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!
Go to: http://a16z.com/2015/03/06/go-to-market-bootcamp/
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.
So 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.
There’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.
If you’re in San Francisco and wished you could join an incubator but for any reason you didn’t, now there’s another option. Hackers & Founders “The Co-Op” is a different type of incubator, focusing more on business advice than in giving you money, is an interesting proposition.
How The Co-Op Works:
- Founders in The Co-op get together for weekly dinners where they listen to speakers and mentors and become a community.
- Founders are encouraged to become advisers in each other’s companies by trading small (0.25% to 0.5%) equity stakes.
- After working together on things like learning how to pitch and present, as well as the ropes of funding, founders are connected to the investment community (office hours are setup with a prominent angel in the community, personal introductions are made and AngelList).
- Towards the end of the program short video pitches are made and investors can view them online.
- Finally, there’s a party where investors meet founders in person.
For a full description and the history behind this new incubator-style program, check out the full article on Hackers & Founders site.
Remember the Pepsi Edge? Dr. Pepper Berries & Cream? How about Coke C2? They all have one thing in common: complete failures.
Despite market research and more money than we startup founders can ever dream of having, the big guys are also prone to disastrous product launches. A recent HBR article “Why Most Product Launches Fail” sheds some light on why this happens. Here’s what they say:
The Five Causes of Flops
- The company can’t support fast growth
- The product falls short of claims and gets bashed
- The new item exist in “product limbo”
- The product defines a new category and requires substantial consumer education – but doesn’t get it
- The product is revolutionary, but there’s no market for it
What About Startups?
A product launch is different from a company launch, but especially for web and software startups they are typically one and the same. So although the five elements HBR outlined in their article, startup founders should also lookout for other indications of potential failure in the horizon. In “18 Mistakes that Kill Startups“, Paul Graham covers the basics. If you’re going to read only one article about startup failures, you can’t go wrong with Graham.
For a VC perspective on startup failures, David Feinleib at Mohr Davidow Ventures has a good list. And ChubbyBrain posted a nice analysis of startup failures post-mortem. Read, learn, avoid death. Good luck!