Advertising suggestions for early stage startups
Trying to market a business without a proven solution is like trying to build a home without one … [+]
Every company needs a way to inform its customers about its products and services. These marketing channels differ from company to company and can change as the company grows. And just like anything else in business, marketing needs an investment. In the earliest stages of a startup, this investment is usually best used to develop a product that customers need.
Imagine you’ve just developed two brand new products. Based on customer interviews and the data from the validation experiments, product 1 shows good indications for a possible adjustment of the product market. However, you don’t have a marketing budget for it. Product two isn’t validated at all, but you have a large marketing budget for it. Which product would you bet on?
Most seasoned founders would bet on product one because if product two doesn’t solve a problem, marketing won’t save it.
Investments in marketing activities are a growth booster, while the actual growth driver is product market suitability. If there is no product market adjustment, there is simply nothing to reinforce. Trying to market a business without product market customization is like trying to build a house without a foundation.
In fact, investing in marketing too early in your startup’s life cycle is a way to scale ahead of schedule, which is the biggest startup killer according to the Startup Genome project.
One of the largest tech companies today that has managed to grow without significant early-stage marketing investments is Dropbox. The early version of Dropbox had a strong match with the product market, and the founding team noticed they were growing organically based on word of mouth and a simple tutorial video that demonstrated the solution’s value proposition.
As their video goes viral, they have created a referral program to help motivate their users and keep improving word of mouth. As a result, they were able to grow 3900% in 15 months.
Segment, the customer data platform, is an excellent B2B example of the importance of product market adaptation. The founding team raised nearly $ 600,000 after participating in Y Combinator in 2011. After more than a year of building and trying to realize two different ideas (ClassMetric – a tool that students can use during a lecture, and segment.io) – an analysis tool geared towards segmentation), the team was almost there spent all capital and had nothing to show.
At that point they decided to test whether analyze.js, a very simple user data library that they had created while working on segment.io, could become a company of its own. You created a landing page with an email registration form and posted it on Hacker News. This simple test generated more user interest in a few days than the team had generated by spending half a million dollars and over a year working on their earlier ideas.
To sum up, marketing is essential to any business. However, it is important for early stage startups to validate their ideas and ensure they have good indications for adapting to the product market and a working business model that can leverage investments in marketing to increase a necessary solution, not pushing an unwanted product into people’s hands.
Dropbox currently spends more than $ 80 million a year on advertising. However, this wasn’t required for their early launch days when they could grow quickly with just a referral program.
Finally, note that marketing is one of those terms that has different meanings for different people. Investing in marketing for most people is synonymous with spending on advertising, which this article focuses on. In theory, however, the entire marketing mix includes product, location, price, and advertising. With this definition, practically all startups are making some kind of marketing investment, simply because the product is part of the mix.