Before You Start Startup Marketing, Start With Product

If our goal [or least my personal philosophy] of startup marketing is to create more sales at a lower cost, where do we begin?

First – write your mission statement, then your value proposition, then create at least a 10 page marketing strategy.

When my friend and I kicked around the idea of beginning our startup, we received a harsh dose of reality from Triangle Startup Factory’s Chris Heivly.  He asked us point-blank, “Have you spoken with at least 100 of your possible customers?”.  Our response?  Deer-in-headlight stares.  Minds blown. We’re supposed to do that?  Really?  That sounds hard.  We soon did.

Seth Godin's Circles of Marketing
Seth Godin’s Circles of Marketing

The point Chris was driving home is that without knowing exactly what our customers wanted, how could we ever know what to build? How could we ever convince anyone to invest in something two guys thought up with no actual evidence it’s valuable? Only by speaking with our customers could we determine if our product was  desirable in the market, if people would pay, what features should make the first version, and here’s a key point for us marketers, what sales & marketing messaging would resonate with customers.

The lesson here is best illustrated by Seth Godin’s Circles of Marketing post.  Please read it now.  It’s that good. I’ll wait.


The absolute most effective form of marketing is a great product.  Great is defined as solving a problem that customers will pay to have solved.  Great is not every feature you’ve ever imagined, just enough to get paying customers. Everything else you think marketing is [the outer circle] has less impact than your product.  Focus on product first. Simple to say, and very often overlooked.  We almost did.  Even at established companies it is very easy to believe you know what the market wants, and that if you build it, they will come.  Never believe this.  Never ever.

We approached our customer conversations with the “Voice of Customer” methodology.  Pick up the phone, see customers in person, stalk them at their homes, cyberstalk them online.  Do whatever it takes to determine if you are actually solving the problem you think your customers have, and if they will pay for it.

Next up, we’ll cover the actual tactics we used to conduct these calls.


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