Category Archives: Crowded Ocean News

Posted On January 17th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Delegation: a much-needed startup CEO skill

Most startup CEOs are like those guys you know who built their own house: they have a wide range of impressive skills and an accompanying high level of confidence. screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-37-22-pmWhich can make them great founders and lousy leaders at the same time.

One of the hardest skills for a startup CEO to acquire is the ability to delegate. And it’s understandable why it’s problematic. When it’s your company and you’ve done everything at the start—perhaps including writing the initial website—it’s tough to watch someone with less knowledge about the company or technology try to do something that you could do more quickly, and probably, better.

But the inability to delegate is a one-way ticket to dual destinations: failure (for your company) and the fun house (for you). The key is: how to learn to delegate without seeing your product or company degrade during the process.

Applying “Successive Approximation” as a Training Tactic

The key is the old psychology term: ‘successive approximation’. If it’s a task that can be shared, do it the first time with your successor. Then do a little less the next time and the time after that, until the little bird can fly on its own. If it can’t be shared, then monitor it more tightly (daily, if necessary) so that it doesn’t get too far off track.

Many startups with a great idea or early market success stall out because of their inability to scale. Sometimes it’s the product/technology that can’t scale—or the ability of Sales and Product to support wider success. But just as often, it can be due to the inability of your talent to scale. Which means you never learned that most critical management skill: delegation



Posted On January 2nd, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

The Ultimate Startup Guide: Revisiting the MVP

In our upcoming book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we address a major consideration for many clients: how to develop and release their products. book-cover-largeThe concept of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and its role in a startup’s early success was popularized in the last few years by tech leaders and authors like Steve Blank and Eric Ries. Adherents of MVP have strong opinions that this is the only way to go to market; others caution more restraint in the process, ironing out more of the product before pushing it out into the fast-moving stream.

Here’s what we had to say:

The decision on what you’re going to sell may be the most important one you make in the early stage of your company. This may seem like a stupid question—or at least one with an obvious answer: ‘the product we’ve been working on all this time.’ Duh.

But wait. It’s extremely rare that what a company is developing is exactly what the market wants—or thinks it wants. So what do you do with the ‘delta’, the difference between the two?

The MVP (Minimal Viable Product): Let’s start with the definition provided by one of its inventors, Eric Ries: “the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Those last two words are what some people seize on, leading them to portray the MVP process as a lazy one: ‘throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.’ But that’s hardly the case: MVP is a structured approach, one that requires a lot of discipline and diligence to be effective. Once you’ve created and released a ‘minimal’ product, you have to then be in constant contact with the market and then constantly iterating the product in line with that feedback. Done right, MVP can be very effective.

ASIDE: A good friend of Crowded Ocean—and of many people featured in this book—is associated with a concept known as the “Sales Ready Product” (SRP) in the same way that Steve Blank and Eric Ries are associated with MVP. The late Don Templeton perfected not just the SRP process but a means of shortening it so that it was at least competitive with, if not superior to, the MVP. In Don’s honor the folks at Sequoia named his process “The Templeton Compression Factor”. The process, executed correctly, could shrink an enterprise-level sale (which normally takes 180 days) to 30-60 days. (To learn more about Don’s Compression Factor and SRP, please see the link at the end of this chapter.)

authors1So which approach—Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or Sales-Ready Product (SRP) is right for you? It depends on your product team and your market. The younger/newer you are as a company, the more forgiving the market—as long as your product group revs the product, quickly and accurately. But we’ve also had established companies who try to practice MVP and their Sales department complains that they’re getting killed out there—that their customers expect something more fully-baked from them. And if your product is (to use a phrase that has been done to death) mission-critical, then SRP is probably the route to go.

We saw this difference of approach play out with our most recent client—a 14 year-old open-source player moving from a professional services model to a product/service focus. Their core constituency in the past has been the open-source community, which expects its product for free and is tolerant of early product flaws. But the new targets—government agencies and enterprises—while appreciating all the benefits of open source, are not as forgiving. For the money we’re talking about here, they’re expecting a more finished product and have little interest in being part of the testing and development process.

Who’s right? If the client can convince their customers that they are now functioning as a startup (with the major shift into the product area) and inviting the customer under the tent, then the MVP approach can work. But if they get pushback, they should pivot quickly to the more traditional SRP approach.

Posted On August 9th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

New Words in Startup-land: Aug 2016 edition

Swarm session: if you’ve got a knotty problem to get through, one of the new startup tactics is called a “swarm session” which involves convening a group of people who lock themselves up for a couple of days together to solve it already.

Intrapreneurial hacktivists: large corporations are encouraging new product development within their walls to foster innovation and develop new markets, according to an article in Harvard Business Review.

Breadcrumbers: described as “one step shy of ghosters” are colleagues, friends or romantic interests who pop up with a text, and email, a creep of your LinkedIn page but never commit to a meeting or a concrete follow up. They are connections but not relationships or conversations. Tantalizing and frustrating both.

Creepers: unlike breadcrumbers (see above), these are people who peek at your social media pages and leave a trace of their viewing and almost-contact but they do not text or email.

Reputation scoring: Spam filters are built to examine the servers sending the email and rank the servers to determine the legitimacy of the sender. Email providers like MailChimp and ConstantContact innovate on the deliverability of email by investing in reputation scoring.

Posted On June 7th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The Two Sides of Writing: for Content Marketing

A good friend of Crowded Ocean, Anne Janzer, just shared with us an early copy of her book, The Writer’s Process. It has wonderful merit for all writers, but the reason we promote it here, to our startup marketing audience, is that she has some very sound advice that can be applied across all forms of Content: web copy, white papers, contributed articles, speeches and more.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 8.06.05 AMAnne does a great job of addressing the complexities and barriers that go into writing. Most of us have faced the fear of the blank page (or blank screen) and frozen. Anne takes a look at the different personalities of a writer (The Muse and The Scribe), the balance of creativity and discipline, as well as the tools for unlocking a blocked mind.

As many of you know, Crowded Ocean is writing our own book: The Ultimate Startup Guide, and in the process both Carol and Tom have come up against the barriers—psychological, work-space oriented, etc.—that Anne discussed in her book. Reading her book has made writing our own substantially easier—which is probably the highest praise we can give The Writer’s Process.

The book is due out later in this year. Check out Anne’s books here.

Posted On June 9th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Building a unicorn: 10 rules for successful startup marketing

Having launched 36 startups in our decade of operation, we’ve been fortunate to be involved with our share of ‘unicorns’ (Palo Alto Networks, Nimble Storage) and really nice white stallions (Sumo Logic, Trifacta and Snowflake Computing). Given the wide range of companies we’ve worked with—and their equally wide range of success/failure—we’re often asked to sum up the characteristics of a successful startup. So here goes:

  1. No assholes allowed. Following in the footsteps of business giants like Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, all startups should adopt a “no assholes” policy to build a stellar team. Here’s a list of companies that have adopted the rule. This is a great group that every startup should strive to join. (If you don’t agree with this rule, you might be the asshole in question.)
  1. Study the competition, then steal from them. Most startups have myopia—they’re focused only on their own product/technology and the immediate road ahead. But others have traveled that road already—otherwise there wouldn’t be a ‘market’—so we tell our clients to not only learn from their competitors’ failures but their successes as well. So study the competition to understand their messaging, keywords, content plan, customer acquisition strategy. And we’re not above borrowing and modifying a good idea someone else invented.
  1. Value diversity to build a better team. Most of our startups are laudably diverse—ethnically. Gender-wise, not so much. The data shows that teams that include women are more successful. Build a great team by hiring “diversity” early. That means hiring professionals who bring different backgrounds and ways of thinking and, yes, that means hiring women into the mix early so it’s really part of the DNA of your startup.
  1. Done is good. With plenty of time and money, a startup team can shoot for excellence. Tweaking deliverables can be indulged. But that practice never works in the long run because a growing startup never has enough time or resources. In other words, it’s quantity, not quality that is going to be the name of the game. A productive team needs to set their goal and hit it, but abandon their pursuit of that last 2% of ‘excellence’.
  1. Every launch slips twice . We may have invented this rule of thumb after launching hundreds of products over decades of working at corporate tech giants. We don’t exactly know why it’s true, but it is. Whether it’s a delay in securing vital customer validation or a delay in the overhaul of the UI or a monkey patch gone wrong, startups need to assume that their launch date will slip. A savvy startup team will therefore plan critical dependencies (like the timing of a fundraising round or ramping their hiring) with a careful eye on the timing of launch.
  1. Fire employees faster. Every startup makes hiring mistakes. Sometimes, it’s a good person who just got hired too early; sometimes it’s just a bad fit that made it through the interview process. Remember, you’re a nimble startup. It doesn’t matter why you made a mistake. It matters that you fix it. The sooner your mis-hire is gone from the building, the sooner the rest of your team can acknowledge and recover from the mistake and move on.
  1. Build your culture, but don’t obsess about it. Free donuts, lunchtime neck massages, and dogs at work – these offices perks are interesting window dressings for a startup. But in the long run, this is the stuff of the startup-of-the-month. It’s eye candy. It all sounds good in an interview, but only do them if they’re genuinely a part of your own values and the company DNA that you aspire to. State your goals, then let your office manager work on instituting them so that you can focus on the business.
  1. SWOT yourself and post it for the rest of the company. We always ask the management team of our startup clients to do a self-analysis using the tried and true “SWOT” paradigm of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The exercise usually sifts out interesting gaps in strategy identified by selected members. The SWOT process may by 50 years old, but it works because the process of exploring each gap helps unify priorities across the entire management team. Rather than file away the results of that SWOT examination, we recommend that startup teams post the results for the entire team to consume.
  1. For outside help, work only with principals. When your startup outsources marketing hires like web design, photography, writing, UI design – use principals only. In other words, don’t hire a big-name firm for your early-stage startup and expect to work with the people with their name on the door. You’ll end up working with the junior players—and you don’t have the bandwidth or time to mentor or train them. Hire only small, expert firms where you can demand to work with the principals.
  1. Test everything. Startup marketing is all about experimentation and educated guesses. It’s also about constant iteration. Everything from product pricing to the color of the free download button on your website can be tried, tested and changed based upon feedback. Don’t tell others you’re experimenting; that sounds indecisive. Say you’re running a pilot—it sounds better.

Posted On February 21st, 2013 by Crowded Ocean

4 new terms being talked about in startup marketing

Pervasive tracking – are consumers agreeing to “pervasive tracking” of their whereabouts via the apps on their mobile phones? And will that actually can result in a level of surveillance to which consumers do not realize there are submitting?  In other words, are we naively creating a digital audit trail via our smartphones?

Phantom positions – employers often advertise jobs for which an internal candidate has already been identified. Many job openings are never advertised at all or are, in fact, posted on sites like LinkedIn well after the recruiting process is under way.  The “hidden” job market is hard to discern for outsiders but it reinforces the priority that job hunters must place on personal networking to land that next great job.

Tappiness – the juggernaut of mobile, and in particular the rise of tablets, puts new pressures on organizations to ensure that their website is optimized for tablets.  In other words, how tappy is your website navigation and design? That means looking at size and spacing of buttons, form fills, margins.

NEOs – new interest in identifying and defending us from “near Earth objects” like the recent meteor that crashed into Siberia has spurred interest in startups like the B612Foundation and NEOShield.

Posted On December 26th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

Looking back at startup marketing in 2012 and ahead to 2013

In January 2012, we joined the bandwagon of predictions about the year ahead with a Crowded Ocean blog post.  As New Year’s Eve 2012 approaches we thought we’d take a moment to revisit and update three of those predictions for 2013 (while we give a nod to best-of-2012 blog posts from marketing leaders like Lee Odden and David Meerman Scott.)

1 – Even More Mobile – last year we, and everyone else, called mobile a tsunami.  And it’s not even cresting yet.  Every plan for a new website that talks about being mobile-friendly is stressing two things: (1) responsive design (to be able to render their site on the proliferation of different browsers, smartphones and tablet devices) and (2) the almost-complete standard of HTML 5 (the language of mobile devices, and soon, the fabled “Internet of Things”) which together reinforce that mobile in 2013 must be a fundamental of your startup marketing strategy.

2 – Twitter Vaults Ahead – With more than 200 million active users, including the Pope himself (@pontifex), Twitter is not only a news channel but it’s also now an emerging marketing platform for ad campaigns, Twitter parties, contests and more. As a leader of your startup, if you haven’t embraced Twitter, get on it and get on it now.  Participating in Twitter will allow you to follow the voices that influence buying decisions in your market and to get close to your customer. A tool we like for discovering key voices in a specific market: Followerwonk from SEOmoz.

3 – Content Marketing, PR and Integrated Marketing – Last year, we stressed how content marketing and data would be drivers in 2012 that would elevate the role of CMOs at startups.  In 2013, it’s clear that the boundaries are blurring between content marketing and PR and that the web is growing even noisier as other marketing components like social media, SEO and SEM fight for attention and resources. (In recognition of the importance of content marketing, we noted last year the emergence of a new Chief Content Officer.) Data-driven marketing is here to stay. But now the convergence of content marketing and PR (along with the importance of social media and metrics) is reinforcing the need for an integrated, diversified marketing strategy. While “integrated marketing” is a familiar label, it now includes more moving parts. As before, there’s no silver bullet to success in startup marketing, but we think content marketing is critical to an integrated marketing program.

Posted On December 13th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

5 new terms in startup marketing — gotta know your lingo

Content-centric networking – PARC is pioneering a new approach among researchers and infrastructure giants to allow for more efficient, reliable and higher-speed access to content on the Internet. The current network architecture of the Internet is about sharing small bits of data, while a re-engineered “content-centric” approach would optimize access to larger amounts of content like video.

Deep learning – Advances in artificial neural networks are spawning deep learning of systems that now have the human-like characteristics of listening, seeing and learning.  Examples include Apple’s Siri voice recognition software in its iPhones and Google’s Street View mapping software.

Industrial Internet – GE is investing $1 billion in what is being called the “industrial Internet,” which will include funding software services and big data analytics. GE is the world’s largest maker of jet engines, locomotives, and medical imaging solutions. GE’s CTO recently signaled its plan to invest up to $100 million in startups to implement its plans.

Ransomware – Cybercrime now expands to a new category of fake antivirus scams which involves an online attack that freezes your computer with the cyber-terrorist demanding money to unlock your computer. What seems to dupe users is that the virus-infected message claims to be from law enforcement like the FBI or Justice Dept.

Data privacy vault – in the age of Internet surveillance, private companies and consumer watchdogs are advocating for a “data privacy vault” for each of us to be able to store and control access to our valuable and private online profiles like our medical, financial and consumer information.

Posted On September 19th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

What’s a Marketing Program Anyway?

Sometimes listening to marketing people talk about their marketing plan is a lot like that famous Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, What We Say to Dogs…

If your marketing team starts blabbing: strategies, objectives, goals…and it starts sounding like blah, blah, blah, ask them to define for you their marketing programs and how they plan to measure them.

Regardless of whether you’re talking goals or strategies or initiatives, every marketing plan is made up of a set of programs.  Examples of programs would be demand generation, advertising, PR, social media, you name it.

And to be a program, it must include 3 elements:

1. Deliverables

2. Deadlines

3. Metrics

In our book, you don’t really have a marketing plan unless you can describe every one of your brilliant ideas as a program. And every program must contain deliverables, deadlines and metrics. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of blah-blah.

Posted On February 14th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Marketing Milestone– Crowded Ocean Launches Sumo Logic

On January 31, our newest client Sumo Logic, came out of stealth and launched.  The news was two-fold:  the company announced a next-generation log management and analytics service, built for the cloud, and Series B funding of $15 million led by Sutter Hill and Greylock Ventures.  It was a great launch all the way around– market reception was strong, with over 20 pieces of press and analyst coverage.

The site debuted with a very impressive list of content assets– 3 white papers, 3 use cases, 3 client case studies, a datasheet, and 8 videos of founders and customers. Customer response was also great; over 2600 unique visitors and 10,000 page views in the first 24 hours, with conversions of 43 demos and 15 trials.  These guys are a great company with tremendous upside in the hot big data space.

Congrats to the team.