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Start Looking for a Marketing Co-Founder
Written by David Iwanow
Monday, 25 June 2012 12:44

There have been a number rants about stop looking for a “technical co-founder” but what about a rant about start looking for a “marketing co-founder” so people will actually hear about you and your awesome product!

Sure you have some startups that just seem to work well and users love them without massive marketing budgets like Instagram but think about all the many products that close down because they failed to get enough traction in the market.  

gorilla marketing

There are so many times that I hear about a new product and after a short trial I never go back either because it’s not ready for prime time or it’s so badly marketed it falls off your radar. Marketing should be one of the most important considerations as no company got successful without some type of marketing so it’s about time you made sure marketing staff are an early team member.

Over the last 5 years I’ve consulted in the startup field and encountered various responses including acceptance, flexibility and denial.  Let’s start with the main issue. You are looking to get people onboard to ensure your product is a success and often times you don’t always a large pool of possible candidates you trust or want to work with.

I feel the main insight around startups is they need to learn to be flexible in their marketing models and responsive to change as most people are time poor these days and don’t have time to waste shooting the breeze while you mine their head for insights only to ignore everything and eventually fail.

Don’t Wait for Perfect, Do Something Now!

I often hear entrepreneurs trying to sell in their product or idea but when questioned about marketing often it’s a footnote in the discussion that will be picked up a later point once you have the "perfect product" ready. The reason you need a marketing co-founder is they are the person who is able to answer the following questions from investors:

  • What is the competitive landscape like
  • How long will it take to build an audience
  • What sales channels will you use
  • How much will you need to market the product
  • How will you build a brand online?

I feel that there are too many times products fail to launch successfully as the technical co-founders are focused on the perfect solution that will work across every platform and won’t accept the idea they can roll out a phased launch.  It’s far better to get a digital presence and gradually roll out features as they are ready than wait for the perfect launch window.

It’s Not a One-Way Relationship

You are building your platform, website or business for the purpose of profit so I really think it’s time to start placing some more importance around paying people for the time they are really worth.  If you have no real idea about how to leverage social media, track visitors by web analytics, build a digital strategy around SEO or get better results from a small PPC budget; you should not expect to get these for free.

There are far too many times people assume marketers have nothing better to do than help you make more money. There are way too many times I hear the response “I haven’t considered that” or “I wasn’t aware of that”, these are signs that you need a marketing co-founder!

Website Startups Often Fail!

I did some consulting around a large directory project several years ago, but the big red flag that was they were marketing the platform around a domain they had not yet secured.

 I won't use their domain but as an example they were branding their platform Marketing.com but had only registeredMarketing.com.au which they had just assumed didn’t really matter as people would just Google their name and the TLD didn’t really matter much.

Part of the paid engagement involved competitive analysis which provided a detailed analysis of just how much time and effort they would need to be able to meet their business plan traffic goals.

I was also able to advise the client of the significance of this domain problem and sourced the contact details of the existing domain owner and started negotiations to buy it.  There are many technical founders who have a great concept but often miss the basics on how to market it or just make fundamental fails.  The competitive insight delivered was a paid engagement and to this day their directory still has not launched so if you had of taken the equity stake they offered it would have been still worth zero.

There are far too many websites based on their ability to capture unrealistic traffic growth that just fade away and far too many directories, so any business involved in these types of projects I always advise to get paid upfront for these projects and be wary of accepting shares as payment if they haven’t even launched.

New Software Platforms Often Stall!

I have done some often exciting consulting on web 2.0 based platforms but there seems to be too much reliance on using traditional offline sales channels to drive sales/leads and SEO or social is just not seriously considered.   The platform had developed an amazing API but had pushed that into the background to focus on the agency and direct business model which was highly competitive.  The problem was that you could see that this model was still not working after 2 years and was only turned around recently when they flipped their business model to focus on their API.

They are still trying to get across the basics around link building, content creation or even social media and have been passed by competitors that entered the market after them with an inferior product but do a great job in marketing. If they had a marketing co-founder as part of the mix they would have pushed the API earlier and harder as the best free business development tool available, but also would have worked to build a scalable digital strategy.

Traditional Businesses going Digital

These are the type of businesses that I see with the biggest potential as they have a physical store location that benefits from branded online traffic, have existing email marketing databases or have enough capital to take an initial hit on much of the startup investment required to succeed.  

While they can also succeed because they have a physical product they can ship which will often translate into bigger profit margins they still need a focus on marketing and not just technical. These are the types of businesses that you want to be getting involved with as they often have a very scalable model that works perfectly with digital marketing.  

These businesses often go wrong when they produce websites or applications that are technical advanced but fail usability testing or offer a feature no-one cares or wants to use.

A good marketing co-founder should be able to notice and then adapt business plans to deal with issues such as a limited supply or demand of products.  One such common issue with a new business is that they have a real audience but they can’t maintain more than three month’s stock.

A marketing co-founder will understand how they can deal with gaps in product lines by building relationships with affiliates but also be able to determine the trends in the market as to what new products you should be developing next.  A technical co-founder might be sidetracked working on a complex algorithm to deal with just-in-time delivery or how they can reduce database API calls to optimize your server.

If you are working with a physical business that is going digital you could consider a revenue share to keep their digital expansion startup costs lower, but you need to be in a position of being able to make businesses decisions and not just answer phones and handle their “social media” channels.

What brought this post on?

I’ve got no issue with technical co-founders and sure they do a whole bunch of awesome stuff that I’ll struggle to replicate easily, but I do have an issue with these startups working with marketing consultants in casual matter for that quick little question. 

 I see that startups often turn to consultants because unlike marketing agencies we don’t push for paid engagements as hard as we should from day one!

Most marketing types are open and helpful as if we honesty like the idea or person we will spend time discussing it but I think early in the discussion there needs to be a line drawn in the sand when free stops and paid begins. There is no reason that you can’t bring a marketing consultant onboard as a marketing co-founder if they need deep industry insights or product concepts need to be researched and developed for the product to get off the ground or funded.

Just as a web developer would charge you for researching a solution to a technical problem, so should more marketing consultants.  I’ve worked with some great business startups and some have grown into quite large and successful companies, in return many have referred work and been a good business mentor at times.

But part of my issue is that I feel far too many startups are too focused on the technical elements and looking after themselves than working with a marketing co-founder to ensure their product/platform success.  I’m not saying there are not a number of technical co-founders who aren’t awesome marketers but often it’s not given as much focus as it should by many startups and their product slowly dies.

One final point is that even when assistance is requested many technical co-founders often don’t listen to any of the advice or guidance given.  It also annoys me that I find many startups are happy to waste people’s time on feedback forms, alpha testing and product reviews only to break a product’s functionality in a redesign and then get upset when people stop using it.

So I feel that marketing co-founders and technical co-founders should be the part of a startup early in the process if you want to increase your chances of success!

David Iwanow -

David Iwanow used to run his own agency but can now be found working inside digital marketing agency Amnesia Razorfish. I enjoy a bit of social, love some web analytics data, and try to make sense of affiliate marketing and performance marketing. also hook up via Read More >>


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