start-ups

A Call for Research Participants

In our work with small, rapidly-growing clients, we have noticed a lack of benchmarks for marketing spend as they evolve from ‘idea to IPO.’ There are some great resources out there for large public companies to gauge themselves and stay up to date with spending trends. Reports from Forrester, Gartner, and IDC are incredibly valuable resource points and we would recommend them to anyone looking for help in creating a marketing budget. However, while these reports provide excellent data and are grand in scope, we feel that they are underserving a very important market. They lack data on high-growth, smaller, fast-paced companies. In other words, startups. We are aiming to solve that. We have set out to field a research study specifically targeted to inform “Pre-IPO”, “Pre-Exit” companies. This is important because startups are different. Year-to-year there is a tremendous amount of change. The current resources available to startup marketing leaders when trying to benchmark their spend are failing to capture that and this report will provide them with more reliable and targeted data that is actionable.

Our report will outline marketing budget trends and spend benchmarks of the startup universe. We are beginning by conducting a brief survey that will break down spend by industry, company size, and company stage. We will then further analyze spend trends by tactics and learn about what strategies might be helping companies meet their revenue targets. This research will be conducted in manner that puts the legitimacy of the data and privacy of our participants in the highest regard. As such, we’ve structured the research to be “double-blind” – thus eliminating the ability to trace specific answers back to individual participants or companies.

We are currently fielding participants for the research and are looking to include as many as we can in the final report. In exchange for participation, all of those involved will receive an advance copy of the final report, which we plan to publish by the end of the year. If you are interested, we ask that you please fill-out this quick sign-up form and pass along to anyone else you think might be interested. We will follow-up with those who fill-out the sign-up form and they can expect to receive the actual survey link from us within the week. If you or someone you know would like more information, please drop a note to me, Richard Dolezalek at richard.dolezalek@seriesc.net or my colleague, John Volkmann at jvolkmann@seriesc.net.

Top Ten Best Practices for Managing Your Board

One of the most challenging things an entrepreneur must do is communicate effectively with his or her board. After spending countless hours with lots of entrepreneurs helping them prepare for board meetings and working with lots of boards to get what they need from their entrepreneurs, I’ve come up with a list of ten practices that make for good relations with this critical group of experts as you build your product and get it ready to go to market. How many of these do you regularly practice today? Choose the ones where you're deficient, and dig in. You'll get more out of your board relationships, and so will they.

  1. Understand how the board operates. Who is the alpha dog? How do the members communicate with each other? Know who your sponsor is. Respect the structure and fit in.
  2. Organize your thoughts ahead of time. Edit ruthlessly. Be concise. Use pictures, diagrams, infographics to convey messages.
  3. Never surprise your board. Reach out ahead of board meetings and run ideas past people. Use your sponsor to share good news and bad news ahead of board meetings and ALWAYS have a solution in mind if what you are sharing is a problem.
  4. Assign each board member a “role” in your mind to provide advice, counsel, context, whatever, and use them for that. Build a relationship with each one on a specific platform.
  5. Speak Metrics. Your preferred way of communicating may be words or pictures or even voice. But board members, especially venture capitalists,speak metrics. Learn the language and convey your points in it.
  6. Know more about your business than they do. Drop a “golden nugget” or two that they don’t know about your market, your competitors, your industry. Assume that they think you know everything about your business. Add something new each time you meet.
  7. Forecast accurately. A forecast is not a hope. And hope is not a strategy. Use a framework. Be conservative. Meet your forecasts. And if you will not meet them, let the board know ahead of time—why and what you are going to do about it. Start with your sponsor.
  8. Be confident. You are the CEO. There are people’s expectations and money resting on your decisions. Take the responsibility seriously and project accordingly.
  9. Set expectations. Be the voice of reason as it relates to goals and objectives that are first reviewed by and agreed upon by the board—before the clock starts ticking. Then remember to continue to set expectations in every conversation and especially every meeting. What is happening next and how does it fit in the plan and move the company forward?
  10. Provide follow-up that is also well organized, thoughtful and concise. Show your board that you took note of their questions and took the time to get the answers. Send them additional nuggets of good news between board meetings that show progress from the last meeting.

Growth-Stage Start-ups: Aligning Your IT and Marketing Needs Now

In August 2013, Accenture published a detailed report titled "The CMO-CIO Disconnect," about the importance of marketers and information leaders collaborating, and the un-stellar level to which they're doing that in enterprises today.  Enterprise marketing leaders and CIOs at the U.S.' largest 2,000 companies probably gobbled up the report. I would bet, though, that very few CEOs of growth-stage tech start-ups have paid any attention to it. It's not marketed to them, not considered relevant. They probably don't even have CMOs or CIOs yet.  Listen up, entrepreneurs. You should pay attention to the report. Its wisdom is absolutely relevant to you.

Here's why: A CEO of a growing tech start-up has all of the upside to gain from aligning IT and marketing interests early in the company's evolution -- combined with none of the legacy baggage that makes the alignment difficult to achieve. Start-ups enjoy a nimble agility that enterprises don't have. Only 1 in 10 enterprise marketing and IT executives interviewed by Accenture say the level of collaboration is where it needs to be. You want to disrupt a larger competitor as you vault your company through its growth phase? Knock this alignment out of the park from today forward.

Let me summarize the three strategic imperatives from the report that strike me as most relevant to CEOs of start-ups, especially if there's no CMO or CIO in your company yet.

1. "Identify your CMO as your Chief Experience Officer. "

Okay, so you don't have a CMO yet. That's fine.... as long as the CEO -- or someone -- is passionately stewarding the quality of your customers' and partners' experience in using and interacting with your company and its products.  Who is looking out for things like:

    • how easy it is to find what you have, understand it, try it, and buy it?
    • how easy it is to use it, from the day of purchase until it's time to replace it with something else?
    • how easy it is to support and sell it, and to collaborate with you, for your channel partners?
    • how easy it is to transact and collaborate with you, for your supply chain partners?
    • how these external stakeholders' point of view is represented in your brand, your communications, your strategic decisions?

If no one in your company owns this critical function today, get it assigned, preferably to someone who brings a passionate point of view to it. (The responsibility can get passed down to a marketing leader later in your evolution.) Then, move on to the second bullet point below.

2. "Agree on key business levers for marketing and IT alignment."

In other words, decide what drivers will govern who prevails if marketing and IT have conflicting needs.  This may seem far ahead of where you are if you're a growth-stage start-up, but you're designing now the architecture that is going to become your "legacy" later -- with all its benefits and limitations. Anticipate that IT and marketing conflict will tend to converge most at two intersections:

1) Where marketing's need for transparency of customer and company data will intersect with IT's need for information security.

2) Where marketing's need for third-party, best-at-what-it-does software intersects with IT's need to control system standards and protect the sanctity of its infrastructure.

Here are some questions your CEO and leadership team can ask yourselves today, to ensure what you're building will meet your needs as you scale and reap new and loyal customers and partners:

    • What kind of customer data, and how much, will our company eventually need to exploit to gain new customers and keep existing customers? To deliver on that great experience we're designing for them?
    • What kind of company data will our company eventually need to make transparent in order to support the ideal experience we are creating for  our customers, channel partners, and supply chain partners?
    • What third-party software demands are we going to have in marketing this business -- keeping in mind things like mobile marketing and mobile service delivery, mobile payments, targeted marketing campaigns, customer relationship management, information management, etc? How will emerging trends like NFC and biometrics impact these needs?
    • Given the countries in which our target market exists, what kinds of data security and consumer privacy legislation are we subject to? How is the legislation evolving in these countries?
    • Where do we fall on the spectrum of conservative to aggressive when it comes to data privacy and infrastructure standards? Are we certain we can scale, market, and interact with customers and partners effectively and profitably given our answer?

3. "Change the skill mix to ensure that both organizations are more marketing- and tech-savvy."

This one's easy to adapt to growth-stage tech startups. Just change the sentence to read: "Hire people who are both marketing- and tech-savvy."  Be smart. Build the team right from the ground up.

When it's time to bring on a CIO or similar functional leader, ask candidates for their point of view on how their job intersects with marketing needs. Ask them for their point of view on how digital marketing is most effectively enabled, and what it might look like within your organization.

When it's time to bring on a marketing leader, ask candidates what they need from their IT partners in the organization.  Ask them for their point of view on how the balance should be struck between data access and information security.

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You can download and read the full Accenture report here, if you want to know what other recommendations .... and the data that shows how your enterprise (future) competitors are performing against them.