Not all good founders are engineers and even less are business savvy from the get-go. And while we can’t code to save our lives, we could probably learn… but it will take us years to become any good at it.
The same principle applies across almost all areas of business: for example, you can learn to sell and engineer-founders who can do so are like gold-dust. But founders who are good at marketing? Are even rarer than that. However, if you’re not good at it, or have no idea where to start or don’t even really know what it is and what it isn’t, just know that as a founder you’re in the best position to be great at marketing. Even more than a so-called marketing expert like us (You’re still my favorite experts and I love you - Your Ma).
You may think that we’re suggesting the end of our own business. That we believe anyone can do what we do and that we’re going to explain how in this post. You’re wrong. Just like the coding example, it will still take you years to become great at marketing. Therefore, hopefully we’ll still have a business while you’re working it all out. Thing is though, this is actually why we exist: our job is to help founders understand how to accelerate and kickstart their marketing from day one.
After all, marketing isn’t rocket science.
Anyone can do it, you’ll just be able to go much faster if you’re working with experts. But founders who directly engage with their marketing and want to understand how to make things function themselves are the most valuable to us. We want to work with those types of entrepreneurs.
Let’s take a look at how…
It’s Marketing Jim, but not as you know it.
When it comes to marketing for startups, there is a common misconception that it is all about flashy designs, creative ideas, and growth hacks. The truth is that marketing just isn’t that simple. Sure, we just told you that it isn’t rocket science and anyone can do it. But to truly excel at marketing, startup founders need to understand it is a multifaceted discipline that requires a lot of hard work, grit, as well as access and deep understanding of a variety of information sources.
The first thing that founders need to understand is that marketing is not just about coming up with the most creative ideas. While creativity is certainly an important aspect of marketing, implementing creative ideas that do not necessarily resonate with your target audience can actually do more harm than good. This means that well before you start brainstorming creative ideas for your marketing, you should take the time to understand your target audience and their needs.
Marketing also requires access to and a deep understanding of a variety of information sources. Founders should be able to analyze both quantitative and qualitative marketing data in order to make informed decisions about strategy. This means that you need to be able to ask the right questions of potential customers and use the information gained from these interactions to track the effectiveness of your marketing and make the necessary changes to address the right customers
Of course, all of this requires hard work and grit. Marketing isn’t something you can set and forget, or deliver half-heartedly or on a whim. It requires commitment to put in the time and effort necessary to understand your audience and craft effective campaigns. This means that as a startup founder, you need to be prepared to get directly involved.
You’re the expert, aren’t you?
As a startup founder, you have a unique advantage when it comes to your product or service: No one (and we do mean NO ONE) knows your product and industry better than you. This means that you are the best person to explain or talk about it.
Imagine you have the opportunity to talk to a journalist from a B2B publication in your industry. Would you be able to answer their questions? Of course, you would! As a founder, you’re passionate about your industry and product(s), which means you’re able to talk about it for hours on end (to the annoyance of your friends and family). Now, imagine that this conversation is recorded, transcribed, and summarized. Suddenly, you have a crystallization of what you think about your industry and the pain points of your potential customers. Not just an interview published once.
The insights gained from this conversation can be used to inform your marketing strategy and ensure that your messaging is aligned with your values and goals. If people are not currently getting the same idea about your product or service as they would from a direct conversation with you, then it might be time for you to reevaluate your existing marketing strategy.
One of the keys to effective marketing is being able to communicate your value proposition in a way that makes sense and resonates with your intended customers. As a founder, you’re in a unique position to do this. You have a deep understanding of your product or service and the pain points your product or solution it addresses. This knowledge should allow you to craft messaging which speaks directly to your desired customers and which should position your product or service as a solution to their problems.
If you can’t sell, you’re dead.
As a startup founder, your ability to sell is crucial to the success of your business. In fact it’s a well-considered principle that founders should be able to sell. This is because being the first salesperson allows you to demonstrate your market knowledge, understand the product and pain points, and deliver that to potential customers for an immediate feedback loop. If you’re the first one solving this problem - and can do it to a decent level yourself - then it is much easier to hire a commercial lead later on and pass on the knowledge you’ve gained, as well as understand the issues they may face when selling in the future.
But selling is just part of the equation. It’s all good and well to be a great closer - and one that can do so with ‘the good leads*’ - if you can’t find or attract them. In addition to selling, founders should also be able to effectively market their own product or service, and if you can sell… then why can't you be a good marketer? After all, the skills required for both roles are quite similar. We often say marketing is sales, but on a mass scale.
When selling you need to be able to communicate your value proposition in a way that resonates with your intended customer. Sounds like marketing, no? In marketing, you craft messaging that speaks directly to this target audience and positions your product or service as a solution to their problems.
Being able to effectively sell your product or service, demonstrates your market knowledge. Being able to effectively market your product or service, means doing the same thing but reaching a much wider audience. The skills required for both roles are similar, so if you can sell, it’s likely you’ll be quite effective at marketing as well.
Outsourcing does not mean delegating your soul
A brand is much more than just a logo or a catchy slogan. It's the embodiment of your business, values and mission. Who better to represent all of that than the founder of the company? As a startup founder, you have a unique perspective on what your business stands for and what sets it apart from your competitors or alternatives in the market.
When it comes to branding, authenticity is key. Your marketing needs to be a true reflection of your organization, and that can't happen without your input. You should be involved in every aspect of your brand, from the design to the messaging and tone of voice.
But branding isn't just about making your business look pretty. It's about creating a connection with your customers, building trust, and establishing a relationship that lasts. And founders are in the best position to do that.
Think about it. Who better to communicate your company's mission and values than the person who decided what they need to be? Who better to talk about your products or services than the person who knows them inside and out? And who better to build a relationship with your customers than the person for whom the success of the business is the be all and end all?
As Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, has said, "Don't delegate the soul of your organization." Your brand is the soul of your organization, and it's up to you to make sure it's represented accurately and authentically. You are the driving force behind your business, and your marketing should reflect that.
Of course, building a brand takes time, effort, and a lot of hard work. It's not something that can be accomplished overnight, and it requires a lot of trial and error. But by taking an active role in your marketing efforts and staying true to your vision, you can create a brand that truly represents your business and sets it apart from the competition.
You are the master of your domain
As a startup founder, it's essential to learn and understand the fundamentals of multiple business disciplines: marketing, finance, product development, and hiring. It can seem daunting, but taking the time to master as many of them as you can allows you to be a more effective and reliable leader.
When it comes to marketing, many founders believe it’s all just a bunch of cool designs, creativity and - where possible - some growth hacks. But marketers need to understand data, be experts on their potential customers, possess hard work and grit, and know their product and industry inside and out.
As a founder, no one knows your product and industry better than you do. Therefore, who can explain or talk about it better than you? Who can therefore sell it better than you?
Selling is a critical component of marketing, and the skills needed to sell can thus translate into effective marketing strategies. As your marketing needs to be a reflection of your business, and your mission, who can better represent that than you?
Marketing alone won't save your organization. However, it can allow a less-than-perfect product to find an audience. Effective marketing can help you reach new customers and build a loyal following. It can help you differentiate yourself from your competitors and build a strong brand identity. By taking the time to learn, understand and play an active role in your marketing, you set your business up for success. As a startup founder, you're in the best position to be the best marketer for your business. So, roll up your sleeves, and get to work!
*with apologies to David Mamet, Jack Lemmon and any fan of Glengarry Glen Ross.