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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.

Posted On August 14th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How to hire for your startup when the pickings are few

The cover story of a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review is about “talent spotting” and about identifying the “high pots” (potentials) to build your organization when experienced candidates are few.growth

With the talent wars raging in Silicon Valley, we can’t think of a more timely topic.

We always love a good self-help read especially when it’s about the softer stuff of building team, culture and collaboration. The HBR feature keys on four qualities to look for when scouring for talent potential: curiosity, insight, determination and engagement.

We’d like to add a fifth quality that we think is absolutely essential and often in short supply in both experienced startup players and those new-hires with “potential.” That’s advocacy.

By advocacy, we mean: 

  • selling your own ideas up and down the food chain of your startup team. Not just selling your boss but your peers, too, when required. Savvy startup players know that sometimes in order to get your idea implemented, you have to invest time to bring your colleagues along as “co-owners.” As the saying goes: success has many parents but failure is an orphan.
  • evangelizing along the way may also be important to your success. While there is value in just putting your head down and “going for it,” startup players who understand the importance of advocacy will stop to communicate their progress in order to tamp down hallway critics and naysayers
  • pro-actively providing feedback at important milestones can also go a long way to quieting critics. That’s a tricky skill to uncover in an interview, but it’s a very coachable skill to cultivate in your new-hire.

Bottom line, our advice to startups is that as you sift for “high pots” in your candidate pool, be sure to keep an eye out for candidates with skills in advocating their ideas across a diverse organization. Advocacy is a valued skill that helps build successful organizations.

Posted On August 5th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Adages and warning signs to guide your startup marketing ambitions

There are three familiar warning signs that give us pause when we meet with potential startup marketing clients:

panic noise distractionLaunch date slipping – Our adage from back in the day used to be that “every launch slips twice.” Translated, that means that a startup who is driving hard can often set some very aggressive dates for launch. Inevitably, that can lead to dates slipping. But if the launch dates slips more than twice, that’s a warning of problems other than an aggressive team.

Board member sightings — If we notice a board member in the building frequently, that’s a red flag. On the one hand, it could be a board member who has been sought out by the founders to help steer important decisions.  And the advice of a board member with true operational experience can be hugely valuable to a startup. But the frequent presence of a board member can also be a sign that something’s off course or that the CEO is in over his/her head.

On the other hand, it may not be the founders’ fault, other than their inability to say ‘no’ to a founding investor. (If that’s the case, other BOD members should take the overly enthusiastic micro-managing investor to the woodshed.) Either way, in our experience, if there is a board member on scene a lot, you’re looking at a symptom of a larger leadership problem at the startup.

Multiple VPs of Marketing – Founding VPs of Marketing need to be match in two key areas:  they need to keep pace with the rest of the company (usually engineers at this point) and they need to mesh with the founding team.  If they can’t keep pace, don’t click and aren’t part of the ‘we’re all in Sales right now’ culture, swap them out. Everyone’s entitled to a misfire.  But if we meet a young company and there have already been two or more heads of marketing – alarm bells.

Posted On July 29th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Go left, young person. Go left.

Over the past few months, we’ve been approached by two groups:

  • friends of ours whose kids are graduating from college and looking to break into high tech; and
  • former clients of ours who have vested their stock options and are looking for their next career move (which might include consulting).

go-leftOur advice to both is to acknowledge what’s happened to marketing in the past decade—and where it’s going. What used to be a ‘trust me’ industry based more on intuition than measurement is now a science. And the people with the hard marketing skills in customer acquisition—SEO/SEM, lead generation, content marketing and marketing automation—are writing their own ticket.

For most companies, hiring that person who can drive and measure customer acquisition with content marketing and lead management is both critical and extremely difficult. Recruiters refer to this “left-brain” position (as well as to the CMO position) as ‘unicorns,’ incredibly difficult to find.

What used to be called “integrated marketing” has an expanded meaning today that includes facility with marketing infrastructure, systems and metrics as well as specific marketing tools (e.g. Salesforce, Marketo, Hubspot, Eloqua,) So our advice to college graduates as well as to former clients looking to branch out is to go to the left-brain side of Marketing. It’s where the money is—and the people aren’t.

Posted On July 22nd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

When more is not better in startup marketing

The advent of new website development tools means that we are seeing new sites that trick out in ways that previous sites could never match. These are interesting developments in website design for startups moving from stealth to launch.

moreBut the question we ask is: are more tricks really better?

What about more scrolling? When the web page requires scrolling and scrolling (or if you’re on a mobile version, that’s flicks and flicks), we’re asking why? We’re simply not fans but we see it everywhere.

What about animations? If you can animate the banner of your home page with a GIF, we ask why? If you can animate your home page with video, we ask why? The key question is: does it drive more clicks, page views and downloads?

What about rotations and feeds on your website? The rule of thumb is usually no more than one or two because more than two rotations or feeds creates visual movement that often proves distracting to the site visitor. The Platfora site seems to rewrite the rules there – we see five separate movements on their home page – twitterstream, news stream, blog feed, customer logo tickertape, and rotating customer quotes.

When we ask our startup clients about their brand and how they want to bring that to life on their website, we often caution against the dangers of “more.” When it comes to tricking out on their new website design, we ask our startups to begin by answering the simple question “why?” and we go from there.

 

Posted On July 14th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

For success in startup marketing – get a toolkit

Thank you, Tech Cocktail for sweetly summarizing the new book for building successful startups: Disciplined Entrepreneurship.

strategyThe book describes 24 distinct and systematic steps to building and growing a startup. Author Bill Aulet, the serial entrepreneur and MIT Sloan Business School lecturer who teaches entrepreneurship, comments that based upon his years of teaching, he has learned that rather than coming up with a “single tool” approach to building a startup, entrepreneurs need a “toolbox.”

We think that same idea applies to startup marketing.

In our experience, particularly in the early days of a young company, it’s impossible for the marketing lead or team to command all of the marketing disciplines that are needed. The range of marketing specialties required in the “marketing toolkit” for a startup includes written and video content, web design, development, PR, social, mobile, SEM and so on  – all designed to maximize inbound traffic, conversions, and customer acquisition and, of course, to shorten time to revenue.

In our book, the best way for a startup to leverage the necessary marketing toolkit is by using a startup marketing agency (or perhaps an experienced rent-a-VP) who can:

  • Bring an ecosystem of marketing resources with the right industry/domain expertise
  • Pay for what your startup needs, and only when you need it
  • Minimize fixed headcount expenses for maximum flexibility
  • Pilot new marketing programs with a “best practices” orientation
  • Sequence, test, and iterate to figure out what works

Whatever you call it, our take is that startup marketing is too important, too complex and too fluid for startups not to embrace the need for a toolkit approach.

Posted On July 9th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Does Your Startup Have an Upstream or a Downstream PR Agency?

Over the course of our careers, both as VPs of Marketing and with Crowded Ocean, we’ve worked with over 30 PR agencies. And while it’s sometimes difficult—and unwise—to do broad groupings, we’ve found that agencies seem to fall into two groups:  those that are upstream of the client and those that are downstream.

startup culture

Downstream agencies are easy to identify. They are implementers. There’s nothing negative about that description, it’s just their modus operandi. They believe that the client knows the industry better than they do, so they wait for the ideas and campaigns to flow, then they do their best to implement.

That model may work for larger companies, but startups need ‘upstream’ agencies. These agencies take their place at the big table of ideas, often taking the lead. They take a backseat to no one in terms of PR program priorities, effective strategies and how to win “hearts and minds” among the critical influencers that will shape your brand and buyer preferences.

So when evaluating your first PR partner, we tell startup leaders to ask your prospective PR partner for both their philosophy (and understanding of their role) as well as concrete examples of how they’ve generated original campaigns that yielded tangible and measurable results.

Posted On July 1st, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

3 diseases your startup team may suffer from

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 7.45.26 AMThe Snowden Effect – small anomalies in employee behavior are a tip off to organizations that they may be suffering a computer breach from within. The “Snowden effect” is infecting IT and security teams and helping to compel organizations to invest in more cybersecurity strategies to secure their sensitive information.

Surveillant Anxiety – the fear that all of the big data that each of us is creating, seemingly every day, is too intimate a “paper trail” of our private lives and at the same time not truly representative of who we really are.

Stockholm Syndrome – included in its platform strategy, Apple says it intends to offer its customers a unified experience across all devices – from iPhone to iPad to desktop. Critics and industry watchers claim that customers are so enamored of the Apple experience, including non-essential features in the bells and whistles category, that Apple are essentially holding their customers hostage with promises of a better future.

 

Posted On June 24th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How a “buddy system” can help build your startup

In the crucial early days of building a startup, there are three things in very short supply for your team: sleep, weekends, and hours in the day.

Looking for ways to stretch precious resources is a daily challenge. That’s why we recommend a “buddy system” for divvying up the responsibilities in tracking two vital constituencies.insight

First, track the enemy. It’s rare that a startup has no established competitors that it is trying to displace with a new approach.  Say, you’ve got three known competitors. We recommend recruiting three employees (these could be your co-founders as well) and assign one competitor to each. The assignment is more than tuning their “Google Alert” to “Competitor A.” It’s following them on social channels. It’s attending their webinars. It’s collecting their sales collateral. If there’s a free download offered by that competitor,, become a customer. The key is to ask that employee to collect and then share their expertise, insights, findings on a regular basis at internal company meetings. The discussion that this kind of sharing triggers can be very illuminating. And, the sharing spreads the knowledge and teaches your team to balance a focus on internal development milestones with an eye on the market. It also eliminates the hubris that we often encounter with our startups, that ‘we have no competition.’

Second, track the influencers. Just like having a buddy system for your top competitors, we recommend having one for the key influencers. Inevitably, that will include market analysts like Gartner, Forrester, IDC and more. Sometimes, there will be a lot of influencers/analysts because your disruptive solution is so new that it doesn’t fit the status quo of market categories followed by a single analyst at a firm. Sometimes, the influencers in your market will include customers or bloggers. To get smart on who these people are, the language they use and perhaps even their biases, we recommend recruiting employees on your team to follow the influencers and report on their insights internally for the rest of your team.

Adopting a buddy system for tracking competitors and influencers will help stretch your precious resources and also build the knowledge of your entire team.

 

Posted On June 16th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How to hire for your startup when the pickings are few

The cover story of the June issue of the Harvard Business Review is about “talent spotting” and about identifying the “high pots” (potentials) to build your organization when experienced candidates are few.

With the talent wars raging in Silicon Valley, we can’t think of a more timely topic.

We always love a good self-help read especially when it’s about the softer stuff of building team, culture and collaboration. The HBR feature keys on four qualities to look for when scouring for talent potential: curiosity, insight, determination and engagement.

We’d like to add a fifth quality that we think is absolutely essential and often in short supply in both experienced startup players and those new-hires with “potential.” That’s advocacy.

By advocacy, we mean:

  • selling your own ideas up and down the food chain of your startup team. Not just selling your boss but your peers, too, when required. Savvy startup players know that sometimes in order to get your idea implemented, you have to invest time to bring your colleagues along as “co-owners.” As the saying goes: success has many parents but failure is an orphan.
  • evangelizing along the way may also be important to your success. While there is value in just putting your head down and “going for it,” startup players who understand the importance of advocacy will stop to communicate their progress in order to tamp down hallway critics and naysayers
  • pro-actively providing feedback at important milestones can also go a long way to quieting critics. That’s a tricky skill to uncover in an interview, but it’s a very coachable skill to cultivate in your new-hire.

Bottom line, our advice to startups is that as you sift for “high pots” in your candidate pool, be sure to keep an eye out for candidates with skills in advocating their ideas across a diverse organization. Advocacy is a valued skill that helps build successful organizations.