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Think Big. Move Fast.

Really fun post from ConversionXL about pricing experiments, many rooted in people’s inability to do math, and the lessons of Influence and the Power of Persuasion.

Definitely worth reading and experimenting with if you’re in ecommerce.

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We’ve posted before about how to estimate lifetime value (“LTV”) for an ecommerce business and for a subscription business, and have provided a sample cohort analysis for each (ecommerce and subscription).  This is one of the most important factors in understanding unit economics.

Recently, Eric Liaw sent us a very interesting May 2006 paper entitled “How to Project Customer Retention”, authored by marketing professors Peter Fader (Wharton) and Bruce Hardie (London Business School) and published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing in 2007.  In it, the professors explain how previous attempts to project retention rates using line-fitting regression models failed, even after introducing quadratic or exponential functions.  Since we had advocated essentially using an exponential line fit for subscription LTV estimation, we figured it was worth reading.  The authors show that exponential form fitting is too conservative and underestimates actual retention rates.

Professors Fader and Hardie decide to start from scratch with a simple assumption: what if each customer has a fixed probability of renewing his or her contract at the end of each period?  So if I’m a big movie fan, let’s say I’m 80% likely to renew Netflix each month, but you’re caught up on Breaking Bad and only 30% likely to renew each month going forward.  Probability varies by customer, but each customer’s rate remains constant over time.

It turns out that, based on probability theory, this simple assumption implies that the distribution of renewal rates can be characterized by a statistical model.  Over time, the difference in each individual’s probability to renew suggests that individuals with lower renewal probabilities will generally drop out before those with higher probabilities.  Incidentally, this also explains why incremental retention may appear to improve over time, when it’s actually a likely side effect of the remaining customer mix.

After some mathematical gymnastics, the authors unveil the model they’ve derived: the shifted-beta-geometric distribution.  The authors tested the model by using the first seven years of data from a given sample to project renewal rates at the end of the final five years in the sample.  The model proved to be quite accurate, within 3% of actuals, and much better than linear or exponential form fitting.

A few quick caveats: this model is appropriate only when the data reflects a discrete renewal period, such as a defined monthly or annual cycle.  Also, the model should be reserved for projecting behavior in contractual settings, such as subscription renewals and other observable customer exit points, rather than ecommerce or other businesses where the customer can remain dormant for long periods between orders.

We’ve uploaded a spreadsheet here, along with directions for how to use it yourself.

Hope this is helpful.  We look forward to hearing from you regardless, but especially if:

1)    You use the model and have any feedback on results

2)    Your company uses any other methods to capture, analyze, and project customer retention

3)    Your innovative company achieves valuable unit economics.  As previously mentioned, we like to see LTV / Customer Acquisition Cost > 2.5 and payback periods under 12 months.

If you found this post useful, follow us @lightspeedvp on Twitter.

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“Customer loyalty is the single most important driver of growth and profitability. – Harvard Business Review

Today, we are excited to announce our investment in FiveStars.  Founded by Victor Ho and Matt Doka, FiveStars makes it easy, and affordable, for retailers and merchants to reward their most valuable customers.  It is the first loyalty offering that integrates directly with over 90% of existing point of sale (POS) systems and is already being used by hundreds of merchants.

So why loyalty and what makes this company and market interesting to us?

In the face of economic pressures, consumers are thinking more carefully about every purchase, and retailers now face more competition than ever.  However, smart retailers are facing these challenges and actually growing their businesses, and bottom lines, by retaining their most loyal customers.   A recent student by Harvard Business School found that a 5% increase in customer retention yields an increase in profits between 25 – 100%.

The key, however, is how to retain these customers without increasing complexity and costs.  As a former loyalty consultant at McKinsey & Company, Victor Ho has a keen understanding of the challenge that retailers face and has delivered a product that not only meets those needs, but also does it in a way that works seamlessly within their existing business structure and is frictionless for consumers to adopt.  It literally “slides in.”

FiveStars offers consumers a single card that they can use to earn rewards for everything from picking up coffee to getting a massage without the hassle of keeping track of multiple cards.  A consumer registers once by just giving their phone number and then simply provides the card to merchants on checkout.  And because the company integrates directly and easily with the POS, retailers can be up and running with FiveStars in literally minutes.  No extra equipment is required, like iPads or smartphones which add to complexity and decrease adoption.  Furthermore, Five Stars allows merchants to track spending habits and better personalize promotions and rewards.

The proof is in the pudding, and the company has already signed up several hundred merchants in its first several months of selling with very little marketing or advertising.  They have developed a winning formula and with the new capital will be looking to accelerate their go-to-market activities.

It’s a great product, built by a great team and addressing a huge market.  We couldn’t be happier to partner with them as they think big and move fast.

If you found this post useful, follow us @lightspeedvp on Twitter

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With their acquisition of Nicira today, VMware is making a brilliant strategic move that gives them not only the leading network virtualization technology but also a world-class of team of executives and engineers.  Congratulations to Martin, Steve, Rob, Alan, JJ, …

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I’m a big fan on focusing on getting the “copy” (the words on the page) right to drive behavior. I’ve posted in the past about Cialdini’s great book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and how the principles outlined in …

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Pretty interesting article in the current edition of the Economist about the psychology of discounting:

A team of researchers, led by Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, looked at consumers’ attitudes to discounting. Shoppers,

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While it almost seems hard to believe, it was just five years ago today that the first iPhones were sold.  I remember the enormous amount of people lined up outside of Apple Stores eagerly waiting for their new device.  It …

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I posted recently about discovery being the challenge in gaming. This is very true of mobile gaming where the level of noise is very high.

I think that iPads, and tablets broadly, present a current opportunity for game developers. …

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I’ve posted before on how tablet and kindle are changing reading, and how fan fiction is changing writing. The WSJ has another good example of how writing is changing, when it describes how Seth Godin used Kickstarter to

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This weekend I had the opportunity to join AngelHack, a hackathon event that took place in Palo Alto, New York, Boston and Seattle, to help judge the finalists in Palo Alto.  Over 1,500 people participated in the event around …

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