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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.

Posted On December 1st, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Revisiting the mission statement for startups

Recently, with Google in the news, answering the question of whether it’s time to revise their mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, we’re asked by our startup clients whether they need a mission statement.

ideasAnd our answer is always the same: you need a Vision Statement, perhaps even an Operational Statement. But leave the Mission Statement for when you’ve got a significant market presence for other companies to be asking ‘what do you stand for?’

Let’s look at the role of each statement:

The Vision Statement should be bold and broad—and if you’re posting something on your walls, this is the one: (Example: “To change the way enterprises store, access and analyze Big Data”) Ideally, it’s targeted at 3 audiences:

  • analysts/press (why should I follow you guys);
  • customers (why should I buy from you); and
  • potential employees (why should I join you).

The Operational Statement (not the Mission Statement) is what a startup should review in its monthly updates with employees. It should be tight and measurable:

  • By the end of 2016 we will have over 40 customers with an ASP of over $100,000.
  • We will have 10% market share by….

The idea behind the Operational Statement is simple: if an employee isn’t engaged in activities that help accomplish those Operational goals, you need to either change the employee’s job or change the Operational Statement.

So you can see that both the Vision and Operational Statements have a bottom-line role. Focus on these and leave the Mission Statement for when someone outside your company cares enough about you to ask for one.

Posted On November 25th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Startups: The danger of speaking shorthand

When we do positioning and messaging workshops with our founders and their core teams, we’re always struck by how much they know about their technology and how little thought they’ve put into articulating it for the customer and market.Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 2.45.05 PM

There’s an old movie where two friends are so close that she says to him: “I’ll meet you at that place where we saw that thing a while back.” And he says: “Okay. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

That’s what most of our founders are like: they’ve been together so long and have been working so intensely that they’ve developed a shorthand for their approach and terminology. Which is great for productivity as long as they’re on the same page. Where it starts to fall apart is when you use the same shorthand in tangibles, such as sales presentations and white papers.

At that point we often find out how much the two (or more) founders differ in their understanding of key terminology and their role in the core capabilities of the technology. Terms such as ‘parallel’ or ‘cloud-based’ (vs. ‘cloud-centric’) turn out to mean different things to different people. And while those different interpretations may not have hurt the development of the core product, they’ll hurt the sales effort by confusing the sales team and potential customers and partners.

So the lesson is: when you start moving out of stealth, make sure, messaging-wise and terminology-wise, everyone is on the same page.

Posted On November 17th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

What’s the BFD in Startup Marketing?

At Crowded Ocean, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of ‘game-changing’ startups. Looking back at them, we’re struck by how unaware most of the founders were about the impact their technology might have.Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.28.31 AM

At first we thought it was modesty, but actually what we have learned is that startup founders are often so wrapped up in the technology and building the product that they haven’t really spent much time discussing the larger business/market implications of their creation.

Which means that our job is to get our startup clients to think as Big (within reason) as possible. Our ally in this effort is often the investors, but even there we find that VC partners, often technologists themselves, often ‘got’ what these founders were all about (and the market implications) but, again, couldn’t fully articulate the game-changing nature of their investment.

So now, at the start of any startup marketing engagement—as we’re preparing for our Positioning/Messaging workshop—an initial homework assignment to the founders is for them to answer this question: “What’s the BFD (Big Fucking Deal) about what you guys are up to, anyway?” Nine times out of ten they come up blank or mouth some technical platitudes. We then revisit that question over the next three sessions, until we’re all happy with the answer. And the founders are usually stunned at how different their final answer is from what they started with.


Posted On November 11th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How to stay small – startup marketing in reverse

We’re on the ground in Silicon Valley. We’re not reading term sheets or balance sheets of our startup clients. We don’t have insight into a startup’s burn rate. But we see different kinds of warning signs when we work with early-stage companiesScreen Shot 2014-11-11 at 1.52.22 PM that we’d like to flag right now:

  • Cubicles for everyone: People marvel that Steve Jobs cared so much about office design and purposefully created work environments that fostered easy interaction between different groups. But, he also gave his people offices because serious thought and serious conversation or confidential conversation requires privacy and quiet. When we see too many senior execs of a startup regularly heading to the parking lot to conduct important phone calls, you’ve got to ask why universal cubicles are a good thing.
  • DIY PR : Yes, we’ve seen amazing news coverage created by media-savvy tech execs. But they are a rarity. And what didn’t get done while that exec was chasing the reporters? If you have a lean team, that means that at a critical juncture in the growth of your startup, you’re going to have to bring in the pros and invest in a full PR program to put your rocket startup into orbit. In other words, ask yourself how many jobs you can seriously do well and whether you want to trust the importance of your media and analyst relations to one of your over-worked execs.
  • Make bullshit bingo a company sport: Is everything ‘compelling’? Do you worry about what ‘resonates’? Is your voice authentic? Are rhetorical questions and jargon wearing you out? As the new book Sense of Style by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker reminds us, simple language can be a powerful tool for effective communication and marketing. And we think that really applies to buzzword-laden startups.
  • Put mission statements on the wall: Forget the bromide ‘mission statements’ that speak to corporate values or goals of being ‘the best goshdarn_____ in the industry.’ Instead, we like vision statements because that’s where a team is going and a vision statement usually communicates to an investor and to an early customer that a startup team can see a bigger picture. A startup may enter the market with a tool or a point-solution but startups that see and communicate a consistent vision to solving a bigger problem for customers are startups to watch and invest in.

Posted On November 4th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Marketing: making ‘buzz’ happen

The idea of ‘buzz’ is a topic with some of our startup clients—how to get it, how to maintain it. We tell our clients to look at the entertainment business—movies, specifically. There are perennial stars, who the public is interested in even when they don’t have a movie to promote. Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 8.03.49 PMAnd then there are the ones you don’t hear from—even if they’ve got a great publicist—until they’re back in the public eye.

Take ‘Gone Girl’, which debuted last month. Ben Affleck is a perennial. Rosamund Pike, who critics are saying is an ‘undiscovered gem, wasted in her previous efforts’, could be either today’s flavor or tomorrow’s perennial.

Startups—especially at launch—are like Rosamund Pike: in the hands of a good PR firm their story translates analyst interest, media coverage, and early sales. So, naturally, they think they’re Ben Affleck. Wrong. Once the buzz dies down from the launch, it’s as much their job as the PR firm’s to create the next round of interest. And it can’t come from product releases alone (they’re too infrequent and not always that newsworthy). It comes from finding topics that they can speak, write and blog about—topics interesting enough to keep them in the public eye. It comes from becoming so expert in their area that they become a go-to source for journalists in their area.

And it means translating a company’s expertise into compelling commentary that reinforce their reputation. And it also comes from the basics of being available, credible, knowledgeable and responsive to the press when they call. Time and again, we’ve seen startup CEOs who are spread too thin and who are just too busy to respond patiently to a media inquiry. As the adage goes, you are investing in a relationship with the media, and that requires being available when they call.

In short, startup buzz is a manufactured process: it’s the PR firm’s job to manufacture it, but it’s the startup’s job to provide the raw materials. And before you decide you want to be the Ben Affleck of your industry, remember “Bennifer” and “Gigli”.

Posted On October 27th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Components of a Great Launch – startup marketing lessons

Over our six years in operation, we’ve helped launch 31 startups—some home runs, some loud doubles, some singles (luckily, no strikeouts to date). But, like a sports team, we sit down after every game and do a post-mortem, looking for lessons that we can apply to our next client and their launch.

This past week we launched our 31st company, Snowflake Computing. By any of our own standards, it was a very successful launch. So far.

trebuchetA note about the ‘So far’ above. We practice something called ‘Sales-Based Marketing’—that the job of Marketing comes down to 3 words: Make Sales Easier. So we really won’t know how successful the launch was until we get through the first sales cycle. Still, there are some components and lessons from this launch that are important enough to share, even though the launch is in its early stages.

A great team is critical: Snowflake’s three founders, plus their VP of Products and Marketing, Jon Bock, were self-critical from the start. They knew they had something big and were honest to know that they didn’t know how to articulate it. So we dug in for weeks, then months, crafting the positioning and messaging.

The right PR team: After a long search, we selected Kulesa Faul, who took a seat at the Big Table and participated actively in building a full PR program for Snowflake and determining who on the analyst and influencer side they/we should go after.

A well-Known CEO doesn’t hurt: Things hit another gear when Bob Muglia, ex-MSFT senior exec and a well-known figure within the press and analyst community, joined the team as CEO. He immediately hit the phones with a ‘stay tuned, we’re on to something huge here’ message.

Sales was involved from the start: In designing the website and creating the right content, we didn’t work in a vacuum. We had Sales articulate the desired visitor experience for the website, their concerns/needs, and the content that would move them from tire-kicker to interested prospect.

The Results So Far:

  • 42 briefings, 39 pieces of coverage. Kulesa-Faul’s outreach program was phenomenal, but they would also be the first to note that Bob’s joining the team made it easier to book 42 briefings. But that just gets you the meeting: Bob and Jon were unflagging in their enthusiasm and consistency of message across the entire spectrum of meetings. The result was the unheard-of 39 pieces of coverage.
  • A strong website, rich in content. Once the PR initiative does its work, it’s time for the website to develop the interest. The website that debuted on October 21 had four white papers, two videos (one of the founders, one of the early clients), a data sheet, and a compelling “Letter from the Founders.”
  • Upcoming activities: the site also promotes Snowflake at the upcoming AWS re:Invent tradeshow and an upcoming webinar.

Was the Snowflake launch perfect? Far from it. Way too many last-minute revs and technical emergencies. But, compared to the other 30 launches we’ve managed, it was a dream—thanks in large part to all the players mentioned above.

Posted On October 22nd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Kudos to Snowflake Computing on Launch Day

We’re pleased to salute the team at Snowflake Computing as they emerged from stealth and officially launched yesterday, October 21. Snowflake has pioneered a new data warehouse service from the ground up for the cloud.

snowflake launch teamStrong customer validation: We’re excited to have been part of the team, along with early customers like Conde Nast, Adobe, White Ops, Accordant Media and VoiceBase, who have embraced Snowflake’s fundamentally new approach and helped put this hot startup on the map.

snowflakelaunchPR rules: And we’re not alone in endorsing the huge potential of Snowflake. Press coverage from the NY Times to InfoWorld has been phenomenal. Check it out. Kudos to our PR team at Kulesa Faul.

And check out the sales resources we developed to help build demand and scale the company.

Sales-based marketing: In addition to the PR agency, we hired a virtual marketing team for Snowflake that included: a web design firm, digital marketing firm, SEO specialist, content writers, video producer, event producer, exhibit house and presentation designer.

Congratulations to the team: We’ve been working with Co-founders Benoit Dageville, Thierry Cruanes, Marcin Zukowski, CEO Bob Muglia and virtual Co-founder Jon Bock, VP of Product, since last April. It was thrilling to have helped launch the company and to be there yesterday to take a moment to celebrate with the team. Onward!


Posted On October 15th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Cultural best practices that help build startup teams

In our travels in startup-land, we meet a lot of different kinds of startups with a variety of cultural norms and business practices.

Here are two unusual best practices that stood out for us:

Doughnuts for the new guy. At data transformation startup Trifacta, one of the ways that Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.29.58 AMthe team helps welcome and acclimate a new employee is novel. They buy a box of doughnuts or bagels for the team and place it on the desk of new employee on their first day. That way, anyone who wants free food will have an easy way to approach the new employee and welcome them on board.

Blog competition over lunch. At machine data analytics platform Sumo Logic, the team uses a weekly all-hands meeting over lunch to evangelize the company blog. The internal blog champion with overall responsibility for maintaining the blog shares a calendar of proposed topics and authors online so it is easy to see the pipeline. By using the lunch meeting to review the blog schedule, however, it’s also easy to give kudos to the author of the blogs that were most popular or that received the most comments. And by incorporating potential blog topics into a weekly social ritual at the company, it is a lot easier to make content marketing through the blog a priority for the entire team.

Posted On October 9th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

How a small thing helps a startup look bigger

The vast majority of our startup clients are enterprise-level B2B companies. Which means that they’re communicating with high-end professionals—perhaps a CISO or senior data architect, who, if they’re going to buy this product/service, will be spending tens of thousands of dollars.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 7.51.02 AMSo it’s always interesting to us when we see the CEO or Chief Revenue Officer of one of our clients have an email address that says ‘dave@newcompany.com’.

It may seem like a little thing (and it is) in the early days of building your company, but in our mind it makes the company seem both small and casual—neither of which appeals to enterprise buyers. You know that, as a company grows, they’re probably going to have to shift their email convention to ‘dave.smith@newcompany.com’ or ‘dsmith@newcompany.com’. That’s why we recommend to startups to do that from the start and look bigger than you are.