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Posted On May 26th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Startup marketing series “How to be a lousy client” (Part 1)

At Crowded Ocean we’ve got a great ecosystem of marketing vendor partners who give us discounted rates for our startup clients. We don’t get these discounts because we’re wonderful people (though we are); we get them because we don’t waste their time (and income) with lousy clients. And if you don’t think the quality of the client matters, just talk to our vendor partners.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.03.48 AMLousy clients aren’t just a pain in the ass to work with, they’re also money pits. Consider this scenario for a startup:

The web design firm we’ve hired sits down and gets the client’s input on what they’re looking for, visually, from their website

  • The design firm comes back with three options: a puppy theme, a field of flowers, and a tank mowing down its opponents.
  • The client selects the tank.
  • The design firm comes back with three different tank executions
  • The client brings them home and their spouse says, ‘what happened to the puppies. I really liked them.’
  • The client tells the design firm to junk the tanks, go with the puppies.
  • Vendor is faced with a dilemma: either piss of the client by explaining that they owe more money (and most vendors are confrontation-averse) or eat the charges.

It’s our job to make sure the above scenario doesn’t happen. Or if it does, to educate the client that they’re being a lousy client (and, more importantly, they owe the vendor another $4k). It’s a win-win: the client is more educated and less likely to repeat the error and the vendor remains with the client, ensuring consistency and continuity.

Posted On May 19th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Secret Sauce: where slide-ware and demo-ware collide

How the disconnect between slide-ware and demo-ware trips up startup marketing

When we’re working with the founding team of our startup clients to develop the right positioning and messaging, there’s a lot of sifting and teasing apart of the core message, including trying to devise a crisp articulation of the secret sauce of the underlying technology.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMYou’d think that nailing down that secret sauce would be the easiest part of the equation, since it’s often at the core of why the technical founders came together in the first place. But we find that no one’s taken the time to define and articulate that core component—that ‘aha’ moment–leading to a disconnect between what the execs say in their Powerpoint deck and what the Systems Engineer (SE) are demo’ing to early customers.

This is often what happens:

  • There are so many cool attributes of the new system that no one can agree to define “the secret sauce” around a single set of innovations;
  • The team gets hung up on how to describe the value of the solution/product as it is today versus what it will be tomorrow;
  • There are attributes of the system here today, but there is an internal debate over what attributes are going to make it into the next release;
  • Key selling points of the solution that address ease of use or ease of administration are impossible to show because there is an overhaul of the UI in the works or just ahead;
  • The startup counts a handful of C-level execs as customers of record, but that level of testimonial sale is not repeatable until the product evolves

Our work in positioning a startup is done only when the core deck is complete and aligns with the demo. Our goal is to make the PPT deck and the demo align in message, nomenclature and sequence as early as possible. That way, the rest of the marketing deliverables (website, content, sales tools, demand gen) can move into development much more quickly and with fewer hiccups.


Posted On May 12th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Launching our 36th startup: PowWow Mobile

We’re proud to launch our 36th startup. That’s PowWow Mobile, a pioneer in enterprise application transformation that will be showcasing its Application Transformation platform at the Citrix Synergy tradeshow in Orlando this week.

PowWowMobile-logoPowWow can transform any enterprise app for any mobile device in ten days. PowWow is helping enterprise IT deliver trusted, workhorse applications that are core to the business as a native mobile experience for its users. That results in tremendous cost savings and helps enterprise meet the needs of their increasingly mobile workforce.

Since stepping in as PowWow’s interim VP of marketing at the beginning of 2015, we have tapped our ecosystem of marketing partners to build a virtual marketing team ofpowwowbooth experts to position, staff and launch the company:

  • Web design team – Dystrick
  • Video content – Launchsquad
  • PR agency – Eastwick
  • Demand gen – Marketing Operations
  • Design – Jer Jager
  • Marketing Automation – Hubspot

And we’re pleased to be handing over the reigns to the new head of marketing starting next week at PowWow Mobile. Congrats to the PowWow team. Sell, team, sell.

Posted On May 4th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

How Many Chiefs Does a Startup Need?

After being approached this week via LinkedIn by someone with the misguided (and erroneous) title of “Chief Conversation Starter,” we decided to take stock of all of the “chiefs” out there these days in startup-land. Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.09.22 PMAnd we’re going to pretend you asked this question: who are the “chiefs” that every startup needs but that are often overlooked:

Chief Content Officer: Eventually, the chief content officer for your startup will be a senior player on the marketing team. But in the early days, the CEO needs to appoint someone to the role, someone to identify and oversee the production of vital content. Whoever it is, it needs to be someone who is steeped in the product story and whether you have the right tools (website, white papers, demos, etc.) to connect with your customer and support the sales process. And it’s definitely not a shared responsibility. For example: who is producing next week’s blog post? Who is going to create that competitive kill sheet? Without an owner who is accountable for driving content development, it simply won’t get done.

Chief Culture Officer: That’s your office manager, or it should be. We advise our startup CEOs to pay attention to the culture of your startup by fostering values and practices that are important to your team. But let it grow organically and let it be authentic. (Just because XYZ startup offers free bagels on Wednesdays, you don’t have to do that, too.) And once you’ve settled on some cultural norms that you want to foster, assign someone on your team to be the owner or the shepherd of those practices. That way your culture will grow, but it’s not on the CEO’s already overflowing plate.

Posted On April 27th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

In startup-land, why does very launch slip twice?

The above adage is true. We’re not sure why, but our experience in launching literally hundreds of products working at corporate tech giants like Oracle, Lucent, Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 2.18.07 PMSun Microsystems, SynOptics/Bay Networks and Aspect—as well as with over 35 startups—is that the vast majority of launches slip twice.

At least.

Perhaps it’s a delay in securing vital customer references needed for launch. Perhaps it’s a delay in the overhaul of the product UI (which pushes out production of vital content for the sales team and launch.) Or, perhaps something went wrong in the last-minute crunch of cramming more features into the last software release.

To minimize slips in a launch, we advise our clients to get into “launch mode” at least three months prior to launch. This requires appointing a “launchmeister” to lead the cross-functional team (product + support + sales + marketing) to deliver against precise goals, deadlines, metrics and deliverables. That way, critical launch dependencies (like the timing of a fundraising round or the ramping up of hiring) can be planned carefully and with a minimum of changes and fallout.

Posted On April 20th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

How to speak startup – new vocabulary for startup denizens

Nomophobiathat’s separation anxiety when you and your cell phone are parted. Apparently, it’s epidemic and here to stay.

Humint – that’s “human intelligence” and something that cyber security strategies need to incorporate, say security experts and pundits.

Cloud cloaking – a strategy for eluding hackers, at least for now.

Perceptual learning – scientists are exploring how to marry data with intuition to garner powerful insights. Experts explain how “the brain works to find the most meaningful sights or sounds and filter out the rest.” Can that concept be applied to big data?

Posted On April 13th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

In startup marketing: done is good

In the movie “All That Jazz”, the Roy Scheider character (read: Bob Fosse) continues to make changes to his movie, even long after the editing process had closed and each change meant significant cost overruns. Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 12.19.45 PMHis harried producer goes to the monitor, knowing that each change means thousands of dollars, and ready to veto it. But each time he steps back from the monitor, his anger thwarted by his acknowledgement that the SOB (Scheider) had just improved the finished product.

That’s a problem we often encounter with our startup clients. Given all the time and money in the world, you can always improve on a process or deliverable—such as a logo or website. And who can argue against a desire to ‘get it right.’

Well, we can. There’s a saying that applies to startup marketing: “Done is good.” There’s so much to do in bringing a startup to market that often the work required to bring a B+ work up to an A isn’t worth it. The key is to know when to keep grinding on something and when to slap it and call it a baby.Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 12.22.37 PM

An example: often it dawns on founding executives, only as they near the finish line of a project (such as a logo or website) that they haven’t involved the other employees the way they have in the past. That’s usually a good thing—the company culture is growing up and they’re growing as executives. But sometimes (if the company is still small and in founding stages) it’s appropriate. In that case, we recommend getting the other players involved in the early stages (when the clay is wet), so that they feel ‘consulted’ but aren’t under the impression that they have final say.

It’s not ideal, but in today’s startup culture, anything that gets you to the decision final line is a positive. Done is good.

Posted On April 6th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Subtle sexism and the daughters of tech titans

Subtle sexism.

Casual sexism.

Everyday sexism.

Forget glass ceiling. That’s so 1970’s. The new thing is the insidious and institutionalized ways that women are overlooked or excluded from opportunity and access. Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.22.48 AMIt’s corporate sexism and it’s part of the culture of the majority of companies in Silicon Valley.

The conversation that’s been stirred up in Silicon Valley over the Ellen Pao gender discrimination suit is fascinating and discouraging at the same time. We watched all of the women cheering Ellen from the sidelines. The cheering sections even include a Facebook page and a crowd-sourced full page ad (“Thanks Ellen”) in a local Palo Alto paper.

But we heard nothing from the men. Where are the fathers who want more opportunities for their daughters. What is their point of view? Why are they not cheering?

Silicon Valley is celebrated as a meritocracy. If you are a white, Indian, or Asian male with a technical background, almost all doors are open. But to all of you fathers out there, what do you say to your daughter about Ellen Pao?

Posted On March 30th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Can you build a strong company culture if your startup is virtual?

We’ve asked this question of startups that operate with many key members of the team working from different times zones. In turn we’ve been asked the same question by our earliest stage clients. search eyes visionWhen a startup has a few remote team members, there are a bunch of communications processes and planning tools that are commonly followed to integrate those two guys working remotely from Boston or that amazing coder in Berlin.

The argument for ‘going virtual’ comes down to one word: talent. You’re expanding your potential labor pool and not competing with the geographic Big Boys (Google, Facebook, etc., if you’re based in Silicon Valley). It’s a compelling argument, especially if you’re trying to land one or two key players.

But it’s a different story when the entire company is distributed. When there is no critical mass of talent or team, how does a startup stitch together a group of people to operate with a shared focus, passion and results? And when it comes to marketing and launching that virtual startup, how do outsiders (like Crowded Ocean) work efficiently with a virtual startup team?Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 2.37.28 PM

It’s not about a bunch of startup culture hacks like gourmet lunches, free neck massages and flex hours. That’s the kind of cosmetic quirkiness that’s a reflection of the early employees and founding team. Building a successful team that’s all virtual requires much more effort.

Goals: It is about coming together with shared goals. We think that means the leaders need to make a deliberate investment to bring together the entire team regularly to articulate and communicate their goals and purpose. If that means spending money to fly everyone on the team to a single location twice a year, so be it. That’s a high ROI investment for a startup that wants to make being virtual work.

Vision: It is about having a shared vision of how your team works. What are the principles and values that underpin your product or service? Those need to be articulated and reinforced to the entire group in person and in subsequent, regular conference calls.

Plan: It is about having a plan and measuring progress against that plan. There needs to be a single plan that the entire virtual team sees, reviews regularly and can articulate.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.04.47 PMCommunication: It’s probably not possible to over-communicate across a virtual team. We recommend that there be regular, weekly, mandatory staff meetings that are organized, disciplined and respectful. Tight, well-run meetings are usually the best attended (but very often hard to make happen without commitment from the top.)

Diversity: More than ever, a virtual team needs to rely upon diverse but complementary team members to be effective. Studies show that teams are more successful when their members have higher emotional intelligence and include more women.

Discipline: It’s rare that the first-time CEO can lead a virtual team. It takes experience and discipline at the helm to make being virtual a success.

Bottom line: we’re advocates for going virtual on a selective basis (a few key players that you work hard to keep involved in the company culture/fabric). But if you’re thinking of running the entire company as a virtual entity, think again.

Posted On March 23rd, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

How bait-and-switch staffing from your marketing firm hurts your startup

When we hire a marketing firm for our startup clients, we want to work with principals. Whether that firm is web design, a PR agency or the video content creator, we want to thinking planning strategywork with the guys at the top who have the talent, experience and business acumen that helped them build their own business—and can help our clients built theirs. In other words, large firms and newbies need not apply.

And your comment is, really? Why?

Startups have less margin of error than established companies, so while new talent is great for companies who can afford a mistake or two, when you’re launching your startup, can you afford to trust your launch to an unproven marketing leader?

Startups constitute a unique marketing challenge. Almost every startup we meet has limited management processes, no defined sales cycle, fuzzy messaging and a lot of one-off or custom deals that are not repeatable. It takes marketing experience and wisdom (In short: veterans) to sift out sales targets and opportunities that can help a technically brilliant (but young) startup team grow and to make decisions upon which a marketing plan can be based.

Bottom line: don’t be a victim of bait and switch. Insist on working with principals.