Marketing Playbook for Start-ups Session #1 – Everything you need to know about data-driven startup marketing

written by

Yael Eckstein, Director of Marketing at StageOne Ventures

As I wrote in my previous blog post, part of my role as a seed investor in deep tech start-ups solving complex enterprise challenges involves working with our founders on marketing, and helping them grow from the seed stage to round A.

Through “The Marketing Playbook for Start-ups,” I will be interviewing different marketing experts on different marketing subjects relevant to start-ups. The sessions are based on our experiences with founders and their need to take the huge word that is “marketing” and break it down into practical activities and channels that help them reach their business goals.

I’m excited to kick off my first Marketing 101 for Start-ups session with Einav Laviv from G2M. I first became acquainted with Einav and the G2M team from their work with SafeDK, one of our portfolio companies that was acquired by Applovin’. Einav co-established a global marketing firm that is focused on start-ups in their post-seed to post-round A stages, where there are no internal marketers (or just one), and yet, there’s a need for the creation of lots of activities and strategies from scratch. Einav has years of experience in marketing, and what makes her so unique — at least in my opinion — is her super-fast pace. She is always one step ahead, a key driver of marketing success, especially when looking at strategy and building a company’s marketing from scratch.

We have also invited our portfolio company DAGsHub to discuss a few marketing challenges in their company.

These sessions are Q&A-based.

Here is the link to the full interview. A summary of what we discussed can be read below.

Let me ask the first question: why startup marketing? Why do start-ups need “different” marketing?

Einav: So when it comes to start-ups, everything’s different, including marketing. As opposed to corporate marketing, with start-up marketing, there is a need to set things up for the first time. The level of agility needed is different, the budgets are different, and the focus activities are different. It means that the marketing that should be executed within and by start-ups must be done by people that understand and have done it before. Many founders look to hire the CMO of their competitive leader, only to be disappointed that they don’t always do the hands-on work. Yet, small start-ups tend to fall under the following category: they have no infrastructure, need to build everything from scratch, possess a small budget, and have fewer resources than these very experienced CMOs are used to. Many times, this dissonance leads to a complete failure.

What happens once a company leaves the garage stage and raises a seed round? I’ll add that seed rounds today are much larger, so if we look at the marketing aspect, it needs to be a large part of the roadmap.

Einav: Welcome to one of the most challenging stages of start-up marketing. The founders that got used to business poverty need to quickly change hats and start building a company with their new budgets. Today, seed money sums grow significantly, and with them, the expectations for quick establishment of foundations and results. Now is the time to test the idea, receive market feedback, reach reliable conclusions, make decisions, and all this again. This is also usually when reality starts kicking in.

Never expect things to go smoothly, ever. During this time, marketing is almost the only tool to quickly collect data and feedback and reach conclusions. But doing so costs money, and when you work with pros, it costs a lot.

Today (not as much as 8 years ago; Israel has matured, but still has a way to go), many founders still don’t treat marketing as important as product and RND during this stage, and later regret being late to the game. They fail to understand how long it takes to build a brand and a proper marketing operation that can execute inbound and outbound campaigns. They understand more about the complexities around engineering or product, but they mistakenly think that marketing can be lifted instantly, which is very far from the truth. Founders have told me that one of the key lessons they have learned is to establish a marketing operation as soon as the money is raised; no excuses. It is interesting to see experienced, serial founders who are very respectful of marketing endeavors and invest in them heavily, right from the start (straight out of the garage).

Once the money is raised, the main task is to get ready to launch both outbound and inbound marketing activities, collect feedback and generate market fit insights (and other insights), as fast as possible. For that, sufficient infrastructure must be built; garage-standard materials are not good enough. It’s not the time to spend a fortune on a website, but a DIY mini-site will not be good enough either. So really, the focus here is on inbound/outbound, generating leads (through your “generic” marketing activities), and converting them via many different channels, while always remembering that brand awareness is an absolute must.

As we know, marketing is always evolving with new trends and events. The market is also changing at a rapid pace. That said, how can companies engage in a fast and agile marketing method (how can they best learn that their marketing must be agile with options to test and change very quickly)?

Einav: The question is also, “what counts as agile and what does not?” Garage agile is different than round A agile.

Look, I’ve been working with post-seed to post-round A start-ups and small tech companies for so long that I can’t even say how much established companies spend on different marketing activities and how long it takes them to execute campaigns. But when I encounter specific cases, I know that it’s way too much and too long for start-ups in their early stages. I set the blend of prioritized activities, budgets, and speed of execution by the good enough rule. What is the minimum needed to progress to the needed advanced activities, without falling prey to sub-par communications that could cause harm? This applies to websites, campaigns, and so forth. Some activities, such as exceptional and ongoing PR or extravagant sponsorships, are just too expensive and out of scope. For other activities, such as content, I may stick to more feasible formats (such as articles and guides, as opposed to videos and industry reports), but I will make sure to shine in terms of quality.

Let’s talk about the last year, 2020, the COVID-19 year — and how it has changed marketing, especially in the digital arena? How can everyone play?

Einav: When COVID started, it was clear that things were about to dramatically change, and I was betting on a push for inbound and outbound. I can say that similarly to how people were instantly educated on online shopping, B2B start-ups were instantly educated on digital and online B2B sales.

Traditional marketing made room for data-driven marketing and demand generation, including highly measurable activities that come with a lot of technical operations.

Another almost instant change was the collaboration of Sales and Marketing. The digital transformation has blurred the lines between these two departments. What’s under Marketing’s jurisdiction? What is Sales’ responsibility? Where should SDR sit? What about outbound automation?

COVID changed how start-ups communicate with potential buyers. The pandemic also contributed to the increased prestige of digital. Start-ups had to reduce their burn rates and focus on activities that directly contribute to business results, such as demand generation. The cycle between Marketing and Sales fully connected, and marketers were rightfully required to commit to business KPIs (such as sales opportunities and deals). For start-ups with limited budgets, this meant that many times, the marketing persona (internal or external) should answer all needs, from soft marketing areas, and inbound lead generation, to outbound bulk activities and activities that lead directly to business opportunities. This is super important, especially when it comes to the Marketing/Sales and even Product teams. I think that today’s marketers have to be super analytical and keep their heads in the game at all times, now, more than ever before.

Today, digital is pretty much the only way to accomplish this goal — will f2f be coming back?

Yes, it probably will, but it won’t be as prevalent as it used to be, or, more accurately, Digital will stick around, and Zoom will continue. We will probably keep attending physical events, but we won’t fly as much as before.

Furthermore, marketing needs to be looked at as a pillar that brings business opportunities to the company, so that more customers can be converted. Today more than ever before, Sales and Marketing intertwine one into each other. There are so many more marketing operations today. It’s CRAZY. I find myself working on technical stuff all day, fixing things, troubleshooting while utilizing Facebook, LinkedIn, marketing automation systems, Google… All the while, I’m wishing I was also an automation coder. Technical tools emerge; new ones are released every single day. Tools for people-based marketing, outbound automation, intent enrichment, etc. All these tools offer smart API connectivity, date feeding to the CRMs, etc. Growth and data-driven marketers must know how to operate multiple technical solutions.

Today’s start-ups are looking for ROI-driven marketing. What is the best way to build a marketing strategy that generates ROI? How can companies use marketing to directly create sales opportunities? Who wins? Inbound marketing or outbound sales prospecting?

I am not sure what is the ultimate way to drive ROI marketing, but I have my own blend that has proven to work — for myself, as well as for many of my start-ups. I am building a B2B growth infrastructure that is solid and well-connected in terms of tracking and analytics; a basic element that I insist on. It is divided into what I call arsenal and artillery (the relationship between the content and the on which said content is promoted). Set-up and planning can take a couple of months, but it’s critical to make sense of the data that will be coming as early as possible.

I then make sure to craft content that is very accurate in terms of the target audience and the value proposition, and the A/B test to receive insights on what best resonates with audience members. Once insights are gained, advanced content (gated) is created around the burning topics and promotional activities help ensure that my target accounts are constantly exposed to the stories and content that I create for them.

Yes, ABM. Each personal journey and interaction is registered (in the marketing automation system). This way, when salespeople are running personal F2F communications, they are able to collect qualitative feedback on their brand awareness and reach. Inbound and outbound should be executed simultaneously (there’s no time to sit and wait for the inbound to take off). While the activities are very focused on generating business deals, ROI takes time to measure and answer questions such as how many opportunities were delivered via each channel or activity and how much they cost. Messaging and fundamentals should be product-focused (inbound and outbound).

To summarize, before we move on to the next part, when it comes to marketing activities and the types of activities you should engage in, you have many options at your disposal: content/events and webinars/social/paid campaigns/videos/PR/ ABM, and others. At the end of the day, what your company chooses to do, will likely differ from the marketing activities of others, within and beyond the bounds of your industry. I do, however, think that the most important thing is to see how your activities bring in quality leads and convert them into customers. They may look like “brand awareness” marketing activities, but you need to change that view and shift from branding to inbound/outbound activities while focusing on how these activities bring you closer to your business goal.

On to the second part of the session:

Meet Dean Pleban, Co-founder and CEO of DAGsHub. DAGsHub is like GitHub for Machine Learning. It provides a platform for collaboration and management for the Data Science industry to contribute and make the research and development process transparent, inclusive, and better for everyone.

StageOne Ventures invested in the company last year in March; they are located in TLV and were founded by Dean Pleban and Guy Smoilovsky.

Dean: Product-led growth, or bottom-up growth, usually focuses on long-tail and long-term efforts like creating content, thought leadership, and engaging with existing communities. The challenge with all these channels is that they take a very long time to deliver ROI. Do you have any recommendations on shorter-term ROI channels for bottoms-up companies? How would you manage your budget in such a case?

Einav: True, inbound takes time to show ROI, but my experience shows that there are no immediate shortcuts that can be taken (otherwise, we would all know about these and everybody would have ditched classic inbound in their favor… However, when your sales are long-tail and low-touch (rather than enterprise sales) there are ways to boost the results from inbound, such as offering some open-source capabilities, free basic features, and additional gems that tempt the crowd to follow the brand. When I was marketing SafeDK (which was relevant to the mobile developer community), we had free tools on the website, such as SDK competitive analytics and industry reports.

I would always run short-term outbound efforts (automated and manual) to cover for me until the inbound took off.

How should you manage the budget? Well, the bigger your audience is, the bigger the budget you should have for digital marketing, as you need to make more people know and trust the brand. I would use the budget to create best-in-class and value-added content, run sponsorships (joint live training, content promotion…) with the best professional outlets that the audience loves to follow. This, in addition to running automated outbound campaigns using advanced prospecting tools and using paid search and social campaigns to increase demand. If you have known and established professional influencers, I would try and close deals with them as well.

Dean: In markets with many players pursuing a content-first marketing strategy, how would you differentiate yourself, especially since the audience is usually desensitized by the deluge of content headed their way?

Einav: Never in my entire career, have I encountered a situation in which there was no room for another content angle, format, or content expansion. When the internet is flooded, there’s room for creativity and a superb quality level must be met. I usually use very colorful and provocative topics and titles; I am not scared to touch painful points. I love writing about mistakes, failures, risks, and other hot topics. I also focus on content that brings real immediate value. What can I tell you; it works.

Dean: Do you think PPC has a place for bottom-up companies today, or is it only relevant for late-stage companies with huge budgets?

Absolutely! Even more so. You can run smart PPC campaigns without having huge budgets (that’s all I do with my start-ups), as long as you know exactly what you are after, what will you most probably achieve, and what prerequisites you need to have at your disposal (such as content, tracking mechanisms, optimized funnels, etc.).

I run campaigns for companies that have raised seed-level funding. Low budgets, careful activities, and many times low-cost channels. I can use only remarketing (low budget) and search ads. It’s never my main strategy, but it is a great booster… It takes time before I can estimate the ROI (For example, I spent X money on this month, and generated 15 leads, 10 MQLs, and 3 opportunities… and that’s above the monthly average!); it can take a few months to start seeing results.

That is a wrap! Thanks for joining us for our first session with Einav and Dean! It was extremely insightful, and I’m sure it presents valuable information to founders.

Stay tuned for the next session. We’ll be back in July with Or Hadar, Senior Brand Marketing Manager at Monday.com, who will be discussing the subject of “how to use YouTube to scale your business.”

To learn more about StageOne Ventures please visit our website at www.stageonevc.com

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YUVAL COHEN

Founder and Managing Partner

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Yuval has a track record of two decades in leading the operations of early stage VCs. Before founding StageOne, he co-founded and managed two corporate VCs as part of IDB (Israel’s largest conglomerate) estimated at $150 Million in investment portfolio and was personally involved in early stage IT investing totaling over $1 billion in exit value.