Tag Archives: startups

the one where I’m motivational

I think I’ve met this guy and many others very much like him.

When you’re in marketing, people come to you and want you to help them tell others about their crazy ideas. And sometimes, by the time they want to “slap the marketing on“, they’ve already convinced themselves that their idea is a no-brainer home run winner.

And oftentimes, it’s not.

The guys in Seth’s post reminded me of a guy who has pitched a couple of ideas to me. Each time, he spoke in nothing except hyperbole. He had the best legal team. He has the best business plan. And after he uttered one phrase, I stopped listening to him…

“There’s no way that this can fail”.

Well, there’s always a way that something can fail. You may have a great plan that takes care of everything you can control, but there’s no way to accurately predict and plan for thousands of market variables that you have no control over. Even “foolproof” plans don’t account for things like a giant meteor impact destroying all life on the planet. (hyperbole!)

Some entrepreneurs have not only conditioned themselves to believing that their idea is failure-proof, but they also have trained themselves to ignore those who question the idea. The motivational speakers and books will say not to listen to people who say “no” and will trot out stories about Fred Smith getting a C in college when he described his idea for FedEx (which is not true) or Charles Duell, the commissioner of the patent office, saying in 1899 that “everything that can be invented has been” (also not true)

But, in reality, listening to constructive criticism is a good thing and something that you should seek out. If you really believe in your idea and really think it’s impenetrable, then you should encourage others to try to poke holes in it. Some of the most valuable and least appreciated people on your staff are the Devil’s Advocate and Debbie Downer. They’re keeping your feet on the ground while you’re reaching for the stars.

I’m not trying to kill your idea. I have many crazy ideas of my own. I’m lucky to have people around me that tell me to go for it. But I also have people who can see the problems with my line of thinking.

You should be optimistic and be confident in the possibility of your success. And without a doubt, you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. But you should also be pragmatic and work for your success by making your idea as bulletproof as possible.

Just don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. (or Flavor-Aid)

maslow’s business strategy

I had no blog posts last week. I also had no power. I had no heat. Each day, I fought windmills. Finding a place to keep the family warm. Cleaning up from where the trees crashed into the house and all over the yard. A nightly battle to keep my pipes from freezing — while during the day in an ironic twist — I was also trying to keep a deep freezer and fridge cold.

We’re OK now. The mess has been cleaned up. Appliances are sucking energy off the grid. Insurance people will visit. Life is returning to normal. While there was a part of me that enjoyed the challenge of keeping everything going in less than optimal circumstances, it occupied my entire life last week and other non-essential things got pushed down the list of priorities.

It’s something to keep in mind as we enter what appears to be either a real or perceived downturn in the economy.

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which basically gives a stairstep / pyramid order of what a human needs to exist and be productive. The base consists of your personal physiological needs and sense of safety. Until those basic needs are met, the higher level functions of creativity, problem solving, and higher level thinking aren’t that strong.

People say that a down economy is a great time to start a business. But, is it?

As people are just trying to keep their heads above water, they may not have what it takes to make a successful venture. Until they have that sense of security and safety, they’ll have a hard time finding the creativity and problem solving skills to start something new.

So just as I’m currently in the process of Y2K-equiping the house for the next time the power goes off — maybe you should start planning your marketing and business plan for a worst case scenario while you’re still snug and secure. The best time to build a lifeboat is before you get in the water.

focus on the wrong things

Most people starting a business spend entirely too much time, energy and money playing house rather than marketing the business. They focus on setting up a corporation, printing business cards, pens, etc. And all that seems like a lot of work and they’re busy. But they’re not in business…not yet.

Here’s how you need to allocate your upfront time:
1% – do I have legal and financial structures in place to do business (copyrights, bank accounts, etc)
49% – Do people want to buy what I’m selling?
50% – Do I have a marketing plan?

You’re not really in business until someone gives you money for what you’re in business for.

Playing House

For many people who are starting a business, the first step of planning involves a call or online order to Lands End for the embroidered shirts.

Their next step is spending gi-normous amounts of cash with lawyers, branding consultants, and setting up accounting systems that have no cash in them.

Sure, you need legal, accounting, and marketing support when you’re in business.

But when are you “in business”?

Easy. It happens when someone gives you money.

Everything else up to that point is just playing house.

Marketing a Start-up
No Go Logo

Brioche Eaters

So I’m working with a web designer on a project for a client and I notice there are several glitches on the website when I view it in my browser.

The web designer emails –
“Yes. I’m building and optimizing for “Elite Tech Browser” and I’ll work out the glitches/bugs for the “Browser of the Masses” when I’m finished”

I respond –
“I’ve looked at the webstats of the client’s current site and over 70% of their visitors are using “Browser of the Masses” and over 40% of those people are using an older version of “Browser of the Masses”. While I’m a big fan of “Elite Tech Browser” and use it myself, we need to build and optimize the site for “Browser of the Masses”.

Web Designer comes back with –
“I’ll build it correctly first for “Elite Tech Browser” and then go back to correct the mistakes.” (emphasis added)


So many times we are hung up on what the market is supposed to do and how people are supposed to act. And we produce products and develop marketing to match those expectations.

That’s a good way to fail.

There are lots of start-up businesses that don’t make it past the first year. Some of that is because they failed to think about marketing early enough. But many of them go out of business because they think that their customers are just like them. And they try to sell what they think the masses need – rather than what the masses want.

I’ve always been on the fence about the old “customer is always right” mantra because in my experience I have found that the customer is wrong quite a bit.

But they do pay the bills. Do what they want and make it easy for them. Don’t try to herd the cattle. Pave the cowpaths.

And don’t be elitist with your marketing and your customer base.

Yes. They’re using an inferior browser. They’re shopping at big box stores. They buy crap to eat.
So build your website so it’s at least functional in a crappy browser on dial-up, stock your stuff at Wally-World, and put out a plate of Slim Jims and Twinkies.

And never think – “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

You’ll never get a-head that way.

William Henry Harrison

In my main keynote, I take the audience through a series of three essential elements for successful marketing. The first element, “Marketing begins with the Product” is usually met with a collective “Duh” from the room. But so many organizations skip this step. Many start-ups don’t even consider marketing in the early stages of product development.

The main question that you need to answer before you do anything else is: Do you have something that people want?

If the answer is NO, then all the “marketing” in the world isn’t going to help you.

Of course, if you’re the government, these rules don’t seem to apply. Current case-in-point: the new dollar coins. In case you haven’t heard, the US Mint is producing a new dollar coin that features all the presidents in the order they served. A new presidential coin will be rolled out every three months until 2016. It’s modeled on the 50 state quarter program and the Mint is betting the bank on it. (Ha!)

Bu these coins will be a flop. And there are several reasons. Aside from the fact that the portraits on the front of the coins are hideous, the main reason is that we’ve been through this twice before. I was given Susan B. Anthony dollars as “gifts” and told not to spend them. In the first year of circulation, I only saw one Sacagawea Golden Dollar as they were being handed out as trinkets by a bank at a home show. I did get nine of them once at a post office vending machine and finally had to take them to a bank to get “real money” since no one would take them from me for payment.

It looks like the Mint would have the sense to see that a dollar coin isn’t something that Americans want. If you produced something that customers had flatly rejected twice before, would you try a third time? The word on the street/blogosphere is that we’ll never see a successful US dollar coin until we eliminate the paper dollar, which isn’t likely.

Of course, the third time may be the charm. Since the project has to go on for the next ten years to get all the presidents, the public may accept them. Or in 2014, I may be trying to find a way to spend Calvin Coolidge at some place other than the post office.

Bonus Trivia:
—Jimmy Carter has to die by 2014…(he will be eaten by wolves in 2012)…in order for the program to keep working and have the Reagan coin come out. The coins have to be issued in the same order as the presidential terms and a president has to have been dead for two years to be on a coin.
—Yes. Grover Cleveland gets two.

Marketing a Startup

Last night, I flipped through the new June 2006 issue of Business2.0 which is usually a pretty good read. However, I got mad last night when I read this issue’s cover story about “the 16 steps to building a bulletproof startup”.

I became agitated about Phase 4 / Step 2 which is “Develop the Sales and Marketing Plan”.

It’s not the “how-to” I have an issue with here. It’s the placement within the process. When you list marketing as step #14 out of 16 steps, it’s no wonder so many startups fail.

Marketing should be thought of as early as possible in the process…nearer to steps #1 and #2. Of course, you’re not going to be able to hire salespeople, do advertising, etc at this stage, but you should be thinking of how marketing will interact with the product along each step of the start-up process.

As I’ve always said….Marketing is best built in…not slapped on.


Do one thing and do it well

Do one thing and do it well.

It works great for plucky start-ups and companies old enough to know it’s the only way.

It’s the companies in the middle that start reaching for everything and abandoning the core product/service that brought them to the top.

Brand fanatics call this “brand extention”. Brand extention only works to the point that you’re still in the business you started with. Once Taco Bell puts anything on a bun (and they have in the past), it won’t work. Pizza Hut can only truly get away with things involving crust, sauce, and cheese.

Two items in the news…
Walmart is going “upscale“.
Google is putting out a new product about every two weeks.

Good idea?

tags ::