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Posted On June 21st, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Best practice – why every startup needs three chiefs

Even before a startup appoints its VP of Marketing, there are three “chiefs” that need to be in place to help position the team for growth and to support marketing.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 8.28.27 AMChief Content Officer – the VP of Marketing will be the one responsible for creating the content (including page content, downloadables, blog, social channels, etc.) that powers a startup’s website, equips the sales team, and nurtures the backlog of sales inquiries into a pipeline of sales leads.

But what if you have not yet landed your VP of Marketing? That’s when the CEO needs to name an owner to make content development happen for the team. Yes, it will either be someone’s second job or it will be a consultant who has to stand in for the VP in the interim, but it’s essential to have someone owning the content.

Chief Culture Officer – sounds like a B.S. title for someone on your startup team but this is a very important role. This is someone to keep a watchful eye on how the culture of your startup is growing.

That way, you, the co-founder, can ensure that attributes that your team values are reinforced and even strengthened as your team expands. The Chief Culture Officer should be a team player who is tapped to “report in” periodically on how the culture is evolving and to flag concerns for the leadership team.

Chief Revenue Officer – it goes without saying that sales growth should be the bullseye on the target for every startup team. But we often find that in the early days, before a VP of Sales has been named, everyone on the team says they are doing sales. This is a wonderful and logical sentiment, but sometimes when it’s everyone’s job, no one really owns it. Our advice is to anoint someone on the team as “Chief Revenue Officer” which will be their second title, no doubt, but this temporary assignment will go a long way to centralizing sales activity and to reinforcing the need for sales focus (and for eventually naming a true VP of Sales as soon as possible.)

Posted On June 15th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Open space: friend or foe for startups?

Virtually every startup that we’ve worked with in the past three years has gone exclusively to the open bullpen office layout, with hardly a wall in sight. At first glance it’s collegial, it’s democratic in its lack of hierarchy and it’s cost-effective.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.24.35 PM

But is it good business? Is it good for your employees’ frame of mind and productivity? The open floor plan has now been in place long enough that there are studies, not just anecdotes, about its role in business. And the findings are almost all in favor of some kind of return to ‘personal space’. Here are some stats to consider as you plan your next workplace:

  • Open office noise results in an increase in epinephrine (adrenaline)—great for a short burst of activity, bad for the long run.
  • Workers in open offices took 62% more sick leave than workers in single offices.
  • A University of Sydney study found that loss of productivity due to noise distraction doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.

We’re not productivity experts: we’re just reporting what we see and hear in our experiences with multiple startups. And the only positive spike we’ve seen—and the most collegial conversations we’ve overheard—are new employees asking the veterans which high-end headphones they should invest in.


Posted On June 7th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The Two Sides of Writing: for Content Marketing

A good friend of Crowded Ocean, Anne Janzer, just shared with us an early copy of her book, The Writer’s Process. It has wonderful merit for all writers, but the reason we promote it here, to our startup marketing audience, is that she has some very sound advice that can be applied across all forms of Content: web copy, white papers, contributed articles, speeches and more.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 8.06.05 AMAnne does a great job of addressing the complexities and barriers that go into writing. Most of us have faced the fear of the blank page (or blank screen) and frozen. Anne takes a look at the different personalities of a writer (The Muse and The Scribe), the balance of creativity and discipline, as well as the tools for unlocking a blocked mind.

As many of you know, Crowded Ocean is writing our own book: The Ultimate Startup Guide, and in the process both Carol and Tom have come up against the barriers—psychological, work-space oriented, etc.—that Anne discussed in her book. Reading her book has made writing our own substantially easier—which is probably the highest praise we can give The Writer’s Process.

The book is due out later in this year. Check out Anne’s books here.

Posted On June 3rd, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

New Terms in Startup-land: the June 2016 Edition

We love to track new terminology and jargon in startup-land. Here are our latest picks:

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 11.00.06 AMSwatting
: a form of online harassment in which a fake emergency triggers the arrival of armed authorities or local police.

Fuzzing: in the world of cybersecurity, “fuzzing is the usually automated process” of finding hackable software bugs by randomly feeding different permutations of data in a target program until one of the permutations reveals a vulnerability.

Computer Vision Syndrome: estimates are that 70 to 90 percent of people who use computers have one or more symptoms of this new malady: neck and back pain, vision pain, headaches.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 10.57.32 AMBreach fatigue: yes, the relentlessness of breaches is something consumers are getting used to. But experts say consumers are not indifferent, and are changing their online habits. Meanwhile, corporations are investing in security awareness and training for employees to build a culture of security.

Posted On May 25th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean


In this age of dire warnings about spending and an upcoming ’nuclear winter’, what the hell are we doing, expanding our employee base by 50%? 

Good question. But, as always, we have a good answer. Because we need to.

emblemmatic-sales-based-marketing-logo-4As many of you know, we’re under contract with Career Press to author “The Ultimate Startup Guide”, which is due out in January. Consistent with that is the requests we get to take the lessons we’ve learned in launching 40+ startups and offer them in some form of workshop or class. So we’re looking for a sharp sales and marketing agent who can help us with the following:

  • Workshops for accelerators (groups of startups)
  • High-end workshops $4-5K for 3-day seminar on starting and succeeding in the world of startups
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for universities and business schools
  • Subscription-based video series based on the 20 chapters in “The Ultimate Startup Guide”

The position is commission-based, with the agent receiving 20% of any revenue she/he generates from the above activities or any other original programs. The ideal candidate has 3-5 years of sales and marketing experience, great phone skills and a desire to own and manage what could be a substantial and growing segment of the agency.

So if you know of any hard-chargers looking to join forces with two wonderful marketing gurus, please put them/us in touch.

Posted On May 18th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The New Startup Budget Crunch

Everywhere you look, there are articles forecasting the bursting of the startup bubble and the coming of a ‘nuclear winter.’ It’s true that VCs are starting to heed their own counsel and beginning to scale back on their investments, but they’re not stopping altogether—they’re just taking a more critical (and longer) look at their candidates and options.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 4.08.30 PMOne item that is continual concern is a company’s burn rate. Which is why more and more companies are looking at their bottom line from a ‘must-have’ perspective—especially in the area of headcount.

It’s easy for Crowded Ocean to tout the idea of ‘just-in-time’ hiring, since we’re essentially a just-in-time VP of Marketing. But the same reason that startups have for hiring us (no overhead, no commissions to headhunters, we’re hired for our specific expertise—positioning, staffing and launching a startup—and then we go off the books) they’re now employing that same rationale for everything from coding to quality assurance to legal and financial services. With so many just-in-time resources available these days, the burden is now on the CEO and CFO in Board meetings to justify a large number of full-time hires.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 4.10.39 PMWe’re not saying that full-time employees are unnecessary or passe; we’re saying that what used to be an open box on the org chart should now be viewed by the function needed (short-term or ongoing) and the budget ramifications. And, whether the long winter is coming, already upon us, or a reality that never materializes, this way of thinking and hiring is here to stay.

Posted On May 10th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Naming your startup (and 7 new tools to help)

We were recently asked to help name a new startup, and the process educated us on what had changed and what remained solid advice.crystalball

The new tools include name generators and crowdsourcing. In each case, you get what you pay for. The name generators are both random and incredibly prolix, filled with combinations of vowels and consonants that only a computer or a brain on peyote would yield. But most of them are free and playing with them might toggle an original thought for your startup.

Crowdsourcing is another matter. There are a number of firms out there (SquadHelp and Naming Force are but two) who have a solid group of marketers and would-be marketers who only get paid (prizes start at $250) if they name a winner. Definitely worth a try, given some of the solid results these have generated (which you can see on their websites).

If you decide to keep naming in-house, some basic rules still apply:

  • Keep the engineers out of the room. These guys (and let’s face it, they’re almost always only guys) often want the name to exactly represent what the product does. They also seem to like names with lots of ‘z’s’ and ‘x’s’ in them.
  • Pass the Sales Rep test: if, in introducing themselves, the sales reps have to either spell the name or can’t say it without wincing (too cute), go on to the next name.
  • Becoming a verb or common phrase (Google, Uber, Xerox, etc.) is ideal, but don’t get hung up on it. The market is going to make that call, not you.
  • Here’s one we recently heard: keep it to one word, 5-10 letters, with one of them making a hard sound. (Google, Honda, Apple, Exxon, Cisco, Mattel, etc.)
  • Remember mobile and email usages when choosing your finalists. This applies for the logo, especially.
  • Dictionaries are your friend, especially foreign dictionaries. One of our clients had a product that generated great insight into—and knowledge about—the network. The founder had a Yiddish dictionary: one of the words for ‘knowledge’ in Yiddish is ‘Kentik.’ A startup was born: Kentik.

Stuck coming up with a new name? Check out these five new name generators: Panabee, Naminum, NameMesh, NameBird, Wordoid


Posted On May 3rd, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Anatomy of a successful startup launch

Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they’ve got a theory on how to launch a startup. Most of them revolve around the role of Marketing. emblemmatic-sales-based-marketing-logo-4Those who doubt the value or efficacy of Marketing cite the success of such startups as Slack, Atlassian and WhatsApp, who launched with limited investment in Marketing. But the other 95 need Marketing to grow their enterprise—click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.

Having launched 42 startups, we’re often asked what are the ‘best practices’ in launching a company. So much depends on the market the startup is in as well as the company’s focus (B2B vs. B2C), but there are still some guidelines that apply across the spectrum:

  1. Launch with a cross-functional team. According to a feature in the latest Harvard Business Review, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing, and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team.Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 2.18.07 PM
  1.  CEOs need to be on the team, but as players, not coaches. If you want your launch to happen fast and well, put your CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. Otherwise you’ll spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions than on getting things done. But make it clear to the CEO and everyone else: the CEO is a member of the team, not the leader. That role is reserved for Marketing. The CEO’s job is to reinforce the goals, deadlines and accountability of the launch. When tough decisions need to be made, it’s the team’s job to make them, the CEO’s job to support and implement them.
  1.  Banish pixel polishing. Part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous/infamous attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details ; and while this pursuit of perfection may be admirable in established companies, it can be fatal to a startup. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “Done is good.”Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 8.35.59 PM
  1. Beware nomadic board members. In a successful launch, board members should be heeded but not seen. Getting their input offline is both good business and good politics; but when we see board members ‘dropping in’ to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag, a signal that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.
  1. Bring PR to the table early. There are two types of PR firms: ‘upstream’ strategic firms that have a seat at the big table in developing positioning and messaging and ‘downstream’ implementation firms. Startups should hire only upstream firms, then use their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Encouraging the team to challenge assumptions, build and test the message and advocate their point of view at the table.
  1. Build content early and often. Once positioning and messaging are established, start to work on the content. Launches are often delayed—once, even twice—due to product issues or customer feedback; but they should never be delayed because of lack of supporting content. You can never have enough content, so start developing—and reviewing—it the moment your positioning is finalized. Since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.
  1. Website UX trumps brand – if the founder starts talking about favorite brand colors and fonts, that’s another red flag. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.
  1. Anticipate—and prepare for–the trough. Before you launch, be sure to have a post-launch PR plan as well as two months of demand gen programs defined, funded and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all of the visibility, brand awareness and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, use smart planning to avoid the post-launch trough.

According to a CBInsights article, your startup has a 1.2 percent chance of becoming a unicorn (a private company valued at $1 billion or more). Even so, there are a record number (but shrinking) number of unicorns roaming the Valley today. Success in unicorn-land has a lot to do with vision, team, and timing, but it also depends upon strong marketing and a great launch.


Posted On April 27th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Crowded Ocean in Q2: 42nd launch; 12th exit


Posted On April 26th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

New startup terminology in April 2016

Re-shoring: when manufacturing jobs return from overseas (when they went “offshore”), it’s called re-shoring.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.47.06 AMCockroach startup: In a tough market, or in a challenging funding market for startups, there are startup teams that keep going forward in spite of changing environments, market conditions and investment scenarios. They live on, just like a cockroach.

An “Uber moment”: When an industry is forever disrupted by the onslaught of innovation from startups, it’s experiencing the same thing that happened to private taxi services worldwide when Lyft and Uber introduced their on-demand car services. Now, it is banks, under pressure from fintech startups, that have reached a tipping point of change causing them to reach an “Uber moment.”

Bubble-style returns: the current flood of corporate VC funds have helped to inflate startup valuations creating artificially high returns reminiscent of the so-called bubble (that later burst) in the late 1990s.