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Posted On October 27th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Components of a Great Launch – startup marketing lessons

Over our six years in operation, we’ve helped launch 31 startups—some home runs, some loud doubles, some singles (luckily, no strikeouts to date). But, like a sports team, we sit down after every game and do a post-mortem, looking for lessons that we can apply to our next client and their launch.

This past week we launched our 31st company, Snowflake Computing. By any of our own standards, it was a very successful launch. So far.

trebuchetA note about the ‘So far’ above. We practice something called ‘Sales-Based Marketing’—that the job of Marketing comes down to 3 words: Make Sales Easier. So we really won’t know how successful the launch was until we get through the first sales cycle. Still, there are some components and lessons from this launch that are important enough to share, even though the launch is in its early stages.

A great team is critical: Snowflake’s three founders, plus their VP of Products and Marketing, Jon Bock, were self-critical from the start. They knew they had something big and were honest to know that they didn’t know how to articulate it. So we dug in for weeks, then months, crafting the positioning and messaging.

The right PR team: After a long search, we selected Kulesa Faul, who took a seat at the Big Table and participated actively in building a full PR program for Snowflake and determining who on the analyst and influencer side they/we should go after.

A well-Known CEO doesn’t hurt: Things hit another gear when Bob Muglia, ex-MSFT senior exec and a well-known figure within the press and analyst community, joined the team as CEO. He immediately hit the phones with a ‘stay tuned, we’re on to something huge here’ message.

Sales was involved from the start: In designing the website and creating the right content, we didn’t work in a vacuum. We had Sales articulate the desired visitor experience for the website, their concerns/needs, and the content that would move them from tire-kicker to interested prospect.

The Results So Far:

  • 42 briefings, 39 pieces of coverage. Kulesa-Faul’s outreach program was phenomenal, but they would also be the first to note that Bob’s joining the team made it easier to book 42 briefings. But that just gets you the meeting: Bob and Jon were unflagging in their enthusiasm and consistency of message across the entire spectrum of meetings. The result was the unheard-of 39 pieces of coverage.
  • A strong website, rich in content. Once the PR initiative does its work, it’s time for the website to develop the interest. The website that debuted on October 21 had four white papers, two videos (one of the founders, one of the early clients), a data sheet, and a compelling “Letter from the Founders.”
  • Upcoming activities: the site also promotes Snowflake at the upcoming AWS re:Invent tradeshow and an upcoming webinar.

Was the Snowflake launch perfect? Far from it. Way too many last-minute revs and technical emergencies. But, compared to the other 30 launches we’ve managed, it was a dream—thanks in large part to all the players mentioned above.

Posted On October 22nd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Kudos to Snowflake Computing on Launch Day

We’re pleased to salute the team at Snowflake Computing as they emerged from stealth and officially launched yesterday, October 21. Snowflake has pioneered a new data warehouse service from the ground up for the cloud.

snowflake launch teamStrong customer validation: We’re excited to have been part of the team, along with early customers like Conde Nast, Adobe, White Ops, Accordant Media and VoiceBase, who have embraced Snowflake’s fundamentally new approach and helped put this hot startup on the map.

snowflakelaunchPR rules: And we’re not alone in endorsing the huge potential of Snowflake. Press coverage from the NY Times to InfoWorld has been phenomenal. Check it out. Kudos to our PR team at Kulesa Faul.

And check out the sales resources we developed to help build demand and scale the company.

Sales-based marketing: In addition to the PR agency, we hired a virtual marketing team for Snowflake that included: a web design firm, digital marketing firm, SEO specialist, content writers, video producer, event producer, exhibit house and presentation designer.

Congratulations to the team: We’ve been working with Co-founders Benoit Dageville, Thierry Cruanes, Marcin Zukowski, CEO Bob Muglia and virtual Co-founder Jon Bock, VP of Product, since last April. It was thrilling to have helped launch the company and to be there yesterday to take a moment to celebrate with the team. Onward!


Posted On October 15th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Cultural best practices that help build startup teams

In our travels in startup-land, we meet a lot of different kinds of startups with a variety of cultural norms and business practices.

Here are two unusual best practices that stood out for us:

Doughnuts for the new guy. At data transformation startup Trifacta, one of the ways that Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.29.58 AMthe team helps welcome and acclimate a new employee is novel. They buy a box of doughnuts or bagels for the team and place it on the desk of new employee on their first day. That way, anyone who wants free food will have an easy way to approach the new employee and welcome them on board.

Blog competition over lunch. At machine data analytics platform Sumo Logic, the team uses a weekly all-hands meeting over lunch to evangelize the company blog. The internal blog champion with overall responsibility for maintaining the blog shares a calendar of proposed topics and authors online so it is easy to see the pipeline. By using the lunch meeting to review the blog schedule, however, it’s also easy to give kudos to the author of the blogs that were most popular or that received the most comments. And by incorporating potential blog topics into a weekly social ritual at the company, it is a lot easier to make content marketing through the blog a priority for the entire team.

Posted On October 9th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How a small thing helps a startup look bigger

The vast majority of our startup clients are enterprise-level B2B companies. Which means that they’re communicating with high-end professionals—perhaps a CISO or senior data architect, who, if they’re going to buy this product/service, will be spending tens of thousands of dollars.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 7.51.02 AMSo it’s always interesting to us when we see the CEO or Chief Revenue Officer of one of our clients have an email address that says ‘dave@newcompany.com’.

It may seem like a little thing (and it is) in the early days of building your company, but in our mind it makes the company seem both small and casual—neither of which appeals to enterprise buyers. You know that, as a company grows, they’re probably going to have to shift their email convention to ‘dave.smith@newcompany.com’ or ‘dsmith@newcompany.com’. That’s why we recommend to startups to do that from the start and look bigger than you are.



Posted On October 1st, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Keep It Simple – or, You’re Not that Interesting.

As we finish our Positioning/Messaging/Launch workshop with our startup clients, it’s time to turn all those ideas into Content. The first set of deliverables are usually two PowerPoint (and yes, most startups use PPT, not Keynote or Prezi) presentations—one for analysts and the other for Sales.

launch, outlook, planningAs we work with our startup clients, we start with Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 guide to PPT. Keep things to 10 slides, 20 minutes, and use a 30-point font. And everyone salutes, goes away and comes back with a slide deck that violates all of these rules—especially the first and third. They tried, and trust me, the story was just too complex or deep to fit within ten slides. And whoever heard of telling technology in 30-point text? It looks like you’re cartoonizing something that is very important.

Now, to be honest, we at Crowded Ocean have suffered from the same sins at times. But we try to reel ourselves back in and live by the 10 (no problem) 20 (again, no problem) 30 (well, a little problem) rule. But we’re a service company, and we realize that architectures and features are a different animal.

But not that different. Slides have a section called ‘speaker notes’ for a reason. We suggest to startups that you pack that area with specifications, as well as anecdotes that new sales reps can use in their maiden voyages. (As they get more experienced, they’ll swap in their own stories). The closer you can get to the 10/20/30 guidelines, the more impact you’ll have and the more will focus on you as the ‘expert,’ not the presenter.


Posted On September 23rd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

‘Gun to the Head’ Management – for Startups

At the end of Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the Misfit says of the old woman he just shot: “She would’ve been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” When it comes to managing our startups and our family of vendors, we know the feeling.

Startup Marketing Agencies: how best to manage

In our years of working with startups and their agencies, we’ve come across some vendors like this: they do good work but seem to do the least amount required. As a result we’re always actively managing them, which is a drag for them and for us. Or worse: if the contract calls for ‘notice’ (and we never agree to contracts that have longer than 30-day notices), then we wind up putting them on notice. At that point either they kick in to high gear and salvage the account or they go into passive mode and see out the 30 days with the minimum of effort and accomplishment.

In the former case the question in the client’s mind—and usually ours—is: why didn’t we see this effort all along? And just as critically: once Crowded Ocean leaves the account, will the vendor backslide? In other words, will we—or our startup client, once we leave—always have to be managing them with a gun to their head? And if the answer is yes, then we pull the trigger, so that our client doesn’t have to later on.

Posted On September 17th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Startup-land is hip to the rebirth of ‘Grok’

Like paisley ties, the word ‘grok’ seems to go in and out of style. Maybe not in the real world, where it hasn’t been in style since the early 70s, but in the world of technology, where, to be truthful, Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 7.57.00 PMboth ‘grok’ and paisley shirts have never gone out of style, grok is back, baby.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grok’ came from Robert Heinlein’s seminal 1961 sci-fi work Stranger in a Strange Land. It means: “to understand something intuitively”. The other day we were at a meeting with a big data CEO, who said, “I want our customers to grok what we’re doing from the first paragraph of the white paper.”

And, as Steve Jobs once said famously:

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about.

To be fair, we haven’t found a term that works better than ‘grok.’ Explaining technology is demanding: it’s complex stuff and you never know what level of understanding your audience is beginning with. So when you do the difficult and explain something well enough that your audience ‘understands it intuitively,’ you can call it whatever you want.

Posted On September 9th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Startups, When to Tell Your Vendors to Shut Up

One of our favorite quotes comes from the writer, Ring Lardner, who concludes a short story about an argument between a husband wife with these four words: “Shut up,” he explained. Those sage four words also come in handy in the world of startup marketing.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 9.11.01 AMFor most of our accounts we’re in the unique position of being both vendor (to our startup bosses) and manager (to the firms we bring in to the account). And as we start working together and developing everything from a name and logo to graphics for the website, we work from a basic principal: we may know more than our clients about marketing, but ultimately it’s their company.

Advice to our startup clients

So we tell them about the Ring Lardner quote and tell them that, in areas where we disagree, it’s their responsibility to hear us out (since we’ve seen this movie at least 25 more times than they have, having launched over 30 companies), but at some point it’s time for the conversation to end. For them to explain: Shut up.

Advice to our startup vendors

We give the same advice to our vendors. They may have designed more websites than we have, but we know the market and the client better than they do. So we encourage them to hold their ground up to a certain point, to fire and fall back. But ultimately it’s time for the same conversation, for us to explain: Shut up.

Posted On September 2nd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How much face time does your startup need to succeed?

Studies say encouraging your employees to work from home increases productivity. Others say that managers who support employees working from home, or “flex time,” make great bosses. marketingbrainAnd if your startup is trying to compete in the talent wars, offering a flexible work schedule will make you a more attractive employer and enable your startup to tap a larger pool of workers. But what happens to “face time” when your startup promotes flex time?

In other words, does flex time really work for a startup?

Answer: It’s tricky.

Despite the popularity of flex time, employees who spend more time in the office tend to be perceived as more dedicated, according to business management experts. They are certainly more available for spontaneous input and on-the-fly brainstorming sessions that make up life at a startup. No conference call, or screen-share or Google hangout can replace being there. In our experience, face time is vital in the early stages of a startup.

How much face time is required?

Face time delivers immeasurable benefits. When we’re working on site at a startup, for example, we get to overhear conversations (like an inside sales rep pitching the company on a cold call) that provide insights that can inform the marketing plan. This is input we’d never get in a scheduled meeting we had to call in for. The question is how much face time?

We take our clues from the founders. If they are on site most of the time, and if their style is to be hands-on to steer their team, then face time is important and you just better be there. When founders are hands-on, then there’s more room to hire newbies with technical smarts but limited people smarts. That’s where face time can also pay off. Most of us would prefer to be sitting at home in our underwear dialing in on a conference call for a fair number of meetings. But sometimes there’s just no alternative to being there.

Posted On August 22nd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

More lingo from the Valley – 4 startup marketing terms to follow

We like to follow new terminology, trends and language emerging from new startups and technology priorities in Silicon Valley. Here are four of the latest that caught our eye:

Slow TV – the advent of ratings winners like 20 minutes of “sizzling bacon” on Netflix and the “7-hour Norwegian train ride” have won millions of viewers.  The actual viewing experience matches the title – that’s 20 minutes of watching bacon fry, for example. But what are marketers to do with this growing “slow TV” movement?

Post-password products – new approaches to cybersecurity are emerging that use assessments of behavior to measure intent, identify criminals and thwart attacks.

Neuromorphic chips – IBM announced plans to invest $3 billion over the next 5 years to invest in new semiconductor technology that mimics the brain. Check it out – they’re hiring.

Contextual computing – following in the footsteps of Google Now, the latest entrant is Humin, an app that pulls information from your contacts and sifts your calendar to anticipate and organize your social needs.