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The Universe Will Try to Stop you from Building a Great Product. Don't let it.

IMG_20150827_193444_HDRThat quote, by Simon Vallee, product manager at Slack resonated with me at the Product Hunt One Year Anniversary event last Thursday Aug 27th in Toronto. That event was organized by Daryna Kuyla of Deloitte’s Digital Innovation Lab, and attended by over 450 people.

I tweeted that statement along with its corollary that Simon echoed:

If you stop being relentless, you’re screwed.

It is true that most startups initially face a tremendous amount of skepticism about their product, to the point of being often ridiculed, because they are seen as going against all odds. That’s normal, and that is a common starting point. And I would add to the statement that it’s not just building a great product that’s difficult. It’s about getting out into the market.

If everything in a startup was so obvious, the business would look more like a franchise, and not a startup. In a franchise, they hand you the book and processes on how to operate the business, and they supply you with what you need. They even choose your location based on optimal traffic. You just show-up and operate the business.

When bringing a truly innovative product into a new market that doesn’t exist yet, or is ill defined, you are not always competing with other products. Rather, you’re competing with user habits, their time, and whether they believe in your ideas or not. And if you are targeting businesses with your product, companies have already engrained processes that are old, and take time to change.

Even established companies need to continue being relentless. Imagine if UBER caved in to the local cities and taxi cartels objections. Instead, they continued plugging away, and have been relentless in pushing and propagating their agenda and services worldwide, into every area that justified their business case, even if the cities objected to it.

Every year, thousands of new tech startups are founded. Several hundreds will make headlines, a few hundreds will acquire significant users and customers. But only a few dozens will make a lasting difference and stick with our habits, have us either buy their product/service or use their App.

You are fighting the universe, because the universe is complicated and doesn’t want to change. And there will be several barriers and challenges along the way.

As a startup, you are lifting a lot of weight in order to get noticed, to continue plugging and to win. Being relentless means that you never stop, even if you stumble and fall along the way.

What is important is to have the determination to finish. To join these two metaphors, you need to watch this incredible video of athlete Heather Dorniden Kampf who takes a terrible fall during a 600 meters race. Nonetheless, she gets up even more energized and determined to finish the race. How she ends the race is nothing short from spectacular. Trust me and click on this short 2:48 minutes video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjejTQdK5OI&feature=youtu.be]]>

Startup Marketing Compendium of 12 Posts on Positioning, Branding, Messaging and more

startup marketingI continue to see some very smart entrepreneurs missing out on exploiting what marketing can do for them, as they keep failing to understand marketing itself.

I’ve written a lot about startup marketing because my perspective has been unique, having started with a Big Co marketing foundation (Hewlett-Packard), ran a Fortune 500 global marketing department (Cognizant), and shifted in the past 7 years to being a startup founder twice (Eqentia, Engagio), worked for a third one (Influitive), and lately been mentoring/advising dozens of startups in that particular domain.

In this post, I’m going to highlight and offer a brief synopsis of 12 key marketing related articles I have written, and this format will tie them together. They are listed in the order written from February 2013 to August 2015. If you read them in that order, you will be up to date with my thinking pertaining to startup marketing. Maybe one day I will organize them into an e-book.

1. CMOs vs. CIOs Roles and the Pitfalls of Native Marketing

Covers what I call The Native Marketing Trap. Most tech startups are digital natives, and so is the predominance of their marketing. They stay online and market solely via growth-hacking techniques, user activity and analytics data because their business model is online. But that’s a trap and it gives you blind spots.

2. Startup Marketing is for Growth

The hardest part of marketing for a startup is to take it seriously, to commit to learning it, and spending time on it. If you’re a young startup CEO/founder who has come from the product or engineering ranks, you probably don’t know what you don’t know about marketing. 8 quick marketing lessons for startups.

3. Positioning: The Battle for Your Startup

Much of my inspiration for this post was borrowed from the seminal book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. That book was written in 1981, and it is a marketing classic. I added my own context for startups and companies experiencing hyper-growth, in addition to modernizing some of its concepts to reflect the current online realities. The book’s original direction focused on advertising as the method of communicating a brand’s position in the marketplace. But today, the blog post is arguably the new Ad unit of today’s world which is dominated by online influences. Therefore, much of the basics of these principles (with my adjustments) squarely apply.

4. Forget the Product, Start Focusing on the Model

if you have gone way past the MVP and are well into the product/market fit, do not forget why you started the company. It’s not to develop the product. It’s not to get tons of users. It is to find out how the product is generating value for the user or customer so you can translate that insight into a sustainable revenue model. Nothing else is more important after that point. In this post, you’ll understand Peter Drucker’s view that your customer doesn’t really care about your product, but they care about what the product does for them.

5. Being Different with your Marketing Thinking

Whether you want to get noticed via creative and fun interruption, or inside the stream of content that we are already consuming, you need to get noticed. Unless you’re already famous, the easiest way to get noticed is by being totally different. Head-turning different. Eye-popping different. Attention-grabbing different. Purple Cow different. Passionately and decisively DIFFerenT.

6. Introducing Product-Value Alignment: What Comes After Product/Market Fit

Reaching Product/Market Fit is a key objective in the life of a startup, whether it’s a journey, a continuum or a given point in time. But right after that, it becomes really important that your product roadmap remains totally coupled with your value proposition. This post includes a value proposition writing quick guide, and a checklist for it.

7. The Only 5 Types of Messaging You Need

This is one of the most popular posts I have written, with over 2,700 retweets equating to about 2M views (and counting). It helps you put some order into your messaging, according to a hierarchy, comparable to the structure of a rocket: 1) the nose, 2) the guidance apparatus, 3) the propulsion system, 4) the fuel reserve, and 5) the fins. You can apply this process to your website, marketing material, or pitch.

8. Hack Your Growth, But Don’t Hack Your Marketing

To gain some perspective and see the forest from the trees, I made up a diagram to depict the “whole marketing system”, and if you start from the top down gradually, you can appreciate the hierarchy of cascading effects from one stage to another, and the objectives inside each phase. Not everybody needs to know marketing, but everybody needs to understand what marketing does.

9. Why You Don’t Need To Worry About Branding Until After Product

This was the second most popular post I wrote, with over 2,000 social shares. Branding is bigger than your product. It’s part of the love affair that your customers, prospects and the market in general, will have with you. It’s what you stand for, the emotions you evoke inside your customers’ hearts, what they will remember from experiencing your product, and it’s also what you stand for in terms of values and causes you may associate with. Brand power, done well, has infinite value, and it keeps growing almost forever. Whereas market share has a finite limit, mindshare doesn’t. The mind welcomes great ideas, makes room for them, and likes to keep them forever as long they bring good feelings, or offer a real benefit. As a startup, if you begin to worry prematurely about your brand, you are really wasting time.

10. Focus Your Startup Marketing on the Mind, not the Product

This is one of my favorite posts, because it is so pertinent to a need I am still seeing. If there’s only one post you can read, then this is the one. Your user growth is giving you a false sense of success, because user growth alone is not enough to let you become a great company.Simply put, high user growth doesn’t equal high market awareness or valuation. As a startup, you need to grow your brand in the eyes of the market, specifically targeting the market that you haven’t reached yet. Therefore, you should never be content with viral growth, organic growth, referral growth, or any type of quantitative growth, even if you are adding 250,000 users per day.

11. Communicating Your Vision vs. Your Product

Here’s a classical mistake I’m seeing with some early startups that have a compelling vision, during the time when they come out with the first iterations of their product. They try to blurt out their vision on the marketplace instead of communicating a user behavior they want to induce. If you’re a startup, your vision was great for telling (and selling) the VCs about you and getting them excited, but your market needs something more tangible and concrete, that they can work with. If you have a great vision, think about how you want your users to boot-up your vision. That bootup starts with the product, not the vision.

12. Why a Strong Brand Means Higher Growth and Better Valuation for your Startup

This is a follow-on to #10. Startups that don’t focus pro-actively on building their brand are making it harder on themselves to command a higher valuation in the venture or capital markets. As much as users and engagement contributed to your early valuation, brand and its strength are an amplifier of your market value. It is like a premium that the market or investors bestow on you, as a reward for having penetrated their minds and the market at large.


Communicating Your Vision vs. Your Product

vision-320x240Here’s a classical mistake I’m seeing with some early startups that have a compelling vision, during the time when they come out with the first iterations of their product.

They try to blurt out their vision on the marketplace instead of communicating a user behavior they want to induce.

If you’re a startup, your vision was great for telling (and selling) the VCs about you and getting them excited, but your market needs something more tangible and concrete, that they can work with.

So, don’t introduce your vision to the market if it’s too hard to see the linkage between that vision and what the product does for users. If you are still early, the first versions of your product and your lack of initial critical mass usage will not provide enough gunpowder to visualize the realization effects of that vision.

UBER didn’t come out saying they wanted to revolutionize public personal transportation (although they may have told their investors that). Instead, they came out with a compelling product that enticed users to dip in it, and by virtue of their market success, we could see how they are revolutionizing the old taxi industry.

If you have a great vision, think about how you want your users to boot-up your vision. That bootup starts with the product, not the vision.

The gap between the vision and its realization is far too wide when you start, so it’s better to focus on what the product will do in its initial days, and let the vision’s achievement be an after-effect of your product success.

The reverse side of that problem can also occur if you overbuild the product way ahead of its propagation. If you overbuild to the point where you might think that you’re showing a version that is closer to your vision, you will inherit a very difficult on-boarding problem. The steps will be steeper for hoisting your users on your product.

But if you underbuild, or go to the market with an underwhelming offering, you may not be giving your users enough to hang on to, til you get them to that vision you have.

I’m currently working with two startups that represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One has overbuilt their product and is being challenged to hoist users on their platform. Another one has a great vision, but is having a challenge in explaining the initial boot-up process in a compelling way.

They each have a different set of challenges. To the startup that has overbuilt, I’m saying to them: “A mature product is not your vision; you’re making it more difficult for users to get on-board.” And to the one that’s putting the vision ahead of the product, I’m saying: “Park your vision in the background, while you put your product in the foreground.”

Market adoption with a less mature product is more important than a comprehensive product with no users. It’s easier to evolve your product usage and user loyalties as your product evolves with every iteration, instead of assuming they will jump in both feet because you have a “perfect product”.

This begs the following question which I have been asked: “Is the vision inconsequential to inducing the initial user behavior?”

My answer is that it’s not inconsequential in the long term, but it is less relevant in the short term. In the short term, you want to induce behavior that has a benefit to the user.

In reality, individual users don’t really care about whether you achieve your vision or not (or what it is). They are lured by what you offer them and how compelling it is.

Did you know that by using UBER you were contributing to them revolutionizing the transportation industry? No. Or by sharing on Facebook, you helped them become a content/media juggernaut? No.

So, what I’m saying is: Your vision is great. Park it, but focus your communication and delivery on what your product will do, i.e. to make the collective user engagement get you closer towards that vision.

If you say you want to boil the ocean, your vision will not be believable. But if you give each user a little kettle to start with, and focus on getting them to boil a little water in their own way, then before you know it, their collective actions will be enough to boil that ocean.

Visions are generally fuzzy, and they aren’t believable initially. They only get clearer as your market footprint increases.

=> Don’t just introduce your vision to the marketplace. Introduce your product rather.

=> Keep the vision for the VC pitches. Let it unravel on its own to the market.


Venture Capital, Entrepreneurship, Marc Andreessen, B2B, SaaS, Growth Hacking, User Experience – Roundup #20, Nov. 24 2013

Startup Management is a manual selection of 15 article links from the hundreds of weekly articles being curated. Previous issues are available here. For regular updates, please visit the website’s River of news (as a stream), or Magazine view (by category).

Venture Capital and Global Ecosystem

A lot of good articles this week in the Venture Capital and global Ecosystem categories. Rather than list them here, here are the direct links for these categories: Venture Capital and Ecosystem.

Marc Andreessen

Here’s a transcript of an insightful interview of Marc Andreessen by Andy Serwer of Fortune, Inside the mind of Marc Andreessen. Must read. He talks about the state of IPOs, building long lasting companies, disruptive models, the shared economy, and where advertising and marketing are going.

B2B Marketing

There is a certain grind to B2B marketing in the early stages of growth. In Five Content Marketing Growth Hacks for Enterprise Startups, Ross Simmonds outlines 5 of these activities: 1) Webinars, 2) Presentations, 3) Videos, 4) Case Studies, and 5) Content.

VC/Entrepreneur Relationship

Brad Feld says to Create Structure out of the Gate and You’ll Thank Yourself Later, via a guest post by Ari Newman, where they advocate to treat your early debt investors like board members and institute structured governance expectations from them.

Raising Venture Capital

Alex Turnbull, CEO/Founder of Groove has 5 questions you need to ask yourself prior to taking VC money, in Why I Turned Down $5 Million in VC Funding. Bottom line is that your goals and the VC’s need to be aligned. There’s a good discussion in the comment section of that post, and on USV.com.

Employee Equity

Andy Rachleff of Wealthfront had a long post in First Round Review, The Right Way to Grant Equity to your Employees, where he lays out a process, some principles and formula. Fred Wilson responded, mostly agreeing with Andy, but pointing to a difference in how equity is to be calculated, in Employee Equity.

Product Management

Top Hacks from a PM Behind Two of Tech’s Hottest Products from First Round Review is a long read, but contains some really good nuggets of practical advice in product management from Todd Jackson who worked for Mark Zuckerberg and managed the fine line between Mark’s vision demands and the product development realities. “You can’t leave any chance for misunderstanding, or for even one person to walk away from a meeting with different conclusions.” And “When engineers are motivated, even if they run into something they don’t know how to do, they’ll say, ‘We can totally figure this out. We’ve got this.


Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman explain How do you Turn Competing Stakeholders into Collaborating Product Partners. You’ll need to figure this out when you have customer partners, business partners and technology partners, each with diverging goals and priorities.

SaaS Strategy

There is a gem of a chart in this article by Indy Guha, The race for growth: Why SaaS marketers are feeling the pressure. Developed by Bain Capital Ventures, and named “The “Revenue Pit-Crew for Cloud Apps Growth”, the table breaks the key enterprise SaaS tools by the various needs and outcomes: 1) qualified leads, 2) initial buy experience, 3) churn reduction and upsell revenue, and 4) cash for growth management. Must read if you’re in the enterprise/SaaS market.

User Experience

How do you provide design feedback when a team gets together to review a product? Jake Knapp of Google Ventures has Nine Rules for Running Productive Design Critiques. Not surprisingly, tact is as important as substance. And Frank Guo says to Create Great UX in an Agile World by Conducting Lean UX Research, if you’d like to inject agility into the user experience process.

Growth Hacking

Brian Balfour outlines 3 phases of evolution in Traction vs. Growth. They are 1) Traction, 2) Transition, and 3) Growth. They correspond respectively to 1) product/market fit, 2) discovery growth levers, 3) turning up growth levers. It’s a great read, and includes the metrics you need to look at, for each phase.

Software Development Choices

Should you build mobile apps in native or cross-platform code? “40 percent of developers have started building native, only to switch to HTML5, and 31 percent have started building cross-platform, only to switch to native” says John Koetsier in HTML5 vs. native vs. hybrid mobile apps: 3,500 developers say all three, please. However, Ravi Pratap says there’s and alternative to responsive design, in Responsive Design vs. Adaptive Delivery: Which One’s Right for You? “With adaptive delivery, the most significant difference is that the server hosting the website detects the devices making requests to it, and uses this information to deliver different batches of HTML and CSS code based on the characteristics of the device that have been detected.” Finally, a third article from Abhay Parasnis on a related topic, Native, Web, Platform: What’s the best way to build a new app?, where he lays out the pros and cons of each approach, from a developer’s perspective. That SUMs it up! Don’t forget to share on Twitter,  add us to your Feedly, forward to a friend, follow on Twitter, read in Flipboard, or just visit the website often and daily. To sign-up, please click here. William Mougayar Founder & Chief Curator Startup Management]]>

Weekly Roundup #19, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, SaaS, Customer Loyalty, Product Management, CRM, Nov 15 2013

Startup Management is a manual selection from the hundreds of weekly articles being curated. Previous issues are available here. The content is on the thin side this week, as I’m being much more selective with the curation. We will stick with a weekly curated update, and not do a daily one. For regular updates, please visit the website’s River or Magazine view.


In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a Zemanta blogger praises the book by the same name. These are: 1) Absence of Trust, 2) Fear of Conflict, 3) Lack of Commitment, 4) Avoidance of Accountability, and 5) Inattention to Results. The book goes through these, including action steps to overcome them. The fictional case study in the book is a tech company.

Competitive Analysis                

Tomasz Tunguz rebutted Steve Blank’s Company Competitive Analysis, in Why The Petal Diagram Isn’t The Best Competition Diagram For Startup’s Pitch. Tomasz says petal diagrams don’t communicate the startup’s unique way of competing in the market”. My opinion is that the form of the diagram doesn’t matter. What’s important is to know: a) how different you are from the competition (or incumbent), b) what position you want to occupy, and c) how you’ll get there.


Brian Balfour has a long post, Adapt Or Be Left Behind – How The Marketing World Is Changing, where he enumerates the several marketing channels and tactics that are currently hot and popular. You probably know most of them, but it’s a good checklist.

SaaS and CRM

Paul Philp of Amity says current CRM practices haven’t caught-up with the SaaS model, in The SaaS Industry Needs a Customer Relationship Revolution. SaaS is a soft offering, therefore requiring a customer cultivation approach across the various “soft” touch points.

Customer Loyalty

Want Happy Customers? Implement the 5-Visits-Plus-2-Badges Rule. For Your Customer Success Team — And You, says Jason Lemkin. The “5” stands for “Meet On-Site with 5 Customers a Month, Every Month, or 60x a Year”. Why? Because “you’ll learn which customers are actively using your product — but are unhappy and at risk. Attitudinal Customers are worth about 3x those who only use you because they are stuck with you.”

Product Management

In The Startup Method: A 6-step Process for New Feature Development, Ryan Glascow compares the “scientific method” to the “startup method” for new product and features development. It’s a good read, let alone for the comparison table that will give you a better appreciation for the agile, iterative methods that startups adopt. That SUMs it up! Don’t forget to share on Twitter,  add us to your Feedly, forward to a friend, follow on Twitter, read in Flipboard, or just visit the website often and daily. William Mougayar Founder & Chief Curator Startup Management]]>

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