Open Source Marketing

Why can’t marketing be more like the rest of Silicon Valley who have long shared ideas, resources and processes across startups?  Engineers have been doing this for decades and the open source movement takes this to a worldwide level.  Startup founders are also forming alliances (often facilitated by common VCs or groups like Y Combinator).  The startup stories of Apple and other companies show that many great technology companies came out of “clubs” of people that were passionate about technology.

But us startup marketers have stayed on the sidelines protecting our mediocre ideas and processes.  If we pulled together, we could dramatically improve our contribution to the success of startups.  Many of us have become complacent about accepting a flawed marketing process for bringing companies to market – as long as we’re better than the other guys we’ll always have a “job opportunity”.  But successfully bringing a startup to market is much bigger than any one job.  Knowing you’ve built a sustainable thriving company is a huge accomplishment and can put you in a financial situation that means you never have to worry about a “job” again.

In an earlier post I explained why I believe the startup marketing process is broken.  In a nutshell, today’s “long term” comp packages prevent effective startup marketers from specializing in the traction stage – the most important stage in building a valuable company.  Specialization and repetition are the ways to get really good at this “traction” process.  Shared learning will help all involved improve their processes much more quickly.

The startup marketing blog is my attempt to share my experiences and get the ball rolling on collaboration with other startup marketing leaders.  I really like that I’m now getting some great comments from readers.  Most of the comments begin with “I wholeheartedly agree” or something like that – which is great.  But what would be even more valuable is “I disagree and here’s where my experience has been different…”  Here’s an example of a really helpful comment from Rajiv Kapoor (scroll to bottom).

I’m also starting to connect offline with other startup marketing leaders who share my passion to develop a better startup marketing approach.  I share detailed process documents and get great feedback from these new friends.  Please consider this an open invitation to any other marketing leaders from VC backed startups that want to contribute to and learn from this effort.  I’m always open for a phone call or if you are in SF, a coffee.  Drop me an email at seanwellis (at) gmail (dot) com.  Of if you prefer to get a snapshot on my latest thinking on the key early startup marketing milestones, see this post.

Thanks Jay for your recent comment praising me for my openness.  It helped to remind me why I started this blog.

Huge Newsweek Article for Xobni

Newsweek published an article today that clearly positions Xobni as the leader among companies addressing the ubiquitous issue of “dissatisfaction with swelling inboxes.”

Xobni co-founder Matt Brezina has some great quotes throughout the article, but this one is the best “We’re at the front of the pack.  And we’ve got a target on our back.”

The article points out that Bill Gates called Xobni “the next generation of social networking.” Relationship based email management is going to be a huge space and this Newsweek article should help ensure that Xobni leads the conversation as the category picks up steam.

Why I Love Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley has a contagious energy unique from any place I’ve previously worked. New York City was close, but it wasn’t focused on the tech industry.  Palo Alto is the epicenter of this energy, but it spreads all the way into San Francisco, where I’ve been living for the last three weeks.

While the energy hits you right away, it’s the network that is the real value.  After just a few weeks I’ve already developed more valuable relationships than I did in 3 years in Boston.  For me, the best part of these relationships is exchanging marketing experiences.  Every meeting with another entrepreneur or startup marketing leader yields new insights into powerful marketing drivers.  And it is always a two way exchange of information.  Meetings end with a genuine desire to get together again soon and enthusiasm about all the new tactics we’ll bring back to our ventures to test.

David Weiden from Khosla Ventures has made the most valuable introductions.  And these introductions spread well beyond Silicon Valley.  Yesterday I met with Jamie Siminoff, a serial entrepreneur based in LA with multiple successful ventures already under his belt.  Jamie is one of the sharpest marketers I’ve ever met, despite never carrying a marketing title (he’s been the founder and CEO of his ventures).

Michael Mullany has been another great introduction from David Weiden.  Michael was the early VP Marketing at VM Ware, which went public in 2007 and is currently valued at $23 billion.  His knowledge around product marketing blows me away.  Given my core-competency in customer acquisition, we always have a great exchange of information that inspires new tactics for each of us to try.   We plan to bring other successful startup marketing leaders into our conversations which will surely generate additional insights and relationships.

Finally, David Weiden made the introduction to Xobni, where I am currently engaged in the traction stage of marketing.  The Xobni team is extremely sharp and I’m sure will be part of my relationship network for years to come.  Once again, while no one else at Xobni carries a marketing title, they’ve already added new marketing tactics to my arsenal.

Amazing it took me so long to move to Silicon Valley; especially since I went to college only about an hour away at UC Davis.

Bill Gates Demos Xobni in this Morning’s Keynote

We’ve had an exciting morning at Xobni.  Bill Gates demoed Xobni at the Microsoft Office Developers Conference, calling it the next generation of social networking.  A more practical comment was that he credited Xobni as helping you understand the richness of different types of relationships so that you can manage those relationships.

Below is a link to the portion where he demos Xobni:

My New Role as Interim VP Marketing at Xobni

My first week as interim VP marketing at Xobni was incredible.  In earlier startups we had to work a lot harder to get the customer acquisition engine cranking.

Naturally, I did a lot of due diligence on Xobni before deciding to join.  I discovered that Xobni has all the elements of a startup with enormous potential for marketing success. Specifically, it resolves real pain in a mission critical part of the daily work flow for a huge addressable market. And early users are thrilled with the solution.  They love how Xobni helps them manage the flood of email hitting their Outlook inbox.  After installing Xobni, it’s much easier to find contacts, attachments, conversations and more.

The PR opportunity for Xobni is also enormous.  The press is enamored with the visionary way Xobni addresses the email overload problem.  Xobni’s solution leverages the rich relationship data that already exists in the inbox.  In a sense Xobni turns email into your biggest and most important social network.  While this is a bit esoteric for mainstream users, it’s great for generating press.  In recent months Xobni has landed coverage in the Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc Magazine, Business 2.0, Webware, and BNET. Additionally, there are already over 5,000 blogs and websites that link to Xobni.   All this with no PR agency.

So I consider myself extremely fortunate to be the first marketing head at Xobni.  While a lot has already been achieved, there are still many dials to turn to accelerate Xobni’s momentum.  For confidentiality reasons I won’t go into the details of how I plan to market Xobni, but I will be trying to make frequent blog updates on my general startup marketing thoughts.  These thoughts are becoming crystallized as I spend more time executing the early stage marketing for Xobni.

By the way if you are curious why it’s an “Interim” role, this post explains the reasoning.

Where Did Your Comments Go?

Sorry to all that posted comments.  My credit card expired and my blog disappeared.  I’ve added a new credit card and renewed hosting for 2 years.

Fortunately I have backups of all the entries.  It’s going to be a fun night reposting the entries…

Launch Your Startup with a Trickle

Every startup wants to get a fast start out of the gates.  But starting too fast can be a mistake.  You only get one blank slate on which to build a reputation, so you better do it right the first time.  Pacing yourself at the start will allow you to offer excellent customer support as you improve the user experience.  It also lets you conserve cash until you can get a much bigger bang for your buck.

Start by driving just enough traffic to optimize every point on your conversion funnel.  Don’t worry about your initial ROI, since your overall marketing spend will still be relatively low.  Through an effective funnel optimization program, I’ve seen visit-to-purchase conversion rates improve by 2000% in just a few months.  In this case, funds spent on the exact same media after this optimization generated 2000% more revenue for every dollar invested.

Before you can begin your funnel optimization program you’ll need to determine your funnel’s baseline conversion rates through effective tracking and reporting.  If you don’t have a good tracking system, check out Google Analytics (it’s free).

Funnel optimization involves frequent tests, surveys and customer interviews.  Everything is worth testing, but surveys and interviews will point you toward tests that will yield the best results.  Be sure to isolate tests to one variable at a time.

Don’t test individual marketing programs until you have achieved significant funnel optimization.  Then many cost-effective marketing programs will be possible.  And you will also improve your chances of having satisfied customers to help you get the word out.

Career Advice: Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Through years of building marketing teams, I’ve been surprised at how few people really understand their unique talents and weaknesses.  Understanding and leveraging unique talents can propel your career forward faster than anything.  But watch out.  You may get promoted into a role that relies on your weaknesses.  Taking the time to understanding both is well worth the effort.

Watching my daughter play soccer this weekend reminded me of my early days of self discovery.  Like her, my lack of coordination was compensated by high levels of determination.  I didn’t want to be a star athlete, just above average.  It wasn’t until high school that I found a sport/position that didn’t require high levels of coordination to be successful.  As a defensive lineman on the football team I could claw and scratch my way to success.  Of course it helped to have some talent to find angles to stop a runner and discipline to stay in position.  But my success in football was primarily based on finding a position that didn’t rely on my key athletic weakness – limited hand-eye coordination.

I followed a similar path in academics.  With a B average in high school I barely scraped into UC Davis with a physiology major.  I thought I was on my way to achieving a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, but I quickly hit a hurdle in chemistry class.   Despite non-stop studying I could not wrap my brain around chemistry.  I couldn’t visualize it or rationalize it.  My brain just didn’t work that way.  And I could see organic chemistry looming in the future.  The horror at the thought of failing pushed me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.  When I spoke to my guidance councilor she suggested I consider changing my major.  This would mean giving up becoming a doctor, but I agreed.  It remains the hardest decision of my life, but it was also one of the best.  A business path was much more aligned with the way my brain functions. I quickly discovered in economics courses that I could get twice the grade for half the effort of my peers.  My academic success could never have happened if I didn’t work to understand my strengths and weaknesses.

This academic success opened doors for career opportunities.  Marketing was very intuitive for me and I was able to quickly rack up some early marketing successes.  In 2000 I leapt at the opportunity to run European operations for Uproar, following its NASDAQ listing.  But I quickly discovered that as President of Uproar Europe, I had very little time left to focus on marketing.  While I was decent at general management, marketing was my unique strength and true passion.  After Uproar was acquired, I vowed to continue to hone my marketing skills and to avoid general management.

Unfortunately many people think their only career objective should be to work their way up the organization.  Warning – avoid promotions that don’t leverage your strengths.