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Posted On November 29th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Why would a startup hire an inside sales rep a year before product availability?

We’ve seen two successful enterprise startup teams hire inside sales reps during their stealth phase, early in the life of the company. moneySo early, in fact, that the hire preceded the general availability of product by more than a year. And the ISR was not even related to a board member or cofounder! So, why hire so early?

Two reasons.

Early traction

First, the ISR helped extend the reach and productivity of the startup team by cold-calling potential early-adopters while using the name and bona fides of the founders and investors. The ISR worked off of a list of friends-and-family targets and helped hunt critical early customers. As the mantra of company building goes, rapidly building the MVP product with fast iteration of core features that are based upon customer testing and feedback is the shortest path to establishing product/market fit. In this model, the ISR served as an indispensible wingman of the founders whose credentials are part of why the lone-survivorstartup was funded in the first place and why an early-adopter customer would take a chance on an unproven product and company.

In reality, the ISR runs an early focus group

Second, because the ISR is on the front lines of pitching the company every day by phone and email to would-be customers, they serve as a test bed or focus group of value propositions, terminology and product names. One of our past startup clients, for example, formed a three-person ISR team who A/B tested email subject lines that they used to set meetings in the year prior to the official beta release of their cloud service. The ISR team tabulated their findings which became useful data for us to consider when we worked to nail down product positioning.

So, consider the value of adding a strong Inside Sales Rep before launch to help extend the influence of the founders, accelerate sales and help test your positioning and messaging.

Posted On November 15th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

November edition of fascinating new Silicon Valley jargon

USB condom: a device that blocks the risk of hacking or the transfer of computer viruses when a mobile device is plugged into a public USB port for power or recharging.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.33.38 AM

“Lights out” factories: a factory that is so completely automated it needs no interior illumination.

Fake news problem: this is a problem that Facebook is grappling with in the wake of their inability to filter out false information that’s posted as “news” on their website today.

Posted On November 1st, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Why slide-ware and demo-ware must match

When we’re going through the positioning phase of our marketing planning with a startup team, 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.SecretSauce

You’d think that nailing down that secret sauce wouldn’t be too difficult to achieve, especially when the leadership team of the startup is often made up entirely of technical founders. But we find there’s often a disconnect between what the execs say in their Powerpoint deck compared with what the Systems Engineer (SE) are demo’ing to early customers.

In other words, startup marketers need to make it a priority to ensure that the “epiphany” captured in the slide pitch matches what the SE is showcasing in the demo. If the language and “aha” moments in the product demo don’t reinforce what’s in your Powerpoint, that’s a serious and potentially disabling disconnect.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.16.49 AM

This is often what can happen:

  • 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 takeaway is that our work to re-position a startup isn’t done when there’s a new Powerpoint deck (or website…) One of the key early deliverables that must be aligned with the pitch is the demo. We try 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 October 26th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

October: 3 new words in Silicon Valley jargon

Three new terms you really need to know and use, nerds…

ideas

Volunteer computing: donate a share of your computer’s unused storage space and compute power to a scientific project (e.g. the search for signs of extraterrestrial life for SETI or research for a cure to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases for Stanford University).

Buzzy: when a startup is growing quickly, in the media a lot and watched with envy by other startups with far less momentum, they’re buzzy. A former buzzy startup, Mixpanel, is regrouping to refocus on profitability, according to this recent news article.

Casino effect: there are a set of principles in the design of casinos that keep gamblers gambling. But can that same idea be applied to consumer software design?

Posted On October 18th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Is “momentum” part of the secret sauce of startup success?

When a startup team is heading into launch, ‘momentum’ can be that intangible ingredient that helps fill in gaps in execution, blurs missteps and invigorates a team that is flagging from staff shortages, high expectations and competitive pressures.

moneySuccess, according to the “Yoda of Silicon Valley”, Sam Altman, CEO of startup accelerator Y Combinator is:

something like idea times product times execution times team times luck, where luck is a random number between zero and ten thousand.”

In other words, who the hell knows. Or, if someone did know the secret to a winning startup, there’d be an algorithm for that.

This recent article in the New York Times contrasts the rising “mojo” of social media favorite Snap (the channel formerly known as Snapchat) to the tumbling fame (and valuation) of Twitter. Not too long ago (before we moved to a new slugfest) it was Google vs. Yahoo or Slack vs. Hipchat. The point that matters is that momentum can be a powerful force that helps accelerate success in startup teams.

So how do you foster momentum across your team? From our vantage point as CMO guns-for-hire, teams with momentum share a few basic attributes that are always modeled by the founders. These may not be all of the steps to momentum, but they are our top favorites:

  • Goal setting: Everyone on the team knows what the company goals are and how their own job goals support those goals.
  • Accountability: Maybe it’s an individual or maybe it’s a team but there’s an owner for every deliverable and it’s understood across the organization, from top to bottom.
  • No excuses: When mistakes are made, they are acknowledged and the team pulls together to fix them and move on. No finger pointing. No blame.
  • No assholes: When there’s a new-hire who’s a bad fit, culturally, or who brings a toxic style to the office, they never last long. Mistakes in hiring happen, unfortunately. But life is too short to tolerate them.

 

Posted On October 11th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

More new words: the October edition, part two

Glass cliff: according to The New York Times, it’s the theory that holds that women are often placed in positions of power when the situation is dire, men are uninterested and the likelihood of success is low.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMSharenting: the practice of online sharing of parenting, including the posting of children at very early ages, shapes the identity (and privacy) of children and that digital identity can follow a child into adulthood.

Behavior design: a principle of software design that coaxes us into adopting new behaviors or habits, as in rewarding the poster of a photo on Facebook with instant “likes”.

Conversational computing: the new market category of consumer and computing products popularized by Siri, Alexa and Echo, are artificially intelligent devices.

 

Posted On October 5th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

New words, the October 2016 edition

Man-terrupting: in the first presidential debate, held September 26, Republican candidate Donald Trump interrupted his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton 40 times in the first 26 minutes. Women are twice as likely to be interrupted as men are and it’s a mainstay of the “subtle sexism” of the workplace. And now it has a name: manterrupting.

Cyber-chondria: being addicted to researching any new symptom, ache or pain online and making yourself worry. It’s the new hypochondria.

Ramen profitability: the metric that early-stage startups covet says that a company is making enough money for the founders to live on the college and startup staple of Ramen noodles.

Power law: the unwritten VC rule that 90 percent of the VC firm’s profits come from one or two companies in the portfolio.

Posted On September 27th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

3 rules-of-thumb for hiring an effective startup team

Inspired by the presidential debate yesterday, here are three rules-of-thumb that we like to Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 8.50.31 PMshare with first-time CEOs on how to build a strong team in those critical, early days of growing a startup.

  1. Stick to the no-assholes rule. You can call them jerks or idiots, but the label “asshole” seems to need no interpretation among a team of startup founders who are striving to build a company. We proclaim “no assholes” as a universal guideline for all emerging companies to follow. We would go so far as to state it as HR policy, right along side the Rooney Rule for creating meaningful interviews of minority candidates to build diversity into your team. Especially in the early days, there can be no assholes. Because assholes will often hire their own kind and your startup just can’t afford that.
  1. Dispense with bullshit new-age titles. If you’re serious about building a real company that’s going to go global, then stick with job titles that may seem “retro” to the millenials on your team. Remember that “real” titles on business cards actually mean something to the majority of your customers who aren’t headquartered in Silicon Valley.
  1. When you’re interviewing, take a candidate out to lunch and watch how they treat the waiter. This is a tried-and-true test for most candidates because they are focused on impressing the hiring manager across the lunch table. But if they are rude or dismissive when the bus boy stops to refill their water glass or they are discourteous when an over-eager waiter starts to hover, just order your lunch to go or ask for a doggie bag.

Posted On September 20th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

5 Steps to Take Your Startup to the Next Level

  1. Write your launch press release as early as possible to unify sales and marketing messaging

As much as startups like their white boards, when it comes to their core positioning, lone-survivorproduct capabilities and supporting messaging, they don’t take anything seriously until they see it in print (or in PPT or HTML). As important as a launch is to a startup—and as important as press coverage is to the launch—you’d think they’d recognize the fundamental importance of the press release and act accordingly. And yet most startups don’t write the release until about 3 weeks prior to launch. Only then are fundamental inconsistencies and misunderstandings revealed, causing everyone to scramble, from website authors to the PR firm. Instead, draft your news release as early as possible to crystallize messaging. Start by writing your ideal headline for the launch, then write the release that will best generate that headline. Then take the components of that release and insert them into all your key marketing and sales materials.

  1. Ditch the “elevator pitch”; use a 20-second “bold claim” instead

The “elevator pitch” is a time-honored marketing exercise and tool for distilling your company’s value proposition. But we’re living in an ADHD world where your prospective customer is addicted to nonstop interruptions in multiple streams delivered on multiple screens. So forget the elevator ride: you don’t have that long. Imagine you’re on an escalator instead, with 30 seconds to make your pitch. Lead with your ‘bold claim’. It starts with: “what if I told you that…” (An example: ‘What if I told you that you could wash your car while driving it home from work?’) An effective bold claim poses a question that redeye failuregenerates this customer response: “I don’t believe you can do that, but I’ll take your card.” It’s a statement that sits at the core of your sales pitch, PPT decks and website–one provocative enough to grab your customer’s attention and initiate the sales process.

  1. Build a company “war room” around your “buyer persona”

Defining the buyer persona is a best practice supported by business books, courses, institutes and online tools. And it makes more sense than ever now because customers have more power and more options. But for so many companies creating a customer persona is just a paper exercise. The key is to develop a 3-D understanding of your persona’s personality and affinities, knowledge that you can then apply to your website, sales pitches, and white papers—and to make it a company exercise. The more advanced startups not only create these 3-D images of their customer, they name them and put an image (or imagined photo) of them on their walls, reminding everyone of what (and whom) they’re working for. This is particularly true of the Sales “war room,” where the customer persona should have equal wall space with all of your competition’s material, a constant reminder to stay focused on your customers—their needs, their options and their reasons to choose you.

  1. Bring your “chief content officer” to the leadership table

Think about it: in an enterprise product sale, the average sales process requires seven ‘touches’ (or interactions) with your prospect. So, to support their transition from prospect to buyer, you’ll need at least seven pieces of original content. And yet, for many startups, content is a last-minute addition to their launch and sales efforts.

Content needs to move to the top of a startup’s Maslow hierarchy. And it has to be everybody’s job. The problem is that every team at early-stage companies is so busy iterating on their product—both in features and possible business applications—that crafting sales content for lead nurturing and demand gen often takes a back seat. We recommend designating a “chief content officer” and giving him/her a seat at the big table for sales pipeline reviews, product planning meetings, maybe even board meetings. Make generating topics and content ideas a corporate-wide function, then recognize and reward those who generate this content—blogs, mini-white papers, etc.

  1. Set diversity goals (just like growth/revenue targets) and report on them just as frequently

Diversity is not only good for a company’s culture, it’s good for business, paying off in better decisions and improved profitability. But how to achieve it? A few innovative startups like Slack have adopted the Rooney Rule that requires that “persons of color” and women be candidates for strategic hires within an organization. Meanwhile, VC firm and startup builder Kapor Capital has taken the Rooney Rule a step further by requiring their own firm be diverse. Now, Kapor Capital partners are requiring the startups they invest in to create a culture of inclusion from the beginning. They ask their startup founders to sign a diversity pledge, then deliver a diversity report every quarter to investors.

Tech titans like Apple, Google and Salesforce have diversity initiatives that they report on publicly. Startups can build diversity in from the ground up by giving it the same status in their business plan as goals for customer acquisition, revenue and profit. And, by reporting on those goals every quarter to your board, investors and your team you’ll be able to reinforce diversity as a value and a business goal that will help set your startup apart.

 

 

Posted On September 13th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The Meh list for Startups

This is our list of some of the attributes of startups that are “in” and others that are just, well, “meh”….screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-2-10-23-pm

* for more on the bold claim, see our earlier blog post