Among all the uncertainties startups face, perhaps none is bigger than trying to figure out their go to market strategy. Should they shell out big bucks and equity to a veteran marketer with domain and startup experience? Should they take a conservative evolutionary approach or hit the market hard with millions in marketing spending? Are there some key tasks to execute before aggressively acquiring the first customers? With all the alternative ways to go to market, it’s no surprise that startups are constantly second guessing their go to market approach and/or their marketing leader.
Over the last few weeks I’ve refined my plans for helping startups address these challenges. This is mostly based on feedback from several startup founders and VCs, but it’s also based on the time I had to reflect while on vacation.
To recap my “journey” to date, I recently finished a six-month interim VP marketing role at Xobni, which publicly launched its product in May of this year. Xobni is considered by many to be among the hottest startups in Silicon Valley. I am now a marketing advisor with Xobni. I limited the fulltime role to six months because of my belief that the first six months of marketing are the most critical to long term success of a startup. I came to this conclusion following two previous startup roles where I ran marketing for several years from launch to NASDAQ IPO filing.
It’s important to note that the most important marketing drivers were different in each of my last three startup marketing roles. It was the process of discovering the most effective drivers that was the same, as well as the steps executed before developing drivers.
While at Xobni I also read “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” which supported my belief that there are patterns that most successful startups follow. The author, Steve Blank, also reached this conclusion as the founder, CEO or head of marketing at several successful startups.
As I mentioned in my last post, I plan to use a more leveraged approach with startups going forward. Each startup must have a passionate, talented marketer in the marketing leadership position and recently raised their series A round of VC financing. My role will be to help them focus their time and resources on the most impactful projects necessary to bring their company to market. Because of my previous experience successfully navigating this critical stage, they will have the confidence (both self confidence and from other execs and board members) to aggressively execute an efficient go to market strategy, without most of the second guessing that so often wastes time and energy at startups.
The key development since my last post is that I’ve formalized two specific programs for bringing these companies to market (at different price points). The goal is to concentrate my efforts in the areas where I can add the most value in the least amount of time. Both programs start with 2-3 days of intensive onsite progress assessment and planning. Essentially we assess everything that has happened in marketing to date and plan the sequence of what needs to happen over the next six months. Then we’ll review/refine the execution plans for each of the key projects for the next six months and consider external resources where needed. Finally we’ll schedule weekly phone calls to monitor progress and help with key challenges. The higher level plan will also include unlimited email Q&A.
Over the past several weeks I’ve been introduced to about 25 startups (primarily via VCs) that have the right profile. Clearly this is a niche with a lot more need than I’m capable of meeting. Still, I believe my new approach will enable me to effectively work with up to two new companies per month (initially I’ll cap it at one per month). By limiting myself to companies that are at a very specific stage, I will be able to constantly refine and improve the approach. Again, I’m focusing on startups that have recently raised their series A funding and have a talented/passionate fulltime marketing leader. These companies should seek the right balance of conservative and aggressive execution. It’s very easy to get too aggressive too soon when you have just raised millions of dollars. But eventually you must be aggressive to realize your full potential.
You may have noticed that some of my old posts are no longer available on my blog. Because I view my service as a key competitive advantage for the startups I work with, I’ve decided not to provide this information for free to their competitors through my blog. This was a difficult decision and hopefully my readers will understand. I will still post general information about marketing a startup on my blog as well as assessments of effective drivers, but will no longer include detailed posts on process. I may offer some webcasts in the future where it is easier to control the dissemination of information. For anyone who is looking for specific reading materials on process, I highly recommend Four Steps to the Epiphany. My approach incorporates some key element from this book, but obviously there are other things I’ve discovered through my own experience that aren’t covered in the book.
I’m excited to start with this new leveraged approach at Eventbrite on Monday.