Legendary angel investor Dave McClure set off another firestorm this week when he said that startups are “functionally illiterate at marketing.” Sadly he’s right.
There are a lot of brilliant people in the Valley, most of whom don’t know the first thing about public relations and marketing.
Silicon Valley is Hollywood for Geeks, Wall Street for founders and Paris Fashion Week for user interface designers. But it’s product obsession is to its detriment. Silicon Valley is all product all the time.
New York is a startup city that gets marketing. I spent a day at General Assembly HQ in 2011, and spoke with 11 founders back-to-back. Startups in New York don’t build stuff. They’re extremely good at marketing.
Tred, BestVendor and wehostels are made in New York startups that are exceptionally good at transacting business on behalf of other people who make things. They didn’t build the widget factory, but they make sure to find buyers for the widgets. This is bare knuckle marketing. Sell stuff.
The more Silicon Valley startup founders I meet, the more I realize what seems like common sense public relations isn’t common at all. At least around here. Marketing and PR are not in our DNA. They should be.
We make great things here. No one will deny that people worldwide love what we make. But it’s a mystery sometimes how what gets in Silicon Valley finds its way to the people who need it, when we’re so bad at marketing.
it's laughable we worship Silicon Valley as some kind of Mecca for startups, given how functionally illiterate the valley is @ marketing.
— Dave McClure (@davemcclure) July 1, 2013
As CEO it’s your job to be the face of the company, and to represent your product in the public. It’s also your job to make sure people get paid on time, to ensure that bills don’t pile up, and that your awesome crew is hitting product and traction milestones. Being CEO is no picnic. But critical to the success of your operation is making sure your story is out there, and that your audience knows how to find you.
How to not suck at marketing
The easiest way to market yourself is to have a blog. I’m always amazed when startups don’t have a blog, or when it hasn’t been updated for months. Of all the ways not to mess up at public relations, this is the most flagrant offense.
Another lean marketing technique is to remain active on LinkedIn. Whether you’re posting updates regularly, contributing to relevant discussions, or just using LinkedIn Today to follow news, you should be listening to what your audience needs online. And unlike buzzy, noise-ridden social platforms, LinkedIn is a professional social network filled with decision-makers and likely customers. Finally, you should be using SlideShare to promote your ideas, and as an additional listening mechanism. They’re all free. The more time you put in, the more you will get out. But remember, it’s a process, not a product.
In our age of lean startups it’s OK not to be a generalist. Where people excel they should be left to thrive. Not everyone is good at the whole communications thing. I get it. And bad public relations can do more harm than good. But while Dave riles people up, his screed should be a wakeup call.
Public relations is vital to the success of any good product. A good product with no marketing doesn’t stand a chance. It’s time for Silicon Valley to stop sucking at public relations and marketing.
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