Tech In Boston

Tech In Boston

Sharing learnings from the people building and working at companies in Boston.

Why Startups Need Marketers More Than They Realize

This is a guest post from Josh Mendelsohn, VP Marketing, DreamFund. You can also listen to Josh on this previous episode of Tech In Boston.

Imagine if you will, a bunch of marketers sitting around trying to write code for their tech startup without an expert on hand.  They’d be mocked and dismissed, and probably write some code that is full of bugs and will quickly need to be re-written. For good reason it’s generally not something that you see done.   

So, why is it so common to see developers attempt to position and market a business without any help? Perhaps it is because marketing appears simple at first glance.  Everyone is exposed to online advertising and company web sites every day.  We all think we understand what works and what doesn’t and as individuals we feel qualified to try our hand at doing something we are so familiar with.  

But that can be a tragic mistake for companies trying to get their first sets of funding and customers because while pivots are common, you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression with the people who could make or break your business.

As a marketing guy with a passion for startups, I am obviously biased on the topic but there are a few really good reasons to have a marketing (and/or business development) pro on hand through the early days of a company.  Because while developers might have good marketing ideas, they usually don’t have the developed skill set to actually get people to investigate, use, and recommend a product.  

1. Positioning the product for each of the key audiences.  Marketers bring unique skills in understanding how people buy and the emotional, not just functional parts of the process. In many cases the “best” technology doesn’t win, the one with the clearest and most compelling message does. They also understand that the pitch for investors may be different than consumers and know how to decide what features should be highlighted where.

2. Help focus development on the things that sell.  We can all agree that early stage development is all about trade offs. Marketers bring the customer perspective to the table to help identify which features will actually entice someone to start using a product and drive referrals, and which you can add later.  

3. They know how to say it simply.  Developers are usually super smart people who want to build cool things.  They understand and will happily tell you why building on one code stack or development platform is better than another or how bleeding edge a product is.  Which is great, except most buyers can’t understand what that means or why it matters.  Marketers are great at simplifying the message into the key points that potential users care about and making people feel like they are making a smart choice instead of being confused and feeling dumb.

4. They’ve actually done the work before.  I’ve often said that doing marketing for a day is easy.  Doing it every day is really hard.  But just because you’ve read about how to do social media, email marketing, create and test landing pages, funnel analysis and more doesn’t mean you actually know how to do it.  Reading lots of articles can’t prepare you for what it’s really like to continually produce content and optimize your marketing. Sure, people can learn and even an experienced marketer will make mistakes but with critically low marketing budgets (time and money) you don’t want to make rookie mistakes with your startup.

5. Proper data interpretation: Research tools like Survey Monkey and Delighted make it really easy throw up an NPS survey and analytics tools like Google Analytics and Mixpanel make it easy to track behavior.  (I love all of those by the way.)  But understanding what is good or projectable data and what is not can be tricky.  Even for marketers, the urge to think a little bit of data is anything more than directional can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to have someone on hand who really understands what they are looking at and how to spin it for an investor meeting.

Am I saying that you have to have a founding CMO or even a marketing head? Not necessarily.  But knowing what they bring to the table is essential so you can decide whether you actually need them or not.

 

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The Early Days of Hubspot, Learning About VC and Building a Product for Quants

Tech In Boston Podcast Episode 16: Interview with Karen Rubin, Director of Product, Quantopian.

Listen to this episode on iTunes.  On Android? Listen on Stitcher.

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Karen Rubin is Director of Product Management at Quantopian, a company that provides a platform for anyone to build, test, and execute trading algorithms.  Karen was one of the first product managers at HubSpot after joining the company in 2008, and her teams helped build the first versions of many of the current HubSpot products.  She also spent time as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Matrix Partners, helping the firm evaluate deals and find new companies to invest in (and having a lot of coffee meetings with local founders).

In this episode, Karen talks about:

  • Her role as Director of Product Management at Quantopian
  • Being on of the early employees at HubSpot and her biggest learnings from the company’s growth during that time 
  • What makes the perfect Product Manager
  • Her role as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Matrix Partners
  • The learnings from meeting with hundreds of companies/founders and thoughts on why early stage venture is so hard
  • Her formula to succeed in a new job, regardless of whether you know the industry

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Storing Everything On Your Phone and Why Free Beer Doesn’t Define Culture

Tech In Boston Podcast Episode 15: Interview with Saty Mahajan, CEO, Mustbin.

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Listen to this episode on iTunes.  On Android? Listen on Stitcher.

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Saty Mahajan is the CEO of Mustbin, an app that provides consumers with a secure way to store anything using the camera on an iPhone.  Founded by Brian Shin, the CEO of Visible Measures, Mustbin was named Innovative Mobile App of the Year by MITX, and has been funded to the tune of $6 million to date,  including participation from Dharmesh Shah (co-founder of Hubspot) and Jonathan Kraft (president of the New England Patriots).

Saty was brought on as Mustbin’s first hire and built the product’s initial prototype.  He spent the last year running day-to-day operations as CTO and recently took over as CEO.  

In this episode, Saty talks about:

  • His recent transition to CEO and how he defines the role.
  • Creating iClub, a device that was was dubbed the “Future of Golf” by the PGA in 2005 and installed in top country clubs including Pebble Beach and Augusta National.
  • The biggest mistake that companies make in the early days of building.
  • Why something like free beer is a company perk - not something that defines the company culture.How to make tough decisions about what to build.
  • His thoughts on the future of mobile and the impact of Apple Pay.

Join the Tech In Boston email list so you don’t miss this episode when it’s released.

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What It’s Like Being an Engineer at a Startup

This is a guest post from Alex Meyer, Senior Developer at Privy.  Check out Alex’s blog for more of his thoughts on startups and technology.

Tech startups and engineers go hand-in-hand. At the core of any tech startup is a group of engineers. Engineers are the ones that put the ‘tech’ in tech startup. You don’t have to look very far for the mystique of the coder type. Even Hollywood is starting to get in on the action. But what is it actually like to be an engineer at a startup?  

Three Qualities of An Effective Startup Engineer

1. They need to be involved in more than just writing code.

One major difference between being an engineer at a startup vs being an engineer at a large established company is the opportunity to do more than just write code. Startup engineers have many different tasks and half of them do not involve code. For example, depending on the size of the company, there might not be a dedicated designer. That means, as a programmer, you will have to do everything from creating mock-ups, to designing prototypes all the way down to the colors of the buttons.

Before we had a full-time designer at Privy, I designed and implemented each part of the product that I worked on. That was true for every engineer. We had to figure out not only how something was going to work, but how it was going to look.

This is accurate outside of product as well. When a company is small, developers are involved in all parts of the business. Your skills will be required for marketing, sales, and customer support. There are no walls between departments at a startup, both literally and figuratively. Startup engineers have to dig in and help out in every way they can.

2. They need to adapt quickly.

Everything moves fast at a startup. That means an engineer has to be capable of adapting to changes quickly. Sometimes there will be new customers in the pipeline that require a particular feature and it gets bumped to the top of the list. Engineers need to be able to realize the impact it has on the business and drop everything to implement the feature quickly.

New people join and leave your team. When you are at a startup that is growing fast some employees will be joining the team and others will be leaving. You need to be able to get your job done with 2 people or with 10 people. Wherever gaps occur, you need to be prepared to fill them quickly. Sometimes that means doing backend work even though you are a frontend developer. Other times it will mean you have to learn new processes in order to be on the same page with a larger team.

Sometimes customers come across bugs that prevent them from getting their job done. These are the type of fixes that require programmers to drop everything they are doing and get a fix out asap. Fire drills happen and you need to be ready for them at the drop of a hat.

3. They need to get shit done.

It might be a little cliche but it holds a lot of truth. When all said and done, the most important quality of a startup engineer is to get your work done. Startups do not have long timelines. Most startups live and die every few months. Whether it is implementing new features in order to close a round of funding or fixing a bug that could cause customers to lose money, engineers at startups need to get shit done.

At tech startups this is especially true because the company depends on your work. You do not have time to sit around all day debating ideas when your business is hanging on by a thread. New features need to go out, bugs need to be fixed, and marketing needs help building that landing page. There is always something that needs to be done.

To be clear this doesn’t mean do crap work just to get something out the door. Instead, I mean that you have to do great work at 5x the speed. Sometimes compromises will have to be made but the effort you put in will be noticed and appreciated by the rest of the team.

Being an engineer at a startup is exciting. Few other positions offer the combination of the ability to influence multiple departments, learn at an accelerated pace, and have direct customer impact.

Check out Alex’s blog for more of his thoughts on startups and technology.

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The OpenTable Of After Dark, MTV’s MADE & Managing HubSpot’s Brand

Tech In Boston Podcast Episode 14: Interview with Keith Frankel, Chief Digital Officer at Tablelist

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Keith Frankel is the Chief Digital Officer at Tablelist, a startup in Boston that has become the “OpenTable of after dark,” making it easy for people to book table or bottle service at any nightclub in New York, Boston, or Las Vegas (Tablelist raised a $2M round of funding on AngelList in July; read more about that and where the idea for the company came from here.)

Keith joined Tablelist from HubSpot where he was Head of Creative and Design and in charge of the company’s brand.  Keith helped HubSpot prep for the company’s recent IPO announcement, and he also heads up the Boston chapter of CreativeMornings, a monthly breakfast lecture series for the local creative communities of some of the world’s largest cities.

In this episode, Keith talks about:

  • His role as Chief Digital Officer at Tablelist and his time spent at HubSpot managing the company’s brand externally.
  • Why he left HubSpot prior to the company announcing it’s IPO.
  • The experience he got early in his career working as a product on the Emmy award-winning MTV show “MADE.”
  • Why writing has been one of the most underrated (and important) skills in his career.
  • The top three reasons he’s been able to become a successful manager at a young age.When “good enough” is good enough.

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