Category Archives: High-Tech Marketing

Posted On August 22nd, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

New startup jargon in startup-land

‘Resters and Vesters’:  talented engineers who have lots of unvested shares of stock in privately held but “hot” startups are said to be “coasting” along and not really working that hard.

DNA data storage: researchers have now demonstrated how data can be converted from the 1s and 0s of binary code to the As, Cs, Gs and Ts of human genetic code. Because of that, researchers predict that the space-saving potential of data stored in DNA will be the solution to the enormous need for data storage. Theoretically, DNA storage could provide a cheaper and more environmentally sound alternative to huge server farms. There is a short shelf life to data stored on hard disks, flash drives, mag tape and DVDs, but data stored in DNA is believed to be able to last thousands of years.

Doxxing: according to an article in Recode, doxxing is “searching for and publishing private or identifying information about an individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent.”

Smart dust: according to the Wall Street Journal, this is “tiny, wireless micro-electromechanical systems that can detect measurements such as light and temperature.”

Foiling: the latest sports craze in Silicon Valley – and favored by many tech entrepreneurs – is called hydrofoiling, or foiling for short. The sport combines a small surfboard with rudder, motor and kite.

Posted On August 16th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

The Importance of a Mentor for your Startup

In researching our book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we went back and interviewed a number of our founders, the bulk of whom were first-time CEOs at the time. While it’s a cliché to talk about the importance of ‘knowing what you don’t know’ (a unifying characteristic of our most successful founders), a byproduct of this humility was the importance they attached to having a mentor, both in their earliest days (brainstorming ideas the researching the market) and in their tough moments in founding and managing an early-stage startup.

Knowing what you don’t know

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. The obvious mentor for the first-timer is a friend who’s just a few years ahead of them in the startup game, someone whose scars are fresh and on-point to what our CEO is facing. Or it can be a more established CEO—someone from their past that they admire and perhaps subconsciously (or consciously) want to emulate.

But sometimes the mentor falls a little further afield, such as the business professor who inspired them in the early going. Or the VC from a previous company who may have stepped back from the action and has time to meet and coach.

From The Ultimate Startup Guide:

We know of one young startup CEO who uses an established organization as a critical advisor. The CEO is a member of the Young President’s Organization, a peer group and network that offers education, support and idea exchange for young company CEOs. That’s a rarity. More commonly, strategic advisors are invited into the tent based upon their past relationships with the founding team or board or specific referrals by friends-of-the-founders.

The advisor role generally resembles a part-time consultant and reports to the founder, or perhaps a board member. The typical relationship between startup and strategic advisor includes a grant of stock options to the advisor in exchange for their counsel. (See the handy FAST document noted at the end of the chapter from Founder Institute for guidelines on the amount of equity.) Advisors typically report to the CEO and often get a lot of latitude and access to the startup team, early customers and board members. And a group of advisors that include marquee names can bring a halo of early shine to a company while still in stealth and certainly through launch.

But, remember: Every advisor you retain is going to require some of your personal time, so walk before you run. Start with one, maybe two advisors. (And making time for your strategic advisor outside of the office in order to cultivate rapport and trust will pay off. But, again, that’s your precious time you are committing.) So, make sure every advisor fills a strategic gap; is a complement to you and your personal style; is well connected, accessible and available to you. Once you’re an established company and you have a number of advisors in key areas—that’s the time to bring them together as an Advisory Board. Until then, recruit and manage them individually.

Finally, don’t overlook the idea of mentors in different fields. A friend who has been a VP of Human Resources (or still is) can be a great resource in staffing (and how to fire, if it comes to that). If asked to, they can help you not just with your current situation but with developing a long-term plan in their discipline that will help you grow the company.

Bottom line: it’s great to acknowledge what you don’t know. Mentors can help you do something about filling that gap in your experience and knowledge.

Posted On August 9th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Why startups need a “COO in a box”

For most of our existence, our clients have used the short-hand phrase ‘corporate marketing in a box’ to describe who we are and what we do. While the more accurate description might be ‘Marketing-as-a-Service (MaaS), we’ll answer to either one.

Recently, as more and more services, functions and departments go on an ‘as-needed’ basis, we’re seeing a new function evolve: The COO in a Box. It’s a function that, at least from our perspective, is badly needed at many of our startups.

Think about the standard enterprise startup: it’s usually founded by a core team of technologists, the most business-oriented of whom wants to be a first-time CEO. That’s a lot to handle, especially in terms of learning the ins and outs of sales, marketing, legal, support services, etc. When—and how—they need help will change with each company, but it’s the rare company that doesn’t need some sort of operational support in its early stages.

Here are the two times that we see the COO In a Box as being particularly valuable. The first is right after the launch. Up until that point, our experience is that the team has the capability and focus to do it on their own. Launching a company is an exhausting, all-hands-on-deck initiative, but it also pulls the company together, especially since it has a finite timeline and a nice payoff at the end. The question, post-launch, though, as everyone goes back to their regular jobs is: how are we going to sustain this momentum? That’s when a COO in a Box can help.

The second area usually comes around the Series B timing. The company has launched and had early success. Now it’s time to leverage that success and do the most important thing a new company can do: Scale. Again, the team is probably inexperienced and ill-equipped to scale, but a COO in a Box, if s/he has done this before (and they better have, if they’re marketing themselves as an experienced officer), is the right person to focus and align the company, leaving the CEO to focus on product, long-term planning and vision and the rest of the company to keep the engine going.

 

Posted On August 1st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

New terms in startup-land: August 2017 edition

Chipmunk speed: podcast fans are flooded with so many choices of content these days that avid listeners have started to consume content at 1.5X or 2X (or more) the normal speed using the feature in the podcast app settings. Maybe this is a new way to keep up with your friends and startup denizens: speed-listen to your favorite podcasts and consume more in the same amount of time.

Smishing: short for “SMS phishing”, this security attack targets a user to download malware onto their cell phone via text message, rather than email.

Cyber-physical systems: that’s a physical system that can be manipulated by digital means, such as an industrial pump, could be vulnerable to a cyber attack. Security researchers at the 2017 BlackHat Conference illustrated how industrial systems in physical infrastructure that’s far beyond traditional security barriers, can be quietly hacked.

Bimodal IT: the new label for corporations that are managing legacy systems while embracing new technologies like AI and machine learning. According to a recent survey of CIOs, senior IT managers and other IT decision makers, 79% said they are already or are planning to adopt a bimodal IT strategy this year.

Posted On July 24th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

On the radio: startup strategies with Crowded Ocean

Check out Tom and Carol interviewed about The Ultimate Startup Guide:

Listen to KGO Radio 810 Techonomics with host Jason Middleton

  • Part one (11:44 minutes)
  • Part two (19:06 minutes)

Check out more about Techonomics Radio on Facebook.

Posted On July 17th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

A Manifesto for Startups

The following article by Crowded Ocean partner Tom Hogan originally appeared in AlleyWatch:

When we work with our startup clients to help them position and launch and develop programs for early sales success, one item that we encourage them all to have is a ‘manifesto.’ It’s a core document that explains to the market the original thinking—some of it provocative, some of it just compelling—that went into the company’s founding and original whiteboard sessions. That document can either stand alone on the website or be parsed into a series of articles and blogs.

Taking our own advice, we developed The Crowded Ocean Manifesto, which contains a number of provocative ideas for our startup clients to consider. Here are some excerpts:

Team trumps technology

VCs will tell you they invest in teams first, technology second. Smart, well-functioning teams build smart, well-functioning products. But if something goes wrong, smart teams recognize errors earlier, respond quicker and make better decisions. Smart teams can solve product-market fit misfires. And be guided by the industry data that shows diverse teams (gender, ethnicity, psychological) make better decisions and build more profitable businesses. Make diversity part of your culture from the beginning.

Hire for your core:  outsource the rest

Determine what is core (or ‘essential’ to your success). Be harsh in this determination. Staff to those functions and outsource everything else. On-demand resources are cheaper and usually more experienced than a general in-house hire. For example, the CMO owns building, orchestrating and executing the Marketing or Go to Market plan, but should outsource the specific components, from PR to SEO to content development to event marketing.

Positioning is something you develop with the Market, not something you thrust on it

Your customers—not your Product group—are the ultimate arbiters of what product you should build (and what market you’re in). So as you interact with your early customers, identifying your target buyers and use cases, use that information to develop your positioning and messaging. Then make sure that as Marketing develops and deploys these in core programs, that you continue to check in with your core market and adjust accordingly.

You can create a market segment, but not a new market category

As a startup, you don’t have enough time or money to create a brand new market category for your product. Focus on defining a new market segment and growing from there. Identify the market influencers who can help define or endorse your segment and build market understanding. Don’t try to go it alone.

How you make decisions is critical not only to your emerging culture but your long-term success

Company culture may initially focus on Bagel Wednesdays, free neck massages and a foosball game on site, but it ultimately has to do with how decisions are made—and who makes them. Great CEOs let their employees know what’s going on in company meetings, solicit their input, then ultimately make and implement the decision, communicating to the company clearly and decisively. The company knows that it’s been heard and also has the positive feeling that it’s being led by a confident leader.

You can never have enough content. So plan accordingly

The normal enterprise sale requires a minimum of 7 customer touches. So unless you want your sales reps to be chihuahuas tugging at their customers’ ankles with nothing new in their arsenal, you’ll need to provide Sales with at least 7 pieces of supporting content. Market awareness, inbound traffic, sales preference:  they all start with Content. Develop a steady stream of unique, compelling content that captures the imagination of your target buyer by breaking through the market noise. Whether it’s written or rich media (audio, image, video), your content has to be accessible, shareable and increasingly—it also has to be personalized and brief enough to be consumed in a single sitting.

No one is replaceable, including you

A smart CEO should know going in that the company and market may outgrow his/her capacity to lead it. History shows that by the time a startup has raised its third round of financing, 52% of founding CEO’s have been replaced, most of them fired (or re-deployed) by their own board. Leaders with longevity are self-aware enough to ask for help to close their own gaps. True leaders know they are building a kingdom, not a king. And if they want to remain the king, they listen and learn from their Board and mentors, rather than letting their ‘inner Steve Jobs’ set their leadership style.

Conclusion

Is a Manifesto always right? No. But any company or organization needs to stand for something, to take a position on core issues and live by those beliefs. If the market (and that can include your own employees and Board as well as those you’re selling to) shows you the errors of your way, seek a new way. And when you’re confident that you’ve reached a new level of certainty and execution, modify and re-publish your Manifesto.

Posted On July 11th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Three new terms in startup-land

New-collar jobs: an emerging job category in the U.S. is skilled workers who do not have a four-year college degree but who can qualify for so-called “middle-skill” jobs Economists applaud the trend as a new route to the middle class and evidence of opportunities through skills-based jobs. 

Manterruptions: California Senator Kamala Harris was repeatedly interrupted during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Committee hearing in June. As a result, she’s become the poster child for this bad habit and the double standard that women leaders experience in the workplace. Her predecessor in this controversy surfaced two years ago in the lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins filed by female partner Ellen Pao. Pao described the company culture at KP as “interrupt-driven” and was even offered “interrupt coaching” to help her acquire the skills to hold her own with aggressive male colleagues.

Steganography: a new source of cyber security alarm is the concept of hackers hiding malicious code or content inside benign software. It’s possible, for example, to hide malicious information inside an image.

Posted On June 28th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Hiring: Get Out of the Cocoon!

In today’s increasingly competitive hiring market, the advantage is clearly with the job candidate, not the company. As a result, companies often hire rapidly, only to regret the lack of a strong vetting process later, when the new hire turns out to either be overmatched or a poor cultural fit.

The former is rarely the case when it comes to technical hires, since their peers are generally able to sniff out the overmatched candidate in early interviews. But in roles with broader, less defined boundaries, such as Marketing and Sales, it seems to be easier to make a hiring mistake. Sometimes, it’s that technical founders lack the experience and instincts to successfully hire a non-technical role and this is a problem that VC board members often identify as a common early stumble.

Cultural diversity pays off in building for the next growth stage

One way startup founders can limit their hiring mistakes is to get an outside perspective. A startup runs at a certain pace and has a certain set of values, which often makes it difficult to recognize the potential of a candidate who doesn’t immediately fit into that cocoon-like environment. But consider two things: 1) the candidate who doesn’t immediately fit may broaden the company’s perspective, leading to more success; and 2) that same candidate may be a better fit for the next stage of the company—just when the earlier-stage employees are running out of ceiling.

As we’ve noted in these earlier blog posts, “Diversity in your startup: psychological diversity”, and “When should your startup focus on diversity”, hiring for diversity pays off in smarter decisions and better business. So, whether it’s a Board member or a trusted Friend of the Company (an advisor who has some incentive, such as equity, to dedicate time and effort to the process), broaden your hiring process to get the fullest possible perspective—and the best possible candidate.

 

 

Posted On June 20th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

The Overlooked Startup ‘Office Manager’

One of the staples of news coverage of the early days of Silicon Valley was the story of the original ‘office manager’ at ________ (Name your hot startup) who got stock options along with every other early employee and, years later, was able to retire early and wealthy when the company went public.

In the early days of Silicon Valley, this Office Manager was typically a woman who served a vital role as a “jackie of all trades” keeping the place running, operationally, culturally and psychologically. She was an intrinsic part of the company culture and the resulting success and deserved every share (and resulting dollar) that came her way.

Over the past two decades the importance and visibility of the Office Manager has waned, in some cases considerably. While the position is now gender-neutral, it’s also junior in nature, often given to a first-time employee with promise. That person then graduates to a position such as Sales Operations or Marketing Coordinator (usually focusing on events) and is off and running with his/her career.

Yes, a Chief Culture Officer

But we counsel our startup CEOs to take the position seriously and to hire someone who is not only comfortable staying in that position but who can leverage their experience across the company to “own” and nurture the company culture. We believe that in this new era, the Office Manager is so important that they should become the company’s ‘Chief Culture Officer’, someone who not only helps the founding team develop the company—its brand, values, talent and culture—but can speak truth to power when the company goes off-track in any of these areas.

So, as you build your company, determine the importance of the role of the Office Manager and hire accordingly.

 

Posted On June 13th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Four new terms in startup-land; one inspired by Trump

Prebuttal: a pre-emptive rebuttal, a prebuttal is familiar to anyone following politics and the circus that is President Trump’s administration and Washington D.C. these days.

Neurotech: an emerging field that combines neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery and the hardware of smartphones is changing the lives of people with innovations like deep-brain stimulators.

Neural lace technology: a hardware innovation of billions of tiny brain electrodes that “may one day allow us to upload and download thoughts,” according to Elon Musk.

FAANG stocks: the giants of technology stocks are closely watched and often trade up and down as a block. That’s FAANG, which stands for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (Alphabet).