When is the Right Time for Startups to Hire the First Marketer?

I love the fast pace of working at a startup in a marketing role.  There is always so much to do – particularly around customer acquisition.    Turn new campaigns on, scale highly effective campaigns, cut the bad ones…   Other campaigns can be optimized by testing new messaging and user flows to improve conversion rates, etc, etc…  On the web it’s all very iterative and there is always something that can be done to improve efficiency and scale acquisition drivers.  It is the dream job for any ADD powered entrepreneur.

But that’s post launch.  Before that you have to lay a foundation to maximize your chances of hitting the ground running when your product emerges from private beta.  Important marketing activities include ensuring your product meets real needs of a large addressable market and defining necessary tracking systems to manage and grow campaigns.  I’ve outlined some of the critical pre-launch activities in this post.

So what happens in between these two stages?  If you’re anything like me, it’s primarily a time of agitated chomping at the bit.  It takes time for engineering to get a product ready for mass market adoption (fixing bugs is the main point of a private beta).  There is only so much research and planning that a marketer can do before the marginal benefit drops below the marginal cost of their time.  Managing a private beta, even a very successful one, takes relatively little time. And optimization is usually irrelevant during private beta, because most early adopters enjoy figuring out particularly tough product installations.

I’ve heard some argue that marketers offer little or no value pre-launch.  I would strongly disagree with this.  However, I am coming to the realization that it probably makes more sense for marketers to be project based consultants during this pre-launch stage.   As the product gets very close to public beta launch, the marketer can join in a full time intensive role.   Before that, they can spread the cost and benefit of their expertise across multiple startups.  Their ultimate selection of a startup to join full time will be based on an actual understanding of the market and experience working with the team.  This knowledge will help them make a better choice.

This is a change from my earlier recommendations on the ideal marketing process for startups.  I have approached my current role with the goal of figuring out an optimal marketing process – rather than applying firm preconceived ideas of the perfect way to bring a company to market.  I still believe marketers should specialize in either early stage startups or companies that have already achieved firm traction.  Mastering the first part is nearly impossible without lots of repetition and focus.

Blockbuster/Circuit City Not That Bad

CNet Buzz Outloud jumped on the negative bandwagon about the Blockbuster/Circuit City merger in yesterday’s podcast. Rather than a private conversation with my iPod, I figured I’d blog about why I think the merger actually makes sense – at least from a marketing perspective.

It boils down to this:

Blockbuster = store traffic

Circuit City = impulse purchases (when enough foot traffic)

A perfect analogy here is movie theaters and malls.  Movie theaters pay much lower rent per square foot than retailers in a mall because they add value to all the other tenants.  The retailers that receive the bulk of this value are those that sell impulse purchase items.

Personally I rarely go into an electronics store without making an impulse purchase.  Also, every time I go to Blockbuster, I get bored standing around as my kids take a long time picking out a movie.  If I could browse a section of electronics (think Sharper Image type stuff) while my kids are browsing movies, I’d likely make some impulse purchases.  Of course this requires putting smaller cheaper electronics near the movie rental section to draw you in… Occasionally I’d even wonder over to the bigger ticket items.

Check Out the Signup Process at TripIt.com

Jamie Siminoff recently suggested I check out the sign up process for TripIt.  I highly recommend you go check out the TripIt sign up process if you haven’t already.  It is absolutely brilliant and highlights how important it is to think about marketing as you are building your product.

Here was the comment I posted on Jamie’s blog comment:

One word – “Smooth!”

I’m blown away by the signup process. Very easy, low commitment. After you have received some value, they encourage you to register – to get more value.

Also some interesting viral marketing/social networking angles. Just when I thought I wouldn’t be tempted to join another social network, I think this one would actually be useful. I added you as a friend, so it will notify us when we are in the same city.

Thanks for pushing me to finally check out TripIt. I’ve been hearing about it for a while. Definitely some stuff to learn from these guys.

Why So Long Since My Last Blog Post?

It has been hard finding time to make blog posts recently.  As anyone who has been through a startup knows – there are never enough hours in the day.  To make things even more challenging for me, I moved up to San Francisco to join Xobni while my wife and kids stayed down in Southern California to finish up the school year.  So most weekends I’m down South and most weekdays I’m up in San Francisco.  That pretty much rules weekends out for blogging – I have a lot of missed time to make up for with the family.  But I’ll definitely be posting as often as I can – it’s fun and helps me to crystallize my thoughts…