Rude VC: The misplaced pride of no marketing

Jul 2, 2013
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ignoreI heard it again just the other day during a startup’s pitch. “We’ve done no marketing, and look how much we’ve accomplished,” boasted the founders of the venture for which they were trying to raise money. Imagine what we could do if we spent money on marketing, was the intended implication of what they were saying.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon refrain in early-stage pitches, and I cringe every time I hear it. The variation on this theme is a startup claiming the reason for their fundraising is to hire a marketing department.

There are several reasons this bothers me, but before I describe them, I’ll try to recall the definition of marketing, as explained by my best professor on the subject, Christie Nordhielm at Kellogg:

Marketing represents the set of activities and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. It encompasses all of the following: identifying needs/wants; understanding the competitive environment; disseminating information; generating awareness; pricing; getting someone to buy a product/service; delivering the product/service to customers; setting expectations; creating value for customers; assessing perception; ending the product/service.

So when entrepreneurs brag about their absence of marketing, this makes me wonder…

  • …if they may be working on the wrong problem. Developing a successful product requires interaction with the market from its very conception through prototyping to launch. This is what makes the MVP framework of The Lean Startup methodology so powerful. How do founders know whether they’re addressing a genuine need in the absence of marketing ?
  • …if they lack a fundamental understanding of what marketing is, presuming it’s a function which can simply be delegated to ‘experts’ (e.g. expensive PR firms) when the funding comes. Marketing cannot be delegated; it must permeate the organization. Every new recruit will touch on marketing in some way.
  • …if they disrespect the value of marketing. Is ‘build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’ the prevailing conviction of the founders ?

Or to put it to poetry, as Fried & Hansson do in Rework (an easy and incisive read by the 37 Signals founders):

Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.
Every time you answer the phone, it’s marketing.
Every time you send an email, it’s marketing.
Every time someone uses your product, it’s marketing.
Every word you write on your website is marketing.
If you build software, every error message is marketing.
If you’re in the restaurant business, the after-dinner mint is marketing.
If you’re in the retail business, the check-out counter is marketing.
If you’re in a service business, your invoice is marketing.
Marketing is the sum total of everything you do.