Category Archives: Startup Marketing

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 May 31st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

New terms are bubbling up in startup-land

Fat startup: According to the New York Times, the changes in capital markets now favor startups with grander visions and needs for funding levels on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, “ideas that once seemed too expensive, too risky or just too crazy are now getting off the ground.” These start-ups are “fat” with capital funding and ambition.

Stack logic: The concept of a “software stack” is well understood in tech-land as separate layers of software working together to accomplish a task. The metaphor of a stack has now bled over to futurists and trend-watchers to describe a common set of resources according to this recent New York Times article.

Genericide: So far, the courts have held up the trademark protection of “Google” but it is quickly following the path of aspirin by transitioning into the mainstream as a verb and thereby causing Alphabet (the Google mother ship) to lose its trademark protection.

Hiring pipeline: This phrase is being used over and over to explain why real progress in gender and ethnic diversity is not evident in management and leadership roles at technology companies. As the theory goes, there simply aren’t enough qualified women or people of color coming into the candidate pool. But there’s more to it, of course.

 

 

Posted On May 25th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How startup chiefs work with a demanding BOD

One of the most delicate—and important—parts of a startup CEO’s job is how to manage your Board. If this is your first startup, it may feel like they’re managing you, and you might feel like that’s the way it should be. But repeat startup CEOs will tell you that, if you manage your Board properly, you’ll have a valuable ally, a strategic resource—and you’ll view BOD meetings with something other than the fear that grips first-timers.

Find out (and then set) expectations early

In researching our book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we talked to over 25 VCs and a like number of founders. One of the key components that emerged from these interviews was that most VCs will tell you that their CEOs over-prepare for BOD meetings. And if VCs could see what we see—companies virtually shutting down (at least the management team) for a week or two prior to a BOD meeting—they’d be even firmer in their convictions. But first-time CEOs want to have all bases covered, so they try to anticipate, then prepare for, each question or objection. Either offline or in the first real BOD meeting, CEOs should raise the topic—find out what the VCs want and how they want it presented. Many of them will tell you they want topics raised and discussions—rather than complete presentations—on each. If so, hold them to it and run more relaxed, collegial sessions.

Respond, don’t react

The best advice we can give is this: when it comes to dealing with your Board, be responsive, not reactive. Your Board members are experts in the business of running a startup and cracking a market, but they don’t know your market as well as you do (in most cases) and they’re not as good in marketing as they think they are (in almost all cases).

But like all of us, VCs and Board members want to know that they’re being listened to and respected. To that end, we recommend that in each BOD meeting there is someone tasked with taking notes and recording every point raised by a Board meeting. Then, once the meeting has concluded, get the internal team back together and consider each of the major points and what your response is. Then craft a concise email to the Board summarizing your decision (or pending action) on each point. It shouldn’t be the day after the BOD meeting—it will look like you’re intimidated and that you haven’t given these topics enough thought—but it should be within the week.

Will this turn your Board from a bunch of intrusive know-it-alls into purring, pliable kittens? Hardly, but you’ll earn some respect, you’ll get them off your back (to an extent) and you’ll get more time to run your company, rather than over-preparing for the next BOD meeting.

Posted On April 25th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Tweets versus coding: lessons for startups

When we meet with a startup led by technical founders, it’s common for us to discover that the majority of the team have profiles or pages on channels like LinkedIn but they are far from active there. In fact, if they have a Twitter handle, it’s probably dormant. Consequently, we never assume that social media is considered by the team as a channel to engage with customers. And startup teams are typically so busy coding and wooing customers in the early days that social media—even if it’s viewed as important (and many tech startups don’t share that view)—is considered a priority for another time. So, what are the lessons for startup teams about when and how best to employ social media?

Taking a phased approach to building your social media program

There’s a phased approach to building smart social media habits that’s very doable and productive. As we outlined in Chapter 14 of our book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we recommend that during the early days startup teams appoint a single owner of social media. Just as a startup needs a Chief Content Officer to really “own” (but not necessarily produce) all content, your startup needs someone to own your social presence. Choose someone on your team who already has a natural affinity for communicating and connecting via social channels. That’s the person to tap early on to be a rallying point, teacher and role model across your team in the early days of your startup. Remember that it’s temporary. With growth (and revenue!) can come additional staff, a PR agency resource or a dedicated contractor to staff your social media program as you grow.

Name an owner of your social channels         

After appointing an owner, step two is to determine your goals and your audience. And then, step three, prioritize the social channels that will support your goals. The top three channels for many startups tend to be: Twitter (for connecting with prospects, partners and influencers), Youtube (for sharing rich media content_ and LinkedIn (for recruiting new talent and for connecting with customers.) And, down the road, maybe you’ll want a couple of flat screen TVs – one in the lunchroom and one in your lobby – to display tweets and posts in real time to keep your team connected to your customers.

 

Posted On April 18th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Lessons for startups from social media grenades

It’s rare to find a B2B startup founder who is fluent in social media. The nonstop demands of company building diminish the time that can be devoted to social channels, whether that’s Twitter or Facebook or Github or you-name-it. And besides, as the theory goes, that’s a task best delegated to the marketing or customer success team.

For consumer-facing startups, however, it’s a different story, because an unfiltered tweet or video from an unhappy customer can be punishing to a consumer brand’s reputation and market valuation. (Just ask UAL CEO Oscar Munoz.) That’s why those companies have entire teams of employees devoted to staffing and responding to dialogue on the social channels of consumer brands.

Tweets can be brutal

Even so, the move by the new CEO of the company that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants took social media engagement to another level. One of the new CEO’s first requests, according to this New York Times article, was to install screens at company headquarters to display real-time social media conversations about its brands for all company employees. That’s a bold move, but a pragmatic one in the wake of recent, so-called “social media grenades” hurled at Pepsi and United Airlines.

It used to be that if you wanted new execs to get close to the customer, they could join the call center team staffing customer or tech support and listen in to learn common customer complaints. Today, a single negative comment or tweet by an unhappy customer can quickly spread to thousands, or even millions, of other customers. Rapid detection and response is the name of the game, and that leaves no time for internal deliberation.

Duck and cover

That’s why an early stage startup needs to appoint an owner of your company’s social channels. Choose someone on your team who already has a natural affinity for communicating and connecting via social channels. That’s the person to tap early on to be a rallying point, teacher and role model across your team in the early days of your startup. Remember that it’s a temporary assignment. With growth (and revenue!) can come additional staff, maybe a PR agency resource or a dedicated contractor to staff your social media program as you grow. But appointing a temporary owner means at least you’ve got someone monitoring commentary about your brand and product and, at the very least, someone to yell “duck” if some industry wag lobs a grenade.

Posted On March 21st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

New terminology seeping into the mainstream

Incidental collection: in case you missed this tantalizing term brought to you by the House Intelligence Committee hearings, when the NSA wire-taps a foreigner or U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activities, they can sometimes collect other communications. That’s NSA-speak now entering the mainstream.

Explainable AI: a field of research that, according to the Wall Street Journal, can explain in natural language how a machine learning model arrives at a logical decision.

Filter bubble: According to the New York Times, “the filter bubble describes the tendency of social networks like Facebook and Twitter to lock users into personalized feedback loops, each with its own news sources, cultural touchstones and political inclinations.”

Echo boomer: Census data indicates that there are more 26-year-olds in the U.S. than people of any other age. Like the baby boomer generation, the economic, retail and labor force of that large number of our population are expected to “echo” the influence of the prior, very large baby boomer generation.

Gaymoji: No explanation required. But if you must, check out this New York Times profile.

Posted On March 14th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

It’s COO and COS season in startup-land

Most of the 45+ startups that we work with start with two technical founders, one of whom has the experience and desire to be a CEO, the other wants to be the CTO. Both of them are outward-facing in some way, either in a Sales mode (the CEO) or an SE role (the CTO). Which means they get around to managing the company in their spare time.

To balance that “outside” focus of the co-founders, many teams in startup-land are recognizing the need for adding an “inside guy” to the team. That third leader is operational in nature, focusing on critical components like finance, HR, systems, strategic planning and training. In the past, that person was not equal to the top two dogs (CEO and CTO), but that role—and its importance—is changing.

COO for growth

Recently, a couple of high-flying startups have announced plans to hire a COO. First, there’s Dave McClure, CEO of 500 Startups announcing plans to hire a COO in order to support growth plans. Although the skills and division of labor have not been described, this article on Quora provides a long list of the attributes of a successful COO. That COO is made from a position of strength and augments an already-positive situation.

COO for cleanup and discipline

Then there’s Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who is hiring a COO in the wake of allegations of sexism, sexual harassment and a public tirade by the CEO himself. And just a month ago, Uber was accused of taking advantage of the airport protests that erupted during the immigration bans. Although no plans have yet been announced by Uber about the division of labor between Kalanick and the new COO, the hope is that new discipline brought in by the COO will help button up and repair the company’s image, starting with the CEO.

Chief of Staffs for planning, systems and more

Another option—and this is more frequently being adopted by mature startups—is to hire a Chief of Staff, rather than a COO. Similar to a COO, the COS has a mostly internal focus but a wide-ranging charter to help accelerate growth and efficiency. See this interesting article that describes the popularity and role of Chief of Staff at startups. For more reading about COOs at startups, check out this cool article on Medium from 2015, including a nifty list of related articles on the topic.

Posted On March 7th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How much time do you really have to pitch your startup?

In the process of researching our book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, we interviewed a wide range of VCs—some of whom we’ve worked with before, some of whom we knew only by
reputation. As we collated our notes by topic, there were a couple of back-to-basics takeaways that stood out.

The first had to do with the nature of the relationship you’re trying to cultivate.

The second had to do with how much time you really have to pitch.

Every single startup founder and VC partner stressed the long-term nature of the VC-startup relationship and likened it to a marriage (or family in some cases). The idea is that you’re in this relationship together for the long haul, so choose selectively. Founders will mistakenly focus on valuation or the term sheet and the brand name of the firm ignoring components like the stature of the individual partner within the firm, their capacity, domain expertise, individual track record and their potential to build rapport with you. This isn’t a marriage solely for economic gain.

You’re getting hitched

This is a marriage you are entering “soberly and advisedly” where the capacity of the partner to build trust and to guide and mentor you, the startup founder, is hugely valuable and not to be underestimated.

And you’re going to be in bed, so to speak, with your VC investor for a long time. As this Forbes article pointed out, according to the National Venture Capital Association, the median time to IPO exit since first funding for VC-backed startups was 3.1 years in 2000, and 7.4 years in 2013.

The second takeaway has to do with how much time you really have to communicate your new idea. The reality is that even though many VCs leave their laptops and phones outside the door (to show the startup that they have their undivided attention), they have their pad of paper…and they are human. More importantly, most VCs will cop to having some form of ADHD: they’ve got all their current portfolio companies as well as the ones they’ve recently met with that they’re considering funding. And they probably have three more meetings after yours. So there are a lot of places their mind can go while they nod at Slide 28 of your presentation.

Plan on just 10 minutes, even if you’re booked for an hour

Therefore, even though the meeting you’ve booked is 60 minutes long, you should plan on 10 minutes of attention. (Sequoia partner Aaref Hilaly advises founders here to plan to hook your audience in the first 5 minutes of the meeting.) The point is that you need to engage quickly and powerfully and leave plenty of time for discussion. Pro tips:

  1. Make the meeting more a conversation than a pitch. Check in with the VC early in the presentation (as early as the 5-minute mark) to ensure engagement.
  2. Lead with the opportunity for the VC—not the dreaded ‘About Us’ or ‘Market Share’ slides. Why should they invest—what’s in it for them?
  3. Plan on bringing your product to life with visuals, screen shots, maybe a mini demo.
  4. After you’ve established that the market opportunity is Trumpian “yuge”, keep the detailed market metrics in the appendix.

For more insights into the “pitch and ask”, take a look at The Ultimate Startup Guide, available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more. And here’s a review of our book that appeared last month in Inc.

 

Posted On January 24th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Walking in Another’s Shoes: Sales/Marketing Integration

Sales and Marketing may not be from Mars and Venus—or descended from the Hatfield and McCoys—but they aren’t natural allies, either. Sales carries the burden of a quota, screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-22-38-pmand when that quota isn’t attained, Sales will sometimes look for someone to blame. Maybe it’s the product (we’ve over-promised performance, ease of use or implementation, or we’ve mistakenly omitted key features), but more often it’s Marketing (our messaging is wrong; our claims are unsupported on the website; we don’t have enough leads—and the ones we do have are for shit).Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.27.57 PM

Without sounding too much like Dr. Phil, the solution to this gap is ‘empathy.’ And the CEO has to steer Marketing towards being the one to take the first step in building an integrated sales and marketing plan. An easy first step is to have every person in Marketing listen in on an Inside Sales call. Or better yet, move their desk to the middle of the Inside Sales bullpen so that they can let these calls wash over them, even if they’re only hearing half of the conversation. And, when geography and budgets permit, have everyone in the company—nerds included—go out on a sales call.

Insist Upon Weekly Sales & Marketing Meetings

The next step is organizational: have someone from Marketing sit in on the weekly Sales meetings. Or better yet, have a regular meeting between the Sales and Marketing principals, with representatives from the lower ranks of each department participating and presenting (and listening) where appropriate. Make the content of that meeting both qualitative and quantitative. What can Sales report, fresh from their latest customer interactions and pitches, and what does the data-driven Marketing team report?

Once Marketing takes the initiative, it’s up to Sales to reciprocate. Sales needs to recognize how important, for example, reference accounts are—for the website, for PR (you can’t do a launch without customers that the press and analysts can contact) and for sales collateral (case studies). And if referenceable accounts aren’t part of a sales person’s quota and goals, they should be.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 9.04.47 PMMeasuring the Cost of Customer Acquisition

Thanks to digital marketing systems like marketing automation tools, CRM, as well as a myriad of website tracking tools that help measure conversions of inbound traffic to your website , Marketing can now see both the quality of the leads it generates and what Sales is doing with them. This kind of collaboration between Marketing and Sales, fostered and modeled by the CEO, will enable your startup to answer the essential question: “what is the customer acquisition cost?”

Understanding Marketing Contribution to Sales

We’ve never met a startup that has modeled Marketing contribution to Sales. Startup CEOs will say instead that they want their Sales team to be much more productive, and that they want those productivity gains to be derived in part by having the right marketing programs and content to build market awareness for their company and customer preference for their solution.

Does all of this mean that the lion will suddenly lie down with the lamb? Nope. But it gives each party a solid understanding of the other’s jobs and pressures, which is a great start.

Posted On January 10th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Market traction and market momentum: are they the same?

Successful VC investors are famous for wielding the power of their intuition or gut instinct when assessing a startup founder or her company before making an investment. That little challengesvoice that speaks to the VC investor about a hot opportunity is also informed by due diligence on the market size, team and growth.

A company on the move…

A startup that can demonstrate market momentum is a positive sign for investors. But, market momentum is generally largely qualitative. It’s that quality of a company “on the move” that’s largely unsupported by any graphs on charts but is still an indicator of market opportunity.

Market traction = market adoption

Market traction, on the other hand, is quantitative and it’s based upon real indicators of growth and market adoption.

Angel List co-founder Naval Ravikant describes market traction as “quantitative evidence of market demand.” In other words, do customers want your product? When it comes to an early-stage company, VC investors will take a measure of a company’s traction using private market data that go beyond publicly available info like the track record of the team, market size and financing rounds.

Quantitative evidence of market demand

In the absence of traditional metrics like average deal size and the true cost of customer acquisition, non-traditional measurements like share of voice, website traffic and social media growth and engagement do shape market traction of an early-stage company. Take note, startup founders! A focus on growing social media engagement can favorably affect the perception of your brand, but also of your market traction.

book-cover-largeOf course, quantitative growth and trends do count. Growth in average deal size, for example, is an early meaningful signal of market traction. Showing that you understand the sales cycle of your business and that it is shrinking is another meaningful early signal of market traction.

Bottom line, demonstrating market traction is the way to de-risk the idea of “more” (investment, hiring, partnerships, office expansion, etc.) for your stakeholders and investors. You can always celebrate market momentum, but what matters more is measuring market traction.