Question: When taking a new start up out to market, what is your advice in terms of critical items to consider in terms of marketing activities?
Answer (Brad): Anyone that knows me has heard me say “I hate marketing” so I’m probably biased against this question. Of course, I have Regis McKenna’s legendary HBR article “Marketing Is Everything” (1991) sitting on my desk to read so it’s equally probable that you could call me a hypocrite about marketing.
While this is an impossibly broad question to answer (and one that has spawned many management books on marketing), I’ll point out the three things about marketing for software / Internet startups that I’ve learned over the last twenty years. If you make industrial machine parts, you might as well stop reading since I’m even more clueless about that.
1. 98% of launch-based marketing sucks. Every now and then you find someone that is brilliant at it. When you do, hang on to them for dear life. Let them do their thing. See #2.
2. Great launch marketing does not require very much money. A company I was an investor in once spent $2m on a print advertising campaign to launch its first product. I knew I was in trouble when I got a 4’ x 5’ poster of the ad framed with a note from the VP Marketing that said “congrats on the new ad campaign.” When I read the ad, I had no idea what the company did. I sat down and cried for a little while. Fortunately it was 2000 so I was soon to be not alone in my misery.
3. You don’t need a VP Marketing to do launch marketing. You’ll eventually need one, but when you launch, you need an amazing CEO (is that you?), a great technical visionary (you or your CTO / partner) and a couple of passionate user-facing evangelists (regardless of the type of product you have.)
If you think I’m wrong, go ahead and spend some time with “Marketing Is Everything.” The summary is: “Today technology is creating greater customer choice, and choice is altering the marketplace. Six principles define the new marketing: marketing is a way of doing business that pervades the entire company; companies must dispel their limiting market-share mentality; programmable technology promises to open up almost limitless choice for customers; a feedback loop is making advertising’s one-way communication obsolete; the line between services and products is eroding; and the marriage of marketing and technology is inevitable.”
Q: I’m involved in a start up where we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re currently in our coding stage but there are a lot of undefined areas as far as usability and layout are concerned. A few of the team members strongly believe its necessary to get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image. I, on the other hand, feel its not necessary at this stage and these can be accomplished once we close our Series A round. Specifically my question is, how important is brand image at this stage in development?
A: (Brad) Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not a fan of “classically defined textbook marketing.” “Brand image” can fit in that category – or not – depending how you approach it. If you “get professional help from experienced designers on usability and get competitive analysis on our design and brand image” you are engaging in a set of activities that I think are a complete waste of time and money “pre Series A.”
Instead, develop your own brand, image, and style that is consistent with the company you are creating. Let it come from you – rather than an “experienced” consultant. A great example of this is Dogster, a company I have an angel investment in. No one is going to award the Dogster website the “most beautiful website in the world” award, but it has style. Dogs (and dog owners) appear to love it (based on their traffic growth) and it is definitely “dog freaks crossed with computer geeks.”
Once you’ve raised a Series A and have plenty of cash in the bank, feel free to hire expensive consultants to help you take your brand image to the next stage. Or not. But don’t spend your precious seed stage dollars on it.