Our Blog

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.

Posted On April 20th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Firing Your Employees (an acquired skill)

We’ve been interviewing venture capital partners and entrepreneurs for our soon-to-be-published book: “The Ultimate Startup Guide”. And, as we discuss what makes for a good leader, one component that comes up repeatedly is the ability to recognize a mistake early and take corrective action.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.07.10 AMWhen it comes to product development, most leaders grade out at an A or B+. They’re technologists by trade and can recognize errors early and accurately. And then, given their background and capabilities, they’re well-equipped to talk to the product team and develop an action plan to get things back on course.

That same decisiveness and quick action is often lacking on the employee side of the equation. Which is only natural: most of us are confrontation-averse, and technical founders (who are often naturally introverted) are probably the worst of the lot. But it’s the rare startup that doesn’t have at least one mistake (or bad fit) in its midst—usually more. And the leader who can recognize and take corrective action on this front is the kind of leader that VCs will back every time.

Posted On April 12th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Diversity in your startup: psychological diversity

A client of ours—one of the founders of a highly-successful startup and an engineer—told us that the way to recognize an extroverted engineer is that he’ll look at your shoes when talking to you, rather than his.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMWe love that joke, primarily because it’s got so much truth to it. Many of our startup founders are self-identified nerds, which means they’re naturally introverted. But they’re also outgoing and confident enough to be entrepreneurs. Which one of these—natural introversion or learned extroversion—carries the day goes a long way to determining what kind of leader they turn out to be.

There’s casual leadership (hosting the Friday check-ins with the employees) and then there’s packaging these leaders and taking them on the road (for meetings with press and analysts or with potential investors). The ideal scenario, if there are two technical founders, is for one of them (usually the CEO) to be more outgoing and charismatic, while the CTO can be anything he wants (as long as he delivers the product).

The same goes for the rest of the company: make sure there’s psychological diversity within your ranks. And where there isn’t, create environments, social and work, where the two types can become better acquainted, even work together. It will benefit the individuals and the company as a whole.





Posted On April 4th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

How Silicon Valley is fascinated with public failure

What industry tracks failure so intently and with as much fascination as the land of tech startups? The closest parallel may be the film industry with its cult of personality, big redeye failurebudgets, and high-risk concepts. Just as an Ishtar or Heavens Gate can haunt its participants for years, Silicon Valley (or Silicon Alley, Silicon Desert, etc.) loves to dissect, then revisit failures for years to come.

Consider these public tales of startup failure:


On top of that, there is a roster of so-called zombie startups that are a virtual watch list of upcoming failures. And for answers to the question of why startups fail, there are no less than 100 responses to that question from notable authorities (as well as opinionated bystanders) on the discussion site Quora.

lone survivorMaybe startup founders can turn to expensive private psychotherapy like failures do in Hollywood. But, again, there are public resources in Silicon Valley. To head off the conflicts between founders that can undermine the trust of employees that leads to failure, startup founders can turn to partnership therapy for co-founders. And then there’s a community website called The Startup Couch to offer resources to founders.

Many recruiters say they look for a history of failure in job applicants because mistakes are a sobering experience that can bring insights and maturity. Maybe making failure public is part of the same bias for iteration that drives product development and customer acquisition phases in startups. Whatever the reasons, the public confession of failure seems to be a way for startup founders to accelerate getting to lessons learned, incubating their next big idea and moving onto their next startup.

Photo credit: Pixel Addict via Visual hunt / CC BY

Photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Posted On March 30th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Why startup founders demand “on demand”

This concept can go by multiple names: ‘just-in-time’; ‘kanban’ (Japanese for ‘just-in-time’;) and the more trendy ‘fluid’. Regardless of what you call it, it comes down to this: pay for only what you need, when you need it. It applies to startup Marketing, but increasingly, to all phases of the startup world.surveillance

When Tom started at Oracle, he was one of three members of the nascent Corporate Marketing department, writing all the company’s product literature, annual reports and ads. During his six-year tenure there, as the company exploded, he wound up as Sr. Director of Corporate Marketing, with a staff of 70 (running ORACLE Magazine, Oracle Open World, seminars, direct marketing, advertising, etc.) Think of the overhead and downtime associated with that many full-time employees—not to mention the lack of fresh thinking and skills. In today’s world, with so many great contractors out there and so many collaboration technologies, that department of 70 would be between 15 and 25, most of them managers sourcing and collaborating with outside contractors.

This is especially true of Marketing at today’s startups. With full-time talent both expensive and hard to find, founders should consider ‘on-demand’ not only for marketing programs but for virtually every part of your operation—from financial to coding to sales. In the course of our engagements with startups (usually from 3 months before they launch to three months afterward), we generally employ the following programs:

  • Corporate ID
  • Content writing (white papers, data sheets, case studies)
  • Public Relations
  • Website design and development
  • Event Marketing (trade shows, webinars, partner programs)
  • Demand generation
  • Sales and Marketing systems
  • Video production
  • Social Media

At best, in Phase 1 of your Marketing programs, in addition to an initial or interim CMO, your startup should have at most one full-time employee: a strong Marketing manager who can hire and manage all of the above contract services. As your startup moves into Phase 2 (Early Sales) you’ll need a second employee, someone strong in demand gen, web analytics and sales/marketing automation systems. That’s it. The rest should be on-demand.

The above logic applies not only to Marketing but to virtually every discipline within your startup. There are some obvious areas: no startup needs a full-time CFO or legal counsel, but in the eight years that Crowded Ocean has been operating, we’ve seen even the ultimate in-house, full-time positions—coding and Sales—going on-demand.

There is definitely a logic and benefit of having a number of full-time employees, but in today’s environment the bias should be to justify every full-time position rather than assume each role in the company is a full-time one.

Posted On March 21st, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Startup marketing mantra: content, customers, competition, conversions

As we work with startups that are preparing to launch (or retool or pivot) and that are, by definition, strapped for time, talent and resources, we find ourselves turning to the mantra of the four C’s: content, customers, competition and conversions. These four priorities should dominate the focus of your startup marketing team in order to drive customer acquisition and growth:

edited.COcoverContent – It’s a rule of thumb in B2B startup marketing that there is never enough good content to tell your story. For written (not rich media) content, that means well-crafted, easily accessible, visually-rich content that drives your message home for your different targets (buyer, partner, analyst, etc.) and moves them through the sales cycle. That’s why we urge every client to start as early as possible to lay out a plan for content so that there is ample time to write, edit and review your content and to ensure that every piece is designed to move a prospect to the next stage in the sales process.

Planning for more time, somewhat conversely, also allows for your content to “gel” so that they can be shorter, pithier and more substantive. And more time will allow your content team to plan for ways to repurpose, say, that 5- to 7-page white paper into blog posts, contributed articles, and perhaps newsletter copy.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 8.35.59 PMWhen it comes to creating a new website for launch, we know from experience that it’s almost always the content that lags, not the design or coding. That’s why we recommend you start your content development early.

Customers – It should almost go without saying that the customer needs to be front and center as a startup team prepares to launch. Customers are essential public validation (as logos on your website, quotes for the media, case studies for sales) for market launch that are almost always a prerequisite for launch. To make that customer focus a reality, the Chief Revenue Officer is involved in our launch planning and deliverables from day one.

Competition – Every startup preparing to launch benefits from having an enemy. Having a clear competitor gives your team a target to focus on and it helps to force your team to shift its aim from the internal development and early support issues to external customer development and sales. We recommend assigning someone on your team to study and monitor your competition and to regularly report on their progress to the rest of the startup to help your team be externally focused on sales growth and customer satisfaction.

Conversions – When preparing to launch your startup, it can be an endless distraction for a startup team to dive into logo design, taglines, and other elements of brand, especially the website. It’s a common wasteful detour for a startup team designing their launch website to engage in what we like to call “pixel polishing.” (that’s a form of “camel marketing”, or design-by-committee) That’s why we steer our clients to think about conversions instead. What is the path through the site for your target prospect? At every step through the site, what action do you want your target to take? What content do you have to move your target through the sales process? In other words, how do you convert a website visitor into a sales prospect as quickly as possible.

If your team is preparing to launch, repeat after us: content, customers, competition and conversions.

Posted On March 9th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Being there at your startup: flex time?

Studies say encouraging your employees to work from home increases productivity. Others say that managers who support employees working from home, or “flextime,” make great bosses. And 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 flextime?

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.59.24 AMDespite the popularity of flextime, 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.

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. So then the question is how much face time is needed?

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 March 1st, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Congrats to PatternEx team on their launch

We’re excited to celebrate with the PatternEx team on their launch last month and their showcase at the annual RSA Conference under way this week in San Francisco. (That’s the 41st launch for Crowded Ocean!) We were really pleased with the turnout at co-founder and CTO Kalyan Veeramachaneni’s talk on Tuesday at RSA on Artificial Intelligence for InfoSec.


Congratulations to CEO Uday Veeramachaneni and his team. Check out highlights from the launch party.







Below are co-founder Costas Bassias, CMO Travis Reed, and Company Advisor Ray Cotton.








Head of Security Solutions Erik Bloch explains the PatternEx Threat Prediction Platform.








Ankit demonstrates AI for InfoSec:


Posted On February 23rd, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The 20×20 Rule for Startups

As part of every onboarding process, we get asked by the startup founding team what we think of trade shows. Implicit in that question (since most of them come from established companies who are frequent participants in trade shows) is: when do you think we’re ready to start exhibiting?

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 8.28.27 AMThe immediate answer (and remember: there are always exceptions) is: not yet, and probably not for a long time. The reasoning behind this answer is:

  1. Trade shows are cripplers for startups, from finding and customizing a rental booth to building a demo to staffing the show. It brings product development and early Sales to a grinding halt.
  2. A rental 10×10 booth (even in Startup Alley) makes you look small, perhaps even temporary.
  3. Trade show leads (in the opinion of most of the Sales guys we’ve worked with) don’t rank as highly as those from other sources, such as webinars or outbound e-blasts.

The exceptions to the rule are those events where everyone is given the same real estate, such as certain Gartner shows. Quality of lead is good and everyone’s in a 10×10.

So our counsel to our clients is this:

  • Stay off the show floor for as long as you can. Your time and money is better spent playing off-floor—renting a hotel suite and bringing clients and analysts there for a more controlled (and peaceful) environment.
  • If you’re determined to exhibit on the show floor, don’t go until you can afford a 20×20 booth. If you can afford a booth that size, Sales is probably established, the product is stable, and you’re large enough to staff the show without bringing your entire operation to a halt.