Category Archives: Marketing

Posted On October 12th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Startups: Mission, Vision and Purpose statements

Readers of this blog know that we’re not big fans of ‘Mission Statements’. Even for those companies who aspire to—and perhaps even achieve—the goals of their mission, these goals are too often vague and euphemistic. Worse, they’re self-directed, focused inward, rather than out towards the market. In the early phase of building a startup, we practice sales-based marketing* and mission statements rarely helped your sales team open doors with critical early customers which is another reason we’re not in favor of them.

Purpose Statements, not Vision Statements

While we like ‘Vision Statements’, often as an early slide in an investor deck, there is an even better ‘statement’, one that combines Mission and Vision: the ‘Purpose Statement’. It has the benefit of being pragmatic, answering the question “Why are we in business?” More importantly, it has multiple audiences: for investors, a well-written Purpose Statement is more pragmatic than most Vision Statements. And for employees, a CEO can stand in front of a Purpose Statement and say: “This is what we’re all about. If your job isn’t in direct support of this statement, then we either need to change your job’s objectives or change the statement.”

Take a step back

Our suggestion: if your team is laboring over your Vision or Mission statements, take a step back and look at why you started the business in the first place. Then go from there.

* Sales-based marketing: The job of Marketing comes down to 3 words: Make Sales Easier. If it doesn’t initiate new sales, shorten the sales cycle, or make repeat sales easier, don’t do it.

Posted On September 20th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How to be a lousy client (#6)

Your sh%$ doesn’t stink…

The news these days seems to be either a wonderful range of perp walks (Martin Shrekli, Travis Kalanick, Parker Conrad) or staged mea culpas (a rogue’s gallery of VCs and tech executives who have suddenly gotten religion about sexual harassment and inequity within their companies). But how they got to these points was clear: along the way they came to believe that their shit didn’t stink. (The NY Times has a great article on this phenomenon, called ‘moral disengagement’)—a belief system that was reinforced by those who supported them (among whose number, we have to believe, were their investors as well as employees.)

It’s great, after the fact, to blame the parents and school officials who allowed this behavior to proceed unchecked. But you play the cards you’re dealt, and if employees or investors don’t call your clients on their behavior, strategic advisors/marketing agencies have two choices:

  1. call your clients on their behavior yourself (and probably lose the account), or
  2. shut up and do the work, knowing that you’re kicking the same can down the road.

Crowded Ocean is in a unique position because we get in to a company early (during its formation or as it goes to market). And we’re working with CEOs (often tentative, first-time CEOs) directly and behind closed doors.

As a result, we can offer our advice as being couched in self-interest. (“We’re only telling you this because we want you to get phenomenally rich and we can claim responsibility.”) We also appeal to their vanity. (“Better that we tell you that your zipper’s down than that the market does.”)

Does that mean that we’ve been able to steer our difficult clients from the path of ‘moral disengagement’? Hardly, but we sleep a little better at night for at least being on the record about their behavior.

 

 

 

Posted On September 12th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Do you speak Silicon Valley? Test your vocab

Dark UX: the UI architects at sites like Facebook are investing in research and testing of subtle changes with “persuasive technologies” to their site to go beyond “increased engagement” by users to foster non-stop interaction, and critics say addiction. There is a sliding scale of intrusiveness, manipulation and safety attributes to elements of Dark UX say industry watchers.

SPAC: the new “special purpose acquisition vehicle” is an alternative route to public ownership for tech startups. According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, “unlike a traditional IPO, SPACs first raise money through a stock offering and then hunt for a deal on which to spend the funds raised.

Liquid democracy: making the power of the vote a digital capability that is combined with blockchains to make it secure as well as borderless. Theoretically, this would be the system that would allow a voter to delegate their vote to someone to represent them. The New Scientist explains in this article. There is even a Liquid Democracy organization based in Berlin.

Biohacking: the latest craze in self-improvement in Silicon Valley combines intermittent fasting with tracking of vital signs like body composition and blood glucose levels.

Posted On August 29th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Why is the CMO role at a startup a turnstile?

Crowded Ocean spoke last week at the annual National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) meeting about a new framework for building an effective marketing program for enterprise startups. We call it marketing-as-a-service (MaaS).

This recent article in VentureBeat explains the MaaS model and how it works off of three basic principles:

  1. Hire the CMO last;
  2. Justify every hire;
  3. Hire only for the core; outsource the rest.

Below are answers to three of the top questions about MaaS that we addressed at the NVCA meeting and also on this new podcast entitled “How to find the right CMO for your startup”:

  1. Isn’t the problem that there is simply a shortage of trained marketing professionals?

Actually, the problem is that there is a different marketing skill set required during different phases of a startup’s life. The first phase is product management which is a highly technical focus on defining the product roadmap. The second phase is corporate marketing to drive the positioning, messaging and launch of the startup with a team of virtual specialists. The third phase is product-marketing, which requires a marketing leader steeped in the industry domain of the startup. A fourth component of marketing is about “instrumenting” marketing to automate and measure elements of marketing like content offers, calls-to-action, demand generation programs. No candidate that we’ve worked with in launching over 45 startups is versed in all four, so we suggest doing Product Management in-house with the founding team, outsourcing the launch to Corporate Marketing specialists, then hiring the CMO.

  1. How can a team of contractors actually deliver at the same level that a startup employee can deliver?

Startups should approach their staffing plans by having to justify every hire, which means hiring only for core capabilities. By understanding what is “core” to your company business and deciding to outsource the rest – particularly during the first two phases – a startup can keep headcount lean and can maximize the flexibility to build out the team after company launch.

  1. Do you have a way to measure the effectiveness of MaaS?

 Let’s start with the negative: The cost of hiring the wrong person to lead marketing, or hiring that person at the wrong time, is immeasurable, from market presence to team morale/retention to initial revenue. With best practices in marketing constantly evolving, Marketing as a Service lets you tap into marketing specialists in everything from web design to video content to email marketing—all without parting with a single headcount. The startup can stay lean, nimble and current while being prepared to iterate based upon data and feedback. Bottom line: the Marketing costs in a company’s earliest stages will be significantly lower than with the traditional Marketing model. And the initial success—however you choose to measure it—will be greater with this lean, focused MaaS approach.

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 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 May 16th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Building a startup: ten startling facts

High growth startups are very different from other businesses. And they die remarkably young. In fact, nine out of ten startups fail within their first 24 months of operation.

Since our founding in 2008, we’ve worked with more than 50 companies and 45 startups. What makes startups so unusual? Let’s take a closer look:

  1. 25% of startups were started by immigrants  Source: Reuters, 2016
  2. By 2013, the median time to IPO was 7.4 years  Source: NVCA, 2014
  3. By the time startups raise the third round of financing, 52 percent of founder CEO’s have been replaced  Source: New York Times, 2012
  4. More than half of U.S. unicorns – startups valued at $1 billion or more – have at least one immigrant founder  Source: Wired, 2016
  5. VC firm Andreessen Horowitz funds about 20 startups a year out of 2000 warm referrals  Source: The Macro, 2016
  6. The Y Combinator accelerator is more exclusive in its acceptance rate than Stanford University  Source: The New Yorker, 2016
  7. Only 20% of the Inc 500, the fastest growing private companies, raised outside funding  Source: The New Yorker, 2016
  8. Americans in their 50s and 60s make up a 24.3% share of entrepreneurs who launched businesses in 2015, up from 14.8% a decade ago. And, 70% of startups founded by people age 50 or older last longer than 3 years, versus 28% for those younger than 50  Source: Wall St. Journal, 2016
  9. The majority of startups die after an average of 20 months and $1.3 million in financing  Source: New York Times, 2016
  10. In a 2016 survey of 700 founders, 31% said they didn’t intend to IPO and 69% expected to be acquired  Source: First Round, 2016