Category Archives: Sales-Based Marketing

Posted On November 28th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Anatomy of a Successful Startup Launch

Ask anyone in Silicon Valley and they’ve got their theory about how to launch a startup. There are plenty of startup founders (Slack, Atlassian) and industry watchers who will proudly boast that you can launch a unicorn without marketing. But then there are the 90 percent of startups that have to dig in and build their customers and grow their enterprise click by click, demo by demo, free trial by free trial.

Here’s our advice for the 90 percent:

1 – launch with a cross-functional team – According to a feature in the Harvard Business Review, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. That stat caught our eye because the heart of every successful startup launch is the launch team—which by its very nature is cross-functional. That’s product, support, sales, marketing, and the CEO/founder coming together to introduce a new solution that solves a real pain point. The dependencies, tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made to meet the goals of launch can be made faster and more effectively with a cross-functional team. And with an experienced marketing pro chairing the team, your startup can banish dysfunction.

2- tops-down support is essential – if you want your launch to happen fast, be sure to include the CEO or co-founder on the cross-functional launch team. The CEO is a member of the launch team, not its leader. The leader is your head of marketing or CMO. You want the CEO there to reinforce the importance of goals, deadlines and accountability, and when tough decisions need to be made, it’s easier when the CEO is at the table not coding or pitching new customers. Without the CEO engaged, the CMO will likely have to spend more time socializing options and hunting down decisions and less time getting everything done.

3 banish pixel polishing – part of the Steve Jobs legacy is his famous (and infamous) attention to the details of Apple product design that bordered on obsession, a habit we call “pixel polishing.” Now Jonathan Ive and Elon Musk are celebrated for their same rabid focus on product details — admirable but a huge obstacle for a startup preparing to launch. A startup team in launch mode doesn’t have the time or the money to afford to do any pixel-polishing. Just say no to pixel polishing and yes to “good enough.”

4 – beware nomadic board members– when board members start chiming in to “help” give feedback on messaging and marketing strategy, that’s often problematic. In fact, when we see board members dropping in to the startup’s offices frequently prior to launch, it’s usually a red flag. That often signals that the CEO is not strong enough to manage his board out of the way of his team. In launch mode, feedback can be hugely valuable. But, it’s better to get feedback from early customers, not board members.

5 – bring PR to the table early — there are strategic PR firms that can participate “upstream” with startup founders to nail down the positioning and messaging that’s core to launch. They can bring their experienced outsider perspective to build a solid story that will attract attention and followers among media, analysts and industry influencers. Then, there are “downstream” PR firms that are waiting to be handed the story. Hire the former, not the latter. Launch is too important not to invest in hiring an experienced PR team that will challenge assumptions, build and test the message and advocate their point of view at the table.

6 it’s never too early to build content – when a launch is delayed, it’s usually one of three reasons: product issues, customer problems, content delays. You can never have enough content and the way to avoid delaying the launch because of late or missing content is to start launch planning early. No, you don’t want to start drafting content before the messaging and customer targets are baked. But since iteration is a way of life in startup marketing, start drafting content early to hit your deadlines.

7 website UX trumps brand – if the founder starts talking about favorite brand colors and fonts, that’s another red flag. The most important thing for your launch website is designing the information architecture and content to drive conversions. Yes, design is integral to a successful site. Yes, building your brand is a process that starts with launch. But you need to focus on content and conversions first, or you’ll wander off into discussions of fonts and colors. See dangers of pixel polishing above.

8 anticipate the trough — before you launch, be sure to have at least two months of demand gen programs defined, funded and queued. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing all of the visibility, brand awareness and site traffic from early adopters to vaporize. To leverage the blood, sweat and tears of launch and leverage early market momentum to build early sales, avoid the post-launch trough with smart planning.

 

Posted On November 16th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

Make your brain bigger with these 4 new terms

Analog fever: Call it the rise of the retro or the nostalgic in modern culture, but a reaction to the digital revolution is emerging in the popularity of hybrid design in consumer products that combines simple design with embedded computers.

Meta-learning: A growing trend in AI research is to enable AI-enabled computer systems to master new skills. This will be a significant advance over the single-task systems and robots we know today.

Ethical hacking: When a corporation hires a team of “white hat” software developers or testers, it’s harnessing the power of the good guys to combat the “black hat” bad guys. Companies like @bugcrowd (former Crowded Ocean client) and others (HackerOne, Synack) use crowd-sourced vulnerability testing to help corporations prevent cyber attacks. This white-hat hacker explains all about it here.

YIMBY: New groups have formed in cities around the globe lobbying for the development of affordable housing. They call themselves “yimbys” for “Yes in my backyard”. The movement started in – wait for it – Silicon Valley where the cost of housing, including rental costs, is among the highest in the U.S.

Posted On November 1st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

The path to diversity at a startup requires 3 phases

Congratulations to the rocket ship startup Slack for joining giants like Salesforce, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon in taking a public stance on diversity hiring practices. Like the giants, unicorn Slack has published the breakdown of their “diversity numbers” to illustrate their goal and progress towards building inclusion and diversity in their company.

Survey data show better decisions come from well-informed, diverse teams. Diverse teams make better decisions because different backgrounds and ways of thinking lead to better outcomes. And, bringing people together who have different ways of thinking and problem-solving skills can foster an environment where new ideas can prevail.

Building diversity at technology companies in Silicon Valley is a hot topic. But in our world of early-stage startups, we think a broader definition of diversity and a different approach (and some cold pragmatism) is needed to get there.

If your startup is funded at the seed-round or Series A stage (or even bootstrapped like an early Atlassian), we believe the goal of building a diverse team is really a shiny object on the horizon–like profitability–that founders need to see as a longer-term goal. And, startup founders should adopt a multi-phase plan to get there.

Phase one: seek out misfits and oddballs in the early days. It’s a given that your startup will struggle in the talent wars against companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook that can offer richer compensation packages. So in the beginning, early-stage startups should think about seeking out candidates who “think outside the box” (and are risk takers on compensation) to bring a diversity of thinking to the team, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

One of the nouveau practices among corporate HR policies today is the idea of blind hiring. The effort to diminish the influence of a job applicant’s resume and to focus instead on their talents is in vogue to try to rule out bias and to foster more diversity in hiring. We would go a step further and recommend that startups seek out candidates with non-traditional career tracks who attended non-elite schools as well as job applicants with quirky personalities. To advance your disruptive solutions, a few disruptive-thinking employees (especially in the beginning stages) might just help you retain the new and creative thinking you need to achieve your goals. The ethnicity and gender of those misfits is a completely secondary consideration in the early days of every startup (where the mortality rate of startups is about 75 percent.)

Phase two: institute “the Rooney Rule” after the second year of life. Once you have (1) hired your founding team; (2) put your product in the hands of early customers, and (3) focused your team on customer development, re-think who you want at a manager level in your company. Now is the time to focus on building gender and ethnic diversity, not before. We recommend mandating that every short list of candidates for a position that manages a team include female candidates and candidates of color, aka The Rooney Rule. Be like Slack and make it an HR policy.

  • Part of phase two includes seeking out an equal blend of experienced employees and newbies. The only way to ensure you have a team that knows how to build and manage an operation at scale is to hire employees that can bring first-hand experience of best practices and processes at a large company. In our view, this is an aspect of diversity. In other words, startup experience is great, but if that’s the only experience a candidate brings, pass.

 

  • Stick to the no-assholes rule. You can call them jerks or idiots, but the label “asshole” seems to need no interpretation among a team of startup founders who are striving to build a company. We proclaim “no assholes” as a universal guideline for all emerging companies to follow. We would go so far as to state it as HR policy, right along side the Rooney Rule (see #3 above.) Especially in the early days, there can be no assholes on your team. Because assholes will often hire their own kind and your team just can’t afford that.

 

  • Decide up front who gets to be work remotely and who must be on site. To state the obvious, making your “virtual” policy explicitly in the beginning will help your team vet the right people for the right roles (which is part of building a successful and diverse team.)

Phase three: celebrate diverse cultures to make “going global” an early reality. Startups like Snowflake Computing (Sutter Hill, Redpoint) and Sumo Logic (Greylock, Sutter Hill) were founded by immigrants who, from day one, embraced their own ethnicities and cultures. The founders and their early hires reinforced diversity by sharing their own cultures and histories at internal company celebrations, office décor and even in company blogs.

 

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 October 4th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

More new jargon in startup-land

Flow: to push back on the tyranny of deadlines, email, and interruptions of social media that makes us surrender to our devices, evangelists are encouraging us to pursue “flow” which is a state of being so engaged and concentrated on a single pursuit/thought/project that we lose track of time. In achieving flow, proponents say you can integrate the mind and body into “embodied cognition”.

ICOs: that’s “initial coin offerings” that are an alternative to venture funding. According to this feature in the Wall Street Journal, “the main reason to do an ICO is to use the token as a means of exchange for a real blockchain technology for some tradable digital asset, but many startups are using ICOs just to raise capital,” said Ethan Kurzweil, a partner at Bessemer.

Moral disengagement: when a problem, rule-breaking kid grows up to be an asshole, law-breaking entrepreneur (think Martin Shkreli), researchers call that “moral disengagement”

Backdoor IPO: a “special purpose acquisition company” (SPAC) is an alternative investment path for startups to tap into public market without the roadshow, publicity, etc. For VC-backed companies, a SPAC could restart the IPO pipeline that has been stalled for years. 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. CNBC explains the role of the SPAC, or so-called “backdoor IPO” here.

Bone conduction audio: Amazon is pioneering a new way for a wireless personal device to be heard without having to insert headphones. First application will be a pair of “smart glasses” (remember “glass-holes”?) that will enable the user to access virtual assistant Alexa.

 

Posted On September 26th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How to make your company vision more like a cause

If you want to make your company vision feel more like a cause, write a manifesto. Here is our manifesto for building the ultimate startup.

  1. Hire the core and outsource the rest. Companies that distinguish their core (sales and go-to-market strategy, technology, product roadmap) from what can be outsourced or hired on-demand maximize flexibility in the face of a changing market dynamics and competition. For example, the program mix, orchestration and sequence of the marketing deliverables is what an experienced head of marketing owns. But, he/she can outsource to specialists deliverables such as SEO, content development, PR, event marketing.

 

  1. Pick your board carefully. Experience and true partnership trumps valuation. A team of experienced investors and advisors can help cultivate and coach a good team to become great. Worry about the structure of the deal (liquidity and preference) more than valuation.

 

  1. Leadership comes with a sell-by date. The familiar tropes of successful startup leaders are the demanding dictator with a mercurial temperament; the brilliant engineer with stunted social and leadership skills; the cerebral and brooding visionary. These are stereotypes today because we’ve seen them at the helm of successful startups over and over. But as soon as the sales numbers falter, out goes the leader. Nowhere is the tenure of the CEO more limited than in an early-stage startup. That’s why startup leaders have to constantly, relentlessly be vigilant that it’s the company that must triumph, not the leader.

 

  1. The most important attribute of company culture is how you make decisions. Successful startups understand where they are on the spectrum of company culture. Culture that matters has nothing to do with whether there are bagels on Wednesdays or free neck massages or whether there is a ping-pong or a foos-ball table on site. Successful companies can be consensus-oriented. They can be transparent or secretive. The but the core of the culture that matters is really all about how decisions are made and better decisions come from well-informed, diverse teams. Diversity as a value

 

  1. Team trumps technology. Smart teams can solve product-market fit misfires. So there is nothing more important to long-term success than hiring the right team. Assume you will make hiring mistakes, so recognizing and firing as early as possible is essential. Salute the industry data that shows diverse teams (gender, ethnicity, psychological) make better decisions and seek out diversity from the beginning.

 

  1. Nail down your positioning during your customer development phase. As you invest early in customer development to identify the profile of the target buyer and use case for your new product, build in time to start nailing down your positioning and messaging. Then, it’s the job of the VP of Marketing to bring a toolkit approach, including a knowledge of “best practices,” and a willingness to pilot new ideas and measure the results to figure out what works to gain early market traction for your new product out in the market.

 

  1. Successful marketing is upstream and integrated. There are steps in the agile software development process – frequent sprints, testing, iteration, repeat – that are popularly applied to company building as part of the “lean startup” mantra. But when it comes to marketing, startups still need to integrate marketing across all sales channels and across all functions and this takes experience and the discipline of planning. Protect your go-to-market strategy as “core”, so it can have its greatest impact positioned upstream in the planning process, at the management table, and right along side customer development.

 

  1. Sales-based marketing accelerates customer acquisition. If it doesn’t initiate sales or make repeat-sales easier, don’t’ do it. An almost rabid focus on customer development first, is what helps drive early market traction. But marketing still requires piloting, testing and measurement to figure out what works. There is no “single tool” approach that will accelerate customer acquisition and shorten time to revenue.

 

  1. Launch is one milestone in the process of building a company, not the finish line. Startups say they launch to “legitimize” their business in the eyes of customers. Some startups say that launch is needed to be able to attract the right talent to build their team in a competitive job market. Still others say launch is about wooing future investors and channel partners. Many say it’s all of the above. Bottom line, launch is about investing in getting your story out in the marketplace in a powerful, differentiated, memorable and unified way in order to connect with stakeholders in order to grow and scale your company. Launch is a milestone in the long life of your company. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of it as the finish line.

 

  1. There can never be too much content. Building market awareness and sales preference for your product requires a boatload of content. Your ability to capture the imagination of your target buyer and to break through the market noise requires a steady stream of new, fresh, updated content. Whether it’s written or rich media (audio, image, video), it’s got to be accessible and shareable and increasingly, it has to be personalized and snackable. Equipping your sales team or channel with the right tools to reach your prospect starts with compelling, consistent, quality content.

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 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 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.