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PR Lessons: The Difference Between Good and Great

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These days our marketing team is going through the effort of selecting a new partner for our public relations(PR) and brand building efforts at KidoZen. This selection process comes after a failed attempt to work with a different PR agency which, despite their best efforts, turned out not to be the best fit for our current needs.

After being incredibly frustrated with the experience with our former PR partner, I shared my thoughts with a few of my advisors and they almost laugh at me explaining that my frustration was just a symptom of not knowing how difficult is to find the right PR partner for your company. It’s absolutely true, the KidoZen marketing team has decades of experience in PR and still managed to select the wrong firm for our current goals.

With this experience I learned a very fundamental lesson that could be valuable for every startup CEO: when comes to PR, you quickly learn the difference between good and great. Below I summarized some of my thoughts that, hopefully, will be helpful when working with PR partners

Different Stages, Different PR Needs

When selecting a PR firm, it is very important to clearly understand in details your current PR needs. The stage of your company is one of the fundamental elements that needs to be considered when working with a PR partner. While a mature company might have the need to increase its visibility in the public markets media outlets and specific types of investors, a smaller startup has completely different needs.

In Early Stages, Small PR Firms Might Be Better

There are many exceptions to this rule but, in my experience, I’ve found that smaller PR firms might often result in better partners for startups during their series A-B timeframe. Boutique PR agencies have the flexibility of growing with your company and can devote the right level of attention to your team to understand their PR needs.

Find Someone Who Understands Your Space

This is a tricky one. Every other PR agency, will do their due diligence in order to appear knowledgeable in the space but that doesn’t mean they are true experts. Deep knowledge, experience and connections in your current space are key in order to be a solid PR partner. When going through your selection process, push your potential partners in terms of understanding of the new trends in your space, your competitors, acquisition patterns, VCs investing in the space etc.

Good PR is not Cheap

Might sound obvious but I was a bit surprised of how expensive good PR agencies can be. While, as a startup, you need to remain very cost-conscious, it is important to realize that good PR work is going to require a significant investment on your side.

Connections Matters

When selecting a PR agency, look for someone who is really connected in the space. Connections are extremely important because, more often than not, your PR partner will have to call favors in order to increase the visibility of your company.

You Need an Internal Marketing Team

As engaging in PR efforts, don’t attempt to manage your external PR partner. It will drive you insane. It is important that your internal marketing team owns the relationship and manages the communication channel between your team and your PR partner. At the end, a good PR partner will grow with your company and it is key to have dedicated resources focused on nurturing that relationship.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Is Your Market Position Defensible?

This is a hard but necessary question every founder should think hard about. We all create products that we think are fairly innovative and better than the competition. However, if you are playing in a big market, you are likely to face competitors with stronger financial resources that will be going after your same customer base. In those situations, a startup has to understand the different strategies to defend its market position. Even though you might think that you can always out-innovate your competitors, that’s can rarely be consider a strategy to defend your value proposition

Based on the characteristics of your product and market, there might be different product sustainability models that can be consider to create a defensive and solid market position

IP

IP-based sustainability is the most traditional product sustainability model. If your product provides a very unique IP that is relevant to your customers and target market, that could translate into a very solid market position that will make it hard for your competitors to capture. Contrary to what you might think, IP-based sustainability is really hard to achieve in big markets.

Strong Alliances

Establishing strong strategic alliances and partnerships could result in a very clear product sustainability strategy. A healthy partner ecosystem will not only help to improve your product market presence but it will also make it harder for your other companies to compete in the space.

Stickiness

Is your product or service is able to retain customers once they purchase it? Are they able to switch to a different solution without a significant investment? Sticky solutions with high customer retention levels are more defensible in the long term that solutions without those characteristics.

Solid Exit Strategy

Even If you are not thinking in a short term exit you need to accordingly determine the potential exit strategies for your product and company. Understanding the exit dynamic is important in case you can’t sustain your competitive advantage as a standalone company.

What do you think? What else makes the position product or startup defensible?

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Shrinking Markets: Earning a Dollar by Taking Five from your Competitors

Product-Market fit is the primary element in the success of a startup. Software legend Marc Andreessen defined the product-market fit concept in his great blog post: “The only thing that matters” on which he states that creating a product that can fit into a great market is often more critical than creating a great product or assembling a great team for a market that is not necessarily ready.

From the different types of product-market fit models one of my favorites are companies that have the ability of “shrinking the market”. In basic terms, these are products that earn a dollar by taking five from their competitors. Market shrinking products have the capability of disrupting established market segments established by other vendors. We see it all the time with companies like Salesforce.com, Dropbox or Spotify which have started as incumbents in well-established large markets and have been able to become the dominant players by shrinking-first and then expanding the market.

The beautiful thing about product that have the ability of shrinking the market is not only that they automatically achieve product-market fit but also that they growth comes at the expense of their competitors. In the initial days, every revenue dollar earned by Salesforce.com didn’t go to the established expensive players such as SAP, Siebel, Oracle or PeopleSoft. By shrinking the market, disruptive products are able to force the bigger players in the space to compete in a smaller market that is typically more favorable to the new players. Similarly, if  a product or company is able to shrink the market and shift it in their favor, they will have the potential of capturing a bigger portion of the smaller market compared to their competitors.

Let’s illustrate this concept with an example.

Suppose that a startup is building a product competing in a well-established $20B market. The size of that market has been established by a set of vendors that charge a significant price for their solutions. Let’s say that the average deal in the space is typically X dollars. Our startup offers a simpler and technologically superior alternative to the competitors which, priced at X-M dollars, becomes accessible to companies that couldn’t afford the previous solution. Looking at those factors, we can initially think that our startup can capture $500M of the $20B market. However, if the technical superiority and pricing model of the product causes the market to shrink to let’s say $10B, our startup has the potential of earning 20% ($2B) of that market.

The interesting thing is that while a disruptive product can initially shrink the overall market size is will also expand the space based on the number of users or customers which can translate into a market expansion after certain point. The following figure illustrates this concept.

Bottom line, as a startup, if you are playing in a well-established market with a well-defined set of vendors and technologies, carefully evaluate whether your product has the potential of shrinking the market. If it does, you can be on your way to disrupt an entire industry segment.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Engines of Growth in Enterprise Software

Engines of growth are one of the most important aspects of a product strategy. When launching a product or service, companies need to establish the customer acquisition channels that are going to allow them to grow in the initial days while the product establishes an identity. The concept of engines of growth a fairly well established in the consumer market. Virality, advertisement, tapping into large user base like Facebook’s or Twitter’s are some of the well-defined customer acquisition processes in the consumer space. The story in a bit different when comes to enterprise software.

Historically, enterprise software has been corrupted with complex, expensive software products that require fairly long sale cycles. In that sense, there is well known engine of growth: spend considerably resources in building a sales and marketing army and go chase customers. While that model is still at the core DNA of large enterprise software companies, the rapid consumerization of the enterprise have brought flavors of the customer acquisition and product marketing models in consumer markets to the enterprise world. Conceptually, the consumerization of the enterprise has partially to do with technology (making products more mobile, social, simpler, etc) and a lot to do of how technology is delivered, marketed and acquired by enterprise customers. In that sense, modern enterprise software products can leverage new engines of growth that were unconceivable years ago.

As a founder of an enterprise software company, I spent a lot of time thinking about creative strategies to establish growth avenues for our new products. Regardless of the quality and uniqueness of a technology, the enterprise software market dynamics require a period of time before a software technology can establish its own identity and growth channels. The first step to make that happen is to find the correct engines of growth for your new product or service.

At a high level, here are some of the engines of growth that can be considered when comes to enterprise software.

Growth by Partnership

When you are still a small startup, it becomes really challenging to reach out to large groups of enterprise customers. However, there are large enterprise software and services companies that have a direct channel to a large customer base. Examples can be a large system integrator like Accenture or a software company like Microsoft. If your product or service complements the offers of those large organizations, you are in a good position to establish strategic alliances that can get your product in fronts of thousands of customers.

Microsoft is a company that has mastered the art of growing a product by partnership. With any new Microsoft product you will find an army of partners that are ready to offer complimentary services around it.

Tap into Existing Communities

The explosion of social media has created lots of vibrant communities around various areas relevant to enterprise software. The nice thing about those communities is that they facilitate certain levels of virality when comes to promote a product or service. Tapping into existing enterprise software or customer communities can becomes a very important engine of growth in the initial days.

Huddle is one of the hottest software startups which recently raised an astonishing $24M series C. The company has positioned it’s product as a simpler alternative to Microsoft’s SharePoint Server and has found a solid engine of growth within existing SharePoint communities.

Growth by Customer Segment

Depending of the nature of your product, there are good chances that a particular customer segment will be quicker to embrace compared to the rest of your customer population. As an example, your software might include some features that rapidly resonate with customers in a specific vertical industry. As a startup, acquiring customers have to be on the top of your priority list. In that sense, there is no harm of focusing on growing an initial customer segment while prepared to expand to other groups of customers.

Palantir Technologies is a great example of this strategy. For years, the company focused on expanding the footprint of its analytics and big data technologies within the intelligence and government agencies before deciding to expand to the financial sector.

Growth by Picking Up a Fight

Competition is great in enterprise software. If nothing else, competition means that there is an existing market ready to be served with different products. If you are launching a new product in an established market, the customer base of your competitors can become an important engine of growth for your product. In that sense, there is nothing wrong with going very aggressively after your competitors stating the benefits of your product. If you execute well, that strategy can certainly catch the attention of existing or potential customers of your competitors.

Box is a great example of a company that has executed impeccably using this strategy. The company has gone aggressively after Microsoft’s SharePoint offering and has certain caught the attention of customers, partners and technology vendors in the SharePoint space.

These are just some of the most notable engines of growth that I’ve found have worked for us. As always, the consumer space is a  huge source of inspiration when comes to implement creative customer acquisition models.

What other engines of growth have you seen applied on enterprise software technologies?

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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