Startup’s Marketing Journey

— Author: Ilia Stechkin
Five steps to build the successful marketing strategy
Ilia Stechkin Ken Singer
Inspired by the interview with Ken Singer, managing director of Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at Berkeley.

A common mistake that a lot of founders make is the following: when they are pitching their startup to investors they are thinking about keeping the product alive. But what is the reason to invest money in the product that is not able to feed its owners? The thing that “angels” are waiting from their projects under care is scalability. And the scalability contains two parts: a significant increase in the pace of development and strengthening brand’s position in the market competition.

Prologue: Marketing or technology?

What is the point to think about, what is the most important thing for a success story?

Ken: So, my discipline of choice is product marketing, so the answer is yes, it’s both. You can’t have technology without marketing and you can’t have marketing without technology. ‘Cause it’s not a technology unless it has some kind of application. Before it’s a technology, it’s a research project. And then once it becomes a technology, you know it can be used for certain purposes. Technology has to have purpose, and what marketing does is to find that purpose.

Ilia: And to explain.

Ken: To explain that purpose. And to sell that purpose. Right? Marketing is really about taking the essence of that technology and bringing it to the consciousness of consumers. So, it’s not either/or, they are tied together and one needs the other. This is why our education system is actually quite broken, because we either teach you to be a marketing person, or we teach you to be a technology person. And one of the things that our department does really well is to bring people from all these different disciplines and make sure not only that they work together, but they also trade skills. And they learn about how to be good at the other discipline. And as a result, our startups tend to do really well.

Step 1. The client rules it all

Think about your customer, not about your idea.

What is the first thing you are telling anybody about your product? You bet that’s something like: “we just created a cool thing, a real game-changer that will makes the world better!” Stop here and think about what it means for the common people or even for investors. It sounds like: “that’s one more bullshit that does not matter for me personally or for my business.” So think about your buyers’ personas: who they are and why they do care about the product you are going to sell. Think about their motivation and start your narrative in such a way: “you probably faced this problem even today (name an exact and understandable problem to solve). We share your pain. But have you ever thought that this situation could be easily solved with (put here your USP)? Probably not, because still there is no product working like (describe how your product is solving the problem and show your positioning on the market in comparison with competitors if there are any). So that’s how (input the name of the project) works”. You probably think that’s a common knowledge. Lucky you are! But just make a pause before the next paragraph and try to tell someone about your startup. So? That was not easy to think about the client, not about the idea, right?

Usually we recommend our clients to play with MakeMyPersona by Hubspot. You don’t need to be a HubSpot customer to try this tool. This exercise will help you to structure your vision of the client.

Step 2. “All the world’s a stage”

Describe different scenarios of using your product. Help people to find their roles.

Are you sure that everybody knows how to use your product or tool in a proper way? Don’t rush to answer. Try to find out if you know all the use cases for the most intimate device you have – your cell phone. Dig out the manual or google it and make a deep dive into the options that you have. You will find a lot of new use cases. That’s why Apple, for example, founded their “Tips” project for each of their mobile devices (e.g. iOS 10 Tips and Tricks).

One of our clients, Czech cloud service provider s.r.o. launched IaaS project Cloud Virtual Desktop (also known as VDI). We specially asked them for the number of use cases to help audience to find the reason to order this service. We wrote just a paragraph based on their explanations, but this paragraph really helps to turn a lead into a customer:

“Whether you’re a freelancer in a home office incorporating multi-media content or an IT director for a small business or large company, Host-Telecom’s VDI services offer the computing power you need and the flexibility to expand services on demand.”

We hope that you have already described you buyer’s personas. Now that’s time to model how they interact with your product. Try to imagine the way people will use your product or tool first. Then ask your friends, classmates and relatives if they are able to use your product what is the way they will do it. Save and organize their answers to prove or to change your guess.

Step 3. Agile your customers

Think your business as a continuous dialog with a client.

Social media is a powerful tool for gaining mindshare, generating sales leads, and recruiting talent. If you haven’t done it yet, we invite you to join Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Try to follow your business-related people and companies.

We strongly recommend you to make posts about your products, services or job opportunities, as well as to publish other items on social media (e.g. articles related to your business) with the goal of provoking feedback and engagement.

Once my teacher, Nick Chase from OpenStack: Unlocked explained me that engagement comes in a few forms:

  • “Likes” (LinkedIn, Facebook) or “Favorites” (Twitter). These are marks of approval from people who have viewed the content. These are the most basic interactions you can get from the audience.

  • “Shares” (LinkedIn, Facebook), or “Retweets” (Twitter). When users do this, they are re-sharing the content with their own networks. This helps you enlarge your audience

  • “Comments” (LinkedIn, Facebook) or “Replies” (Twitter). When users do this, they are responding to the content directly. We love comments because they let us engage with and influence people.

Social media engagement presumes interactions (two-way communications). If someone’s saying you’re great it’s easy to respond. But how to respond when the feedback isn’t positive? Remember, it’s fine if you are criticized. The only company that doesn’t get criticized is the company that does nothing.

It is tempting to engage and attempt to solve the problem immediately, or to correct the inaccuracies in what the other person is saying. But make a pause and take it this way: your company is an agile team, your client (or even lead) is your project owner. Use criticism to build your backlog and do not forget to report about the work done and lessons learned.

Step 4. Show me your… cases!

Motivate people to build your credibility through their success stories.

The most important and the most hard-to-get part of your marketing content are case studies (or success stories). We have already described why it is important to describe use cases. So case studies are use cases proven in practice and witten on behalf of your customers.

The problem here is to get an official permission from the client to tell the story of your relationship. Companies that you are proud of working with will have a fair concern that you simply want to promote your business through their brands.

Also the availability of the materials provided by your client can be the subject of negotiations. Surely it’s better to have a permission to present publicly the success story, but it’s also fine if the client allows you to use such content for lead generation process.

Think about the way to motivate your clients to tell about you or to let you use such storytelling. It could be internal contest with valuable prizes, discounts or some co-branding opportunities. For example you could offer to pay all the expenses for your client’s participation in an important industrial event if they are ready to make the common presentation with you and let you prepare the story based on this presentation.

Remember it will be easier to negotiate with your clients after you have published 3 – 4 success stories. So it’s useful to invest some resources (even money) to win first publications.

Step 5. Catch the wave

Use new trends to tell your story.

You need to have a good choice for news, gags, memes and stuff like this. For example we used the term “agile” to describe the way how to negotiate with your audience via social media mostly because of the popularity of this term. There are a lot of ways to explain what we mean.

If you know that containers in general and Kubernetes in particular are hot today think about how to incorporate this agenda into your story.

Do you remember the movement “Occupy Wall Street”? One of our clients told us that their USP is based on no vendor lock-in opensource-based DRaaS. So we offered them the advertising campaign with the slogan “Occupy <Competing vendor’s name>. No vendor lock-in. You must have the right to choose your service provider”.

We strongly recommend you to monitor most popular hashtags in Twitter, viral content in Facebook and YouTube to be able to use triggers and to build jokes based on the most popular content of the day or week. This technique also allows you to refresh your content when the agenda is changed. But please be careful using this tactic working on evergreen content.


Good luck and have an effective marketing journey! Here are five milestones to check that you are on a right way:

  1. Think about your customer, not about your idea.
  2. Describe different scenarios of using your product. Help people to find their roles.
  3. Think about your business as a continuous dialog with a client.
  4. Motivate people to build your credibility through their success stories.
  5. Use new trends to tell your story.

And remember if you need any guidance or assistance on the way feel free to contact us. We are here at your marketing service!