Why Your Should Treat Your Website Like a Startup

November 15, 2016

This is a post that I originally authored for New Media Europe, check out their blog and the other top notch content they put out!

Startup”. The word on everyone’s lips these days, it seems.

It’s a cool word; a buzz word; a bit of jargon or lingo for the modern day yuppies like me to throw around at dinner parties, lunches and craft ale bars.

At least that’s what some people believe.

In my mind, the word “startup” is simply a way to label a mindset of experimentation; a mindset of never assuming without proving; a mindset of not settling for what once was.

In short: “startup” means a different way of doing business for many of us.

How it is, with those website projects, you know.

At the other end of the “experimentation” spectrum are the website projects that I see taking place in the web industry.

These projects, for some reason, seem to be stuck in 2004 – a time when your website was your “shop window” and a “brochure site” was order of the day for your business or side-venture.

For many small businesses, creating a website back then was simply a tick in a box – something that someone in the pub mentioned on Friday night.

And guess what, hardly any of these “shop windows” actually delivered anything in terms of business impact!

Instead, the “web doesn’t work for my business” became the axiom for many “traditional” businesses. I’ve seen it a million times…

One of the curious things to come out of this trend, is that when it became time to “revamp” the website that didn’t work, many business owners went ahead and commissioned a new company to work with, instead of the company that they worked with last time.


Remember the website that didn’t work? Well that was the web designer’s fault… right?


It’s your fault.

Because you knew best; you knew exactly what people want from your website every single time they visit it and if the website didn’t perform, then the web must not work for business, or the designer must have done something wrong

There’s no way that you could have been wrong.

The truth is that this is still the way that many of us approach our websites, even as solo entrepreneurs. We assume that once a site is live, it’s finished and we won’t need to “revamp” it for a few years.

The problem with thinking like this is that, well, it sucks

And it sucks for a really good reason: approaching your website like this is like investing all of your money into a brand new product without ever considering what the people you assume will buy this product, actually need & want from it.

But more than that, it’s like then taking the attitude that once your product has shipped, you won’t update it for years until it “looks old” or you just change your mind on the colour of it.

Sounds crazy, right?

Treat your website like a startup

I propose a different way of thinking. You may need to grow a hipster beard and hang around in coffee shops, but I propose that you begin to think like a startup when it comes to your website.

“Sounds fun, Mark, but what does that really mean?”

I hear you, this isn’t just hipster talk, honestly – let me break it down into what I believe are the 3 key steps, mindsets and tactics that you can use today to make your website actually perform for you.

1. Talk to people.

Controversial, I know. Taking the approach that you know nothing about what people really want from your business (not your website, your business at this stage) means that you completely step outside of your assumptions – assumptions that informed all of the subpar websites that you’ve ever created in the past.

Ask people what they value about your business; what they believe to be your key selling points; why they would recommend you.

Forget USP“Unique Selling Point”, instead focus on TBP“Their Buying Point”

Then ask them to video it or write it down into a testimonial, too. You can use that in the future, forever.

2. Don’t ever, ever finish your website.

When we talk about testing websites, we throw around all sorts of fun terms like “user acceptance testing”, and start to get all precious about acronyms like “UX” and “UI”.

These are great, they have their place, and they’re important.

But they are never, ever, one-time jobs.

Just like a startup tests it’s assumptions about what potential customers want, what actions they will take and how they will react to new product features, you should be continuously testing your site against new people.

This could be looped in with the phrase “conversion optimisation” but I’d suggest that it’s a little more than that – it’s overall “experience optimisation”: just because someone can use your website, doesn’t mean that they will use it in such a way that it delivers the results that you need.

At every turn, your job as the owner of your website is to pleasantly surprise your visitors.

The result?

A better experience, and more money for you – whether that’s online sales, audience growth for use later or awareness. Money is an echo of value, make that value really easy to experience.

There’s a really simple way to devise these little website experiments, too: simply ask “what if”.

”What if a user wants to know more about product b whilst browsing product a”?

”What if a user decides that they want to tell their friends about this one sentence, on this page?”

These are a couple of “micro behaviours” that get missed when briefing your web designer, and that if harnessed can really start to add up to real return from your website.

3. Create a website roadmap

Remember that website “revamp” notion that I mentioned earlier?

Those days are gone.

Websites should be iterated upon, constantly tweaked and changed; they should be experimented upon and optimised at every turn, just as I mentioned in the previous point.

The main problem with many websites, and the root cause of all “revamps”, is that websites become “out of date”.

Also translated as: “lacking the fancy new ‘buzz’ technology that someone else has on their website”.

The solution to this is simple: create a website roadmap and don’t “revamp”, just keep iterating.

Not only for the big things but for the small things too. Examples of things that have gone on my own website roadmap for Podcast Websites include:

  • Make the checkout process easier on tablets (big!)
  • Change the spacing on the forms so that things are a little more pleasing on the eye and make the experience better (little!)
  • Add completely new knowledgebase section (huge!)
  • Add a way for people to send us video testimonials really quickly (mid-sized)

What I also recommend you do, is create a couple more things to go along with each suggestion:

1. A potential experiment that you can create to test the user response to each change, after all, you need the option of rolling back that change if it doesn’t have the desired result.

An example of an experiment based on the first example above would be: ”Run a narrow Facebook / Twitter ad campaign to target users on Android devices only, measure the conversion rate against that of previous Android tablet traffic.”

2. One single metric that will define each change’s success or failure.

It’s important to only create one of these metrics, and it has to be a metric that matters, not a vanity metric.

In the example above, a great metric would, of course, be “sales from Android tablets”, but actually a better one would be “conversion rate”, thanks to that metric relying on both traffic coming into the site from those devices and the number of sales that traffic delivers.

That way, if traffic naturally drops on Android tablets for whatever reason, my experiment doesn’t provide a false negative.

Just start, today

It’s never been easier to create, manage and iterate on a website than it is today.

With a little planning and genuinely, less time than you think, you can adopt a new approach to the way the world sees your business online – please, let that startup mindset deliver some real results – results that actually matter to you and your business.

Don't forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel!

Mark Asquith

That British podcast guy, Mark is co-founder of Captivate.fm, the world's only growth-oriented podcast host. A Harvard, TEDx, Podcast Movement and Podfest speaker (amongst many more!), he's a wildly approachable Brit and Star Wars/DC Comics geek.

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