Category Archives: Marketing

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 February 22nd, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Two-word descriptions you’ve probably never heard before

Barista robots: an automated coffee shop called CafeX in San Francisco (of course) is now using robots as baristas.

Artisanal infographics: the always popular, chart- and icon-heavy infographic is a popular marketing tools for brands around the globe. But instead of using data visualization tools or highend graphic design software to create them, some designers are pursuing the hand-crafted look. In other words, don’t throw out that napkin that captured your original genius. It might just work as an “artisanal infographic”

Live chilling: the new way to hang out for the so-called Generation Z, ages early teens to early 20’s, is using live chat applications (Facebook Messenger, etc.) to communicate with a group of friends without ever leaving the house.

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.

 

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 December 20th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Some new, some old: the latest lingo of Silicon Valley

It’s time once again for NEW WORDS and PHRASES bubbling up in Silicon Valley…

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.47.06 AMGAFA: the rest of the world looks upon the technology giants of the left coast (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and simply refers to them as GAFA.

TAFT: the acronym for “tell them any frigging thing” was the unscrupulous sales practice at Wyndham Vacation Ownership, the nation’s largest time-share operator.

Rat-fucking: made famous in the Watergate era, ratfucking was the term for dirty tricks instigated by Republican operatives on the campaign to re-elect Richard Nixon. Yes, the term is back.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMMechanical pixels: scientists are exploring a new display technology based upon graphene to build flexible, durable, energy efficient screens that are superior to LED screens.

Sexist algorithms: it turns out that there is a gender bias inherent in the data sets, called word embeddings, that are being used to train AI tools like chatbots, translation systems and recommendation engines.

culture, marketingPerfect forward secrecy: a security feature built into the end-to-end encryption of programs like WhatsApp that “future-proofs” your messages from new hacker attacks.

Posted On December 6th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Building your startup: start with the press release

A VC partner whom we greatly respect, and who shared some valuable lessons that we incorporated into our book (that’s The Ultimate Startup Guide—which we’re shamelessly thinkingstrategpromoting here—due out Jan 23) approached us a while back with an interesting proposal. In conversations with him about past shared clients, we talked about what it takes to get founders’ attention—to really make them commit to what they’re all about and translate that essence into the core positioning of their company. And we all agreed that it was the press release. Powerpoint can be changed, whiteboards are too vague. But seeing your company, product and news and the claims behind them in a legal-looking doc—that seems to get the attention.

Company building by press release

So this VC told us that, for his next company, he wants us to come in and do our regular workshop. But, unlike most of our engagements, where we come in 3-4 months before the company (or product) launch, he wanted to do the workshop at the company’s founding. Then based on what we heard in the workshop, we were to write (with the involvement of the team) the press release for the new company and its product. And then he wanted his team to work to make the claims and promises in the press release a reality.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.04.28 PMExpand a tactic of PR firms and web design firms

It turns out that this is a tried-and-true planning practice already employed by many public relations firms and web design firms. PR firms will ask the management team during the message planning phase to identify the key headlines and takeaways for the reader of targeted media that you want to compel to cover your news. This exercise can help focus everyone on simplifying your message and making it consistent while also identifying different approaches or angles to your story.

Web design firms typically have an input session where they will ask the management team to identify the key takeaways of a visitor to your future website. They are looking for words, tone, attitude and treatments. And some of this is the “same stuff” that writing that press release early will help identify and make consistent across your marketing tool set.

Posted On October 26th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

October: 3 new words in Silicon Valley jargon

Three new terms you really need to know and use, nerds…

ideas

Volunteer computing: donate a share of your computer’s unused storage space and compute power to a scientific project (e.g. the search for signs of extraterrestrial life for SETI or research for a cure to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases for Stanford University).

Buzzy: when a startup is growing quickly, in the media a lot and watched with envy by other startups with far less momentum, they’re buzzy. A former buzzy startup, Mixpanel, is regrouping to refocus on profitability, according to this recent news article.

Casino effect: there are a set of principles in the design of casinos that keep gamblers gambling. But can that same idea be applied to consumer software design?

Posted On October 11th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

More new words: the October edition, part two

Glass cliff: according to The New York Times, it’s the theory that holds that women are often placed in positions of power when the situation is dire, men are uninterested and the likelihood of success is low.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMSharenting: the practice of online sharing of parenting, including the posting of children at very early ages, shapes the identity (and privacy) of children and that digital identity can follow a child into adulthood.

Behavior design: a principle of software design that coaxes us into adopting new behaviors or habits, as in rewarding the poster of a photo on Facebook with instant “likes”.

Conversational computing: the new market category of consumer and computing products popularized by Siri, Alexa and Echo, are artificially intelligent devices.

 

Posted On October 5th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

New words, the October 2016 edition

Man-terrupting: in the first presidential debate, held September 26, Republican candidate Donald Trump interrupted his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton 40 times in the first 26 minutes. Women are twice as likely to be interrupted as men are and it’s a mainstay of the “subtle sexism” of the workplace. And now it has a name: manterrupting.

Cyber-chondria: being addicted to researching any new symptom, ache or pain online and making yourself worry. It’s the new hypochondria.

Ramen profitability: the metric that early-stage startups covet says that a company is making enough money for the founders to live on the college and startup staple of Ramen noodles.

Power law: the unwritten VC rule that 90 percent of the VC firm’s profits come from one or two companies in the portfolio.