Month: August 2011

Earning the right to be an A-hole

The other night at a business networking event, someone brought up the idea of “earning the right to be an a-hole”. They were referring to someone who was well-known in our industry but wasn’t very helpful to up-and-coming talent.

I don’t understand how anyone could possibly think they have “earned” the right to be rude to others.

Yet many people – and companies – think like this. In all industries. I’m sure you can think of someone like this.

I want to know why some ‘successful’ people think they’re above other people. Maybe it’s something rooted deep in human evolution?

Or maybe it’s an opportunity to be more like Gary Vaynerchuk or Jason Fried. These guys are the anti-thesis. They’re successful, worked their asses off, and are ‘famous’ in their industry.

And they’re still genuinely nice, approachable, and willing to help others when they can.

Maybe that’s because these nice guys know happiness studies suggest giving back and helping others makes you happier. So you really can be selfish and make the world a better place!

I sure hope the Mean Girls of the business world don’t last much longer!

Attacking three sucky excuses for not marketing

When I naïvely helped start our tech company in 2004, I thought I understood marketing. I was a marketing major and a good student. Surely I knew the basics. I graduated cum laude with a marketing degree from an overpriced private college. The world was my oyster bitch!

But looking back, I didn’t know shit!

It took me years before I understood the most fundamental aspects of “online marketing”. I’m still figuring out the basics seven years later. Marketing is hard. Maybe that’s why I made up so many excuses for not doing it.

Even though I knew half of corporate america is in sales & marketing, for some reason I thought 100% of our startup’s resources should go into building a kick ass product. Marketing was an afterthought.

As long as we build a kick-ass product, it will sell itself.

I kept telling myself that. I whole heartedly believed it. So we kept spending time on our product. Way too much time. I violated lean startup principles so bad, I’m sure Eric Ries will cry if he ever finds out we spent two years building Printfection inside a vacuum before launching it to the public!

Even with a balanced 50% tech-minded, 50% business-minded team, it’s easy to make these kind of mistakes. In hindsight, they look amateur and rediculous. But lots of startups F-up marketing.

Here are some of the excuses I kept telling myself to justify not doing marketing, and the resulting consequences. Please don’t repeat my mistakes!

Excuse #1: Our product is awesome.

Our product really did kick ass. Our quality, customer service, and overall user experience were better than the competition. The problem was, I thought this was all that mattered. Our competitors continued with their mediokre quality, customer service, and user experience – but still kicked our ass. Why? Nobody knew about us.

Just because you build something awesome doesn’t mean it sells itself! The company with better marketing almost always beats the company with a better product!

For example, 37signals isn’t known to have the world’s best project management software. It’s ‘good enough’ software, backed by brilliant marketing. You could say the same about HubSpot. Both of these companies prioritize marketing as much as – or more than – product development.

Why? Because most people use the product or service they hear about first, usually a word-of-mouth referral from a friend or colleague. And if you build a relationship with your prospective customers, and they trust you, you can get away with an even less-awesome product!

A good developer could probably build a Basecamp clone in a few months. But it doesn’t matter. Because you’re never going to replicate their 130,000 subscriber blog, speaking gigs, and best-selling books.

Excuse #2: We’ll worry about marketing closer to launch

I waited until a week before launch to worry about marketing Printfection. I thought I could just whip together some form emails targeting online communities and they’d think we were so great they’d sign up with us right away. After all, we were helping them engage their community and make a few extra bucks selling t-shirts! How could they resist?!

Not only did I think most of them would try us out, I was positive they’d tell their friends. The business would start scaling, and I was going to become rich! Part of this came true. The business did start to scale. But then we hit a plateau. At $1 million in sales, things started flattening out. We couldn’t figure out why, nor did we know what would push us to $2 million.

Excuse #3: We don’t need more customers, we need to build the new features prospective & current customers are demanding!

When we plateaued at $1 million, we started asking our customers what they wanted from us. Mainly because all the smart people with popular blogs tell you to do this.

How could listening to your customers possibly be bad? When you’re listening to your most vocal customers at the expense of acquiring new customers who would pay for what you already have.

Your most vocal customers are the ones participating in your community forums, e-mailing new feature suggestions, and chatting endlessly on the phone. Their suggestions are probably awesome. I’m sure they will use the new features you build.

But the real question is: does building new features drive as much revenue as if you spent this time acquiring new customers who already love what you already have?

This is where we went wrong. We built tons of new features. All of them came from listening to our customers. But this didn’t translate to significant increases in revenue.

We should have spent that time figuring out how to acquire new users who already liked what we had built. Or spent the time trying to up-sell our current users into buying more of what we already had figured out. Or made our service easier to use, thus converting more potential customers (trials) into happy, paying customers.

Bottom line: building new functionality might be fun for you and your customers. But it likely isn’t the most effective way to grow your company.

Excuses #4,5,6,7,8,9, and 10

There’s a whole lot more excuses I told myself. Off the top of my head,

  • I can’t focus! Marketing is a distraction.
  • My time is too valuable for basic outreach. We’ll hire an intern to do that.
  • Who has time to blog on a regular basis? We’re trying to build a business here!
  • Who has time to submit speaking proposals and travel to conferences to give a 30 minute talk?
  • I can handle marketing myself. The rest of my team needs to focus on the ‘real’ business.
  • I’ll attend some local meetups. That’ll do wonders to get the word out.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

I’ll save these for another post. Right now I’m curious to hear from you: what excuses do you tell yourself to justify not marketing? Or if you are a great marketer, what do you tell yourself to justify time spent marketing?

Noah Kagan gives unsubscribers the sad face!

Noah Kagan of Appsumo - Email Unsubscribe Confirmation Page

When you unsubscribe from daily deals site AppSumo, founder Noah Kagan gives you the ultimate sad face. This is the most personal and intimate e-mail unsubscribe I’ve ever seen. Great job Noah!