When I am a VC overlord:
- I will not fund any entrepreneur who uses the word “disruptive”, unless she has actually read at least one book by Clayton Christensen.
- I will not fund any entrepreneur who mentions “market projections” in other than ironic terms. Nobody who talks of market projections with a straight face should be trusted.
- I will not fund any software entrepreneur who is unfamiliar with “The Mythical Man-Month”.
- I will not fund any software whose primary feature is that it is implemented in the “cloud” or via “SaaS”. A me-too product on a different platform is still a me-too product.
- I will not fund any pitch that emphasizes the word “elastic”. Elastic is an important feature of underwear and pajamas, but even in those domains it does not provide differentiation.
- I will hire a 16 year old intern of moderately above-average intelligence. I will not sign or propose any contract that intern finds difficult to understand.
- I will hire a second intern of moderately below-average intelligence. I will not fund any product whose documentation that intern finds difficult to understand. Exceptions may be made for products sold to orienteering athletes, crossword puzzle solvers, or engineers.
- When a board on which I sit approves revenue targets for the year, I will further stipulate that the year-ending sales pipeline must comprise more than a Chinese hair salon, an Italian pushcart vendor, the CEO’s brother-in-law and a bankrupt bait shop in Nome.
- I will only hire a CEO who can explain the technology at his previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know what his products do can’t sell or market them either.
- I will only hire a CEO who can also walk me through a sales cycle at her previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know how a customer buys may well have trouble producing revenue.
- I will support any plan that I agree is good for a company I have invested in, nor matter how modest or how bold. I will participate in any funding round that I think is profitable for my limited partners.
- I will remember that a board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to all shareholders, and not just to the preferred ones.
Please offer your suggestions below. An associate will get back to you with our decision.
- The original “When I am an Evil Overlord” list
- A rival list
- The most comprehensive such list I know of (with additional sections for heroes, sidekicks, beautiful daughters, etc.)
I review many press releases, websites, slide decks, and complete marketing strategies. Inevitably, there are certain marketing communications tips I keep repeating. Some of them are:
- Pitch at a suitable level of detail.
- Treat your top influencers as individuals.
- For every news item, ask yourself — who cares?
- Don’t pigeonhole your company or product.
- Use a proofreader or copy editor.
- Use short(er) sentences.
I shall explain. Read more
I’m often asked how early-stage IT vendors should prioritize their marketing communications, and specifically their investment in collateral. They don’t have nearly the budget or management bandwidth to do everything; so what should they do first?
Most commonly, my answer is a variant on:
- Of course you need basic website content. For starters, your website should at least feature:
- Answers of one paragraph or less to the top four strategic worksheet questions.
- A several-paragraph description of your product/technology.
- Management bios, contact information, and other obvious stuff.
- You also need a fairly technical company white paper. At some point in your sales cycle, there will be a technical evaluation. A white paper can answer a lot of early questions. What’s more, many of your early sales will be driven by people who think new technology is cool. Make it easy and appealing for them to learn about your cool new tech.
- Many people like videos. Whether it’s a link to a conference presentation or a white board talk or whatever, it’s good to have some kind of video. Some people, however — I’m one of them — don’t like videos, so don’t do anything essential in your videos you don’t also convey in writing.
- I further favor having a low-post-count blog. Notes on that include:
- Almost nobody has the time to do a lot of blogging.
- Even so, a blog is the most flexible and best way to communicate things that seem harder to say in other formats.
- In particular, this can be a “poor man’s” way to make up for what is surely a distressing lack of resources in pre-sales support personnel, other collateral, and so on.
- The goal isn’t to build a consistent readership. (You’re not going to invest enough effort for that.) The goal is to put up a few posts, then call influencers’ and prospects’ attention to them by email.
Beyond that, I’d say:
- Of course you want to generate leads. I don’t have strong opinions as to whether to make some of the items mentioned above require registration. But beware of the absurdly extreme position that says marketing serves solely to feed the sales pipeline.
- Supervise your PR very closely. Do much of it yourself. Indeed, strongly consider doing without a PR firm altogether.
Where, by way of contrast, do I favor being frugal? Read more
All marketing communications attempt to cast their subject in a favorable light. I get that. But when your claim is obvious nonsense, you’re just doing yourself harm.
My best example this week (it’s only Tuesday morning) is an email from Vitria, which reads in part:
The world’s first Operational Intelligence (OI) app …
While it seems like everyone is jumping on the big data bandwagon, only OI can claim to be purposely built for tackling big data in motion …
That’s utter nonsense. We’ve had a CEP/stream processing industry for years. We’ve had stock-quote and network-monitoring systems for decades. Maybe Vitria has a good story, but the core claims in their email are obviously false. If you think I’m overreacting, it’s only because so many other companies also pitch blatantly untrue claims.
So do I want to talk with them? Well, their email suggests that if I do, they’re likely to start out by emphatically saying untrue things. Blech. I think most serious reporters, bloggers and analysts would feel much as I do on the matter. Even the ones who do take a briefing are likely to go in with a more negative attitude than they might if the pitch email had been more closely based on reality.
And if I do ever talk with Vitria anyway, they’ll need to start by climbing out of a credibility hole.
Usually, when one thinks about marketing, the target audience is actual or potential customers. Fairly often, two other audiences come to mind:
- Actual or potential investors.
More rarely mentioned is a fourth audience — actual or potential employees. That’s a pity, in that marketing to them is a Really Big Deal. This should be obvious as soon as you consider:
- Recruiting is a hugely important form of sales.
- Where there are sales, there also is (or should be) marketing.
Much of the technology I consult about boils down to performance. There are many sub-categories — parallelization, scalability, low latency, interactive response, price/performance, and more. But basically it’s about computers operating faster, within realistic resource constraints.
There are three kinds of benefits performance can offer:
- It can allow you to do things more simply and/or cost-effectively (e.g., with less hardware or less tuning).
- It can allow you to do things better. Examples include:
- Faster-loading web pages for your customers.
- Faster-responding queries for your business analysts.
- Better prices on your algorithmic trading.
- Better analytic results, perhaps from:
- Using more data.
- Running more queries.
- It can allow you to do something that would be impractical otherwise (usually because of expense).
These benefits are easily confused. When a prospect says “I can’t do X with existing technology”, what she really means is often “I can’t afford to do X well enough to matter.” When a vendor says “We make it cheap and easy to do Y”, what prospects hear is commonly “Great! Now we’ll be able to do Y within our resources and budget.”
Given the breadth of the subject, it’s hard to generalize comprehensively about the marketing of performance claims. But my observations include: Read more
The most insightful political-marketing observations I’ve seen in some time come from a New York Times article by Jonathan Haidt that, unsurprisingly, turns out to be excerpted/adapted from a whole book on the point. It argues that an essential aspect to political belief are the stories tribes tell themselves.
It’s been a while since I posted about political marketing, but two New York Times articles the same day raised subjects I’d like to share. One delves into the success of the AIDS activism group ACT-UP. The big lesson is that ACT-UP relied on both emotional impact and persuasive, rational detail. In particular (emphasis mine): Read more
It seems that my IT vendor strategy worksheet was well-received, by companies at different stages of development, clients and non-clients alike.* So here’s the promised sequel — a similar worksheet with more of an execution orientation. If your answers to these questions don’t dovetail well with your strategy responses, you have some serious rethinking to do.
*Those who’ve worked it through include a multi-billion dollar powerhouse, a two-person lifestyle business, and some pre-revenue start-ups.
For the strategy worksheet, I took the extreme position that every employee of every IT vendor should have at least some idea of the answers. In this case, I won’t go quite that far. But I will say that most IT vendors will find most of these questions to be of great importance. So no matter what your role in the organization, you might find it helpful to see how much of this stuff you actually know.
And if you’re the CEO, you should score 100%.
Once again, for reasons of length, I’ll summarize up top and comment on each question below.
Much of what I do for a living* boils down to critiquing IT vendors’ strategy — for sub-10-person startups, for the largest companies in the IT industry, and for companies at all stages in-between. In the hope of making strategy analysis simpler, I’ve compiled a list of questions that every enterprise IT vendor has to answer, if it is to understand its own business. They’re posted below. If you can’t answer these questions, you don’t really have a strategy.
If you run an IT vendor, help run one, or aspire to do so, then I encourage you to give these questions a whirl. If you don’t think the answers are all knowable — either now or for the foreseeable future — it’s still advisable to make working guesses. Flexibility is a virtue — but even so, having a tentative strategy is far better than having no strategy at all. Strategy is to execution as design is to coding. The best time to fix software bugs is before you start coding; the best time to fix a bad strategy is before you’ve committed yourself to executing it. Yes, both the design and the strategy will need to be changed over time; but a smart, internally-consistent strategy is a lot better than a contradictory one, than an obviously hopeless one, or than no strategy at all.
This is a really long post, so I’ll summarize it up here. Explanations of each point follow below. Read more