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Posted On March 2nd, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

The Shit Startup CEOs Say – part #66

We’re now working with our 33rd, 34th and 35th startup clients. And, before forming Crowded Ocean seven years ago, we worked as initial VPs of Marketing for a number of early-stage companies. In working with that many founders and CEOs we’ve encountered everything from dead-on brilliance to things that make you wince.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.16.49 AMWe started writing down some of these gems because they crystallize so perfectly that what a CEO says can quickly become a guiding force in a startup’s culture and brand. (So, beware…)

Here are some of our favorites:

We don’t invest in market research because it just tells us something we already know. 

We do have some competitors. There’s one in Boston that’s the brightest of the retards.

 We need to be careful with our next hire because our team is already far too asp-y.*           

(asp-y = Asperger’s)

Our decisions come later than most startups because we’re more sausage-y.

 Our VC Board member is worth listening to. But he’s at least 85% as smart as he thinks he is.

Posted On February 24th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Marketing’s Best Friend: the Status Quo

In working with startups, we often find ourselves having to remind our clients that, as startups, they have a built-in advantage that many companies don’t. They have a built-in friend and a built-in enemy.Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.27.57 PM

The friend is the whiteboard. Given that we usually join an account 4 months before they go to market, it’s been at least a year—often closer to two—since they started the company.

And we have to remind them that they started with a whiteboard and an idea. No aging architecture to amortize, no installed base to preserve, no legacy mindsets inside the company. So we have them go back to those days of original, fresh thinking and we start our marketing messaging from there.

The built-in enemy is the Status Quo. If the Status Quo is adequate, your startup is doomed. By definition, the core of Startup Marketing is this: expose and attack the Status Quo. It’s just sitting there—aging, limited, usually unpopular. If you can’t win a fight with it, get out of the business. Now.

Posted On February 16th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

What does it mean to have a “soft launch?”

Launch day for a startup is a major milestone for the entire team – founders, investors, customers, partners, suppliers, employees and their families.

In the world of technology, launch day is typically when a startup steps out “officially” (out of stealth, out of beta) to make its product or service widely available. Launch says the startup is ready to stand up to public evaluation and scrutiny of its product and value; it is also when favorable press coverage is expected to garner visibility that can turn into new business.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 8.35.59 PMBut sometimes a startup wants to have a “soft launch.” So what is a “soft launch” and why do it?

A soft launch is usually phase one of a two-phase launch that involves a greater focus on the company than on the product. It may focus primarily on the founding team, its space and the funding it has received. It may also involve a “limited” release of the product but without significant details.

Here are four other noteworthy reasons for a soft launch:

Recruiting – startups, especially in the super-heated and super-competitive job market of Silicon Valley, will often “soft launch” in order to use the visibility it generates to be able to recruit top talent to build out their team.

Competition – with an ear to the ground, a startup may believe that a competitor is going to beat it to market. In order to be first – to define the market need on their terms and to set the stage for why their technology is superior – many startups will launch in two phases, with a soft launch intended to blunt the competition and relegate them to followers.

Buzz-building – to be the shiny new thing in tech – even in a less sexy, geeky market segment – can be a very valuable, momentum-building period. Social media and press buzz can help a startup accelerate recruiting, fundraising and customer development.

Enterprise-ready – large enterprises are more sophisticated these days about the value of new technology from young startups. But that doesn’t mean they want to risk a vital portion of their IT operation and budget on a product from a newly minted startup. But, the market validation and favorable coverage by analysts and press of a soft-launch can convey a great deal of legitimacy to a young startup that can help it close pivotal deals with early-adopter, brand-name enterprise customers.


Posted On February 11th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Berlitz lesson #25 – more startup marketing lingo

Stingrays – in the ongoing privacy and hacking wars, the FBI says it can use decoy cell towers to intercept your calls and texts. Yes, these are more warrantless breaches of your privacy, and these are called stingrays.Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.04.47 PM

Robotification – according to industry pundits, the ages of AI, robots and big data are converging. And that is advancing the robotification of our society.

Beacons – advertisers are making more sophisticated uses of beacons that send targeted messages and promotions to your cell phone after you enter a physical store or shopping area.

Supercookies – privacy law has given the consumer the ability to erase cookies (the code that sticks to your web browser after you have visited a particular website and gives advertisers a way to follow you with targeted promotions and ads as you visit other sites.) But now Verizon has introduced a “supercookie” that cannot be removed by the consumer. Buyer beware.

Posted On February 2nd, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Goldilocks VC and startup needs

It’s a given of startup life—the team focusing their efforts on the upcoming Board meeting. But you can often tell what kind of Board they have by the tenor of their efforts. Some of them are doing busy work, motivated more by fear of one or more nit-picking, over-bearing Board members. Others are doing hard but engaging work, anticipating tough but fair questions from their investors. You figure out which ones had the more productive subsequent meetings.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 1.45.21 PMThe Goldilocks principle is very prevalent in the VC world. There are the overly-involved VC: always on-site, summoning the team to his/her offices to review their pitches, slide-by-slide. They may add initial value, but they’re cultivating their startup executives to be soldiers rather than leaders.

On the flip side, there are VCs who are so passive as to be non-existent. It’s one thing to be a VC whose firm believes in investing only, and which subsequently declines a seat on the Board. But if you’re going to take a seat at the table, then deal yourself in, and let the founders benefit from your experience and advice.

The majority of the VCs we work with fall into that desirable ‘just right’ category. They’re present without being obnoxiously so, they ask probing questions, and they treat the founders critically but respectfully. Most importantly, they add value to their investments as well as their representations. They’re the ones who—when asked—we direct our clients to.

Posted On January 26th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Lessons learned – Crowded Ocean’s latest startup marketing workshop

riversideworkshopThanks to the entrepreneurs from the InSoCal startup incubator who attended our startup marketing workshop last week. We spoke to a crowd of about 40 startup founders. The title of our talk: Scars and Bruises – Startup Myths and Best Practices.

Here are some of our takeaways from the workshop:

We speak jargon too. Even basic business shorthand like ROI, POC and TCO can be confusing. And when we get going, some of our basic marketing terminology like SEO, inbound traffic, and sales funnels needs to be explained to small business owners and tech entrepreneurs. We’re in the bubble in Silicon Valley. Sometimes we forget.

hoganpreparesFounders don’t always get PR. We were pleased to have Joanna Kulesa and Danielle Salvato-Earl from the Kulesa Faul PR agency join us as speakers. Some of the basic PR strategies of briefing the media under embargo and news-jacking were unfamiliar concepts to the audience. But Joanna and Danielle did a great job explaining how startups can leverage PR and answering questions.

Success stories are better with numbers. When we say that we are no longer in the age of “trust me” marketing and that it’s all about being data-driven, it would be helpful to back up our own best practices with metrics. We like to preach: “what gets measured gets funded.” But we’re like the cobbler’s kids. After we have launched a startup client, we move quickly to their next priority. That means tracking metrics like site visits, page views and lead captures on our client’s site or at their first public tradeshow showcase can get lost to history. We need to track those better.

Powerpoint will never die. We trimmed the number of words on our presentation slides and we trimmed the overall number of slides before we spoke. But, again, we were surprised by how many people still wanted a copy of our slides. We kept the presentation conversational. And we used more images than words on slides. But people still like to have their own copy of speaker slides. Go figure.


Posted On January 19th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

New entrants in startup marketing “Bullshit Bingo”

We love to track how the jargon factory that is Silicon Valley churns out new terms and catch-phrases that are quickly adopted (and satirized) by industry watchers and pundits (Colbert, we will miss you.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.33.38 AMAnd since it’s that time of year when everyone likes to make predictions, we thought we’d take a shot at identifying terms that in 2015 may be headed to the trash heap of overused terms (think: “compelling”).

Disrupt – When a startup claims to be “disrupting” the mayonnaise market with a new plant-based product, we know that we’ve got a term that’s a new entrant in the land of bullshit bingo. Congrats to startup team Hampton Creek on their funding, growth and vision. But, really, let’s not call your vegan mayonnaise disruptive.

Industry-leading – Do we need to explain why this is on the list? What’s surprising is that it will not die.

Mission-critical – We’ve declared this one as officially dead long ago, but it’s a zombie term that keeps coming back. It’s a trusty phrase for bullshit bingo play.

Agile – Despite the fact that agile software development is a legitimate business practice, the term “agile” has become hackneyed. Proof is that it’s got it’s own bullshit bingo play here.

Let the best bullshitter win. Play on.

Posted On January 12th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Why Social Media Fails for Startups

According to the Buddhist proverb:

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 8.22.54 AMWhen it comes to social media, that elegant quote rings true. Many of our startup clients that have made the decision to invest in social media, and they have wisely pared their social media targets to a manageable two or three…say LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.

But for a startup to be successful on social media, you also need ownership and tops-down support directly from the CEO or co-founders. That is a critical step not to be overlooked. Your startup may have a community manager “owning” the channels. Or your startup may have your PR firm temporarily at the social media helm in the very early days. But if the CEO, or your leadership team doesn’t invest time and attention, your social media program doomed.

And it takes time. And that’s the point. We tell clients that to reap the real benefits of social media, you must invest consistently and let time and repetition pay off for you. Instead of thinking in terms of three to six months, think 12 to 18 months.

If your startup has identified the channels that will connect your startup to your key audiences and you can provide relevant content on a regular basis, you’ll collect the followers, friends, fans and connections you value. Over time, that will translate into creating a community that can become an important forum for influencing buying decisions, a sounding board for shaping opinion, a place to seek out feedback on product features that will help build your reputation and, over time, leadership in your market space.

Channels like Twitter can be a valuable source of new business for consumer and enterprise startups. But it won’t work if your leadership doesn’t jump on and stay on the social media bandwagon.

Posted On January 6th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Refrigerators and startups

Everyone knows about the stocked refrigerators and bring-in lunches that are the hallmark of the startup world. And the same ‘everyone’ knows that it’s not generosity but productivity that is the driving force behind these stocked items.Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.29.58 AM

Recently we’re seeing an alarming trend in these refrigerators: healthy items. Red Bulls and diet Cokes are having to share space with flavored waters and vegetable juices. Caffeine and MSG are no longer the mother’s milk of the startup world.

It took us a while to figure it out, but now we—and the VCs we counsel—look at the refrigerators as we’re evaluating a company and its prospects. Our take: the ones with the healthy foods are in it for the long haul—the IPO. The Red Bulls are looking to be acquired.

Posted On December 8th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Berlitz Lesson #6 – how to speak startup marketing

GAFA – it’s an acronym for the four mighty horsemen of tech – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. The acronym is taking hold in Europe as the pundits and lawmakers there bemoan the global dominance of these tech giants.

Phubbing – that’s snubbing someone in a social context by inappropriately favoring your mobile or tablet for the human you’re meeting with.

Solopreneur – this mash-up of “solo” and “entrepreneur” started showing up last year to refer to a business owner or startup founder going it alone.

Air-gapped – a computer that is not physically connected to the Internet via a network or via another computer connected to the Internet is called air-gapped and is considered more secure than other computers.