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What I Learned at Startup Marketing School

Last night I was a panelist at Startup Marketing School, an event organized by Charlie O'Donnel, a principal at First Round Capital.  The goal of the school is to address the lack of customer acquisition specialists in the startup marketing community.

In a spirited discussion moderated by Rich Ullman, co-panelist Deena Bahri, VP, Marketing at Birchbox, and myself, we addressed not only the knowledge gaps in start-up marketing, but many of the lessons learned, which I'll highlight here.

Start-up Marketing is a Shared Experience

- Everyone on the panel is being asked to operate a bootstrapped marketing department with scarce resources. "Treat money like it's going through your hands like barbed wire."
- There is tremendous value is sharing best practices among marketers as the experience across organizations is remarkably similar (a surprise since Mimeo focuses on B to B and Birchbox on consumer beauty products).
- Avoidance of montly expenses and costs are paramount until ROI can be demonstrated.
- Marketers are often asked to act as magicians, you can't market when the marketing department is suffering from starvation  As best put by Rich Ullman, "for Christmas my boss gave me a lottery ticket and said: this is the marketing budget."
- Lead marketers understand what needs to be done in terms of building a world class organization, but getting there is tricky given financial constraints

Measurement is Paramount

- Every CEO and marketer wants measurable results leading to exponentially expandable acquisition channels
- Startup marketing organizations cannot afford many of the needed platforms, and need to get by with lower cost options such as Google Analytics, which works well for Birchbox
- Organize your data around the best customers

Constant Testing is Needed

- Social media has mixed levels of reliability when used as the cornerstone of a "no budget" customer acquisition effort
- Best practices are easy to find, just view the email to conversion efforts of leading retailers.
- Speak to customers that have similar attributes to avoid confusing feedback, even in a small sample
- Avoid long term agency commitments until you understand the value an agency can bring.  For example, don't hire a direct marketing agency to a long term contract when you are just beginning to test the medium, hire for a project instead. 

Don't Discount Messaging and Value Proposition Identification

- Important building block to any marketers skill set
- Understanding the match between target audience and value proposition can help marketers avoid programs that fail
- At companies such as Birchbox, content and marketing are as "separate as church and state" in order to maintain the integrity of expert options expressed, which in this case are on beauty products and care

Manage Your Career
- Don't allow circumstance to limit your experience.  Go out and develop your own websites, blogs and apply different aspects of marketing to the experience

Thank you to Cooley for providing a great venue for this free to marketers event.

It's always helpful to go back to school and share ideas. You can find information on future Startup Marketing School classes here.



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