The following is a guest post from fnBlog Contributor Vincent Turner, Founder/CEO of Planwise. This post, originally posted on the Planwise blog, explains why marketing matters when working on a startup. Vincent’s examples may be from 2011, but there is a lot to be learned from his experiences.
First let me say..
Traction, product, users, and all the numbers that represent this going from bottom left to top right are most important. I’m not going to suggest they’re not. I’m a product guy, I’m interested in building things and getting those things in front of people and getting them used. So everything I’m about to say assumes you’re building something The not so eloquent but utterly apt saying we have in Australia is ‘you can’t polish a turd’ … of British origin originally I believe.
For years I worked steadfastly on building amazing product, and in my previous startup in Australia we did. The technology & capability we built, still today, 2 years after it was first released, remains well ahead of what else is available but do you know how many more users we have now in that company than say 3 years ago? Well, not much has changed.
Marketing starts with..
A vision and a set of beliefs on which that vision is based. Sound familiar? It should.. that’s what all good products are based on as well. A big part of the success lies in understanding why you as a company are doing something, as well as what you are doing. Now, I’m over simplifying here in that it would appear I’m ignoring data driven decision making & product design. I’m not, data driven decision making gets to the execution of how we are going to solve the problem not why we are solving it. For example at planwise we have a belief that people hate the websites that are available today when they are researching online around major financial decisions. We have a vision to create an amazing product that ‘doesn’t suck’, if I can borrow from the Venture Hacks school of thought. To create an amazing product we will need to measure things to be able to iterate and refine our solution. But our vision & beliefs remain.
Ok, so back to the topic
So why does marketing matter at this early stage?
Planwise is a startup, we’re just out of stealth, we’re still in private beta but we spend a good amount of our time on activities that can only be described as marketing. Everything from writing this blog post and tweeting about it later, to spending a good chunk of our startup capital on a PR company as part of being at a conference we did a few weeks back.
Firstly, you don’t get marketing right first time. People are bombarded with literally thousands of brands on a daily basis. If you’re a startup then you’re starting at zero. People will make a decision to use your product/service before you’ve even had a chance to get it in their hands. You think your product needs iteration? I assure you your communication needs just as much.
Getting your message, your vision, your beliefs infront of people sooner is invaluable to help help shape how you will acquire customers. Walk into any VC office with an amazing product and one of the first questions you will be asked is ‘how will people find out about it’. If you’re building something that is not inherently viral like a social/sharing app then this is even more critical.
Marketing your vision early enables you to not only refine your message (the way you communicate your vision) but also helps you refine your product. By marketing early we were able to have conversations about our positioning that hugely shaped our product. It’s like the first cycle of product iteration “do people even want this?”.
Retractions are hard
Marketing does something else, it forces you to do things. It forces you to deliver things. Like you needed any more motivation right? But it’s been well documented. When people say publicly they are going to do something their compliance (a term used by in Influence & Persuasion, I blogged about this book a few years back here) goes up. When we committed to go to Finovate in early June I could never have imagined the hurdles ahead to be ready to get up on that stage in late Septmeber. I’ll cover those in a later post but I can safely say without the firm do or die date, we never would have progressed to the point we did. The single marketing based event forced absolute single-minded focus on the development required for demo.
At the conference the question we were asked by more than 90% of people we spoke to was ‘when will you be live?’. I provided an answer (November) and we are working to it but it wasnt until this week that I found an event to tie us to a date. That event (the Founder Showcase on Nov 8, feel free to vote for us at http://foundershowcase.strutta.com/entry/197772) will be when we announce that we are in public beta. That’s not an arbitrary date, I’ve had a development schedule in place for a week that puts us in beta in this week but I’m associating the development with the marketing activity as I know it will focus the team again. It will force us to make hard decisions about functionality and priorities.
Hit the ground running..
New tools & technology follow a fairly typical adoption model, especially in the case of disruptive technologies. It’s been heavily written about and in some respects all fairly common sense stuff. (You can find more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_adoption_lifecycle if you’re interested). In short (yeah, I’m really reducing it down here), in terms of what we are talking about here, the first 2.5% are going to try your product, just because it is new technology. The next segment are willing to take some risk but are going to need to understand the benefits.. the message. Marketing early enables you to move faster with the early adopters once you have a product ready.
Last week I did an interview on Fox Business, a brief 5 minute segment. They cut it short (in the version posted online here) but the main message talking about our vision is covered. I’ve had about 20 conversations with people validating that we are solving a real problem and the segment has helped us attract more media attention which will be linked to the full launch. Media coverage is a fickle thing and something I am fairly new to, to be fair, but it seems that getting coverage in one place assists in getting elsewhere in the future. By marketing early, even if only a couple of key but public items of coverage, you can move a lot faster when you are ready for launch as other outlets seem to use your current coverage as their version of social proof in deciding to cover you.
Truth is a construct..
And finally the benefit of marketing early is that marketing takes time.. truth is a construct that takes time to build. I’ve found that the time taken to have people ‘get’ your message is about the time it takes to get product associated with it to them. If you tell people what you are doing right now, by the time you get the product to them (or they get around to using it) the product would have evolved and being do something else.
I’ll finish where I started by saying I’m a product guy. Give me a well thought out, constructed, valuable product over a flashy campaign any day of the week. When your organisation has less people building than selling (in IT anyway) something is wrong (for the record ours is currently about 65/35 but should be 75/25 by November!) but in the same way that almost nothing is more tragic than raw talent left unused, a great product with no users is the same tragedy.
I am based in San Francisco and am an entrepreneur in the software space. I’m running a software startup that enables consumers to understand how the plans they make today affect their finances in future, so they can make better decisions. It is called Planwise and can be found at www.planwise.com