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Why you need a marketing person in your early stage startup

Sumit Gupta
August 2010


If you are a technologist, its likely you think you need to build a product as soon as possible and then hire sales people to sell it.

And oh yes, somewhere along the way, you might need to hire some marketing people to do PR (public relations) and brochures and stuff.

I contend that you need a marketing person in your core team from day 1.

What does Marketing do anyway?

Sergio Zyman, former CMO of Coca Cola once said, “The purpose of marketing is to sell more product, to more people, more often, at a higher price."

Marketing figures out what product to build so that customers will pay money for it. Technologists can figure out what product to build too, but often fail in figuring out if customers will pay for it and more importantly if the product fits into the workflow of the customer. How customers buy products also requires a lot of understanding to setup the right distribution and figure out the right sales model. team.

I used to work a VC that always insisted that every startup they funded hired a marketing guy asap if they didn't already have one in their team.

But what will the marketing gal/guy do while we are building a product?

Startups should always be talking to their prospective customers.   Typically, the CTO of a startup does a lot of the early customer conversations and product validations.   This is fine.   The value that the marketing guy brings in these conversations is to find out if a customer will actually pay to buy the product you are building.

Lets first look at a case study and then come back to what the marketing guy does while the startup is building a product.

Case Study: Without a marketing person

You (as a technologist) working in a big company realize that there is tons of data in the web logs, but there is no good tool out there to troll through all the data and improve your web strategy.     You talk to others in your company and other big companies, and you have hit the jackpot on a new startup idea.

The startup launches, you hire a team, and the development startups.  You continue to meet folks in product marketing departments in large companies to validate your product idea and guide the feature set.

When the product is ready, however, you discover your sales guys are not able to close the deals.

What happened?   It turns out that the purchasing decision for web analytics products are done by the web team.   You were talking to the product marketing people in business units.   They can recommend, but the web team decides.   And the web team has to consider the wishes of all the business units.

Now what would a marketeer have done?

The key thing a marketing person would have done is figure out who makes the decisions on buying web analytics software.  He might realize that there are two choices: either show how your web analytics software is *much* better OR convince most of the  business units in the company that your web analytics software is better.  The key thing is that the marketing person would have learned is that the buying decision is not as simple as convincing one business unit and it will be an uphil battle to convince the web team that they should replace their analytics software.

That is why you need a marketing person.

But what will the marketing guy do till we produce a product?

Product marketing consists of two things: product (inbound) management and product (outbound) marketing.   Inbound product management is about being the quarterback in a product team; the product manager helps the engineering team priortize what to do, brings focus to the team (most importantly what *not* to work on), brings customer feedback back to the engineering team, while at the same time cutting through what customers ask for versus what they really need.

I believe outbound (product) marketing starts on day 1 as well.   Start a blog, become thought leaders, raise awareness of the problem in the market, start briefing press.  Yes, start talking to the press.  Start talking to late stage investors.   All of these things need to start early, so that when you come out with a product and start getting customers, you hit the ground running.  

Written by a biased marketing guy .... :)

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT

Sumit Gupta
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