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Recap: November Dinner with Jacqui Murphy

We’ve completed our Dinners for 2014 in very fine style. (Since this Dinner was late in the month and trying to arrange a December Dinner given schedules and venues and weather is a nightmare, we’ll just reconvene in January.)

We kicked things off with drinks, first round on the Girl Geeks thanks to our sponsorship. Once we’d dined, it was time to get our learn on, with Jacqui sharing the passion and pain of the tech sphere and startup marketing. She began with a bit of her background in marketing, at TAZ, Pixstream (later Cisco), in VC at Tech Capital Partners, founding Art Allies, taking some down time to deal with burnout (and build a deck!), jumping back in at Fongo, and now with Auvik Networks.

So, y’know, she’s got a bit of experience in this game… 🙂

In the beginning (i.e. the late 90s), there were fewer tech companies in town, but they didn’t tend to value marketing. That still persists among some startups these days, but is waning, especially as better tools and use of data are coming along.

As a baseline when embarking on tech/startup marketing: build lasting relationships. When Jacqui started out, she was asked “Who do you know?” Unfortunately, as a recent grad, she had plenty of gumption, but not much of a network yet. Waterloo Region is surprisingly small, especially in tech, and building and maintaining good relationships is of paramount importance in everything from getting jobs to hiring to seeking funding to looking for office space.

Next on the baseline list: care. You can’t work in startupland if it’s “just a job” to you. Startups don’t work that way. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people and working on this Thing, and it will become personal. The best way to remain sane and dedicated, to infect others with your passion, and to be a good, contributing member of the tech community is to care (about what you do, what they do, and what you all do together).

Further to that: pay it forward. People will do you a solid from time to time. Make sure you take your turn when you can, both in your startup and in the community. Be grateful for what you have and try to share the love. Find time when you may not think you have any. Support your friends and colleagues by going to things, giving feedback, helping them make connections. It takes a village to raise a child, and a tech community to raise a startup. (And, as aforementioned, KW is very small. If you aren’t a member in good standing, people will know.) And tied to that, of course, is don’t be afraid to ask when you need help.

And tying these together: help build community both locally and in your industry. We’ve gone over the local part a fair bit, bit industry is important, too. Especially in the startup space, others who do what you do (or are interested in what you do) will be a limited audience. Help it grow and mature. Be an active participant. Share your expertise. Helping others helps you, too.

So with that groundwork laid, we get into the meat of the presentation, Jacqui’s lessons learned, recommendations, and insights on startup marketing.

Learn From Others All The Time

Check your ego at the door. You don’t know everything, and you can’t do everything. To deal with that, hire people (ideally ones who are better and/or smarter than you), and trust them — what they think and say and to get the job done.

Always be learning. Read like crazy, listen to podcasts, watch webinars, attend lunch and learns, join peer groups, go to conferences. Tech is an industry that is constantly changing, and if you haven’t been paying attention for six months, you’re likely out of touch with the tools, the players, and the landscape.

Related to both previous points, build a peer group you can trust. Within your company, within your community, and within your industry. They’re who you’ll be going to when you have questions, need to do research, for troubleshooting or beta testing, you name it. They’ll also be your sanity check and talk you down and make you go for coffee or a beer when you need it.

Make Full Use Of Your Limited Resources

If you’re used to the startup sphere, you’re used to doing a lot with little. You do not have 8-figure budgets and a roster of vendors to turn to and carte blanche on hiring reqs. If you’re not used to the startup sphere, well… you’re going to have to do a lot by yourself, with little or no money.

If you’re new to the industry or the company’s in a pretty new space, learn the market quickly. Make it part of your daily routine to learn this stuff. (See previous comments about reading, podcasts, etc.)

Spend your money (what money you have), but spend it wisely. Some things DO cost money, and some types of growth DO cost money. So don’t be afraid to spend what you’re given (or to ask when you need it). Do your due diligence, determine what you need as opposed to what you want. Figure out the full costs of buying something vs. trying to build it in-house.

Hire your team as quickly as you can. Again, you’re not auditioning a cast of thousands (you can count Jacqui’s team on one hand), but you can’t do it all, and you need people with other expertise than yours. Stop doing what you’re doing and focus on getting the team hired. Otherwise you’ll never find the time.

Then when you have the people on board, you can go back to what you were doing by training them to take up those reins. You’ll be faster, more agile, more productive, and more efficient. But yes, it’s hard to drop all the balls that are already in the air to focus on this, since hiring always seems to take longer than it should. (And finding good design, development, etc. talent in this town is hard.)

Know what you’re building. Build a business, not an exit. A lot of startups develop focused on an IPO or acquisition. This is the wrong way to go about it. There is no guarantee that Google will come calling, or that you’ll want to answer if it does. Building a business makes you build smarter and better and makes you more resilient. You will be more likely to truly innovate, and to serve your customers the best ways (and develop their loyalty). Which leaves you stronger and more focused so that if suitors do some calling, you don’t have to be starry-eyed. You can explore partnership or acquisition or you can say “no, thanks”.

Because believe me, it’s never the same after the acquisition, and for a lot of awesome things, experiences, and relationships, it’s the end of the line. (Disclosure: I’ve worked for a startup that was acquired by Google.)

Get More Than Your Fair Share

This is a tough one for women who often have trouble being assertive, competitive, and just asking for what they want or need. Just ask. Seriously. You’ll never have a chance at getting it if you don’t. Whether it’s the salary you want, the headcount you need, or the budget on which you’ve done all the due diligence.

Don’t say it can’t be done. In startupland, no one else is going to make it happen, and management is never interested in hearing it can’t be done. Find a way, see if it can be scripted or automated. Try to stretch the 24 hours of each day a little further. Besides, when you achieve the impossible it feels really spectacular. 🙂 Of course, it also resets the bar so people know you can produce miracles, and they’ll start to expect them more often. (So being a miracle-worker also requires setting boundaries and priorities. “No” is not a dirty word. It’s a grownup word.)

Work smart. Leverage everything you do/produce multiple times. Turn a white paper into blog posts, infographics, tweets, etc. Tweak material for a variety of audiences. Make sure at least some of your content is evergreen. Doing something that can only be used once is likely somewhat wasted effort, so consider what else you can get out of every project.

While you’re crafting the good stuff, remember to look bigger than you are. No one needs to know you’re three people crammed into a garage. Act like you’re a big company, product professional content, and sell ahead of development. (This is not the same as sales selling something that doesn’t exist and isn’t what your company does.) But talk about upcoming functionality and have a beta and get feedback and hook people’s interest, and soon the meat of the product will be there for them.

But while you’re making magic and stretching every hour of the day, don’t forget about you. Yes, you may have lots of skin in the game and love what you do, but you need down time, you time. Take care of yourself. Not eating, sleeping, or exercising right isn’t going to do you any good, and isn’t sustainable, especially the older you get, and if you have a family. Startupland can be a home wrecker.

If you can manage it, things like grocery delivery and cleaning help can be a godsend. It’s not about “deserving” it, it’s about priorities, quality of life, and sanity.

The Only Constant Is Change

As noted, if you haven’t been paying attention for six months in startupland, you’re painfully out of touch. Six months or a year is an incredibly long time for a startup, especially ones based online. There’s research, market shifts, growth, pivoting… Just go with it. Get used to saying yes, even without all the info. Or at the very least, “Let’s try it”.

As noted earlier, being dedicated to constant learning will help with this. You’ll see changes and shifts coming, and you’ll be ready to tackle them head on with information.

Jacqui next got into some more specific stuff about how Auvik does things (not sharing any secrets here… move along, nothing to see here…)

They’ve put a LOT of work into knowing their audience and marketing. They have very detailed personas for their audience, which are based on a a great deal of research. They also have scenarios of accelerators and friction points that can affect their personas’ thought processes, emotional state, the state of their roles and companies, and sales cycles.

At Auvik they’ve done “a gazillion” targeted customer meetings, and document everything on the wiki so the whole company can see it. They’ve held focus groups. They listen in on ongoing customer calls. They have an advisory board. They track what their audience and industry are up to on blogs, Twitter, etc. They have a private Google+ community where they can have focused interactions.

And all of these things provide glorious data. An enormous pile of it, which, conveniently, can be analyzed in impressive detail by (largely free) tools. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — these all offer quite sophisticated analytics on who’s doing what, with whom, paying attention where, etc. Just be careful not to get too carried away slicing and dicing. Go in there with a list of questions about what you want to learn.

Analytics can help you a great deal in learning who your target audience is, and then learning about them. E.g. Twitter analytics can show you who your followers are following, what kinds of content they’re reading (when they tweet it), etc. There are SO MANY social platforms out there these days, targeted at different audiences, that it’s crucial to determine where your audience is, and which ones give you the most bang for your buck in terms of engagement and content lifespan.

Creating Value For Your Audience

So once you’ve started building this audience, you need to keep their attention and make yourselves a trusted source of information and ongoing interest.

Content marketing takes trial and error, but is vitally important for startups. In addition to knowing who you’re creating content for, you also need to know why you’re creating it. See the aforementioned comments about using content more than once. Everything has a cost, and you have a limited purse and resources.

Like hiring, content creation and marketing needs to be planned and scheduled, else it won’t get done, and regularity is an essential feature of good content marketing. Initially you train yourselves to create and disseminate content on a schedule, and over time you train your audience to expect and look forward to it. There are good reasons why newsletters come out monthly, or blogs post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, etc. Plan out your editorial calendar well in advance so you know what’s getting worked on and released, and to ensure you have a pipeline of fresh content.

If you’re not a great writer, get better at it. Study writing you really like, practise, write a lot, ask for feedback and editing from those who are great at it. And if you’re just never going to be a whiz at copy, or will never have time, hire someone to do it.

Be aware that contractors have to be extra good, as they lack the skin in the game and the depth of knowledge and nuances of understanding you and your staff have about the industry, company, and products. This is why it’s really valuable to have a writer on staff early on, even when it seems like you should really be hiring another developer. They make it seem effortless, but if you’ve ever tried writing great copy (even tweets), then tracked their performance, you know it takes a lot of time and work to get that good.

(Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World are good resources, and Jacqui is a fan of Oktopost, though there are lots of tools available these days, so see which best meets your needs.)

As you develop your content marketing, build out a matrix of what you’re creating, where it’s to be used/fits, what it’s intended to help accomplish, who it’s for, and what you want the results to be. This will help a lot with that analysis of what you really want to spend your time and resources on, and what will best benefit the company and prospective customer base overall.

And again — analytics! Track how everything performs. You can do a lot of this in real-time nowadays. Learn what metrics matter to you, and measure right from the beginning when you start new initiatives. Initially all the data will look really sexy, but you’ll start to determine what matters to your company and goals. Visitors, signups, downloads, installs, sales, views, follows, mentions…

Even when Marketing is one person, and as you grow, as noted, you need to think bigger than you are. Think of yourself as a department with both goals and responsibilities to the company. Come up with your objectives, and how those will be measured. Then keep on it over time. See where you nailed it and where you fell short. And where you deviated and why. Also find out what others in other parts of the company think of your objectives, output, and measurements.

And with that Jacqui started winding down, and summarized how she and her team approach marketing at Auvik:

  • Learn all the time. Trial and error. Refine.
  • Data is everything, but tracking (and analysis) can be tricky.
  • Automate as much as possible. This helps free up resources. (However, especially in social, know when to kill the automated stuff and have a friendly human running the show.)
  • Engineers and developers are frickin’ smart. They’re great to help with that automation, to let you know what could be done better, to give you an honest perspective/feedback, and to help with analyzing/crunching numbers.
  • Shit happens. Startupland is chaotic and fast-moving and sometimes things fail. Big. Oh well. Dust yourself off, laugh it off, and move on.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. As we’ve harped on, you have limited time, resources and sanity, and you shouldn’t be afraid to spend the money. If there are tools, training, etc. that can make you leaner, meaner, more productive, and smarter, then go for it. Usually if a problem’s been solved by someone else, it’s been solved well enough to help you, too. NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome is a killer.

Jacqui is also a big Sheryl Sandberg/Lean In devotee, and wanted to share some of her key lessons that she’s found particularly helpful:

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  • Sit at the table.
  • Success and likability.
  • Mentors.
  • Make your partner a real partner.

For specifics on what those mean (or might mean to you), I’d suggest giving the book a read.

And with that, our bootcamp on startup marketing came to an end. I found it a great refresher and walk down memory lane. (And reminder of just how fast you become out of touch…) Big thanks to Jacqui for a great talk!

We hope everyone has a fantastic, safe, and warm holiday season, and stay tuned for our January Dinner announcement in a few weeks.

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