Category Archives: Tips

Posted On October 17th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

5 Steps to Pump Up Your Startup Marketing


  1. Write your launch press release first. Then manage to it.

As much as startups like their white boards, when it comes to their core positioning, product capabilities and supporting messaging, they don’t take anything seriously until they see it in print (or in PPT or HTML). As important as a launch is to a startup—and as important as press coverage is to the launch—you’d think they’d recognize the fundamental importance of the press release and act accordingly. And yet most startups don’t write the release until about 3 weeks prior to launch. Only then are fundamental inconsistencies and misunderstandings revealed, causing everyone to scramble, from website authors to the PR firm. Instead, draft your news release as early as possible to crystallize messaging. Start by writing your ideal headline for the launch, then write the release that will best generate that headline. Then take the components of that release and insert them into all your key marketing and sales materials.

  1. Kill your “elevator pitch”; replace it with your “bold claim”

The “elevator pitch” is a time-honored marketing exercise and tool for distilling your company’s value proposition. But we’re living in an ADHD world where your prospective customer is addicted to nonstop interruptions in multiple streams delivered on multiple screens. So forget the elevator ride: you don’t have that long. Imagine you’re on an escalator instead, with 30 seconds to make your pitch. Lead with your ‘bold claim’. It starts with: “what if I told you that…” (An example: ‘What if I told you that you could wash your car while driving it home from work?’) An effective bold claim poses a question that generates this customer response: “I don’t believe you can do that, but I’ll take your card.” It’s a statement that sits at the core of your sales pitch, PPT decks and website–one provocative enough to grab your customer’s attention and initiate the sales process. 

  1. Posterize your “buyer persona” 

Defining the buyer persona is a best practice supported by business books, courses, institutes and online tools. And it makes more sense than ever now because customers have more power and more options. But for so many companies creating a customer persona is just a paper exercise. The key is to develop a 3-D understanding of your persona’s personality and affinities, knowledge that you can then apply to your website, sales pitches, and white papers—and to make it a company exercise. The more advanced startups not only create these 3-D images of their customer, they name them and put an image (or imagined photo) of them on their walls, reminding everyone of what (and whom) they’re working for. This is particularly true of the Sales “war room,” where the customer persona should have equal wall space with all of your competition’s material, a constant reminder to stay focused on your customers—their needs, their options and their reasons to choose you.

  1. Name a “chief content officer” and give them a seat at The Big Table

Think about it: in an enterprise product sale, the average sales process requires seven ‘touches’ (or interactions) with your prospect. So, to support their transition from prospect to buyer, you’ll need at least seven pieces of original content. And yet, for many startups, content is a last-minute addition to their launch and sales efforts.

Content needs to move to the top of a startup’s Maslow hierarchy. And it has to be everybody’s job. The problem is that every team at early-stage companies is so busy iterating on their product—both in features and possible business applications—that crafting sales content for lead nurturing and demand gen often takes a back seat. We recommend designating a “chief content officer” and giving him/her a seat at the big table for sales pipeline reviews, product planning meetings, maybe even board meetings. Make generating topics and content ideas a corporate-wide function, then recognize and reward those who generate this content—blogs, mini-white papers, etc.

  1. Treat diversity like revenue: set goals and manage to them

Diversity is not only good for a company’s culture, it’s good for business, paying off in better decisions and improved profitability. But how to achieve it? A few innovative startups like Slack have adopted the Rooney Rule that requires that “persons of color” and women be candidates for strategic hires within an organization. Meanwhile, VC firm and startup builder Kapor Capital has taken the Rooney Rule a step further by requiring their own firm be diverse. Now, Kapor Capital partners are requiring the startups they invest in to create a culture of inclusion from the beginning. They ask their startup founders to sign a diversity pledge, then deliver a diversity report every quarter to investors.

Tech titans like Apple, Google and Salesforce have diversity initiatives that they report on publicly. Startups can build diversity in from the ground up by giving it the same status in their business plan as goals for customer acquisition, revenue and profit. And, by reporting on those goals every quarter to your board, investors and your team you’ll be able to reinforce diversity as a value and a business goal that will help set your startup apart.


Posted On June 16th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

When startup marketing sucks

In every one of our startup marketing engagements, the essential first deliverable is to nail down the positioning and messaging with the founding team before we make any other decisions or spend any program dollars (on staff, website, content, PR, etc.) strategic directionThat sounds straightforward, perhaps even obvious. But it’s rarely a linear process. It’s often very messy. Sometimes it sucks.

In fact, it’s often more of a “three steps forward, two steps back” kind of iterative process to get to the finish line on positioning. The process involves defining, refining, test-driving and then revising the positioning to reach clarity on the fundamental claims, actual words, definitions, emphasis, product nomenclature and sequence of the narrative.

If that sounds like a messy or fuzzy process, it is. But if you’re going to work in the startup world, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity. While veterans of the startup world—especially in areas that are hard to quantify, like marketing—may be okay with ambiguity, it can really be frustrating for technical founders who are used to precision and certainty and predictable outcomes. In our experience, the best way to achieve that all-important foundation of positioning with the startup team is to frame it as a process and to remind them that while we’re going through it, the iteration along the way will get us to the finish line.

Posted On March 23rd, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

How bait-and-switch staffing from your marketing firm hurts your startup

When we hire a marketing firm for our startup clients, we want to work with principals. Whether that firm is web design, a PR agency or the video content creator, we want to thinking planning strategywork with the guys at the top who have the talent, experience and business acumen that helped them build their own business—and can help our clients built theirs. In other words, large firms and newbies need not apply.

And your comment is, really? Why?

Startups have less margin of error than established companies, so while new talent is great for companies who can afford a mistake or two, when you’re launching your startup, can you afford to trust your launch to an unproven marketing leader?

Startups constitute a unique marketing challenge. Almost every startup we meet has limited management processes, no defined sales cycle, fuzzy messaging and a lot of one-off or custom deals that are not repeatable. It takes marketing experience and wisdom (In short: veterans) to sift out sales targets and opportunities that can help a technically brilliant (but young) startup team grow and to make decisions upon which a marketing plan can be based.

Bottom line: don’t be a victim of bait and switch. Insist on working with principals.

Posted On March 9th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Does Silicon Valley lead the world in ‘assholes per square mile’?

We think there are five reasons that assholes abound in Silicon Valley:

  1. Startups are led by the single-minded. Startups are famously founded and led by incredibly talented, passionate, driven technologists who are often young, single-minded and unburdened by the baggage of maturity (mortgage, family, 529 funds for their kids). That combination of youth, talent and freedom comes at a price. Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 6.39.20 PMOften it’s a lack of grace, emotional intelligence, and empathy that can come across as arrogance and impatience with the rest of us who just don’t get it. (at least not as quickly as the founder) That’s why so many startups outgrow their brash and brilliant founder, and that’s why “adult supervision” is an important ingredient in a successful startup with staying power.
  1. Startups lack diversity. They are over-staffed with men, with the majority of those men being white. Studies show that diversity (more women and more members with different skills) encourages teamwork and better outcomes of those teams. In other words, if the success of your startup depends upon teamwork, you’ll have smarter, more effective teams if you mix it up with different kinds of talent and more women.
  1. Nerds are still the core of the Valley labor pool. They may not have tape on Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 6.40.37 PMtheir glasses, but the core of most startups is still the engineers and those guys often mask their lack of social skills with arrogance and asshole behavior.
  1. Assholes hire assholes. Hard-charging, fast-growing startups often have a hard time establishing policies and processes at the right time to support their growing organization. Consequently, jerks and assholes can get away with bad behavior in such an environment. (And talented assholes in a vital role become someone that everyone puts up with because their contribution is so important.) And if you’ve got an asshole involved in the interviewing and hiring process, then assholes are guaranteed to make their way into your organization.
  1. Steve Jobs was an asshole. As we’ve commented before, every founder that we encounter who exhibits boorish behavior justifies it by recounting some Jobs story. Our counter: Steve Jobs wasn’t successful because he was an asshole. Steve Jobs was successful AND he was an asshole.

When it comes to building a successful startup, we’re big believers in the “no assholes rule” but, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work in Silicon Valley.

Posted On December 1st, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Revisiting the mission statement for startups

Recently, with Google in the news, answering the question of whether it’s time to revise their mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, we’re asked by our startup clients whether they need a mission statement.

ideasAnd our answer is always the same: you need a Vision Statement, perhaps even an Operational Statement. But leave the Mission Statement for when you’ve got a significant market presence for other companies to be asking ‘what do you stand for?’

Let’s look at the role of each statement:

The Vision Statement should be bold and broad—and if you’re posting something on your walls, this is the one: (Example: “To change the way enterprises store, access and analyze Big Data”) Ideally, it’s targeted at 3 audiences:

  • analysts/press (why should I follow you guys);
  • customers (why should I buy from you); and
  • potential employees (why should I join you).

The Operational Statement (not the Mission Statement) is what a startup should review in its monthly updates with employees. It should be tight and measurable:

  • By the end of 2016 we will have over 40 customers with an ASP of over $100,000.
  • We will have 10% market share by….

The idea behind the Operational Statement is simple: if an employee isn’t engaged in activities that help accomplish those Operational goals, you need to either change the employee’s job or change the Operational Statement.

So you can see that both the Vision and Operational Statements have a bottom-line role. Focus on these and leave the Mission Statement for when someone outside your company cares enough about you to ask for one.

Posted On May 5th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

What’s wrong with the names of these startups?

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 9.34.03 PMImgur – a new photo sharing site, backed by Andreessen Horowitz, reads like a typo. You’re supposed to pronounce it: “image-er” but Imgur reads more like the name of a troll in a Disney cartoon. If you have to ask how to spell it, you’ve got a problem with your name.

Egnyte – this enterprise file sharing startup is running radio ads in which the voiceover talent takes a moment to spell the name of the company. Egnyte is pronounced “ignite.” It’s never a good sign if you have to spell the name of your company in your own advertisements. Please take note, marketers.

Posted On April 21st, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

3 everyday lies you will hear at startups

We like the truth-telling in the new book by celebrated VC Ben Horowitz who has called several familiar management mantras “just stupid.” So we thought we would share three comments we hear at startups that are just false – or hopelessly naïve–and then our take on how to interpret them.

handle the truth1.  We have no politics. This timeless adage is complete fiction. Like every family, every startup has its characters, power structures and power plays. The key to success in any organization – large or small – is to balance the effort you spend on your ideas, deliverables and internal advocacy with the time it takes to make sure your ideas and deliverables are completely aligned with the goals of the company. Our advice: In other words, we’ve seen plenty of good ideas die because they weren’t sold and supported by the right folks in the organization. Do your homework on how the organization makes decisions to be sure you’re cultivating support among the key influencers.

 2.   We have a very flat organization. This one makes absolutely no sense. Every startup starts out flat, if only because it’s tough to have a hierarchical org chart when you only have six employees.  But very quickly you’ll have a hierarchy of:  founders; C-level (C_O); V-level (VP of__) and Directors—if not in title then in practice. The founders are the passionate, single-minded believers that raised the money and quit their day jobs to build a new company around a new idea: they get more than one vote. Every startup has people in the organization who, despite the title on their business card, get to weigh in on decisions and influence the outcome.  If you’ve joined a startup and you haven’t figured out how to tap into the founders’ brain trust in order to sell your ideas…well just make sure you keep your resume updated on LinkedIn. Our advice: after you figure out the “what” of your job, don’t get seduced into thinking that you can “just make it happen” by lunging ahead to implement your ideas. Take the time to figure out “how” you’re going to sell your idea and advocate with the key decision makers and influencers on the startup team (the ones with the most votes).

3.   There are no stupid questions.  Actually, there are. Or, put another way, “There are stupid people answering questions.” How many meetings have you been in where a new-hire asks a question that’s just off-the-wall. And, yes, when you’ve just joined an organization, you can slow progress (as well as make a lousy first impression) by jumping in too early. Our advice: if you’re new on the team, get the lay of the land first. Learn the product. Listen a lot. And pay attention to the team that’s customer facing. Then after you’ve gotten integrated into the team, dive in with your questions. That way, you’ll be more credible and you’ll have real context for your questions and observations.


Posted On March 10th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

The Crowded Ocean Startup Marketing Manifesto

Startup founders and their VC sponsors need a reality check when it comes to finding and hiring their VP of Marketing.  They’re looking for a rock star with skills in all major marketing specialties—from HTML to Marketo to analyst relations to writing their own ad copy. And then they’re surprised when their search takes 6 months and still yields a less than perfect candidate.

What we see, therefore, is the need for clarity on the charter of a successful VP of Marketing. In the age of manifestos, we’ve dubbed this our own Startup Marketing Manifesto:

  • Own the plan; rent the deliverables:  The mix, orchestration and sequence of the marketing deliverables is what an experienced head of marketing can make happen. You can hire specialists – e.g., SEO, video, writing – on demand. But the marketing plan must come from the leader.
  • Sales first; brand second:  Even in the age of UX-centered startups passionate about delivering a consistent and unified user experience, it’s an almost rabid focus on customer development that drives early market traction.
  • Content is your website:  The ability to drive conversions on your website, to nurture leads to sales, and to equip the sales team with the right tools starts with compelling, consistent, quality content.
  • Iterate on your use case, not your message:  Listen to your early customers to inform your message but don’t over-react to feedback from a handful of early wins.
  • Study, pilot and test:  There is no “single tool” approach that will accelerate customer acquisition and shorten time to revenue. It’s the job of the VP of Marketing to bring a toolkit approach, a knowledge of “best practices,” and a willingness to pilot new ideas and measure the results to figure out what works.

We’ve written about manifestos before here. And here’s more on the startup marketing toolkit approach.



Posted On August 19th, 2013 by Crowded Ocean

Tweet wisdom in startup marketing

There can be magic in the 140-character length of a tweet. And we discovered that some of our own tried-and-true advice that we give our startup clients is also tweet-worthy. tweetworthyCheck out ten of the tweet-worthy Crowded Ocean favorites below:

1. In marketing, what gets measured gets funded.

2. The purpose and the goal of marketing is to make sales easier.

3. Every successful startup has a strong culture and strong cultures emerge because at least one person owns it.

4. Your company culture is an essential component of your brand.

5. A successful website focuses more on content than design.

6. The more open laptops in a meeting, the less productive the meeting.

7. You can crowd-source design, but never content.

8. Converting the interest and visibility of launch in the 3-6 months afterwards is more important than your launch.

9. You only get one shot at market launch but you can get many shots at a product launch.

10. Iterate on your value proposition after product launch but before market launch when customer feedback provides validation.

Posted On July 1st, 2013 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Marketing: “Love” versus “Admiration”

Recently Crowded Ocean was invited to take part in a startup marketing boot camp in Boulder, CO. We shared the stage with our partner, Launchsquad, who spoke on ‘PR in the New World’. Part of their presentation was how to position your company in what they call ‘The Love Economy’. While the term may invite images of beads and Nehru jackets, the idea behind it is economy

First off, while Launchsquad has worked with a number of high-tech clients, they also work with consumer clients, where the user experience and the role of social marketing are critical.  And it all comes down to this:  how do you make your company (and its products) something that customers ‘love’ and tell others about. Not ‘like.’ Love. Anything short of ‘love’, they tell their client companies, needs to be corrected. Immediately.

We live in the world of technology and enterprise products. Most users don’t ‘love’ their database or programming language or security products. But substitute ‘admire’ and you’re on the right track. Because things that get admired get recommended. And the enterprise IT world is full of CSO and CIO forums, as well as tech circles, where peer recommendation is not just the most important buying criterion, it’s the only one.

So our recommendation to our client CEOs is that they appoint themselves as the ‘Chief Admiration Officer’ of their company, that they regularly get the entire company to look at every stage of a prospect’s or customer’s interaction with the company—the website, the product interface, the support line—and ensure that they’re doing everything to create the kind of company and experience that these customers will not only admire but recommend.