Santa Cruz Tech Beat


7 common mistakes even smart startup founders make

By Guy Smith
Silicon Strategies Marketing, Chief Marketing Strategist
Contributor, Santa Cruz Tech Beat

April 2, 2015 — Santa Cruz, CA

Startup Marketing MIA

Perhaps Santa Cruz quality of life makes for smarter founders.

Having lived, worked and consulted in both Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz, local entrepreneurs seem a tiny bit more savvy than their Silicon Valley counterparts. Yet too many similarities persist. Being technology focused, even Santa Cruz founders stumble on marketing strategy, which has killed more startups than negative reviews in the Shark Tank.

Why do founders so often fail when it comes to establishing a sound marketing strategy? While writing a book to save founders from themselves and launching a project to formalize startup marketing, I encountered a series of common mistakes that founders make.

  1. They don’t define their market accurately: Founders have big dreams, but rarely isolate their addressable and realistic markets. This leads to unfocused and poorly targeted promotions as they reach too far and too wide.
  2. They almost never segment or do it well: Every market is divisible, and each division has its own unique needs. Not segmenting leads to muddled market messages and value proposition that entice nobody.
  3. They don’t identify/map every genotype: If a product is more complex as a yuppie’s Starbucks order, the buying decision will be made or vetoed by many stakeholders. Not itemizing them and their often competing motivations, then establishing a plan for bringing each stakeholder into the decision making process in the correct sequence can be catastrophic.
  4. They rarely develop a real whole product: A whole product serves most or all of the needs of a buyer … which is different for different stakeholder, different market segments, different countries, etc. Even if you have a whole product for one segment and buyer, it rarely pays to pitch it to another.
  5. They ignore their real and desired market position: If an entrepreneur fails to pick a place they want to be within a market, they will never reach it. Likewise, if they do not clearly understand their current position, mapping a path to their desired position is impossible.
  6. They almost never define their brand: “Branding is making the market think and feel what you want them to about your product”©. Left undefined, the market will define your brand for you and the market is rarely kind.
  7. Their messages are muddled and communicate no value: People buy value. Market messages that fail to lead with a clear and meaningful value proposition fails to motivate buyers to investigate more deeply.

So how does a smarter-than-average Santa Cruz co-founder avoid killing off their own company through neglectful marketing strategy? Self-discipline is the key.

  • Tough Things First: I have read the draft manuscript for Tough Things First, an upcoming book by the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley. He tells entrepreneurs to learn loving the things they hate doing the most, which includes learning the essentials of marketing strategy.
  • Self-educate: Marketing gurus are to be employed by founders. But founders need to conceptually understand the seven pillars of marketing strategy so they can manage their teams, contractors and initiatives. There exists some excellent though not-quite-lite reading on marketing strategy development.
  • Mentoring: Acquiring mentors is the one best safety net an entrepreneur can have, yet they rarely add marketing mentors. A little equity is a small price to pay for guidance from experienced marketing strategists.
  • Blunder avoidance: Learning from other people’s mistakes is always cheaper than making them yourself. It perfects the equation p(s)=1–p(f) [extra points for the first reader to correctly decipher this]. Don’t make the same mistakes every other failed startup has … over and over again. Be a watchdog and be aware of everyone who has gone to market and never returned.



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