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Are You Really Ready for Startup Marketing?

marketing 101Earlier this week, I attracted a new client in less than an hour. In fact, we shook on the deal even before an agreement was put together.

Now, I’d like to think it had to do with my sales skills but, truth be told, it had more to do with the client being ready to do marketing.

It sounds like a straightforward proposition but marketing is something that needs to be embraced as a way that will add value to a company and help drive its growth.

If, on the other hand, a startup isn’t completely convinced about marketing, their efforts will be less than successful, leaving them even less convinced about marketing.

It means startups need to recognize and accept the need for marketing. They have to realize there will be costs involved, some of the work will seem strange or different, and results may not happen overnight.

They can’t get into marketing because the board thinks it’s a good idea, the CEO is excited about getting media attention, or their competitors are doing it. These are reasons to think about marketing but they’re not drivers to take the plunge.

So how does a startup know they’re ready for marketing?

1. They have a good story to tell that an audience needs to discover. It’s a story that will drive awareness of what they’re working on or a product that’s starting to gain traction. In either case, the story is interesting enough that it will resonate.

2. There is a willingness and budget to make marketing happen. No matter how you do it, marketing costs money. It’s an investment in a long-term commitment that may not see customers break down the doors right away.

3. The company is ready for the spotlight and able to take the scrutiny it will bring. If a product hasn’t been launched yet, the people, the idea and the problem being solved are rock-solid. If the product is being sold, it works, it delights and the sales and marketing funnel is smooth and seamless.

4. Marketing is part of an integrated strategical and tactical plan to drive success. It is not seen as something latched on to the business or something that will magically generate more business. Instead, it is treated an important cog in the growth engine.

For any startups considering marketing, these are important questions to ask. If you have any doubts, marketing may not be the top priority or you may need more time to get ready for it.

If you’re looking for advice on how to jump-start your marketing, let’s talk about how I can meet your needs.

Engagio Snapped by Influitive

engagioIt has certainly been an interesting entrepreneurial ride for William Mougayar since he launched Engagio in December 2011.

The service, which aggregates your online conversations in one place, was spawned by a conversation within the comments section of Fred Wilson’s blog. With some encouragement and financial support from Wilson (and other investors), Mougayar created Engagio to a much acclaim.

Today, Engagio took another interesting twist with its acquisition by Influitive, a Toronto advocate marketing startup that has raised more than $11-million.

“Every day a new community site, blog or social hub springs up where people recommend products and share user experiences. Each represents an enormous opportunity for B2B marketers to connect potential buyers with enthusiastic customers,” said Mark Organ, Influitive’s CEO and co-founder. “Engagio’s technology will help marketers discover these conversations and share them with advocates who can join the discussion and promote their brand.”

As part of the deal, Mougayar, will become Influitive’s Chief Evangelist, Advocate Marketing. “We believe Advocate Marketing is the next big thing in marketing, and it will probably have more impact than inbound marketing and customer marketing, especially for the B2B market,” Mougayar said. “Peer validation has evolved to become really powerful and effective. In addition, Influitive will integrate Engagio’s innovative suite of social technologies into AdvocateHub, its popular advocate marketing platform.”

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Are Canadian Startups Starving?: Canadian VCs Answer

Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 7.45.54 AMAfter seeing David Crow’s tweet last week, I wrote a post about how his take was bang on. Then, I asked seven Canadian VCs for their thoughts. (It’s a lengthy post; click on “read more” to see all of it)

Mark MacLeod, Real Ventures
I agree with him. There is always money for great founders and great opportunities. The perception there is a lack of VC in Canada is driven by two things: i) An insufficient understanding of how VC works. To deliver the returns our LPs expect, we need to filter hard and select the best opportunities; and ii) because of this harsh filter, most of the companies that approach VCs don’t fit. With new funds coming online coast to coast and with US VCs investing here more than ever, there has never been a better time to raise VC in Canada (save for the web 1.0 bubble)

Roger Chabra, Rho Canada
On whether there is NO money for startups in Canada…the data proves otherwise. Entrepreneurs are getting funded by both VCs and angels at a good pace. If a startup team is struggling to raise money in today’s environment in Canada over an extended period of time, they need to take an honest look at themselves, their product, the market they are targeting or their approach to raising capital. Entrepreneurs should evaluate and optimize based on the feedback they receive.

On whether there is ENOUGH money for startups in Canada…in general, entrepreneurs (and VCs, who are in the process of trying to raise funds, will always say there isn’t enough money around. Well funded VCs who are actively investing might argue otherwise. In terms of whether there is enough money in Canada for tech startups today – to me at least – it doesn’t feel like we are there yet, but it does feel like we are getting close. Over the last two or three years, we have seen the Canadian ecosystem finally have multiple players at every stage again - seed through series A and B through to late stage. Globally, a very small percentage of of businesses receive VC because VCs have a very specific criteria that fits only a small subsection of the businesses out there.

Canada shouldn’t be any different. In order to deliver the returns that investors in VC funds demand, only the companies that have the potential to reach a billion dollar enterprise value relatively quickly (typically 5-10 years) should be VC-backed. Again, we don’t yet have a balance between the amount of VC and amount of VC-backable startups now, but we are approaching it. Most of the best startups are getting funded and IMHO we have at least 25 companies in Canada now that I think have the potential to have big exits. Once we have some multi-hundred million and billion dollar exit outcomes, we can handle expanding the capital pool even further which, of course, is great for everyone involved.

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Myth: The Lack of Startup Capital in Canada?

Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 7.45.54 AM

When I saw this tweet last week by David Crow, my first reaction was he was out in left field given the common assumption there isn’t enough capital to grow and accelerate Canadian startups.

But the more I thought about David’s tweet, the more it struck me there’s a lot of truth in it. As much as it would be great for entrepreneurs to easily get the money they need to nurture and develop their ideas, startups are risky propositions that are just one of many options for investors.

At the same time, it is important to separate enthusiasm, energy and activity within the startup ecosystem from the investment realities. By nature, entrepreneurs are bullish, which leads many of them to see the ability to raise venture capital as a given or right.

But here’s the thing: most startups will fail due to a variety of reasons: a bad idea, the wrong people, an inability to tactically execute, etc. And then there’s the ultra-intense competition from other startups around the world with the same ideas and businesses.

When you take all of this into consideration, it is easy to understand why investors need to be selective about what ponies to bet on. While we gripe about a lack of startup capital, it may be the Canadian startups with the most potential are getting the funded, while the rest are left to bootstrap, borrow, apply for incubators and accelerators, tap into tax credits, etc.startup capital

It is also important to have some perspective. A key part of our complaints about the lack of capital for Canadian startups is we look at the aggressive investment happening south of the border, and then wonder why the same climate doesn’t exist up here. Truth be told, Silicon Valley is another planet with a different set of rules and a complex cabal that marches to the beat of its own drum.

My take is the startup financing landscape is healthy and getting more robust and mature. Sure, it would be better if more startup entrepreneurs were able to access capital, but there is a growing infrastructure starting to emerge to support good ideas.

This is most evident in the growing number of incubators and accelerators that help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and businesses. There are places such as Ryerson’s DMZ nurturing young entrepreneurs, while the Entrepreneur 101 program at MaRS is a great resource for entrepreneurs to learn from people in the trenches.

As someone immersed in the startup community, the startup scene is better, more active and oozing with more potential than ever – and this comes from 15 years within the Canadian technology landscape in a variety of roles.

I think we’re on the right path. Maybe the pace isn’t quite as fast as some people would like but we’re definitely heading the right direction.

Tomorrow, I’ll publish commentary from Canadian VCs who I asked to  provide their thoughts about David’s tweet.

Looking for help to jump-start your startup marketing, let’s talk! 

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Turn Customers into Your Startup Marketing Machine

viralDoes it make sense for B2C to blow their brains out on marketing?

It’s an interesting question that WattPad’s Allen Lau thrust into the spotlight last week with an insightful blog post that traditional marketing makes no sense for most online companies. Allen argues the most effective marketing for consumer Web companies is worth of mouth.

In theory, word of mouth is a great option because it’s cost-efficient and effective given the personal nature of a recommendation. People trust people, not brands.

There are some key issues for word of mouth to work its magic.

First, the product has to delight.

It must meet a need in a user-friendly, straightforward and easy way. It can be no-frills or oozing with bells and whistles. Either way, it has to do the job to make the customer’s personal or professional life better, more productive, profitable, etc.

Second, you have to arm your customers with the ability, tools and encouragement to share the love.

It’s one thing to have a product that delights, it’s another to embed the product and the product experience with the power of share-ability.  In other words, make it dead simple for someone to spread the word without going through many hoops, spending a lot of time or doing a lot of work.

This could involve social sharing tools, quick online forms to tell a friend, writing about customers on your blog, celebrating their successes in your newsletter and, heck, even taking them out for dinner (a la Freshbooks).

Whatever the tools or approaches, the goal is arming your users so they can become your marketing machine. For B2C companies that want to maximize their marketing activities, it’s always a good thing to get other people to do the grunt work.

This isn’t to suggest other marketing approaches are the wrong choices or won’t bear fruit but having lots of customers who are happy to willing to share the marketing load makes life a lot easier.

Looking for a way to jump-start your startup marketing, let’s talk!

 

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BlackBerry 10: A Classic PR Case Study

bb10While the new and much-anticipated BlackBerry 10 has finally launched, there’s another story that I think is as compelling: the public relations campaign that has happened over the past six months that let RIM arrive at today’s launch day with the wind in its sails.

The PR work has been an impressive performance given there was so much negativity and pessimism surrounding RIM’s future and the frustrating stumbles it had made – anyone remember the not-ready-for-primetime PlayBook?

Using a combination of outreach, selective information leaks, transparency and access to senior executives, RIM has managed to capture a growing amount of positive sentiment. It means RIM has a good opportunity to launch BB10 to a receptive audience. It doesn’t guarantee BB10 will be a success, but it won’t be for a lack of PR activity.

It is important to remember that consumers, the media and bloggers are fickle. They love you one minute, they dislike you the next. And getting them to change their minds can be a huge challenge.

RIM’s ability to get a growing number of people to give it another shot or, at least, the opportunity to make a new impression should not be under-estimated.

For startups, there are many lessons to be learned from RIM’s PR activities.

Perhaps the biggest is the importance of building relationships with reporters, the media and analysts. It doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it takes a well-defined plan, focus and a lot of grunt work. If you’re successful, it provides the opportunity for your story to get a fair hearing, which is all you ask.

More: With the new launch, BlackBerry is the company’s new corporate name. April Dunford has some thoughts on why this is the right move.

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