I came to know Gil Allouche through our work together in the Big Data ecosystem, where he worked as a technical marketer for a venture backed analytics startup. He’s started his own company, worked at larger established shops, and now leads marketing at a Big Data startup. He gives some incredibly detailed, actionable, and no-BS advice below about startup marketing careers. –John
Marketing in a startup versus doing marketing in a bigger company are very different beasts. What advice would you give to aspiring startup marketers who may be coming from a marketing role at a bigger company and who want to pursue startup marketing careers?
The new Technology Startup Marketer role is very different then the traditional one in several ways:
- Technical background – You have to have a strong technical background both for credibility with engineering and sales within the startup and with customers and partners during events, webinars and sales engagements. Marketing managers that come from a heavy marketing communications background will have have challenges. One way to overcome these challenges if you don’t have a CS/engineering background is to simply use the product again and again. Sit down with the product manager and make sure you really understand the technology and the usability of the product. If you can’t give a demo of the product, you’re not ready!
- Limited Resources – Working for a bigger company you have budgets for different projects and from different departments plus a selection of pre-approved vendors you can work with. Also, someone always manages the overhead for you (e.g. invoices, logistics). In a startup you have a fixed dollar budget for the year (that you usually setup ahead of time), so you have to be very lean and cognizant of each item and how it effects your budget (e.g. opportunity cost). You have to have focus on what to do and what not to do. Even in a new market like the Hadoop ecosystem, I get event sponsorship opportunities at least once a week and I have to really think: “Is this where my target customers go?”and “Is this where my competition will be?”
- Part-time vs. Full-time – In a startup, you don’t have the luxury of having a large full-time staff to handle the workload. You have to make do with 1-2 staff members and a variety of vendors/contractors. I personally like working with vendors as they provide me with elasticity and productivity I otherwise wouldn’t have. To keep the team together and ensure they communicate with each other on a first-name basis, I usually have 2-3 meetings every month at the office where, even as a vendor, you talk about your projects – potential collaboration with other vendors on the team (e.g. the e-mail marketing function talks to the webmaster, webmaster talks to designer, etc.) and provide feedback on the overall marketing tasks. This way the team still works as one ‘virtual’ marketing department. Any time you can quickly train someone to do the work while paying them an affordable rate is worth the hire (e.g. webmaster, marketing automation, design etc) – otherwise do it yourself. Local vendors are a HUGE WIN.
- Jack of all trades – Lastly, a startup marketer doesn’t have to be an expert in all fields, but needs to be good enough in all marketing functions: marketing communications & PR, event management, product marketing (define positioning and messaging), demand generation (run webinars, offers), content creation & management (data sheets, white papers), analyst relations (Forrester, GigaOM), partner marketing (joint webinars), marketing analytics (marketing program effectiveness). It is important to be able to switch back and forth — from an event manager one moment (help set up the booth) to the product marketing function in a different moment (give a 30min product briefing to an analyst/media professional).
You earned an MBA from Babson, which has one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the US. What are some skills or experiences you picked in business school that helped position you for success in your startup marketing career?
- Roll up the sleeves – Babson is very hands-on and made sure that we focused on executing our newly acquired knowledge (marketing and other). I remember one class called ‘Marketing for Entrepreneurs‘ by Bob Caspe. Bob gave the class two options: Option #1 was to do all the homework, exercises and term-papers. Option #2 was to start a business, run marketing programs based on our knowledge at the class (in any way we see fit), and close a deal and show a check by the end of the class. Within weeks we knew we were going to get an A without ever completing homework.
- Focus on failure as much as success – Bringing successful serial entrepreneurs to class was great and you can learn a lot from their vision and execution methods. However, another recurring concept at Babson was to bring a failing entrepreneur to the class (without the class knowing the entrepreneur was present) and then discuss his downfall during a 2-3 hour session. At the end of the session, the professor would introduce the entrepreneur, who would then do Q&A with the class. This was extremely effective as it really showed what red flags you need to avoid when building a company and what patterns of failure that you can preemptively identify.
- Organizational Behavior – As an immigrant whose native language is not English, a key part of my Babson experience was instruction in communication and organizational behavior. Every semester I took at least one class in this department. Those courses really taught me a great deal about communicating in teams, resolving conflicts, and running short and long term negotiations. The courses were heavy on case studies and live presenters who had experienced challenges in their organizations – those presenters would come on stage and really prepare you for these situations by sharing their stories.
Are there certain Meetups or peer networking groups that you leverage to stay on top of startup marketing trends?
TechAviv, Startup Weekly, Startup Grind, 500Startups and Microsoft events in Mountain View.
What are the top 2 or 3 marketing blogs that you consider must-read for those who want to pursue startup marketing careers?
Hubspot, Dave McClure (http://500hats.com), chrisbrogan.com, and sethgodin.com.