Marketing an Early Stage Startup

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 1.43.09 PMWhen you’re a tiny company, marketing feels really hard.  Compared to your well-funded competitors, you can’t afford ads, you can’t get press to talk to you and SEO probably isn’t working very well yet.  But there’s one thing that’s easier for you than your competitors: building a great brand.  All you have to do is follow your intuitions and ignore everyone around you.

Customers don’t ever want to feel like their dealing with a corporation, they want to feel like they’re dealing with a person.  Your big competitors who have a marketing team ghost-writing boring, soulless spam from the CEO, and have to run every blog post through legal, struggle endlessly for this consistency.  Unlike them, you can effortlessly speak with an authenticity that everyone will feel.

When I started CrowdFlower we had a blog that I honestly felt guilty writing.  I loved crowdsourcing and I loved crazy experiments.  Smart advisors told me to get rid of the blog, it was unpolished and distracting.  If CrowdFlower was their company, their advice would have been right.   The blog was unpolished and distracting, no surprise since I was unpolished and easily distracted.  But I knew a lot about crowdsourcing and I cared a lot about practical visualization and good statistics – things that were important to our customers.

Over and over I heard how much our customers loved it – and not just the startups of the world.  Multiple VPs from major financial services companies have said it was the cutting edge feel of our blog that ultimately convinced them to work with CrowdFlower.  That crazy blog, by itself, drove millions of dollars in revenue and was crucial in landing our first customers.

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 1.48.22 PM Making everyone sort of like you is death for a startup.  You need to make a small number of people fall in love with you – those people are your first customers.  The best way to be compelling is to be authentic.  But the world is going to aggressively push you towards inauthenticity. Your parents will complain that your copy is unprofessional, famous angel investors will tell you that your logo sucks, well-meaning customers will call you up and suggest changes to your messaging.   This feedback is valuable, but you should ignore most of it.  Ask yourself: do I think my logo sucks?  If so change it.  Otherwise, leave it alone.  Remember: strong negative reactions are usually a sign that you’re on to something.

Good, authentic marketing will only get harder from here on out.

Shout out to Demian Rosenblatt, who designed our logo and planted all of these ideas in my head, although I wonder if he will agree with what I wrote :).

2 thoughts on “Marketing an Early Stage Startup

  1. Love it. We did the same in the eary days of Meebo. Elaine Sandy and I wrote a blog roughly every other day. When we got bigger and handed it off, it lost its authenticity.

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