Category Archives: Marketing

Go-To-Market Best Practices for Startups

An incredibly useful presentation and video put together by the gang at Andreseen Horowitz, the Go-to-Market Best Practices for Startups is a must ready for early stage SaaS companies.

While some of the topics are only dealt on a high level, it nonetheless gives you a good framework to dive into and build your own tools for your company. I have not seen a better starting guide than this one. Check it out!

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When a bad startup idea gives us good laughs

Let’s face it, not all ideas out there are worth of praise. I have been to many startup networking events where several people told me about very similar startup ideas that were basically copy-cats of other already proven models. But the best conversations are typically around those weird, different, maybe even bold ideas that make you think you don’t quite get it and wonder if it will ever make money.

Case in point is Vessyl, which Stephen Colbert hilariously mocks in his show. The “smart” drinking cup might have some utility, but so far has only gotten laughs.

Worth checking out.


Or click the image below.

Stephen Colbert Vessyl

Why Freemium Could Be a Costly Trap

While in B2C startups the freemium model is widespread, in the B2B world it could lead to a costly trap. Case in point is Box, whose imminent IPO also shed some light to its finances and according to a recent Re/Code article says that of its 25 million users “only seven percent — fewer than 2 million at 34,000 companies — are paying for it”. The result is that Box doesn’t expect to see any profitability soon…. if ever. 

You may also recall Chargify, a subscription billing company that almost went bankrupt and had to kill their free plan and start charging customers.

In the enterprise or B2B world the “free trial” is the way most companies use the “free” option, to attract customers that will eventually have to start paying, whether 15, 30 or 60 days latter. This is not freemium, though.

One company that comes to mind that did well with a free offering is HubSpot. They offer their suite of “grader” tools ( for free. This allows companies to assess their website and blog ‘score’ with suggestions for improvement. But wait, before you point your finger at the scream and yell “AHA!” look more closely… this free offering is NOT a free version of their product. It is instead a side tool used to promote the company so that other businesses try it out and might eventually decide to see what HubSpot is all about. Clever? Absolutely. Freemium? Not really.

As much as “free” can help attract interest from potential buyers, in the B2B side I haven’t seen a huge success, yet.

Startup Marketing 101: You Are Not Selling a Product

Onion, by Dey via FlickrIn talking with a startup founder the other day it became clear that there was a problem. He had just lost a sale to a competitor. Not only was that extremely frustrating, he wasn’t sure why he had lost the sale. Losing deals sucks, but it can be a great way to learn so that you don’t make the same mistakes next time.

So I asked him to give me the sales pitch. It went something like this: Our product does A, B, and C. Here you can see what happens when you click this button, which shows this results. Then, when you click on the Reports icon, you can see all of the reports available, etc…

Sounds familiar? What is the problem with this approach? Well, to begin with it is very product focused. Not just features-oriented, but it is all about the product itself.

Marketing Lesson 1: You are not selling a product, you are solving a problem.

Ask yourself this question next time you are preparing to demo or sell your product or service. What is the problem I am trying to solve? How would the customer describe it?

That’s the first step. But it doesn’t stop there. You also have to understand what value you bring to the customer.

Marketing Lesson 2: You are not selling features, you are selling value.

Yup, this makes sense right? But hold on. Do you really understand what value you are providing with the product or service you are offering? Most people only scratch the surface when it comes to value. They say “with our service you don’t have to wait for taxis anymore” or “our new mobile app allows you to access your documents directly from the iPad!”. These are simply bland statements that anyone can make. Go a step further and ask “so what?”. For example, let’s take this hypothetical example of a company that has an iPad app that allows you to access your documents remotely.

The pitch: Our iPad app allows you to access your documents direcly from your iPad so that you will have them wherever you go.

Now let’s look at this and try to dig deeper. Why is this important to the customer? Oh, you see, before having our app they would have to carry their laptop with them, which is a pain. OK, we’re getting closer. What else? Well, we are targetting senior executives that need secure access to their documents and by using our app not only they can access from the iPad, they don’t need to save the files to the mobile device, which increases security. OK, this is good info, but why is this important? Because our competitors require the file to be downloaded first, which means a long wait before the user can actually see the document and it leaves the file on the device which compromises security. OK, but what is exactly the value here? Well, with our app executives can quickly access their extremely confidential documents from their iPads without having to worry about security leaks. Great, now we are in a much better shape. So let’s review our pitch.

New pitch: Executives worried about accessing confidential documents remotely can now do it securely from their iPads with a simple tap, no download necessary.

This is much better, not 100% but way better. You are talking about the customer, relating to their pain and problem, and addressing with a solution. I can see this playing out during a sales situation going something like this: “As an executive you need quick and secure access to confidential files when you’re on the road. Not only that, you want to be able to access files without having to wait for long downloads, and you want to make sure no trace is left behind. This is what we offer on our new iPad app. With our app you can…” and it continues.

The next step would be to really understand the value being provided so that you don’t fall into the features presentation trap. Faster mobile document access, for example, is just a feature. How would it help the customer? Well, they can get more done in short time. OK, this is it! Get things done faster while on the run without worrying about security and with an app that doesn’t get in your way.

As you are pitching / selling your startup idea, peel back the proverbial onion to really understand the benefit and value being provided. Few companies go through the trouble of doing it and that is why most corporate webistes look so bland and you can’t tell one from the other. By really understanding your customer pains, the problems they are trying to solve, and by really going deep into what exact value you bring to the table you will be able to craft a compelling sales pitch and position your startup above the competition.

How NOT to Market Your Startup

Money down the drainSo you’ve got a product that’s getting ready for prime time and now you need to drum up some buzz and get things ready to generate some sales? Great, so now what?

The Marketing Side of Things

A recent blog post titled “Why I Fired My Marketing Agency” by Brian Signorelli highlights some of the things I’ve seen happen with startups that don’t give marketing enough importance. People who fall in this trap are usually tech founders with no business or marketing experience and that bend to pressures coming from VC’s, the board, or they simply try to imitate their previous company or a competitor. Their plan typically goes something like this:

  • First, build prototype
  • Second, get beta users, feedback
  • Third, iterate and get product ready
  • Fourth, launch
  • Fifth, start marketing and generating sales

The problem with this thought process is that it won’t work. Or at least it won’t be as easy as you think it will. Rob Walling has written about why you should start marketing the day you start coding and Jason Cohen has done many great posts about startup marketing, including what not to do as you market your product. If there is ONE thing you must remember is that you should start marketing your startup way before you have the product ready to launch. 

Marketing Agencies and Your Startup

But I digress. Let’s go back to the problem Brian had with a marketing agency. It’s not that marketing agencies or consultants are bad, is that you have to understand how they work and, more importantly, what do you want to get out of the relationship. If more twitter followers are part of your marketing strategy, then go for it. If, on the other hand you need a demand generation plan, then make it clear from the get-go.

A common mistake startups and small businesses make when hiring outsiders (agencies, contractors, etc.) to help or run their marketing programs is thinking that you can outsource it just as you did with your payroll, HR, or tax preparation. Not having someone at your company that owns (i.e. is responsible and accountable) for marketing will cost you dearly. You need someone that clearly understands your product, history, value proposition, target audience, and that can tell your story. Yes, having a marketing agency, or marketing consultants can help get things done but don’t think you can just hire them and forget about it. You’ll just be throwing money away.


Why Founding Team Diversity is Important

Business Model CanvasThere’s a very interesting blog post on Harvard Business Review site, Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas, that talks about why we don’t see more startups tackling the “I want to change the world” goal.

One argument the author makes is the lack of diversity in the founding team, more specifically the lack of subject matter experts.

“The missing piece from the DNA in the founding teams of transformational companies is now the domain expert, who has deep insight into the industry they are trying to disrupt.” – Max Marmer

It’s interesting and I have thought about it for a while, why two startups competing in the same industry, having the same technology can have so different results. The answer typically lies in the business side of the equation (how they market the product, distribution, etc.). At every event I go there’s inevitably a handful of companies that tell me they are doing something I have heard a couple times before from other startup founders. What will make them succeed or what will be their pitfall? How can you tell which one has better chances of succeeding?

Don’t Ignore the Business Guy

In a time where developers are the most sought-after talent, the composition of the team sometimes shows a gap. You have a very strong developer, a great UI person, but the business guy (or girl) is often neglected. Well, unless you can find a developer or UI person that has deep industry/market experience, you will need that business person to help out. Without them, it’s unlikely your startup will succeed.

Embrace Your Weakness

What’s a startup to do when their weakness become visible? How do you take charge and revert the situation in your favor? Check out my recent post at Startup Grind and let me know what you think.

“Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones

The Five Marketing Mistakes that May Kill Your Startup

I meet a lot of startup founders here in Silicon Valley, with all kinds of great ideas to revolutionize the world. They range from those who just started to get their startup going to those who have raised significant amount of VC money. Since my background is Marketing, I am always interested in learning how other startups are getting the word out about their products and how they are structuring their marketing processes.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the majority of startups that have tech-heavy founders end up ignoring Marketing, thinking that having a website, creating a Twitter and Facebook accounts, and doing some PR is enough. As I thought about the common mistakes most startups make when it comes to Marketing, I came up with the list of the five most common themes I see out there. So here you go:

1. Waiting to start marketing until you are ready to launch

This is the most common mistake I see tech founders make. They focus so much on building the product that they forget that Marketing should start way, way before you are ready to launch. This means getting your website up, starting a blog, doing some active listening on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms, and crafting your ‘buyer personas’. If you start creating content from day 1 and generating interest, your battle for the minds of your potential customers will already be on its way. Thinking that once you launch you can just send out a press release and do some email blasts will get you nowhere and may kill your chances at surviving.

2. Mimicking marketing tactics of your competitors and other players

Typical of those who came from large organizations and are building a killer application to go head-to-head with the incumbent, I usually see this with B2B enterprise apps. The reasoning is usually something like: “Well, Microsoft goes to these 15 trade shows and so we have to be there”, or “At SAP we used to do [A] and [B] all the time!”. Just because something worked for a Fortune 500 company doesn’t mean it will have the same effect at your startup. Their budgets are different, their positioning is different, they whole go-to-market strategy is different. Spend your marketing dollars wisely, don’t simply copy what others have done.

3. Leaving marketing to the marketing team

David Packard, the “P” in Hewlett-Packard, once said “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department“. What this means is that if you think that by hiring a Marketing Manager at some point in your startup life, marketing will be taken care of, then you will fail. Get everyone on Twitter, ask people to blog, make sure everyone in your startup knows exactly what you are building, to whom, and why. Marketing is a job that starts with the sales person and goes all the way to technical support. There’s a lot we could talk about here, but just leave with one thought: Marketing is more than a function.

4. Placing all your bets on outbound marketing

You may not be familiar with the term “outbound marketing”, so let me explain. Advertising, cold-calls, trade shows, email blasts and many other marketing activities that push content and interrupt customers are the ‘outbound’ tactics. It used to be that you just had to have a great PR team, place great ads on selected magazines, and send a few direct mail campaigns to generate leads. Now, that doesn’t work. If you have only a limited marketing budget, then you should invest in “inbound marketing”, which means creating great content and works pulling customers towards your company by publishing content they are interested in. A combination of inbound and outbound is necessary for most businesses, and 80% of it should be inbound marketing, even before you start coding.

5. Thinking that your product is your brand

This is something brand strategists call “the product-attribution fixation trap”, or in other words “focusing on features of your products and ignoring everything else”. You see this all the time. Most websites talk about how great the features of the product are, and you can’t even understand what the product does. Or a company becomes known for one product they created and can’t make people realize they have other products as well. In some cases, people don’t even know the name of the company, they just remember the name of the product. If you have built your company around a product, then you may fail. Focusing only on product attributes will devalue your startup’s brand image, will  lock your efforts in the product and make you lose opportunities. It will also damage your company if you have to pivot and change the direction of your startup.

Where to Go from Here

Even if you don’t agree that these five key marketing mistakes may kill your startup, I beg you to at least think differently about the marketing role at your startup or company. A great way to understand some of these typical problems are expertly presented by Seth Godin in this presentation he gave at the Business of Software Conference back in 2008.

Seth Godin at BOS 2008