The Ultimate Start-Up Guide

Hard Won Advice from Venture Capitalists

Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.

But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.

That’s sobering.

 

Why do so many startups fail?

What can the successful ones teach us?

Is there a blueprint for startup success?

 

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.

 

“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler

 

Why Start-Ups Fail

Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?

Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.

ultimatestartupguidenew2Running out of money.  Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.

‘Camel Design.’  If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.

A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention:  this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.

Underestimating the competition.  Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should.  Give the competition their due:  The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.

 

“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani

 

Translate Failure into Success

How can past failures translate to a positive experience?

It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition:  If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.

 

“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee

 

Why Diversity is Important

I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups? 

Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.

 

“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini

 

What is post-launch depression? How do you guard against it? 

4 Ways to Transform Your Marketing In An Analytical World

Transform Your Marketing

Whether you’re in a large business or you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve seen that how products and services are marketed has changed dramatically in the past several years. Our social, mobile, always-on, data-driven, analytical, highly-personalized world is changing at a pace never seen before.

How your message reaches the world is changing as fast as the technology changes. And the role of marketing has shifted, requiring marketers and business leaders not only to understand traditional marketing but also to mine data to make decisions.

Adele Sweetwood has just released a new book, The Analytical Marketer: How to Transform Your Marketing Organization. As Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Shared Services for SAS, she guides marketing strategy and go-to-market programs. Her research and 30 years of marketing leadership make her the perfect executive to explain the shift in messaging and what to do about it. I recently asked her about the changing nature of marketing and analytics.

 

“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” –Eric Shinseki

 

Deliver A Great Customer Experience or Risk Extinction

Data analytics is all the rage in helping executives make decisions. How is it transforming traditional marketing?The Analytical Marketer_Book Jacket

Being a customer-centric business was once the exception, not the rule. Now businesses across all industries need to deliver a great customer experience or risk extinction. Marketing can lead this transition by defining what a meaningful interaction looks like for that business’s consumer. The best marketers today have a keen sense of, and clear focus on, the demands of the customer, through sophisticated analytics and data-driven methodologies. In our digital “always on” world, where we’re continually collecting copious amounts of real-time data about our customers, marketing is in the best position to own and leverage that data to understand and service the customer in ways that weren’t possible before.

 

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” –Arthur Conan Doyle

 

Develop Multiple Skills for Success

Since we learn that a numbers-orientation is left brain whereas creativity is right brain, is it really feasible to be equally skilled at both?

I don’t believe anyone is exclusively left-brained or right-brained. Being more analytically-oriented or more creative can certainly be innate in someone, but with training, new skills can be learned and developed. Marketers have traditionally worn many hats, so flexibility has been a long-standing component of the job. While a member of my team may not need to tap into her entire skillset every day, she absolutely needs a wide variety of skills that include analytics, social media, storytelling, and creativity to be successful.

 

You say that marketing is traditionally reactive: Launch, wait, try again. What’s changing?

The reactive approach to marketing simply doesn’t fit into a customer-centered business culture. Marketing now is more about science or math that is driven by an influx of data, channels, mobility, and, most importantly, changing customer demands. Analytics is driving campaigns. As a marketing department, that means leaning more on the work of folks who help analyze behavioral data and the digital footprint of our customers and prospects.

In fact, some of the most interesting work within our marketing department at SAS comes from those focused on data forensics. This is the practice of using data discovery to establish the facts of a marketing activity, a campaign, or a broader initiative. But beyond the basics of data digging, data forensics incorporates intangibles. They are the piecing together of anecdotal and qualitative tidbits along with quantitative data to develop a rich picture of what is working and what isn’t. With that data and analysis, we’re creating campaigns that are more focused on where customers are in their decision journey and what they are looking for. We’re not blasting an email campaign and waiting for results – we’re a step ahead.

 

“Data beats emotions.” –Sean Rad

 

Common Challenges

As you talk with marketing leaders across different fields, what are some of the common challenges they are facing?