users, customers, or investors, these all likely start at the same place: reaching out to journalists or bloggers.

Getting Started

Now that you know your goals, start reading relevant media. An important piece of effective PR is knowing a publication's work as well as its style. This will give you an idea how companies are presented so you can better tailor your own pitch for success. It will also expose you to other companies that are getting press and what's being written about them.

For example, TechCrunch is great for fundraising, big product updates, and major milestones. Knowing this means I won't try to pitch them on featuring my app or site with no traction or funding. Fortunately, there are sites that are great for this, TechCrunch just isn't one of them.

By doing this you'll be able to create a list or relevant publications. From there, start keeping track of reporters or bloggers that cover relevant startups or ideas.

Once you've got a list or reporters, you're almost ready. One important tip is to start small. Want to be on the NYT someday? Don't start there. PR is very much like sales, you want to gradually build up to bigger publications. Going straight after the top of the market isn't going to work, and could harm your chances with them in the future.

Start on industry blogs or sites. They will not only be easier to reach, but they will also provide great practice to get you ready for the bigger publications.

Although it doesn’t sound important, practice is crucial for success in PR. Those early, smaller interviews are great for improving your pitch as well as minimizing the impact of any mistakes you may make. I’ll provide more practice tips below, but here’s a great example of a PR mistake I made.

Early on in our PR efforts I was speaking to a blog you've probably never heard of. We hadn't yet announced fundraising, but I mentioned on the call that we had raised money. Within an hour this post was live. A post on an unknown tech blog was not exactly what we had in mind for our fundraising announcement.

Fortunately, no one noticed and it was a free lesson about what not to say to reporters. More tips on that below.

Storytelling/Message Development

Before you reach out, you need to know what story you’re telling. The quality of your story will determine whether or not you capture a reporter's interest or end up on the cutting room floor.

Who are we trying to reach, and how does that influence where or how we tell our story?

Who is the "hero" of the story?

Why is what you’re doing great/What differentiates you from the competition?

Why should a reporter care/What trends does this story build upon?

Does your story have a beginning, middle and end?

Ask yourself questions like these and try to distill what it is that’s exciting about your product or company. Without strong storytelling, it’s unlikely you’ll get past the first step of getting interest from a reporter.

How to Reach Out

I recommend starting with the most junior reporter or blogger at the publication you're interested in. Also, only hit one reporter at a time from each publication.

Additionally, it's important to note that this outreach isn't about writing a piece, it's about connecting with them and establishing a rapport. What we're going for is to learn about the reporter and teach them about your company. An informed and interested reporter will lead to much better coverage long term.

This also means you should reach out far in advance of wanting press. If you think you'll want to do some PR in a few months, reach out now.

Here's the method I use today and have had excellent results:

Subject: Great Article About {TOPIC}!  // Doesn't have to be that, but something that shows you read their work and are interested in talking with them.

Hi {NAME}, 

I really enjoyed your article about {TOPIC}. I have a lot of experience with {TOPIC} because my company does {TOPIC}.  // The point here is to compliment and show you're knowledgeable on the subject.

I'm the CEO and Founder of {COMPANY}, which is {DESCRIPTION}. We {TRACTION}. Our investors include {INVESTORS} // This is basically your elevator pitch. Who you are, what you do, and why they should talk to you. In tech PR, big name investors is interesting, so include their names.

Have time for a quick call?  // Can also offer coffee, if they're local. Just so long as it's a question.

Best, 

{YOUR NAME}

By complimenting, you're showing you're familiar with their work and aren't just looking for a quick piece of press. And by showing you're knowledgeable on the topic, you're offering to be a valuable source in future work.

Here's an actual email that worked, with name and topic redacted:

Subject: Love Your {SHIPPING COMPANY} Article

Hi {NAME},

Great piece on {SHIPPING COMPANY} hiking holiday rates! It's hard to find good coverage of the carriers so I love reading your pieces.

I'm the Founder and CEO of EasyPost, which is a shipping API for all the major carriers. We ship millions of packages a month for companies like Shapeways, Teespring, Groupon, and others. Our investors include Peter Thiel, Ashton Kutcher, Y Combinator, Google Ventures, and more.

We've seen a big shift on the customer side as well for the holidays. Instead of relying on the standard delivery dates, they're using the actual cutoffs provided by the carriers. We also see customers setting up pop up distribution centers for just the holidays.

I'd love to talk if you have time for a quick call.

Best, J

The reporter responded the next day and we had a call.

Timing is an important aspect as well, since the most popular time for press releases and product launches, at least within tech, is Tuesday. Given that, you'll have better luck emailing them off-peak. Try later in the week and in the afternoon.

Rinse and Repeat

If the reporter didn't respond, ping them again after one week with something like this:

Hi {NAME},

I just wanted to follow up on my earlier email. Let me know if you have time for a quick call.

Best, 

{YOUR NAME}

Also, when you send that one, send a note off to the next reporter on your list from that publication. Remember, just like with sales, it's a numbers game. Make a list of potential contacts, email them one by one, and follow up.

It Worked, Now What?

Once the reporter responds, I like to do something that salespeople call mirroring and matching. If they respond in an hour, I respond an hour later. The point with this is to match their interest and not to seem desperate.

After that, respond with something agreeable in terms of scheduling. Let them know you're flexible, but toss out a distinct time. Something like this:

Hi {NAME},

Thanks for the note. I'm free Monday and Tuesday. How's Tuesday at 3pm ET?

Best, 

{YOUR NAME}

Also, I usually don't propose the day of. You're important, you've got things to do. You're also not desperate to get on the phone. That is, unless they propose it, then go for it.

What Not to Say

The first rule of PR is do not say anything you don't want printed.

The second rule of PR is DO NOT SAY ANYTHING YOU DON'T WANT PRINTED.

It's that important. In my example above, I showed how important this is.

But what about 'off the record'? Roger Ailes says you should never say anything off the record. If you've known the reporter for years and have a rapport, that's one thing. But in the case of a reporter you're just meeting, keep it on the record by not saying anything you don't want printed.

Additionally, don't ask for coverage. The point of this outreach is to meet the reporter and establish a rapport. Coverage comes later.

What to Say

Ask questions. I know, I know, you're reaching out to talk about your company. But this isn't about you, it's about the reporter. So ask them questions. Have a list of these before the call.

What do you think of {TOPIC}?

Or better yet:

I really enjoyed your reporting on {TOPIC}, what do you think of {SUB-TOPIC}?

A good reporter will typically guide the conversation with their questions, and the more the merrier. But having your own questions is a good way to get to know them, show an interest, and learn other areas where you might provide value to them.

For some of their bigger questions about product or traction, you should shoot for a few glowing, 30 second bits about the following:

Problem -- what it is you're solving

Customer -- who is the target customer, or actual customer if you have them

Traction -- what have you done to date

Market -- how the market is

BIG -- how your idea gets to be big

Team -- how great your team is

This is the same strategy we used for our successful Y Combinator Interview (https://www.easypost.com/blog/how-to-interview-for-y-combinator) and it works for almost any type of interview or selling scenario.

You don't have to do all six, preferably not, but 2-4 of them is good. They can often be said in response to questions the reporter may have. (ie How big is this market? How big of a problem is this?)

Practice

These tips are helpful, but the important thing to do is to practice. Write up a list of questions they could ask and run through your answers.

If you're going to be doing face-to-face interviews, you might as well practice with the camera on your phone or laptop. This will show you how you look to a reporter.

Also, if you want some tips from an expert, Roger Ailes has a great book called You Are the Message about how to effectively present yourself.

How to Actually Get Press

Now that you've established rapports with a handful of reporters, you're in a much better position to be written about. Often, if you establish a strong rapport, the reporter will ask about any upcoming announcements you might have. That's when you can mention upcoming product announcements or milestones. If that's not the case, don't worry, you can still pitch them on your news.

As a general rule, the bigger the publication the longer it takes to be written about. For smaller or tech-focused publications, sometimes one call is all it takes. For bigger ones, it can take a few months and several contacts.

Ideally, you've made contact with these reporters in advance of wanting press, and so some time has passed since you first contacted them. Say, at least 3-4 weeks.

Figure out what you want to publicize. Is it the fact you're growing at an incredible rate? Have you just launched a new product? Recently raised some money? For tech PR, these are all standard things to announce.

Reach out to your reporter of choice, only one, with something like this:

Hi {NAME},

Great chatting with you {DATE/TIME PERIOD}. I hope your trip to Maui was great! // The point is something relevant to them here that lets them know you were paying attention.

We're launching {PRODUCT}, it's a {DESCRIPTION}. We think it is {REASON IT'S GOING TO BE BIG}. // Tell them what you're announcing, why it's important, and why it's going to be big (so they will look good writing about it).

I'd love to give you an exclusive on this announcement if you're interested. Do you have time for a quick call?

Best, 

{YOUR NAME}

Give them at least a day or two. If they don't respond, move on to the next one, but never email two at the same time offering an exclusive.

Scaling Your PR

Once you're ready to scale your PR efforts, hiring a PR shop can really help. PR shops are great for once you're doing or wanting to do more press than you can manage. They're also great if you're just starting and don't want to do all this work, or don't know how.

The approach we used is to look for companies that have PR you admire. Are they always doing cool press launches? Do they seem to have an in with important reporters? Reach out to them directly and ask who they use for PR. As long as they're not a competitor, the company will likely tell you because it sends business to their PR shop, which makes them look good.

Posted March 25th, 2015

Canpar Shipping API

By Thomas Schiavone

Canpar Certified Solutions Provider

We're proud to announce our recent certification with the Canpar Shipping API. Canpar is a Canadian carrier that some of our high volume customers rely upon.

You can access all Canpar functionality through the EasyPost Shipping API. Just like with all the carriers we support, the steps are as follows:

  1. Log in to your EasyPost account
  2. Go to your Carriers page and enable Canpar. After that you'll input your Canpar account info.
  3. Get started! The Canpar API is integrated in EasyPost, the integration steps are the same as any other carriers.

As always, email us if you have any questions or difficulty getting started.

Posted March 9th, 2015

UPS Fuel Surcharge Increase

By Thomas Schiavone

UPS Fuel Surcharge Increase

Effective Feb. 2, UPS changed its fuel surcharge. For UPS Ground, surcharges are adjusted the first Monday of each month based on the national U.S. on-highway average price. For UPS Air and International, surcharges are adjusted the first Monday of each month based on the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC) spot price.

UPS Ground

At Least: But Less Than: Surcharge:
$2.90 $3.02 5.50%
$3.02 $3.14 5.75%
$3.14 $3.26 6.00%
$3.26 $3.38 6.25%
$3.38 $3.50 6.50%
$3.50 $3.62 6.75%
$3.62 $3.74 7.00%
$3.74 $3.86 7.25%
$3.86 $3.98 7.50%
$3.98 $4.10 7.75%
$4.10 $4.22 8.00%
$4.22 $4.34 8.25%

UPS Air and International

At Least: But Less Than: Surcharge:
$1.48 $1.53 3.50%
$1.53 $1.58 3.75%
$1.58 $1.63 4.00%
$1.63 $1.68 4.25%
$1.68 $1.73 4.50%
$1.73 $1.78 4.75%
$1.78 $1.83 5.00%
$1.83 $1.88 5.25%
$1.88 $1.93 5.50%
$1.93 $1.98 5.75%
$1.98 $2.03 6.00%
$2.03 $2.08 6.25%
$2.08 $2.13 6.50%
$2.13 $2.18 6.75%
$2.18 $2.23 7.00%
$2.23 $2.28 7.25%
$2.28 $2.33 7.50%

Posted February 17th, 2015

FedEx Fuel Surcharge Increase

By Thomas Schiavone

FedEx Fuel Surcharge Increase

Effective Feb. 2, FedEx changed its fuel surcharge. For FedEx Express, surcharges are adjusted monthly based on a rounded average of the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC) spot price for a gallon of kerosene-type jet fuel. For FedEx Ground, surcharges are adjusted monthly based on a rounded average of the U.S. on-highway average price for a gallon of diesel fuel. For FedEx Freight, surcharges are based on the weekly national average fuel price set by the U.S. Department of Energy and are effective each Monday.

FedEx Express

At Least Less Than Surcharge
$1.43 $1.51 1.5%
$1.51 $1.59 2.0%
$1.59 $1.67 2.5%
$1.67 $1.75 3.0%
$1.75 $1.83 3.5%
$1.83 $1.91 4.0%
$1.91 $1.99 4.5%
$1.99 $2.07 5.0%
$2.07 $2.15 5.5%
$2.15 $2.23 6.0%
$2.23 $2.31 6.5%
$2.31 $2.39 7.0%
$2.39 $2.47 7.5%
$2.47 $2.55 8.0%
$2.55 $2.63 8.5%
$2.63 $2.71 9.0%
$2.71 $2.79 9.5%
$2.79 $2.87 10.00%

FedEx Ground

At Least But Less Than Surcharge
$2.47 $2.65 3.5%
$2.65 $2.83 4.0%
$2.83 $3.01 4.5%
$3.01 $3.19 5.0%
$3.19 $3.37 5.5%
$3.37 $3.55 6.0%
$3.55 $3.73 6.5%
$3.73 $3.91 7.0%
$3.91 $4.09 7.5%
$4.09 $4.27 8.0%

FedEx Freight

When the EIA fuel index is at least: The LTL & TL fuel surcharge will be: When the EIA fuel index is at least: The LTL & TL fuel surcharge will be: When the EIA fuel index is at least: The LTL & TL fuel surcharge will be: When the EIA fuel index is at least: The LTL & TL fuel surcharge will be:
250 21.1% 288 23.0% 326 24.9% 364 26.8%
251 21.2% 289 23.1% 327 25.0% 365 26.9%
252 21.2% 290 23.1% 328 25.0% 366 26.9%
253 21.3% 291 23.2% 329 25.1% 367 27.0%
254 21.3% 292 23.2% 330 25.1% 368 27.0%
255 21.4% 293 23.3% 331 25.2% 369 27.1%
256 21.4% 294 23.3% 332 25.2% 370 27.1%
257 21.5% 295 23.4% 333 25.3% 371 27.2%
258 21.5% 296 23.4% 334 25.3% 372 27.2%
259 21.6% 297 23.5% 335 25.4% 373 27.3%
260 21.6% 298 23.5% 336 25.4% 374 27.3%
261 21.7% 299 23.6% 337 25.5% 375 27.4%
262 21.7% 300 23.6% 338 25.5% 376 27.4%
263 21.8% 301 23.7% 339 25.6% 377 27.5%
264 21.8% 302 23.7% 340 25.6% 378 27.5%
265 21.9% 303 23.8% 341 25.7% 379 27.6%
266 21.9% 304 23.8% 342 25.7% 380 27.6%
267 22.0% 305 23.9% 343 25.8% 381 27.7%
268 22.0% 306 23.9% 344 25.8% 382 27.7%
269 22.1% 307 24.0% 345 25.9% 383 27.8%
270 22.1% 308 24.0% 346 25.9% 384 27.8%
271 22.2% 309 24.1% 347 26.0% 385 27.9%
272 22.2% 310 24.1% 348 26.0% 386 27.9%
273 22.3% 311 24.2% 349 26.1% 387 28.0%
274 22.3% 312 24.2% 350 26.1% 388 28.0%
275 22.4% 313 24.3% 351 26.2% 389 28.1%
276 22.4% 314 24.3% 352 26.2% 390 28.1%
277 22.5% 315 24.4% 353 26.3% 391 28.2%
278 22.5% 316 24.4% 354 26.3% 392 28.2%
279 22.6% 317 24.5% 355 26.4% 393 28.3%
280 22.6% 318 24.5% 356 26.4% 394 28.3%
281 22.7% 319 24.6% 357 26.5% 395 28.4%
282 22.7% 320 24.6% 358 26.5% 396 28.4%
283 22.8% 321 24.7% 359 26.6% 397 28.5%
284 22.8% 322 24.7% 360 26.6% 398 28.5%
285 22.9% 323 24.8% 361 26.7% 399 28.6%
286 22.9% 324 24.8% 362 26.7% 400 28.6%
287 23.0% 325 24.9% 363 26.8%    

Posted February 13th, 2015

How We Bought easypost.com

By

We launched EasyPost with easypost.co, which was good enough for our Show HN. We knew long term we'd want to acquire easypost.com and we knew the price would continue to increase in proportion to the company's success. Given we were bullish on the long term prospects, we knew we had to acquire it quickly.

As soon as we raised our first $200k, we started poking around about how to acquire the domain. Since we'd already launched EasyPost, we thought it was pretty obvious who would be interested in the domain and emailed the company directly. If you're going after a domain that's more broad you should avoid emailing the seller directly. Since domains are often fairly illiquid and negotiated digitally, the main sources of leverage are time and price. Knowing the potential buyer gives a lot of leverage to the seller in terms of price. Given that, we also decided to hold off on announcing our fundraising until we had acquired the domain. We didn't want the seller to know we had raised any money.

Shortly thereafter, an investor introduced us to a domain broker. At first, like with anyone in the brokerage business given the typical conflicts of interest related to pricing of commisions (higher the sale price, higher the commission), we were skeptical, but the broker's recommendations were stellar.

After speaking with the broker, we learned that one of the main value props of a domain broker, just like with a real estate broker, is knowledge of historical sales. Good ones know who has bought what for how much recently and thus have a good sense of the market. The broker we used had a good sense for what the buyer would be willing to sell our domain for, as well as comparable domains that had been sold recently.

The second thing we learned was to use an alias. Like we said before, the more the seller knows about you the more leverage they have. Our domain broker had a few fake accounts complete with LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. These give you the opportunity to approach a seller and get a general idea where their head is at in terms of price, absent the knowledge of how big or small you may be.

Next, since easypost.com was owned by a corporation that also happened to do web hosting, email hosting (on easypost.com), and other web services, it was going to be a bit delicate. Buying domains from corporations takes a while since you're dealing with a bureaucracy, which means people are heavily inclined to say 'No', and it takes several 'Yes's for a deal to go through. The bigger a corporation, the longer it will take and the lower the likelihood of success. If the domain you're looking for happens to be owned by a large and/or public corporation, move on. Those can take forever.

Our broker got started by emailing a few of the contacts there. In our way of thinking, you email them politely, professionally, and get an idea for their appetite. Wrong.

Here's an example of the email our broker, whose alias we'll call Walter*, sent:

David,

Hi my name is Walter, my partner Jarrett has been in touch regarding easypost.com.

We realize you guys have had this Domain for a while and probably at one point planned to use it.  We get that, we fully understand where it’s been and what it means to you.

We realize you guys aren't hurting for cash and you’re not very motivated sellers.  We’d  owe you big time if you give some on the price tag.  The potential PR value we could bringyou guys not just now but later down the road - you could do a write-up on us, we'll sing your praises.  Crazy good testimonials, whatever you guys want - you got it.  We'll be    your whipping boys.  How about a viral video on how you changed our lives down the road!? Anything you want, name it.

Hell if you fly us over we'll cook, clean, and do your CEOs laundry for a month!  We’ll doanything it takes to reach a win/win, to reach an amount we’re able to swallow, that we   can afford.

Jarrett and I feel confident with a handful of days and making a mad scramble on this end we should be able to scrap together $10K GBP.  We’ll have to make a deal with the devil topull it off.  Anything it takes, we’re very passionate about our project and we really, really need that .com to make it shine.

If you could see both of us right now we're on our knees, practically begging you guys to cut us a break and reduce the asking amount – take our offer.  Work with us and we'll be  in your debt forever.

Sincerely,

Walter and Jarrett

Like anyone, when we saw that we were shocked. We thought there was no way an email like that would work, and we were pretty sure we were being had. That is, until the response came back a few days later. The person promised to look into the matter for us and we were stunned.

Shortly thereafter we learned their asking price was $30,000. Wow, we'd only raised $200k at that point and that was a tough pill to swallow. Fortunately, our broker let us know that domains are typically negotiated down 50% or more. $15k was still pushing it, but we knew the price would only increase and we didn't want to have to continue waiting to publicize the work we'd done on EasyPost.

Our broker also brought up other payment options, like cash and equity, or a longer term payout. If you're really tight on cash and/or the domain is really expensive, there are ways to negotiate around that. You can offer some of the company, or to pay out over a year or two. Obviously, you'd have to give up your identity to do these, but it's likely a premium domain. Also, in this case you'll need to talk yourself up if you're pitching the seller on equity.

After a few weeks of back and forth, in the aforementioned fashion, we settled on $15k. This was pricey for us, but the company was gaining traction and the price was bound to go up.

We used escrow.com to arrange the transfer. (Edit: I'm told escrowhill.com is great as well and cheaper.) We put in our bank details, the money was wired, and the domain was transferred.

If you're using an alias, you'll need an alias account at DNSimple or whichever domain registrar you're using. If you don't have one of these, you'll give up your identity before the domain is actually transferred. Make sure and have one of these setup before you start the transaction.

Once it's transferred, you're in the clear. All in, the transaction was $15,000 + 15% commission.

Buying your domain, if it's valuable one, can be one of the first big and delicate transactions a startup makes. Hopefully our experience helps.


*I received an email from a domain broker whose name was the previous alias of the alias I used, so I've changed the name to Walter.

Posted February 4th, 2015

Spee-Dee API Certified

By Thomas Schiavone

Spee-Dee Certified Solutions Provider

We're proud to announce our recent certification with the Spee-Dee API. Spee-Dee is a regional US carrier that many of our high volume customers rely upon.

You can access all Spee-Dee functionality through the EasyPost Shipping API. Just like with all the carriers we support, the steps are as follows:

  1. Log in to your EasyPost account
  2. Go to your Carriers page and enable Spee-Dee. After that you'll input your Spee-Dee account info.
  3. Get started! The Spee-Dee API is integrated in EasyPost, the integration steps are the same as any other carriers.

As always, email us if you have any questions or difficulty getting started.

Posted January 20th, 2015

Colis Privé API Certified

By Thomas Schiavone

Colis Privé Certified Solutions Provider

We're proud to announce our recent certification with the Colis Privé API. Colis Privé is a major French carrier that many of our high volume customers rely upon.

You can access all Colis Privé functionality through the EasyPost Shipping API. Just like with all the carriers we support, the steps are as follows:

  1. Log in to your EasyPost account
  2. Go to your Carriers page and enable Colis Privé. After that you'll input your Colis Privé account info.
  3. Get started! The Colis Privé API is integrated in EasyPost, the integration steps are the same as any other carriers.

As always, email us if you have any questions or difficulty getting started.

Posted January 5th, 2015

How to Interview for Y Combinator

By Jarrett Streebin

Back in 2012 we applied to Y Combinator for the winter class and got an interview. We interviewed with Paul, Jessica, Robert, and Trevor. We felt like the interview went really well and were very confident. We had already done a successful Show HN, had SV Angel invested, and gathered a lot of good recommendations. We didn't get in.

Six months later we applied for the Summer class and got an interview. This time our traction had drastically improved; we'd gone from signups to a working product and paying customers. We got in.

Here's what we learned between those two interviews and what helped us get in.

First, it's not an interview. It's a presentation. Go in with the mindset that you're going to present your case, piece by piece, and answer questions as they come.

Second, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake (but possibly will feel like Jack's raging gall bladder on interview day). You're one of many in a very long day. Put yourself in their shoes: you've been pitched a few dozen times already today, you're hungry (or digesting). Worst of all, if you're an introvert you're drained from talking to people all day long.

Given that, you should go in with energy and excitement about what you're building. Don't expect the other side of the table to provide the spark to get you going. The partners are great, just understand interviews is a huge undertaking for them and it takes a lot.

You'll need more than just energy though, your presentation needs to be confident and convincing. What's the best way to prepare? We've heard of many preparing by compiling long lists of questions and answers. This is the worst possible strategy. This forces you to know umpteen questions and answers, and god forbid you didn't think of one, you're left without a prepared answer.

The best way to prepare is to focus on perfecting your pitch from five or six key angles:

PROBLEM
CUSTOMER
TRACTION
MARKET
STRATEGY
TEAM

These work well because nearly every question the partners will ask can be related to one of these.

Q: "Is the market big enough?" A: MARKET

Q: "Will you be big enough?" A: STRATEGY

Q: "How do you know?" A: TRACTION

Q: "Are you charging enough?" (Hint: this means they see the value in what you're doing.) A: CUSTOMER

Let's look at each key area for some tips on how to prepare.

PROBLEM:

This is what you're solving or hope to solve. You're fixing or creating X by building Y. (e.g. Carrier APIs are so dated that customers end up not integrating them and losing money on shipping, or paying for over-priced software.)

CUSTOMER:

The best way to address all manner of "customer" related questions is to empirically learn everything you can about them. Don't guess, gather evidence. What you know is invaluable, what you guess is beyond useless, it's dangerous. You should prepare to talk both about what you know, and how you've learned it.

TRACTION

This is this most important item. Think of your company and all the others on a spectrum between high risk and low risk. We'll use how far along you are in the product to define the risk. Have a beta product with no actual paying customers or users? That's about as high risk as you get. Have paying customers and rapidly growing revenue? That's very low risk (provided it's not software for regional newspapers).

Where are you on that spectrum? This matters because the closer you are to low risk, the less all the other stuff matters. The further you are from low risk, the more all the other stuff matters.

You're just a week or less away from your interviews which means you have little time to try to change anything. However, if you don't have any customers, or even signups, you still have time to do a Show HN. This, more than those 5 or 10 friends who really love what you're doing, will actually mean something. This has launched many YC companies, including one of their Black Swans.

If you do have potential customers (signups or leads), but no revenue, it's worth going to them and asking if they'll commit to paying for the product once it's built. Better yet, get them to pay up front.

The way to talk about your traction is in terms of numbers and growth. We have X customers and are growing Y percent month-over-month. We have X revenue and it's growing Y percent month-over-month. (e.g. We have 20 paying customers and we're growing 100% month-over-month.)

A startup with committed customers, prepaid customers, or signups is already better than the legions of startups with no customers or signups at all.

MARKET

Find a reliable figure for the total addressable market you're going after. For example, shipping is a $300B industry in the U.S. and we can expect to gain 5% of that market. That means our TAM is $15bn. If your target market is a subset of the total addressable, make sure you've identified that beforehand. Be honest with yourself about these numbers because you won't be fooling anyone by pretending that you can address a gigantic market that you clearly cannot.

Market * reasonable percentage you could acquire = the opportunity.

STRATEGY

Or, "how it gets big". After TRACTION, this is the most important thing to think about. For those of you that haven't read Black Swan Farming, they're only looking for companies that are going to get big. Their economics are such that they get a piece upfront and that's it. Given that, they need the pie to be huge (this is slightly different from the strategies of traditional VCs, although VCs often mistakenly apply the same metric. I digress).

Talk about what you're doing today, and what you plan to do in the future. How do you intend to transition from things that don't scale to things that do?

TEAM

This is the least important area, although there will likely be questions about it. Best possible answer: we have known each other from working together for five years under Nobel Prize Winner X. Second best, we have known each other for five years. Worst: we just met. If you've just met, make sure you know who the CEO is and make sure there's no tension about it.

Also, unless your degrees are directly related to what you're doing, save the spiel for your dating life. They're not looking for degrees. Dedication and resilience is what they're looking for.

Practice these. If you nail them, you'll have the best interview possible. Plus, the great thing is even if you just get to four out of five or six, you'll still get a big chunk of your idea or business out there. During our second interview we only got through three or four of them, but it worked.

Posted November 13th, 2014

LaserShip API Certified

By Thomas Schiavone

LaserShip Certified Solutions Provider

We're proud to announce our recent certification with the LaserShip API. LaserShip is a major East Coast carrier that many of our high volume customers rely upon.

You can access all LaserShip functionality through the EasyPost Shipping API. Just like with all the carriers we support, the steps are as follows:

  1. Log in to your EasyPost account
  2. Go to your Carriers page and enable LaserShip. After that you'll input your LaserShip account info.
  3. Get started! The LaserShip API is integrated in EasyPost, the integration steps are the same as any other carriers.

As always, email us if you have any questions or difficulty getting started.

Posted November 3rd, 2014