If mobile marketing isn't in your startup's toolkit, it should be. Photo via Getty Images

Consumer privacy is driving startups to immediately begin marketing and data collection. Google and Apple have recently stressed the importance of first-party data collection for businesses. For the last two decades, businesses have had access to cookies to advertise to people who visited their digital assets. Digital advertising has already changed with Apple’s iOS 14.5 alterations, switching the default of ad tracking from yes to no and both Google and Apple expect data privacy to increase.

For startups, when and how to begin marketing their business can feel like a cumbersome task. As a chief marketing officer, I was asked to list services and channels that I oversee, and I came up with 16. For founders of startups who must often take on the roles of CEO and COO in addition to CMO as they look to expand their teams, that time commitment is not reasonable for someone who also has a personal life.

Entrepreneurs need tools that are simple to institute and not cost prohibitive, to meet their respective milestones. First, we need to collect first party data, so that when we get to our minimum viable product we have plenty of people waiting to buy it. Next, marketing must work even when we can’t focus on it. Third, we must focus on revenue generating activities, whether they are marketing or not. Finally, we want to create an environment where successful entrepreneurs have a work and life balance.

Before doing anything else — get a virtual phone number

A virtual phone number is the first marketing tool I would use for any business. This number can be connected to your cell phone during certain hours of the day and disconnected for others. This allows people to reach you on your schedule. Put this phone number on every asset you have, so it can be integrated into future tools, such as customer relationship management and Google My Business. With proper opt-in information, it also creates an immediate list for SMS marketing in the future. A virtual phone number typically runs $1 to $2 a month plus usage fees, so it can be used by any business.

It is important that this is set up first, because without this, you can’t use the following marketing tools effectively.

Tool 1: Missed Call – Text Back

An entrepreneurs’ worst nightmare is missing an important phone call, whether it’s an investor or closing your first sale. Constant phone and email checking causes anxiety, but more importantly, it is a low revenue activity, so you are actively hurting your business.

Missed Call – Text Back, or MCTB, allows a customizable text message to be delivered to a client when you miss their phone call. It moves the caller towards resolution (sales or otherwise) immediately encouraging them to give you more information about their problem. The best part is, that once you have the system in place, it costs you zero time. Imagine walking out of a meeting and instead of 10 missed calls, you have 10 text messages that you can quickly answer. How much time did you just get back?

Pro Tip: In many cases, you can automate your emails in a similar way.

Tool 2: A funnel page

Now that we have a tool that allows us to work productively without constant phone checking, we need to increase our book of business. This is where a funnel comes in.

A funnel is a unique digital experience you would like a specific person — a client or investor — to have. When you start a business, a funnel can be your website because you only have one specific thing you want any visitor to do, like collect information.

Almost every consultant to new businesses is promoting funnel building. Why? Because a good funnel motivates people to act in a specific way. If you are raising funds, you want an investor to have a specific experience to garner interest, not hope they navigate to the correct webpage. If you have a new technology, you want early adopters to learn and then provide a simple way to collect their information, so that you can contact them when your product is ready. Finally, if you’re about to hit the market with your new product, providing customers with a simple purchase method will improve revenue during your important proof-of-concept period.

Funnels, like MCTB, can grow and adapt with your business, providing different groups of people with different experiences, with minimal effort. For instance, suppose I created a dating app and needed early adopters. Instead of creating one funnel, let’s say I created two. The only difference between the two funnels, is the first one’s headline was “The No. 1 new dating app for men” and then the second one said women. Everything else remains the same, but the experience is immediately different for the consumer. The more you can change the funnel to cater to their personal experience, the better it will be, but even simple changes can go a long way.

Pro Tip: Funnels are easiest to keep track of when they are subdomains of your website.

Tool 3: Automated SMS marketing

The final tool I recommend to start is Automated SMS Marketing. Assuming you have people properly opted in from your funnel — review Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991) to ensure legal compliance — you can make sure they receive a welcome message in the first 5 minutes.

The most important part of text messaging marketing is allowing your customer to believe they are really having a conversation with you. If you can avoid it, never tell a customer that your digital number is automated. If you need, tell them it is automated but overseen by you. You are the owner of the business or the inventor of the technology, people want to talk to you. Customers want to pretend that they know you. Allow them this feeling. Once the customer responds, you should be picking up an organic conversation with them anyway.

Bringing it together

Using these tools, we have created a simple, repeatable method to gather customer data and start their customer journey. Your funnel may also help you gather an email list, but your most active prospects will be more than willing to communicate with you over the phone.

When you can’t take calls, whether it’s because you are in a meeting or with your kids, you can rest easier, knowing that potential customers get an immediate response that helps them get where they need to go, or at the very least, when you get back to work, you can help them quickly.

And the best part for a new entrepreneur is that this can all be done cost effectively. Personally, I recommend a service called HighLevel, a feature-rich cost-effective CRM, that includes all of the tools previously discussed. Most tech savvy entrepreneurs can figure out how to institute all these practices quickly from one platform in a no code environment. If you’d rather have assistance, there are 20,000 agencies that use the platform and just as many YouTube videos.

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Chris Romani is the chief marketing officer for illumiPure, a Houston-based medical device company.

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Houston investors back new platform for retail traders looking to follow financial influencers

making a splash

As anyone who witnessed the impact Gamestop's meme stock had on the country already realizes, influential investors can drive momentum within the financial sector. And one company with fresh funding from a Houston firm is betting on that exactly.

CashPool is a new mobile platform that gives everyday investors the opportunity to derive influence from the investment strategies and trades made by trusted and influential stock traders who have built substantial followings on social media platforms. By allowing retail traders the chance to join social media influencers’ various “pools” on its platform, CashPool is primed to change the way the masses acquire wealth.

This is the kind of algorithmic trading aimed at a new generation of investors that gets the attention of early-stage venture capital funds like Houston-based Ten X Labs, a pre-seed angel fund that recently invested in CashPool to help the trading platform continue its mission of transforming the investment landscape.

"We are thrilled to receive funding from Ten X Labs, as it validates our innovative approach to trading and investing," CashPool Founder and CEO Averett Barksdale says in a news release. "This investment will enable us to further enhance our platform, expand our user base and continue to revolutionize the industry. We believe that everyone should have transparent, governed access to profitable trading and investment opportunities, and through CashPool we are making that vision a reality."

Connecting the dots

CashPool is broker agnostic connector, allowing its users to keep their current brokers like Robinhood, Coinbase, Charles Schwab, Acorns, Fidelity, ETRADE, Stash, Sofi and Betterment and creates a seamless investment experience.

“We are that middle piece,” says Barksdale. “So your money stays on whatever brokerage you’ve connected to the platform, and we just execute the trades on your brokerage for you.”

Considering that users’ money remains with their original brokerage, how does CashPool monetize its platform?

“We don’t charge users to execute trades,” says Barksdale. “We charge per pool you join. So, on our platform, strategies are called pools and a user can join as many strategies as they want.”

Financial influencers set the strategies. These are profitable traders who have become influencers on various social media platforms and built-up followings comprised of people who are or are desiring to be retail traders themselves.

“There are a ton of people out there who actually are profitable traders,” says Barksdale. “Same as what we saw happen with GameStop and the whole Reddit situation. That was a financial influencer, right? It just so happens that he had a strategy that he thought would work and it turned out for a while it did work, right?

“We want to not only empower the retail trader, but empower these financial influencers who are profitable as well. Just because it's a whole marketplace out there for it. But a lot of times the retail trader doesn't quite understand who to go with. On our platform, you could see the results of these financial influencers right before your eyes on our platform. So you can see if they're profitable or not, or if someone's just on Instagram or whatever, social media platform posting screenshots but aren’t actually executing those trades.”

Increasing transparency

With trading, past success can be an arbiter for future performance, so with CashPool, users can choose to join the pools of influencers who have documented success as a trader on the platform.

“On our platform you can't hide,” says Barksdale. “We're connected to their brokerage account, so we see what trades they're making in real time. We also see their performance in real time, and we display that on the platform. That's something that you really can't get around. So if someone on Instagram says they traded this stock, then I made X amount of dollars and had this percentage of return, then you go to the platform and look at your pool and see they didn't do that and were lying the whole time, it’s literally just putting everything out there in the open. We have the kind of transparency that doesn't exist currently right now in the space.”

Broadcasting one’s successes is easy, but what about the losses?

“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult just thinking, do people really want to show what they're doing?” says Barksdale. “But the thing that I've seen is a lot of these traders are a whole lot more competitive. And the traders who are doing it, they're constantly talking out against people who aren't actually doing it in real life.

“A lot of the traders who are actually profitable, they do live trades every day. But how do users if they should pay to get into a specific trader’s live trading session? Like, how do they know they're profitable already?

“On CashPool, users can see an actual influencer's win rate and say, 'Okay, 86 percent of the time they are profitable, and I could see how many trades they've made in total.' From that standpoint, users can make an educated decision on what pools to join and pay for.”

CashPool users can join as many pools as they see fit, but the cost of each pool’s membership may vary due to the popularity or success percentage rate of the financial influencer.

“You can join as many pools as you want, but what we suggest is you start by joining the pools of influencers that you already follow and trust, that you're already following like on Twitter or YouTube or Instagram or whatever it may be,” says Barksdale. “We are suggesting that you follow them first and you join their pools first. What we do is on the monetization side is we allow the creators on our platform who are the influencers to set their own price for their pool.”

Building a secure network

Outside of who or what to follow, information security is likely a concern for potential users. Financial influencers’ trade information is readily available (win percentages and number of trades, not dollar amounts), but users’ won’t be able to see other users’ information on the platform.

“Currently, we have a list of 10 brokerages who are on board, and then we're working to onboard more as we keep going on,” says Barksdale. “So, we have like your Interactive brokerages, and we also have a few other ones that are UK specific and Canada specific. We would love to have every single brokerage on the platform, but unfortunately, there are a couple that are still kind of playing hard to get, so to speak.”

The first rollout of CashPool is set, but version two will likely include content creation from the financial influencers.

Barksdale, who has a background in product development and experience working at companies like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, is mostly excited about the prospect of CashPool unlocking expert financial strategies for everyone, not just the financial advisors behind the closed doors of Wall Street.

“Yes, my philosophy is that financial health and financial growth should be accessible for all,” says Barksdale. “The thing that gets me is it needs to be responsible. So, for example, RobinHood is a platform that doesn't necessarily care if you are making responsible decisions, they just care that you're trading on that platform.

“Our platform is strictly focused on actually being the place where these retail traders can make responsible decisions centered around investing and trading.”

Tech companies contribute to recovery fund for those affected by Houston storm

helping hands

The past month in Houston has been marked by severe flooding and a sudden storm that left nearly a million residents without power. The Houston Disaster Alliance has established the Severe Weather and Derecho Recovery Fund to help those impacted by the weather.

“The Greater Houston Disaster Alliance was formed so that in times of crisis, there is a swift and efficient response to help those severely impacted begin the process of recovery,” said Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation. “When disaster strikes, it requires a collaborative and coordinated response from the nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, and philanthropic community to ensure the most vulnerable in our region get the help they need to start the recovery and rebuilding process.”

At least a million dollars has been donated to the fund, courtesy of $500,000 from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation and another $500,000 from Comcast. With Houston now a federally declared disaster area by President Joe Biden, impacted residents are able to apply for various grants and aid.

Those still struggling from the weather events should call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. Assistance is available for housing, utilities, food, elder assistance, and other areas. Crisis counseling is also available.

“Outside of times of disaster, we know that 14 percent of households in our region are struggling on income below the federal poverty line and 31 percent of households in our region are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. It’s these neighbors who are disproportionately impacted when disaster strikes,” said Amanda McMillian, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Houston. “This fund allows us to lift up the most vulnerable who have been impacted by recent weather events to ensure they can not only recover from the immediate crisis, but also prepare themselves for future disasters.”

The derecho storm that hit Houston on Thursday, May 16 had wind gusts up to 100mph. Nearly a million people in the Houston area were left without power, and as of Wednesday CenterPoint was still working to restore electricity to more than 60,000 people. Photos showed that the storm toppled massive power pylons, took down trees, and even ripped the sides off buildings. Miniature tornadoes touched down in parts of the city, adding to the devastation.

The Houston Disaster Alliance was launched in 2023 as a joint effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston to help mitigate the damage of weather crises year-round. This has become increasingly necessary as Houston's weather has become more unpredictable than ever.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.