Finding First Customers

The topic of what sort of marketing a startup should do to land the first few customers has come up a few times lately so I decided it was worth a short, simple post. Question: What sort of marketing should my startup do to secure our first couple of customers? Answer: None. Simple, huh?  The truth is that your first couple of customers aren’t customers at all, at least not in the regular sense of the word.  They’re believers.  They are going to be a crucial part of defining what your startup does and sells.  They are going to take an astonishing risk by being the first customer for a completely unproven solution in what is probably a nascent market delivered by a team that has likely never run a company before.  Even if they get the product for free, they’re investing time and energy getting users on the system, integrating it into their environment, and providing feedback to you.  They are going to have to be patient while you work out your bugs and deliver iterations and finish the darn thing.  And they’re going to have to do this while other people in the company (the ones that would prefer that they didn’t participate in your little startup experiment at all) complain and hope the project will fail so they can laugh like hyenas a scream, “I told you those guys didn’t know what they were doing!!” I’m a big believer in the power of marketing but no marketing will deliver this kind of a risk-taking life saver.  Nope, these customers are going to do it because they...

Google Chrome OS: Dissecting A Great Marketing Announcement

Last week I was having a heated discussion with another marketer about Google’s marketing and my position was that Google’s marketing hasn’t impressed me much.  And by marketing I mean the way they launch, message and position products.  The exception has been Google Chrome which I’ve written about before and I thought was a good launch.  My argument was that they didn’t do a great job of articulating the value of their products. Today the Chrome team has announced Google Chrome OS and I’m going to have to go back to my friend and eat crow because this is a fantastic piece of marketing. The blog post on the announcement can be seen here.  Go and read it.  This is textbook example of how to build momentum and mindshare in a market (while causing your key competitor considerable grief) with a product that isn’t going to see the light of day for a year and a half. Here’s how they do it: Establish credibility – In just 9 months they now have 30million regular users of Google Chrome.  This is the “we know what we are doing and now we are going to do something even better” part of the announcement. Tell us what it is – “Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.” Read that again.  It doesn’t seem hard to come up with a one-liner that describes what your product is or does but almost nobody does it well. I’m at the first line of the second paragraph and I’m paying attention (see point 1) and I...

VC Pitch Template

I’ve been working on a presentation for a startup to use to pitch their business to VC firms and I’ve used and shared this template enough now that I thought I would share it with all of you.  Every company is different and my experience has been mainly around Business to Business companies but in general I think the flow works.  The slide where you describe current customers will change for a business to consumer play but otherwise the rest applies. Here is the flow: The vision Market opportunity Customers The business problem What is the product/solution Value proposition Sales Partnerships Acquiring and retaining customers Revenue model Development plan Team Current customers/pipeline Fund raising VC fit It’s up on Slideshare and anyone can download it. Am I missing anything? Rocket Watcher VC Fundraising Template View more documents from April Dunford. First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on Twitter or...

Looking for the Winner when Markets Collide

Some of the most interesting ideas for new startups come from the intersection of markets.  If I look back at some of the V1 products I have worked on I see it over and over again. One thing to keep in mind when developing the messaging and positioning around such products is to make sure you are targeting the right buyers.  Whenever there are markets colliding there will be one side that always “wins” over the other in the gray space in the middle. You can probably still make sales to both sides but selling to the winning side will be much, much easier. While I was working with the Nortel Incubation program, we were specifically focused on the points where the traditional Telecom space was bumping into the world of IT.  Web.alive was a great example of a product that took traditional voice and text communications technology and applied it to creating a more immersive, interactive collaboration environment.  When we spoke to customers it was clear that when IT-based collaboration and voice functionality collided, collaboration was the winner.  It was the IT groups that did the technical assessments of the product and the traditional telecom folks weren’t even at the table.  Trying to position this product as “telecom” and selling it to that side of the house would have been pointless. A conversation with the CEO of a startup I had this week gave me another example of this.  His company’s product functionality falls exactly into the communications side of the house. When they took their product to market, they made sure they had messaging and positioning that...

Startups and The Vision Thing

David Crow has a thoughtful post about how startups need to think through their exit strategy in order to make smarter decisions along the way to make it happen.  He talks about how he’s surprised that almost every startup he talks to has a plan to get acquired by one of the big guys.  Here’s an excerpt: When I talk to startups everyone seems to think that acquisitions are a dime a dozen. That even based in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Waterloo that they are prime acquisition targets for Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Cisco and other Valley companies. Which surprises me! Sure all of these companies have done Canadian acquisitions, they are the exception and they are done for very specific reasons. While I agree that successful tech IPO’s are rare (especially right now) and that a venture-backed enterprise must have a realistic exit strategy, I also think that the focus on exits at the very early stages of a company can be an innovation-killer.  Particularly when it stops companies from thinking about the bigger picture of how they might really disrupt a market. As a consultant, I’ve had a chance to talk to a large number of startups here in Toronto.  One of the things I find really frustrating is how few of them have a longer term vision for the company.  Most of the companies I talk to have a product idea.  While they can certainly see their product growing and getting popular, the “vision” for the company seems to end there, with the obvious ending being, “…and then we get acquired by a big company.”  This happens so...

Will PR own Customer Relationships?

Todd Defren over at PRSquared (an awesome blog for PR folks that you should read) raises an interesting question about the future of PR and poses that the role of PR is shifting.  Here’s an excerpt: When people talk about the “Death of Public Relations,” it doesn’t bother me at all.  I know what they are talking about.  They are talking about the death of MEDIA RELATIONS. That’s what PR’s been all about for the past 50-odd years.  After all, during that era, the only way to reach the masses in a reliable way was through mass media. Now that that’s changing, our approach can change.  PUBLIC RELATIONS can fulfill its mandate to improve RELATIONS with the PUBLIC. Media Relations will still have a role.  PR will not be subsumed by Customer Service.  PR has a role as an overlay; a facilitator; we serve as both a counselor and tactician  across these areas. That got me thinking – who should own customer relationships inside a company?  Aren’t product marketers (or perhaps product management) the natural folks to own that?  Why do customers want to have a relationship with you in the first place?  It certainly isn’t so that you can serve up marketing messages to them.  They want to have a dialogue with someone who can answer their questions, provide additional insight about the product or service, someone who can act on their suggestions.  Is PR equipped and mandated to do that? I posted the following comment on the blog post: In my experience, building customer relationships has been the domain of product marketing (and sometimes product management), not...
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