Startup marketing and you

Cross-posted from Zolo Labs.

Marketing is defined as the act of promoting (and selling) your products or services. Folks in most industries consider it an important part of their business, especially in larger companies. For some reason, this seems less true in tech startups.

Instead, most founding teams concern themselves a lot with product and engineering. After all, if you don’t have a product, what are you going to market? While this may seem logical, I’ve come to realize this is a flawed view. I now believe that marketing is a critical function of all startup teams, right up there with product, engineering, recruiting, and, fund-raising.

To come to this realization, I first had to internalize that “marketing” wasn’t a bad word. While the above definition conjures up (at least in my mind) images of sleazy sales people, marketing is actually one of the most important ways of interacting with your customers. And really, are there any unimportant ways of interacting with customers?

As a startup, if there are even a few people out there who are actually willing to give you a few minutes (or seconds!) to listen to what you have to say, hallelujah! Marketing, then, is an opportunity for you to engage them in a dialogue, to explain to them why you exist at all. Most people filter out all forms of traditional marketing, not just because there are too many of them, but because they come across as insincere.

There was a time when running an ad would actually produce decent ROI. This isn’t true any more, of course, and in my mind, here lies the opportunity. Today’s connected world of blogs and social networks have presented us once again with a channel to actually connect with our customers and potential customers. To not just “market” to them, but to actually reach out and have a conversation.

While I filter out most forms of marketing as noise, what does catch my attention is authenticity. The new world of marketing then, is just this form of real and sincere social conversation. For tech startups, it’s the dialogue between the founding team, and their early customers, and their extended community. What an awesome chance to be yourself! It’s an outlet to express your philosophy, your beliefs, and your vision. And yes, perhaps to even talk about your products. It’s an opportunity to hear back from this audience, from those who actually care enough to respond! It’s an opportunity to help those who’re listening (or reading) in some small way, even if they don’t actually buy from you.

Do a search for “startup marketing” on your favorite search engine, and you’ll get thousands of results. But this is really it – this social conversation, where you can put yourself (and your company) out there. You can’t outsource this, this is you! As David Packard once said: marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.

I’ve written before that of the two sides a startup (the product side, and the distribution side), it is the distribution side that’s the harder one. Marketing, defined the way we just talked about, is key in solving this distribution challenge. And, defined in this way, it doesn’t need to be looked down upon either… after all, you are the marketing 🙂

P.S. Check out what we’re building: Zolodeck.

In search of the viral loop

Cross-posted from Zolo Labs.

Just finished reading Viral Loop. As we think about the distribution side of things for Zolodeck, I figured it couldn’t hurt to read about how a bunch of companies achieved massive scale.

It’s a good read… and certainly describes how things were done at companies like Hotmail, Twitter, Facebook, Hot Or Not (remember?), Bebo (remember?), MySpace (remember?), eBay, Flickr, PayPal, and even Tupperware (yeah, really).

It isn’t, however, a book of recipes. I didn’t really expect a book to be able to just tell me the 10 things I can do to fix distribution, I guess, and on that count the book was merely describing how awesome it is when you do achieve massive scale. Not how to get it.

Still, a very decent read, and did trigger a few thoughts for what one can do to address this. A lot of people in the startup space know this already, but it’s been sinking in for me more and more over the past few months: distribution is the more important of the two key things a startup needs to solve (the other being product/market fit, or product in general). And also that distribution is the harder of the two problems, and more than product, it is distribution that will make or break the company.

As I said, we’re thinking a lot about this for Zolodeck… and since this is so important, we’re erring on the side of over-measuring things to ensure we can keep a pulse on what the distribution story is looking like. What else can one do at such an early stage?