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Ask Slashdot: I Just Need... Marketing? 212

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-build-it-they-will-come-for-the-snacks dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Over the years, Slashdot has had many stories of non-technical entrepreneurs in need of programmers. Now I found myself in an almost opposite situation: I am a programmer with a fledgling mass-market product that needs marketing. I know Slashdot's general sentiment towards marketing. Without being judgmental one way or the other, I must say that for a product to reach the widest possible audience in a given time period, marketing is a necessity. Short of doing everything myself, I see a couple of options: 1. Hire marketing people, or an outside marketing firm; 2. Take in willing partners who are good at marketing (currently there are no shortage of people who want in). With these options, my major concerns are how to quantify performance, as well as how to avoid getting trapped in a partnership with non-performing partners — I already have a tangible product with a huge amount of time, money, and effort invested. Budget is also limited. (Budget is always limited unless you are a Fortune 500 business, but for now that's more of a secondary concern.) So here is my question to Slashdot: how do you address these concerns, and in a more general sense, how would you handle the situation: technical people with a product in need of marketing?"
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Ask Slashdot: I Just Need... Marketing?

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  • Marketing Product (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:40PM (#42923185)

    Don't underestimate the importance of marketing. A crappy product can succeed with good marketing, but a great product will fail without it.

    (I'm including positive word-of-mouth as marketing - even this you should work at)

    • by aitikin (909209) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:54PM (#42923595)
      I have mod points, but this is already going high enough, so I'm going to add my $0.02 to this. The company I work for has a great marketing department and they do a great job. That being said, they tell us every opportunity that they get that word of mouth is the best marketing that we have available.

      We actually have people who check certain forums and do their best to make us aware of issues that crop up on these forums, and then we bend over backwards to make sure that the customer's issue gets resolved. Unless they're just bent out of shape because we couldn't do something that was basically impossible (although we're pretty good at that too...).
    • I have seen amazing products crash and burn due to bad marketing. So equally key to getting good marketing is to avoid bad marketing. I'm half tempted to argue you should find "average marketing" by which I mean someone who isn't heavily invested in your company but can get the word out.

      I would contact a PR company like RAZ or LiasonPR. (Or a PR company which specializes in your industry depending on what user group your software is targeting). They should know all of the media contacts to send demos to

      • "I have seen amazing products crash and burn due to bad marketing"

        I think you are confusing marketing and sales.

        Bad marketing? Trying to sell ice to skimos.
        Bad sales? Failing at selling, well, anything, to a compulsive buyer.

        "I've seen development derailed and wasted because of bad pricing, complete ignorance of the market and terrible planning."

        See? That *is* marketing.

        • I was talking about the same product. :P Sometimes you have an amazing product but it gets knee capped by marketing deciding that it needs to be something else.

    • Re:Marketing Product (Score:5, Informative)

      by sootman (158191) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @08:42PM (#42925273) Homepage Journal

      This. The same way that we get pissed off when an idea person wants someone to "just" program for them, techies need to learn that marketing -- good marketing -- is actually hard and requires some skill. Sales and marketing are not just bullshit and pretty pictures and booze and blow and hookers and sheeple.

      If marketing were easy, and if Apple's success were due only to marketing (as is so often claimed), then their success would be easy to replicate, right? The fact is, neither of those statements is true.

      Good marketing is not something you can just add to a product after the fact. Like good design, it has to be thought of throughout. I highly recommend you spend an hour watching this. [businessofsoftware.org] In that talk, he was specifically addressing programmers.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Good marketing is not something you can just add to a product after the fact. Like good design, it has to be thought of throughout.

        Wait, what? A good product is easy to market, you don't have to think of how to market it. But you should think "how will I market this" before design even begins, and if you can't figure out an answer, stop. Either you're not up to the task of even creating the thing (if you don't even know how you're going to market it, how are you going to make something the market wants) or the thing you want to make is simply not marketable. Either way, this is a question which answers itself. If you can't figure out o

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      So, so true.

      In my career in video editing and 3D animation (back in the day those were done in post production facilities, not the modern dismal amateur garbage you see on Youtube), most was done for marketing/PR purposes.

      In house, you get people more intimately familiar with the product, but too tied to company politics and their vision is always marred by the principals of the company (IE, you, yes, you are your own worst enemy, especially if you are perfect).

      If you hire a firm, you get a broader range of

    • I'm surprised that this is even a question by the OP. The first thing the OP or any company needs is marketing. The very definition of what is the mission statement of the company, its business plan, its tactical and strategic plans are all marketing roles. In any company, it's marketing that interfaces with Operations, Finance, Sales and other parts of the company. If the OP has a business plan, he has a marketing plan, and he needs marketing people - if he's not himself one - to execute it. If he doe

      • I'm sure I'm missing something, but this question made me grumpy so I'll keep it quick.

        Let me take this slowly to be sure I'm not missing the obvious:

        "An anonymous reader writes ... I am a programmer with a fledgling mass-market product that needs marketing... I must say that for a product to reach the widest possible audience in a given time period, marketing is a necessity."

        Nope. Not having it. Let's presume his IP-Law junk is in order. An *Anonymous* submitter has an *Anonymous program-product* that he w

        • by unixisc (2429386)
          If by 'marketing', the submitter meant 'advertising and/or promotion', you are right. But marketing, as it is defined in business, is much more than merely that. If all he is asking about is promoting his product, he doesn't need much more than setting up a web site w/ a link to the product/service, which people can then peruse online. He can then post about it in all the relevant websites that he visits, and he could be fine.
    • Marketing isn't bad, without it no one knows your product exists.
      The problems usually happens when the sales and advertising groups get their hand and often over exadurate or lie about your product.
      Sometimes the clash is due to IT nature to want to under state our product. To us it is just a program that queries a database and gives a result. To sales it is a business process workflow improvement.

  • by module0000 (882745) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:41PM (#42923191)

    Give an experienced marketing partner and interest in the net profit. That way you aren't losing any more cash than you generate. If your product is viable, there should be no shortages of these types of people.

    Look at your friends first, do you have anyone in marketing? Do you know anyone who has succesfully self-promoted a mobile app or web service? You might know the right person already, or at least know someone who can point you to that person.

    Shop your idea around, and make sure you get an NDA to prevent someone stealing your concept.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Give an experienced marketing partner and interest in the net profit. That way you aren't losing any more cash than you generate. If your product is viable, there should be no shortages of these types of people.

      Look at your friends first, do you have anyone in marketing? Do you know anyone who has succesfully self-promoted a mobile app or web service? You might know the right person already, or at least know someone who can point you to that person.

      Shop your idea around, and make sure you get an NDA to prevent someone stealing your concept.

      Only look to your friends if you don't want to have friends. You will have to fire them because they will expect a friend to look the other way when they screw up.

      Only bring in partners if you want to give someone the ability to destroy your business with the inability to fire them.

    • by fferreres (525414) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:22PM (#42923437)

      I work in marketing and find it more challenging than finding a good programmer. Everyone in their profession thinks that others are a commodity because one is so special and unique. My learning so far has been that if you are really talented, you never think like you have just done. You need a great marketing person, and a great team. If you can become a Fortune 500, the least of your worries will be the marketing dues. I'd recommend this: hire somebody that can educate you, and has the personally to be able to handle your ego. You'll thank that person later on.

      Remember that IBM's turnaround in the 90's came from somebody that manufactured cookies, not technology.

      • "My learning so far has been that if you are really talented, you never think like you have just done."

        GP did not state that such people are a dime a dozen, or disposable. GP stated that there is no shortage of such people. That is different, and it is a true statement.

        To be honest, the one who comes across with the greater ego is you.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          To be honest, the one who comes across with the greater ego is you.

          Slashdotters arguing over who has the larger ego is like elephants arguing over which one has more crinkly skin.

    • A person's track record is the best indication of their skill. The poster needs as great a marketing guy as he can get, but we didn't get any specific info about his company, not even it's location. The best tech marketing people are mostly in Silicon Valley. I started a small software startup in NC, near RTP, and I found plenty of very talented engineers. Marketing talent outside of Silicon Valley is extremely hard to come by. Try not to use a friend. It will likely just damage your company and frien

  • by chemdream78 (2695323) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:43PM (#42923203)
    I went through this same thing with my first start up. Plan on spending 2/3 of your money on marketing. Only 1/3rd should be used to actually build/test/etc your product. You should be worried about how the app or product actually works. Don't do the marketing yourself. If you know how you want to market it, that's fine. If that's the case, hire someone to just take orders from you. If you don't know how you want to market it, hire someone that can utilize personal connections in the field you are in. It is simply not possible to program, secure funding, bug test, bug fix, and market all yourself.
    • by icebike (68054) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:22PM (#42923439)

      I went through this same thing with my first start up.
      You should be worried about how the app or product actually works. Don't do the marketing yourself. If you know how you want to market it, that's fine. If that's the case, hire someone to just take orders from you. If you don't know how you want to market it, hire someone that can utilize personal connections in the field you are in.

      On the other hand, putting up a web page and selling it from there for a while won't hurt a thing.
      You get the time to find all the bugs, address all the end-users issues of understanding, ease of use, desired features, all while dealing with a small user base that you can handle. Most developers vastly over estimate the completeness of their product.

      There is such a thing as succeeding yourself to death. Taking in more business than you can possibly handle because some "marketing droids" push too hard, ensnare too many marginal customers, and end up giving a product a bad reputation for poor support.

      A year of lower sales volume allows you to build in the quality. As you find yourself answering the same tech support questions over and over again you will find its easier to program around these issues. But none of that will happen when the phone rings non-stop with irate customers
      because of an over-aggressive marketing campaign by some marking company working on commission.

      Learn to walk before you try to run.

  • by flyneye (84093) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:44PM (#42923205) Homepage

    Do you know your demographic?
    Who are you selling this mystery widget to?
    ADVERTISE/HYPE/BLOG
    Rinse and repeat

    Not controversial enough? Add a nearly naked model with an assault rifle.
    If you're not selling anything now, whatever it is, doesn't work.
    Back to the drawing board.

  • Partner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mpoulton (689851) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:46PM (#42923217)
    As you have clearly discovered, a properly operating business needs a balanced team of managers and employees who can handle ALL aspects of the company's functions, not just engineering the product. Making the product is arguably no more or less important than selling it and collecting the money. You're the tech guy and visionary founder, and that's great. But you need a marketing and sales genius to handle the other functions. That person (and his or her subordinates) are critical to your success, so you want someone who is as invested as you are. That means a top-level executive with equity-based compensation. You need to pick someone with experience operating in a small startup environment (or if not, at least a business degree with a good understanding of small business operations), who has the personal assets to weather unprofitability, and who is comfortable staking his entire return (or close to it) on the success of the company. Guaranteed payments and large salaries for founding executives are inadvisable. Compensation should be tied 100% to profitability, or at least to rational business milestones if you don't anticipate profitability for awhile and you have the capital to support it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:46PM (#42923219)

    You designed and created a product without input from marketing? You realize that one of the key purposes of marketing is to determine if a product is even marketable right? Are you sure you will even have customers? What features in your product are they most concerned with? Why would they choose your product over a competitors? Are there even any competitors yet, or are you establishing a new market? Which companys could potentially become competitors?

    A sales executive would probably be more useful at this point. Establish some channel partners, and get the product out there. Then hire a PR firm to get your name into the right industry rags. They will also work on some graphics you can do for print ads and websites. At this point, since you decided to go on your own vision rather than do marketing you're pretty much just need some PR consultants to send out whatever message you decided on already.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:45PM (#42923539)

      Original poster here. Yes I did market research and I know there is a demand for the product. But there is a huge difference between market research and actually going out and marketing the thing.

      • by morcego (260031) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @05:04PM (#42924015)

        Original poster here. Yes I did market research and I know there is a demand for the product. But there is a huge difference between market research and actually going out and marketing the thing.

        If that is really the case, and you have quality research, including a complete business plan (market study and analysis, competitors study and analysis etc etc), then you need sales and advertising.

        Marketing, real marketing, is the study and strategy part of business.

        Lets keep in mind that "market research" is just a tiny part. Having a demand for a product is very different than a product being marketable. It is the difference between "I wish" and "I'm willing to pay for".

        That being said, it is entirely possible you have the basics of marketing covered, including the knowledge, and you only want someone else because you want someone that is BETTER and dedicated to it. If that is the case, you should be able to do performance analysis.

        I have to tell you, two things you said worry me. First is the "there is a demand for the product". The second is asking how you can measure performance. Those things lead me to believe that you have a flawed understanding of what marketing is, which can lead you to waste money and time while figuring it out.

        If I'm correct on this assumption, you should spend some time reading a little bit on what marketing is, how it works, and what I can do to your company/product. That way, you will have better tools to analyse the marketing person/company you will be getting in bed with.

        My first marketing book (and still my bedside marketing gospel) is one: http://www.amazon.com/Marketing-Warfare-Anniversary-Edition-Annotated/dp/0071460829 [amazon.com]

    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:51PM (#42923585)

      You realize that one of the key purposes of marketing is to determine if a product is even marketable right?

      HELL no. In my experiences, marketing people have no idea whether a product is marketable. The best they can do is figure out if a product is similar to another already successful product, and then tell you whether your new product will fit into the known market. That's it. They're fundamentally incapable of judging new markets, or even under-served markets.

      Are you sure you will even have customers?

      That should hopefully be the impetus behind even creating the product in the first place. Relying on marketing afterwards is putting the cart before the horse.

      What features in your product are they most concerned with?

      Customers can't tell you what they need. At best, they'll tell you what they want. Good marketing shapes the want, and leaves the need to product management.

      Why would they choose your product over a competitors?

      That's the job of the sales team.

      Are there even any competitors yet, or are you establishing a new market? Which companys could potentially become competitors?

      That's all competitive analysis, and has little to nothing to do with marketing. Your sales team needs to be doing this.

      A sales executive would probably be more useful at this point.

      Pretty much. Get a good sales exec, and worry about marketing once you have your sales team in place.

      • by morcego (260031) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @05:09PM (#42924049)

        You realize that one of the key purposes of marketing is to determine if a product is even marketable right?

        HELL no. In my experiences, marketing people have no idea whether a product is marketable.

        That leads me to believe that:

        1) You know little about marketing
        2) The marketing people you know know little about marketing

        While I can't say #1 for certain, based on the little you wrote, I can say that #2 is true most of the time.

        Having worked on companies of all sized (ranging from IBM all the way down to my current 7 people company I own), I have to say that it is easier to find good professionals on ANY field than to find competent marketing people. Marketing is not sales, it is not advertising and it is not product comparison. Marketing is strategy, pure and simple. Unfortunately, most marketing schools don't focus enough on strategy, or the mental part of marketing, leading to crappy professionals.

        A good real marketing professional is worth his weight in stocks.

  • by alen (225700) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:46PM (#42923221)

    look at the drug companies. most drugs these days are made by small biotech and start up drug companies. Pfizer and others do marketing, manufacture and anything else that takes a lot of money.

    same with tech. Flash IO licenses their products to HP and others who rebrand it, sell and support it.

    or better yet, find a buyer and sell your company. google is always buying startups and integrating their products. some years google buys dozens of small companies

  • Customer Development (Score:4, Informative)

    by vbraga (228124) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:50PM (#42923255) Journal

    Read about Customer Development [steveblank.com] at Steve Blank blog.

    An Angel investor can also help you with business connections and hiring the right person to do it.

  • by Phibz (254992) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @02:51PM (#42923263)

    I've spent the last 7 years in marketing. The idea that the field is non-technical is just silly. Analytics drives the business. It's not enough to create interesting and compelling creative. You have to be able to be able to show a real lift from that test and use that data to drive future campaigns.

    There are a lot of smart people in marketing. Both technical and non-technical. The argument that the field is largely non-technical and therefore some how foreign to you is both wrong and unimportant.

    What you should focus on is hiring people who understand the field and can use, shape, and sell your mass marketing product. In other words this challenge is the same as any other business, learning how to successfully grow your business.

    • Yeah... about that. I'm currently on the technical side of the marketing equation (I support software that is big in marketing and sales analytics). And the problem is forever the same: how do you know what marketing resulted in a sale? Yes, you can tie a lead to a specific campaign, and track that lead through to the sale, but the reality is that it is never that clear cut. That email campaign someone responded to? Might have just come at the right time, when they were looking to buy anyway. That web page

    • Come on now. Yes there are numbers involved in your analytics, but do you really think it even approaches the complexity of real technical fields, such as electronics, aerospace, bioengineering, nanotech etc.?

      Not putting down marketing people, but don't try to be someone you are not.

    • I've spent the last 7 years in marketing. The idea that the field is non-technical is just silly. Analytics drives the business. It's not enough to create interesting and compelling creative.

      When you say "marketing" 86.7% of people hear "advertising".

      Here's one: http://ask.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3467711&cid=42924081 [slashdot.org], no doubt many more will arrive shortly

    • by mutube (981006)

      You have to be able to be able to show a real lift from that test and use that data to drive future campaigns.

      Statistically significant lift? Or just buzzword compliant lift? Even industry-standard Google Analytics provides no measure of 'statistical significance' on their data. They are more than capable yet they choose not to - ask yourself why? People lap analytics up as somehow important "Woo!! 5% increase!! Our marketing works!!!" Um. No. Noise, seasonal variation, self-fulfilment, clicking on your ow

  • The lollacup episode on Shark Tank [go.com] had some interesting tidbits about contracts with marketing firms. To summarize, do not give your marketers exclusivity to profits for a market (asia for instance) and make sure they profit from their contributions to the market success of your product. The Lollacup creators had good business sense but still managed to make a contract with a marketing firm which took advantage of them.

  • If marketing isn't one of your firm's core competencies, outsource. Either hire an outside agency or get a hired gun in as a contractor.

    If someone is really motivated to become a partner, let him/her go through a trial period where they're essentially in that contractor role and you can evaluate results. But you're right--if you're worried about possibly underperforming partners (and don't have enough mojo to figure it out without hard numbers), then get some hard numbers first.

    As you correctly surmised,

  • Consider the thousands (and sometimes millions) of spending on movies, software development and drugs.

    Then consider how much MORE gets spent on marketing. If big companies are willing to more money at marketing a product (good or not) because they know it'll increase sales, why would you think about doing it on the cheap?

    I'm not suggesting that it can't be done inexpensively, but I am suggesting that you will get exactly what you pay for... if you're lucky. And the chances of getting lucky go up quite a b
  • Find someone who understands and loves your industry. Marketers work best under an incentive system. If you hire an outside marketing company expect to pay an initial retainer, and obviously, get references. Be clear as to what you expect them to do for you and get a detailed proposal from them. If you hire someone to work for you, offer a sufficient salary that demonstrates some confidence in your product. As a marketing/sales pro, if someone offers me a commission only position, that tells me they have zero confidence in their product and will offer zero marketing support. If someone offers me a decent salary, plus indicates a willingness to fund at least a modest advertising effort, that tells me that they have confidence in the product's appeal. I would expect to be mostly dependent upon commission, but I need to see some confidence in the product and some willingness to support marketing's efforts.
  • Perhaps DIY? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:07PM (#42923367) Homepage

    Without knowing anything about the product or market, it is difficult for anyone to give meaningful advice. So here's a few books to consider that might bring you up to speed. Your job will be to find these on Amazon, etc. You might not DIY, but it will give you insights into marketing and help you identify someone who will help. Think of it like a businessman who takes a programming course to better understand programmers and work effectively with them. There are lots of bad marketing people, and you need to know enough to be able to identify the good ones from the bad one.

    The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout - Start here.

    Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, Houghton Mifflin. - a how-to book on marking with a tiny budget. More local than national.

    Advertising is a Waste of Money by Robert Ranson, HRD Press. Before you spend a dime advertising, read this.

    Marketing Without Advertising, by Michael Phillips & Salli Rasberry, Nolo Press.

    Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy, Vintage Books. In short - all marketing needs a feedback system so you can measure results. Yeah - web sites are great for this. Based on this book, I had a bunch of 1-800 toll-free phone numbers and every mailer had a different number. I could look at the phone bill and know which mailer was generating results. It is more important to know that something worked than to know why.

  • by bradorsomething (527297) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @03:08PM (#42923373)
    I have experience in another industry with the same scenario; I provide the operational expertise and oversight, and have marketing side opposite me. This was a very tough issue for me, as I know marketing is crucial for me from an operational standpoint, but I don't have the time or the drive to smile all day and shake hands.

    I initially partnered with some marketing folks, where we were going to go halves on the costs, they were the marketing side, and I was the operational side. Their funding backed out after I had a lot of sunk costs (naturally), so I used whatever support they could still give me based on the good-will of our intended relationship, while I worked with people familiar to the market.

    The most important advice I can give you is to work with people that already know the customers in your strongest base. As you appear to have experience in the area you're working in, the people who market for you should optimally know many of the same customers you do, know more about them, and know many more people you don't.

    The second most important advice I can give you, is incentives for your salespeople. My initial partners had a strong incentive (if we did poorly, they lost money too). My new folks are rewarded for the increased business, and I feel that marketing folks you employ should make very low salaries in set income, with the ability to make more than you make in bonuses if they are wildly successful. Structures on this vary, but always do a reality check when you negotiate them; a smart salesperson is one that makes a small fortune making you a bigger one. A smart con artist makes themselves a small fortunes while you make about the same you would have without them.
  • Before you tackle marketing, have you established a brand identity for your product? Name, tag line, logo, and color palette are the core elements of a brand identity. Without one, the marketing... um, people... won't have a foundation to build on.

    Many may think branding and marketing are the same, or that branding is part of marketing, but they're really separate processes.

  • We hate the guys who seem like they have no idea whatsoever how the product works and just want to sell something..anything..then come back to engineering and tell us to make it work

    A great marketer or salesman understands the product and the limitations of the underlying technology

    They also understand who the customers might be, and how to find them

    As for advice, finding good people is a skill that few technical people have

    The really great managers have a near-magical ability to find good people

    G

  • by Jmc23 (2353706)
    Mention your product.

    Unless of course it's trivial to implement with no innovation and you just want to fleece non-tech people.

  • Or he would have mentioned the product's name front and center.

    • Of course the guy doesn't know marketing, that's why he is asking about it.

      But to not mention the product in the question is not a problem- if he had, everyone and their brother would be complaining about slashvertising and critiquing the product. That's not what he's looking for. He chose to include only the relevant information- it's aimed at the mass-market and is a software product, and he wants to know about how to get marketing expertise involved without screwing up.

      Unfortunately, I haven't been in hi

  • I don't know much about marketing but I know that there are many pitfalls, some of which could be potentially fatal to your business, which means you have to take the major decisions yourself.

    Since you're a tech person you have to approach marketing the way you approach technology and perhaps economy, which means you're probably going to have to rely on your techie common sense. Be tentative at at first and investigate the solution space and don't go all in on anything until you feel sure know it's the righ

  • I wonder what RMS would do?

  • by tlambert (566799) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @05:07PM (#42924037)

    You aren't an entrepreneur, you are a programmer. This isn't a right or wrong thing, it's just an observation.

    A programmer takes an idea, and builds a product.

    An entrepreneur takes an idea, and builds a business.

    The difference is that product ideas are a dime a dozen, and programmers to implement product ideas can be hired. It's really hard to go out and hire someone to be an entrepreneur for your product idea.

    The major thing an angel investor looks at is the entrepreneur: can they build the initial business? Do they have the drive to mortgage their cat, sell their car and lease one instead, work 80 hour weeks, and, in short do everything in their power to create a business?

    The main thing a VC looks at is your team -- or more importantly, the machine: has the original entrepreneur built a machine that can operate to successfully generate a product, market the product, meet accounts payable, collect accounts receivable, and so forth.

    Typically, a business goes through four phases:

    (1) Get the idea (for the business, NOT the product); generally, this is one or two people This stage is self-funded by the founders (including family contributions), or unfunded (Google started in a dorm room using Stanford networking resources and crappy hardware).

    (2) Entrepreneur; generally, this means growing to 1-15 employees, who can handle being micromanaged. Some entrepreneurs are capable of micromanaging up to 20 employees, but a lot of them, especially first, second, and third timers, can reach their limit at about 8 employees. This stage is usually self-funded (in the case of a serial entrepreneur), or angel-funded. The entrepreneur may or may not be the founder(s) at this point.

    (3) Company; generally, this means going from 8+ employees to 100+ employees. This stage is usually VC funded. The VCs will typically want to replace certain cogs in the machine that is your business in order to build a better machine capable of reaching the fourth and final stage. A founder should expect to be kicked out at some point in this stage, unless they have an executive track record, or are in a bolt-on position that can't actually negatively impact day-to-day operations. The typical bolt-on for a technical type is CTO, and the CTO may be asked to stay away from the office; nice VCs will give them "new product development make-work to keep them away from the office.

    (4) Exit; if VCs are involved, this almost exclusively means either IPO or acquisition: this is where they get their money + profit back. It's almost unheard of for a VC to remain involved, except perhaps on the board of directors following an IPO, or as part of the acquisition/merger deal that permitted them to exit.

    It is an incredibly rare person that can take a company through all four stages, and even among them, it's even more incredibly rare for the people along the way to permit them to do so. If you look at Steve Jobs, he wasn't really capable of step 4 for a very long time, since he was stuck at step 3. He would have been stuck at step 2, but he was willing to micromanage his direct reports and a couple of people on pet projects, rather than everyone in the company. He only became able to go to stage 4 when he matured, and that only happened after two more startups: NeXT, and Pixar, and it took him being thrown out of Apple to get to that point.

    The point is, you need to find an actual entrepreneur; I'd suggest finding a mentor, but if you are focussing on a tiny piece of the machine that a true entrepreneur would need to build (a business is a machine; an organization requires design and systems engineering to build said machine), and doing it via an "Ask Slashdot", then you are probably not cut out to be your own entrepreneur.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thanks for your well-reasoned post. Unfortunately, it is not 100% backed up by facts. The Google founders were NOT sidelined. Instead they consciously chose an experienced CEO to "run business" while they (I guess) focused more on technology. Now one of the founders wants to "do CEO". But the "adult CEO" type is still somehow on board. I assume to "help out" in case the original founder CEO messes up.

      Also, I find it quite despicable to start a business with the objective of "flipping it to a VC" and "do ser

      • by tlambert (566799)

        Thanks for your well-reasoned post. Unfortunately, it is not 100% backed up by facts. The Google founders were NOT sidelined. Instead they consciously chose an experienced CEO to "run business" while they (I guess) focused more on technology. Now one of the founders wants to "do CEO". But the "adult CEO" type is still somehow on board. I assume to "help out" in case the original founder CEO messes up.

        I class Larry and Sergey as closer to a Steve Jobs and a Steve Woznik; their anecdote puts them in the "rare individual" category more than contradicting anything I've said; if anything, it supports that particular point.

        You'll notice that Larry wasn't CEO for a long time, and that "adult supervision" was brought in for the later stages; Eric Schmidt remains as a mentor. Larry was able to learn the ropes, and so far has done an OK job with the advice of the board, which means he appears to be growing into

  • by Hognoxious (631665)

    Hire three MBAs to devise performance metrics that incentivise the optimization profile for the marketing guys, and two lawyers and an accountant to keep an eye on the MBAs.

  • Marketing requires an understanding of both the product or service being marketed and the marketplace being targeted. Be careful to engage those with insight into your target marketplace.
  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Saturday February 16, 2013 @06:00PM (#42924325)

    I'm in a trial-by-fire for this right now. I have zero budget... and promoting a product that stands head and shoulders over its relatively few competitors.

    A little history here.... I developed "Virtual Cat Toys HD" - yes, an app for your cat. Back when the HP Touchpad was still a hot item, I released a version on the webOS platform, and considering the relative size of the market, I did OK. Like "lunch money" OK... for about 8 months (falling off because many people converted their touchpads to Android, and the fact that it's the ONLY webOS tablet, and a very small market). My marketing effort was basically to give the product away through a promo code, and because a lot of people had just gotten their Touchpads and wanted apps for it, the giveaway did the magic I needed to boost awareness of my product and create follow-up sales.

    A little over a year later, I finally got an enhanced version of the app out on the Android platform... Of course, to celebrate this accomplishment, and promote the product, I had hoped to do the same thing. I ran into a major stumbling block - Google Play doesn't have a mechanism in place for self-promotion through free copies. No redemption codes, and you can't temporarily make your app "free" (that's a one-way change for your app). Having seen Amazon do "app of the day" giveaways, I brought my product to their market... only to find their tools were just as lacking, and there seems to be no easy way to get your app to be seriously considered for "app of the day".

    So, after getting out on the Android market, I brought my app to the Apple iPad, and again, was struck by the limitations of "Promotional Codes" on their app store. You are limited to 50 single-use codes, both a severe limitation in quantities, as well as a nightmare to manage. Fortunately, there was an option - iTunes allows you to change back and forth between "Free" and "Paid" - so yesterday, I gave my app away for the day. I still don't know what sort of success it will be... but I managed to give away over 700 copies of my app yesterday, and comments on several deal forums were very favorable.

    Of course, I still have to wait to find out if my strategy of marketing my product will pan out; will a promotion giving away iOS versions of the app have any effect on sales of the same app on the Android platform? Will it have any effect on sales of the app for the iOS platform that I gave away? Will it gain any attention for consideration of reviews at top sites (which are more than happy to "upgrade your priority for review" for a tidy sum of money)?

    On top of that, getting my app into iTunes and Google Play has brought a number of schemes to my attention through my e-mail, as offers for "5 star reviews" and "Search Engine Optimization on market searches" come in... some for more manageable amounts, perhaps, but I hate the idea of cheating. My product stands on its own, and I am confident that once people SEE my app, they'll buy it.

    Since "Virtual Cat Toys" can result in some rather entertaining behavior in cats, I also launched an effort to get people to record their cats playing with it, with a cash prize.... but so far, no takers. Again, this is promotion on a budget, but you'd think somebody would like an easy $100 cash prize, just for filming their cats enjoying my product.

    I realize it's a long game. Marketing sometimes takes months to result in significant sales increases... and that makes some of the schemes and questionable review site practices even more tricky to navigate. You could spend a lot of money to no effect whatsoever, and not realize it until the money is long gone.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Doesn't the Amazon app store permit you to make your app free for the day? And if so, why didn't you go there instead of leaving Android?

      Does your app have an option to record cat activity with a front-facing camera?

      • by BenJeremy (181303)

        Doesn't the Amazon app store permit you to make your app free for the day? And if so, why didn't you go there instead of leaving Android?

        Amazon has "App of the Day" for free, but the best a developer can do is say "allow my app to be free for a day" and hope Amazon deems your app is worthy enough to actually promote it that way. In the Amazon dev forums, people ask about this, and the best response they get is "Check the little box... blah blah... and our marketing people will consider your app (unsaid: along with the thousands of other apps available to us for the program)"

        Does your app have an option to record cat activity with a front-facing camera?

        I have considered such a thing, but the camera is too close and off

  • It seems to work pretty well for other companies.

  • by denissmith (31123) * on Saturday February 16, 2013 @07:49PM (#42925027)
    First- you need a market strategy. Who are you selling to (retailers, clubs, direct to the public). Pick you staff appropriately. Second - don't offer partnership at the outset, offer shares and partnership on a conditional basis. Make the offer fair to the people you want to bring on and CLEARLY structured in terms of performance metrics. Third- you will need to offer a draw against a commission. Make a percentage of sales deal with sweeteners (such as aforesaid partnership) for milestones. Put it in writing. Stick to it. Fourth- If you can find a marketer with experience with the retail segment and the specific retailers they will probably give you the best results quickly, but they may not be the best partners. Only you can gauge what the sales volumes need to be, and therefore only you can set the targets. The marketer can tell you if they feel the targets are way off. Also remember, in any game all the players rate the percentage due to them too highly.
  • and you're on your way. What are you waiting for?
  • We'll market the hell out of it then. Think of it: an army of nerds all telling their friends and coworkers to use your program.
  • by MrAndrews (456547) * <mcm.1889@ca> on Saturday February 16, 2013 @10:28PM (#42925651) Homepage

    A lot of the talk has been about the value of marketing vs selling etc, but you asked about how to quantify performance and not get screwed over, so I'm going to try a coherent answer. Short version is: it's hard to quantify, for a variety of reasons. I've consulted on a few projects lately where marketing was brought in to push the product to the masses, with varying results. This is what I've learned:

    First, you want someone with experience in the same market niche your product is aimed at. I was in a meeting with a marketer who said he was a perfect fit because he did mobile, though it was games for preschoolers, and we were doing enterprise software. Bad fit. That much is obvious, maybe, but then you'll find the marketer who hits very close to your niche, and with tangible success, and you'll hear about the tens of thousands of sales he got in his first month at his last gig, and you'll start seeing dollar signs floating everywhere... and that is a bad thing.

    Before you talk to a marketer, do some work and figure out what your "happy" outlook is like. Never mind units, focus on profit, because when the money starts coming in, the units become irrelevant and all you'll care about is how close you are to breaking even. If you've got an expiry date on your endeavour (the point at which you have to get another job to pay the rent), figure out how long it'll take you to get there, and then merge it with your "happy" outlook and make that your benchmark. "In six months, we need to earn $10,000." Simple, bloody-minded, realistic. Do this before you talk to any marketers, because it will be hard to be honest with yourself after.

    A marketer will ask you what your sales goals are, and no matter what you answer, you'll end up with a number based on their market analysis and track record. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to keep it separate from your own analysis of reality. Once you've heard from all your candidates, pick the one who actually listened to you when you spoke. A lot of them don't, and no matter how brilliant they may be, if they're not listening to you, you will end up hating them very quickly. You can't hate your team. At least not right away.

    At this point, you've got a best-guess marketer, with a half-decent chance of success. Set parameters: they have X months to deliver Y results. If you're cautious, set it at some fraction of your expiry date. Another good approach is to just say: "Look, you have six months to earn us $10,000, or we're toast." Some people react well to knowing where the cliff lies, some people freak out and leave. But setting a concrete goal gives them focus, and something to beat. In their contract, make that key: you fail at this, you're out.

    That said, you are going to spend 90% of that time period thinking you made a terrible mistake. The more time you spend talking to marketers, the more you can see the smoke and mirrors and fishing wire they use to do their thing, and the more it scares the crap out of you. Wait, we're trying to sell this thing based on anticipation and close-up photos of flowers? Seriously? Do I really have to post that to Facebook? I won't have any friends left by the time the product comes out...

    Unless the marketer is actively drinking scotch in meetings, you've got to let them do their thing. Because — and this is the sucky part — you're going over that cliff one way or another. If you chose wisely, your marketer will have built a set of wings to glide over the canyon, and you'll be fine. And if not... well, at least you get to go splat with pizzaz.

  • by tqk (413719)

    i) Who are your target market? Who may wish to buy it?

    ii) Cf. Consumerist' "Executive Email Carpet Bomb" ... Hit them!

    iii) The Press (includes Wired, /., traditional news distribs., bloggers & etc).

    iv) Your personal network (Facebook, twitter, friends, acquaintences, headhunters/recruiters/past employers ...).

    Don't discount Asia. South Korea or Philippines or Malaysia or Russia might help. I'd go with Germans and other Euros (but that's just me).

    Worst case, Jason Bourne ... He can make anything work

  • by mellyra (2676159) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:21AM (#42926571)

    "I just need marketing" is the same type of (flawed) sentiment that is displayed by someone who claims he has a great idea for the next facebook/myspace/... and "just" needs a programmer.

    Marketing is not only advertising and sales work that you can tack on after the development process has been finished - the first goal of marketing is to ensure that you develop a marketable product and as such it is a process that starts with the way you set up your organization and which accompanies product development for its whole duration (how do you make sure your potential customers needs and wishes get communicated to the engineers? which (clearly defined) market(s) do you want to focus on? who are your competitors and how can you offer a better/cheaper/... product than them? ...).

    "We developed this product because we think it is cool but we have no idea who else be interested in it - now please do your "marketing" magic and make sure it's a commercial success" is a pitch that will only attract snakeoil salesmen and make competent marketing experts run screaming. Marketing is 80% about making sure that your engineers design a product to the market (rather than for themselves) and 20% about raising awareness/creating shiny ads/...

  • Keep that in mind when you look for a partner. Better to double check and not to put all your eggs into one basket. Sure, some of that skill will also benefit your product, but we nerds can easily be dazzled by someone good at self-promotion.

    Next, it will be important to select the right type of marketing person. Who are your customers? Will it be engineers at other companies, or end consumers? Depending on that you need almost completely different types. For the B2B business your partner needs to have so

  • by Swampash (1131503) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @06:25AM (#42926883)

    "I must say that for a product to reach the widest possible audience in a given time period, marketing is a necessity"

    Two things:

    1. You are confusing marketing with advertising.

    2. You're jumping to a conclusion without asking the most obvious question: what sort of audience do you need to reach? Hint: where technical products are concerned "widest possible" is almost always the worst sort of audience to pursue.

    The bible of technology marketing is still G.A. Moore's Crossing the Chasm. You should read it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm [wikipedia.org]

  • Marketing people are beautiful; they are handsome. This seems to be a general truth about the industry.

    Beauty sells; Handsome plays. I don't get it, and other people like me don't get it, and we resent it. But there it is.

    I suppose this class of people has evolved by cultural selection (or natural selection?), and for good reasons. Marketers must get things done that people like me cannot get done.

    I won't say "Hire beautiful." The idea is so repellent, that if I were an eccentric billionaire, I woul

  • I was just discussing this the other day, how so many companies overlook the importance of marketing, because it isn't easily quantifiable. A business owner can be far too tempted to think that their sales are organic, word of mouth generated and cease writing further checks to whoever does their marketing. That, at least, is what has occurred at a restaurant I like a lot - and since the marketing dollars have disappeared, so has crowd. All other things being equal, marketing is was separates a successful b

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