Five Tech Marketing Tips for Early Stage Technical Founders

In the early days of a startup, everything falls on the founders, from product development to finance to marketing and sales. For technical founders in particular, who may not have experience on the business side of a company, marketing can feel like a dark art that you don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole.

In reality, marketing today can and should be approached in much the same way you do with building features or running a dev organization (i.e. it’s not that scary).

Here are five marketing recommendations you can act on today that, in the early days of any startup, will have a big impact on building your brand, your product and your understanding of your audience.

1. Build Personas Early (And Revisit Often)

Something magical happens when you take what you think you know about your users and put it to paper in a persona brainstorm. Creating personas – or taking synthesized representations of your audience using real data points and conversations and building fictional characters out of it — has a profound effect on understanding your users better.

Personas humanize your users and make you think about them holistically. You’ll see key themes that can influence the direction you take your messaging or product planning. Developing even three personas in the early days of a company is enough to be an important lynchpin to help you and your co-founders make strategic decisions.

There are tons of great resources online that will walk you through building personas. Check out this 2-part series in Smashing Magazine, told from the point of view of an interaction designer, for a deeper overview of why personas are helpful and how to validate your assumptions with user research. And then follow it up with this post by Hubspot, which provides a persona template to get you started.

2. Gather Data and Talk to Your Users

Given the proliferation of analytics tools that have cropped up in the last couple of years, the challenge is not why to start collecting data points for marketing, but how to do it – without putting a dozen disparate tools in place.

Luckily, Segment saw what a challenge this was for marketing and engineering teams and built a tool that acts as one centralized connector to all the data services you can think of, from Mixpanel to Google Analytics to Salesforce.

If you’ve ever gotten into a tiff with someone from outside your team about why you need yet another service integrated into your backend, go sign up for Segment right now. And even if you’re so early stage that you only have 1 or 2 services hooked up, get Segment implemented anyway. It will save you so many headaches down the road, especially after you’ve brought a marketing team on board.

Related to this is to pick a platform that will let you engage with your users. I’m personally a huge fan of Intercom since they’ve managed to make it super simple to chat real-time with your users, answer support requests, send automated email marketing messages and track all of the user behavior you want. It’s a 360-view into your user base that can be used extensively by multiple teams within your organization as you grow.

3. Start Tracking KPIs Weekly and Monthly

When your traffic or signup numbers are small, it can seem silly to track this in an official KPI dashboard. It’s not. Your future marketing, sales and product hires will thank you when they see a window to the past and any growth trends from the beginning.

It doesn’t need to be complicated and it doesn’t need to be automated to start. Get a Google doc going and start tracking the following KPIs weekly and monthly:

1. Unique website visitors
2. Signups (free and paying)
3. % of visitors to signups
4. New “active” users (i.e. interacted with your product past signup)
5. % of signups to active users
6. Returning active users over previous 30-day period
7. MRR if you’re charging for your product

4. Do Sprint Planning For Your Marketing Tasks

You’re probably working on more marketing activities than you realize and tracking these by date, owner and prioritization is key with a small team. Also, doing sprint planning with your marketing activities is an easy and intuitive way to make sure you’re executing and things don’t get dropped.

My go-to tool is Trello because it’s visually appealing and super easy to get started with. Start by creating your lists of marketing categories, such as website fixes, blog, emails, conferences, etc. Your board might start looking something like this:

Then create the following three additional lists — TODO, DOING AND DONE — and decide if you want to do one or two-week sprints. Move your tasks over from the backlog lists and assign dates and owners per task. Make sure to use labels when you’re adding tasks to the backlog so when you move them to a sprint list, you’re keeping track of what it’s tied to.

This effectively allows you to mirror your marketing and dev planning (if you’re doing agile) and helps everyone know exactly what is being worked on in a given marketing sprint and what backlog items are outstanding.

5. Hire A Marketing Generalist

After a while, you’ll see that doing the above is too much for your or your co-founders to manage. When it’s time to make your first marketing hire, I’d recommend finding a generalist, someone who has experience managing content, lead gen, events — pretty much most areas of marketing — and isn’t afraid to get his or her hands dirty. You can think about the VP of CMO you’ll hire down the road, but starting with someone with 3-4 years of experience in your field (or a closely-related one) who can move fast and wants to grow with your organization is usually a great bet.

To Wrap Up

Marketing is an art and skill like any other area of your business. At the same time, it’s not magic and it won’t bite. As a founder, it’s critical that you infuse your personality and energy into every aspect of the company. Get in there and give these marketing tips a go.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that glassCanopy has 15 years of experience bringing B2B tech companies from Series A to acquisition or IPO, with over $2 billion dollars of client exits. That’s right, this is our call to action (important marketing tip — always have one), so call us at 415.963.4185, or give us a shout on this handy form, if you want to talk about how we might be able to help you bring your startup to the next stage of growth.

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