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When startups ignore marketing


I've been thinking about early stage startup founders and their mental models about marketing.

Working with several during my career, I've often seen a focus on product followed by sales first, several head counts before marketing becomes a consideration.

Usually, from the founders´perspective, the affinity to their total addressable market tend to be limited and based on biases.

Now, before we go deeper into this conundrum - let me unpack that by saying this:

Clichés are truisms.

And here's the cliche:

A team of co-founders work at a company and identifies a hard-to-solve issue. They see the current system failing to solve that issue, and through the personal relationship formed over time, they decide to quit their jobs and work on solving that specific problem.

One co-founder doing sales becomes the CEO, and the other co-founder with a technical background becomes the CTO.

They prototype an MVP in search of unbundling that particular part of the industry, and pursue funding.

Having secured a pre-seed round, they start building the MVP.

So far, so good?

Here's where the friction happens:

You heard it before - "build the product, and the users will come".

Here's the catch, though, from the awesome Linda Zhang:

Building an audience when you're trying to find product-market fit can mean many different things. In the early stages, to me at least, it means testing out ways of framing your messaging to your perceived ideal customer.

You can instantly see whether or not something resonates with paid campaigns, without having to hire sales reps to jump on prospecting calls and tarnish your brand with salesy outreach tactics.

Hiring a marketer, instead, not only validates your messaging, but can also bring interested prospects wanting to know more about your product. These are calls the CEO can - and should - take. Consider it an R&D project with the upside potential of bringing in early adopters.

It's seriously something that can bypass a lot of growing pains in the early stages of a venture.

But for several reasons, marketers are an afterthought in this scenario.

Many of these preconceived notions about marketing are, fortunately, starting to fade. But to this day, I see many startups hiring their first marketer after a surge in hiring sales reps. Often times, sales teams will often be 3x in size compared to the marketing team.

Another thing to consider:

If your product is loved by early customers - great. But if your growth path is not clear, you have an inflated challenge to conquer.

Also, getting feedback from their own ecosystem would give the founders a rather poor idea of how their product will be perceived by a regular audience.

Tight ecosystem = Big echo chamber.

If you can focus on growth and product in parallel as early as possible, your chance of survival increases a lot.

But the pull to focus on product and sales is strong.

How do you change that?

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