30 April 2014

Greetings from Startup Land

Which one delivers results?

This past month on Ad Majorem I've described in a series of posts how I went from Ad Land to Startup Land.  My hope is that you found it interesting or helpful or both.

There are a lot of differences between the two worlds.  I'd argue that one big thing Startup Land can teach Ad Land is how Technology and Marketing can work together.

One big similarity?  I've seen that whether you're in Ad Land or Startup Land, the only way to create real value is to focus on delivering results.

Here's an index to the whole series.  Thanks for reading.

How I Went from Ad Land to Startup Land

Startup Land Has No Boundaries

Startup Land, Where Technology and Marketing Work Together

In Startup Land, Management Really Is Nimble

Results Also Matter in Startup Land

Book Review:  Quick and Nimble

28 April 2014

Book Review: Quick and Nimble

Quick and Nimble:  Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation
By Adam Bryant
Henry Holt & Co., 264 pages

While writing the series Greetings from Startup Land, I noticed this new book by Adam Bryant, the Corner Office columnist at the New York Times, titled Quick and Nimble.  So, as a bonus extra to the Startup Land series, here’s a nimble version of the Ad Majorem Book Review.  (Slightly less nimble book reviews here, here and here.)

Bryant starts on the premise that big companies can learn from startups how to be quick and nimble.  A competing theme is that companies in general can learn from so-called innovative companies how to be more innovative.  The book doesn’t really deliver on either of these promises.  Instead, it’s a collection of Things Big Company CEOs Have Learned.  Which probably makes sense, because the source material is Bryant’s weekly profiles of Big Company CEOs Who Have Learned Things.

In fairness, much of what emerges from these interviews is a response to the generally bureaucratic nature of big companies in an era when technology has made interpersonal communication much more instantaneous.  In other words, communication has been democratized and corporations are still catching up.

So if you are currently in a leadership position, or wish to be, this book requires two hours for a speed-read, or four to six hours for more careful consideration.  Either way, you’ll probably take away a couple of techniques worth emulating.  But it won’t make your company more nimble.

23 April 2014

Results Also Matter in Startup Land

Decades ago the Ad Land pioneer Rosser Reeves asked, “What do you want from me?  Fine writing?  Or do you want to see the sales curve start moving up?”  We may argue, half a century later, as to how widely Ad Land holds that sentiment.  Startup Land depends on it – or at least depends on the sales curve rising fast enough to beat the burn rate.  

Or does it?

Years ago, Eric Schmidt described Google's business strategy as “URL” -- Ubiquity first, Revenue Later.  That worked for Google, but many venture capitalists who invest in technology seem to take it literally.  There is a lot of money poured into companies that may still be in the red for years, like Amazon, Pinterest and many others.

Dollars and Cents

Sadly, most people in Ad Land are insulated from business results until the moment when agency layoffs are unavoidable.  Agencies have been slow to embrace results and accountability.  One pundit says clients are complicit.

Last of a series
Because Startup Land is for the most part small and nimble, it’s impossible to be insulated from business results.  Everything is very out in the open.  If your company hasn’t gone public, you’re still accountable to your investors, whose money you’re spending to grow the business.  Our investors hold us accountable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Traveling in these circles, however, I am struck by how few investors really do their homework on the day-to-day operations of the companies they invest in.  Some are far more interested in financial instruments – credit facilities, warrants and the like – than in what makes the sales curve go up.  Many investors love seeing stock prices rise on the possibility of future results.  (Today's news suggests that caution is order.)

Kiss a Lot of Frogs

There’s an old saying, repeated often in Startup Land, that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before getting to the prince.  It applies both to raising capital (which we recently did) and raising the sales curve (which we are always doing).  As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this series, it’s easy to get impatient.

Impatience may be a virtue, but don’t lose focus.  Whether you’re in Ad Land or Startup Land, focus on delivering results, not just the promise of them.  It's the only way to create real value.

15 April 2014

In Startup Land, Management Really Is Nimble

Maybe it’s just because startup companies are small by definition, but management really is nimble.  In our company, “management” is three people:  the CEO, the CTO and the CMO.

I’m still not sure if we’re nimble because we can be (there are just three of us) or if we have to be (market forces move so quickly these days).  Maybe a little bit of both.  I do know that big companies want to be nimble.  When Google founder Larry Page took over as CEO, he said he wanted “the nimbleness and soul and passion and speed of a startup.”

Interestingly, that quote lists four characteristics that form a sine qua non daisy chain of Startup Land merit badges.  You can’t have any of these without the others.  In other words, you’re not nimble if you don’t have soul or you lack passion or speed.

Dance, Startup Boy, Dance!

Happily, things in Startup Land move much faster than things at a big holding company in Ad Land.  When we took over our little company, it was clear we had to put costs in line with revenue, modify the business model and clean up the code.

Fourth of a series
Coming from Ad Land, “costs in line with revenue” is usually a synonym for “employee layoffs” but that wasn’t the case here.  As in many startups, the company was just burning through too much investor cash on things that didn’t really drive the business.  You see those things quickly when there’s no bureaucracy hiding them.

We also very decisively focused the company’s business model.  We’re winding down a legacy business in managing proprietary hardware – call it “owned media” – for institutional advertisers.  We stopped licensing software to clients, which yielded very little revenue and more than a few operational issues.

We inherited an excellent software platform, but like any such platform it needed regular updating.  The CTO started a project, working closely with Marketing, to release new versions every four to six weeks.  This allowed us to prioritize what we needed and get it to market faster, rather than waiting for One Big Release that might come months later.

Some things just can’t get done right away.  You only have so much time and talent available.  For example, we are only just now revising the website.  But we made that decision ourselves versus being held hostage to a corporate process.

Impatience Can Be a Virtue

In the first post of this series we mentioned that Startup Land requires patience, and that’s still true.  Impatience, however, drives nimbleness.  You want to make things happen quickly, so you do. 

To resolve this apparent paradox:  Be impatient with what you can control, and patient with what you can’t.  Which leads to our next post.

10 April 2014

Startup Land, Where Technology and Marketing Work Together

The trade press is filled with articles about how CMOs and CTOs must work together, or how marketing must learn to appreciate tech.  I agree, but there are also a lot of articles stereotyping tech people as numbers-driven geekbots who don’t appreciate how art and science can work together.

Surely you know better than that if you work in Ad Land.  Your colleagues are likely to include technologists, developers, data analysts and more.  In my case it all started in 1996 when we built a new website for one of our clients, and since then it’s been a lot of hardware, software, 1s and 0s all the way.
Third of a series

Working with tech people is important whether you’re in Ad Land or Startup Land, whether you’re a CMO, copywriter or account executive.  You’re in Marketing.  How do you build an effective working relationship with Technology?

How Marketers Can Build an Effective Working Relationship with Technology

The following are my own thoughts, but I also took my CTO to lunch so we could talk them over.
  • Communicate face-to-face.  In fact, lunch with my CTO is an example of my first piece of advice.  Your inner cynic says sure, a tech guy’s idea of face-to-face is Skype.  Actually, Skype is perfectly acceptable if your tech counterpart works in another city.  Think about it, though, don’t you rely too much on email and other electronic communication with your day-to-day colleagues?  Sitting down together gives you the chance to listen patiently.
  • Read and learn.  You’ve got to prepare for those conversations.  Curiosity is a recurring topic of this blog and this five-part series, and it goes double for understanding the role of Technology in your business.  If you hear an unfamiliar technical term, look it up.  If a new social media platform gets traction, try it yourself.  Stay abreast of emerging companies by reading investment news like Term Sheet or Seeking Alpha.  This comes back to those face-to-face conversations.  If you’ve listened well and done your homework, you’ll be able to ask smarter questions and learn even more.  (This also applies to the forming of alliances described in the previous post.)
  • Work together.  All of the above gets applied in the work your company does, but it still doesn’t happen automatically.  My CTO told me of many past experiences where “the business” didn’t articulate their needs nor monitor the outcome.  “Would you send a contractor off to remodel your kitchen and only see the final result four weeks later?” he asked.  Of course not.  For one thing, customer experience depends so much on Technology these days that it’s a moral obligation for Marketing to stay tuned.  Plus, since CMOs will soon spend more on IT than CIOs, we marketers need to be smart shoppers.

The Goal is to Understand How the Business and the Technology Interrelate

In my lunch with the CTO, a constant theme was that the technology only matters in the context of the business.  He went out of his way to point out that the business strategy should dictate the technology strategy.  For marketers, whether in Ad Land or Startup Land, that’s really the point of building an effective working relationship with your technology counterpart:  Understanding how the Business and the Technology interrelate.

Oddly, a couple of hours after our CTO-CMO lunch, a recent hire from Ad Land stopped by my office to ask:  “Are we a media company or a technology company”?  “Both,” I answered.  “Why do you ask?” 

This media planning veteran had seen how much time we spent with the technology, updating the software, discussing how it should be improved, what the impact would be on client transactions, etc., and got the wrong impression.

Actually, she got the right impression:  It’s super important to have those conversations about technology.  A couple of days later she, the CTO and I got together to discuss some business issues and it was a perfect example of how the free flow of thinking between “the business” and “the technology” can make the most of both.

It’s also an example of nimble management, which will be the subject of the next post.