Get Traction and Skip the 75% that Get “Experience”

Harvard found that 75% of VC-backed companies that launched between 2004 – 2010 got “experience” rather than rich.

What do the companies do differently to “opt-out” of joining the 75% club?

They don’t think their customers are idiots.  That’s it.  Enjoy the rest of your week.

In all seriousness, why does almost everyone in Silicon Valley think that their customers are idiots?  Why does almost everyone in Silicon Valley think of marketing and distribution as the red-headed stepchild of their business?  You need traction, but can’t be bothered to get it.

Pop Quiz:  What is the only committee Steve Jobs ever chaired at Apple?

Answer: The Marketing Committee.  But, I guess you don’t want to be the next Apple (this might be ill-timed with iPhone sales in the dump, but the point remains).

You hear of businesses being “market-driving” or “market-driven”.   A quote your often hear spewed by “market-driving” companies comes from Henry Ford.


What a bunch of horse manure.  It hasn’t been confirmed that Henry said it.  Also, Henry didn’t exactly pioneer the leap from horses to cars (he was a fast follower), but let’s not let the facts get in the way.

Let’s pretend that he did say the quote, and he did invent the automobile.

Did they really want a faster horse, Henry?  Did you ask them why they wanted a faster horse?  Did you ask them if they liked the idea of something that does the same job as a horse, but you don’t have to feed it in the winter?

Couldn’t be troubled could you?  You had it all figured out.

Here’s the thing: even a blind squirrel finds a nut.

It’s similar to the idea presented in Fooled by Randomness.  In the case of money managers, it’s the idea that with so many people playing around in the market someone has to get lucky and hit it big. They are actually wearing clown shoes.

Things get interesting when you look at the folks who are the best-in-class for decades.  It starts to become very hard to explain away their success as luck.  Guess what you find when you look for commonalities between these people.  They have done their homework.  Whether it’s research on a company, correlations or patterns.

Big success “market-driving”  start-ups that only tell the market where to go are the money managers with the big red shoes.  With enough ideas out there someone has to have blindly picked the right one.  But those are the lucky ones.  What about the ones you don’t read about?

They stick their head in the mud and keeping “driving the market”.  They keep going until they are almost out of air (money).   When they come up for air (money) they are finally willing to ask questions:

Visionary:  “Mr. Market, what are you willing to pay for?”

Mr. Market (VC, Angels, and missed customers):  “Too late son.  You only have 6 months of cash in the bank.  You’re done.”

What can you do to prevent this while still being innovative?

It’s simple; split your resources evenly between distribution and product.   I said simple, not easy.

Yeah, but what do I know?  Nothing.

What does Marc Andreessen know? Lots.

“The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is they’re focusing on product to the exclusion of everything else.  Many entrepreneurs who build great products simply don’t have a good distribution strategy.  Even worse is when they insist that they don’t need one…”

This quote comes  from Traction by Weinberg and Mares.   It’s probably the best book on early marketing and distribution for tech-startups.  They have some great ideas on how to attack distribution challenges.

Some of the advice I find generically useful is the bullseye strategy.  Allocate a $1000 and a month or so to the three distribution channels that, based on your research and testing, are likely winners.  The winner of the three gets your focus.  Whip that horse until you reach the finish line.

According to Weinberg and Mares, “Traction trumps everything.”  But is traction a function of something other than just a marketing channel?  Read on.

They suggest four common reasons that you can build something people want, but all you get is “experience”:

1.  Build something they want, but you can’t make the dollars and cents add up.

2.  Not enough customers in that market.

3.  They want it, but it costs too much to get it to them.

4.  You got a widget, but about 10 other companies have the same widget.

Something Weinberg and Mares neglect (in their defense it’s not a topic that is about distribution channels) is how to not fall prey to bullet points 1, 2,3, and 4 (???) when going-to-market.

What is this magical potion?  Where are the unicorns (see what I did there) in this fairytale?

Well, it isn’t magic.  It is what LinkedIn did to find out how to make serious money, and what Optimizely did to get consistent triple-digit revenue growth.

It’s called having a monetization strategy before you launch your product.  Yeah, you read that right, before.  And if you’re not doing it, you’re the one who believes in magic potions and fairytales.

How do you do it?  Patience young grasshopper.

If You’re Not Hacking Marketing…You’re Doing It All Wrong

What’s your average sprint length for your Minimum Viable Promotion?  How much time and money should you be spending on your “Core” vs “Edges”?

You don’t know?  Either did I.  I do now.

Scott Brinker wrote a book called Hacking Marketing to catch us (marketers) up to the speed of software.  It’s the blueprint for the modern day Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Growth.  That said, it will benefit anyone working at a tech company who is on the demand side of the equation.

Hacking Marketing will bring your team up to the speed of innovation.  If you’re familiar with Eric Ries’ Lean Start-Up and Scrum software development practices, then congratulations, but let’s not get smug about it.

Scott takes ideas from software development and shows you how to adapt them to marketing.  His ideas are an evolution.

What’s the difference between increments and iteration?   How does it affect what I do as a marketer?  Scott has you covered.

Increments get your marketing to scale through new versions of something that worked earlier.  You can apply this idea to content.  A small blog post gets a lot of engagement.  You turn it into a series.  More response.  You turn it into an eBook that people are willing to exchange their email address for.  You now have access to their most intimate of places…their inbox.

Iteration is basically conversion rate optimization.  If we use the content example above it would be changing the headline.  Changing the call-to-action.  Changing the image.  You’re not changing the message or theme, you’re changing the way it is presented.


Many successful people don’t agree with this idea.  They are wrong.  Luck comes from how many things you try.

It reminds me of a fraternity brother of mine.  He played the numbers game every night at the bar.  He was okay with “failing”.  And doing it publicly.  Funny thing is, that as we all sat in the corner making fun of him, he would eventually get lucky.  Quantity for the win.

Scott embraces this idea of quantity leading to luck.  This must be balanced.  Throwing too much “stuff” against the wall can lead to “Feature Shock” that Ramanujam and Tacke talk about in Monetizing Innovation.  It’s the context that is important.  Are you trying to make something that is for everyone?

“If we add this feature, and this one too, we can”…we know where this goes.

All sunshine and roses?  Nope.

I haven’t met Scott but hope to someday. I get the feeling that he is probably the smartest guy in the room.  He is operating way “up there”.  I like spending as much time “up there” as the next guy, but “up there” isn’t where results lie.

Hacking Marketing is a very high-level strategy and management book.  He doesn’t provide any examples of when or how he used an idea.  There is no “do this, it works.”  In his defense, he does say that this isn’t a workbook.

To really understand lean practices in your business you need to read Lean Startup by Eric Ries.  Also when he talks about platforms he doesn’t add much.  Scott knows where he is light, and provides the resources to take a deeper dive.

I use post-it flags to mark “important” ideas in books.  I think I would’ve been better off marking the pages to skip in Scott’s book.  I enjoyed Hacking Marketing, and it left me with a better understanding on how to keep up with the speed of innovation.

Read it if you’re in a demand generation role at a tech company.

The Making of a (late) Capitalist

“What was that!?!?”, my friend yelled.

It was a clear, crisp September night in Alaska.  All the tourists had gone home.  All the kids had gone back to college.  All the people who lived from season-to-season were biding their time until the snow started falling “down south”.

We had a pallet fire down on the beach.  There was booze, mixed company, and a chance to see some northern lights .  The amount of stars that can be seen from the northern latitudes will blow your mind.  I’d like to say our motives were pure, but they rarely were.

What was that?  That was huge.  Big enough to stop conversation among the guys, and fast enough the ladies didn’t have a chance to scream.

We were a confident group of young men.  We climbed mountains.  We skied chutes.  We flew planes and helicopters.  We chased a brown bear through the streets howling like a pack of wild dogs.

Dumb, but fun.

We were lucky it was fast.  It was well over 600 lbs.  They say be careful what you ask for….you might corner it.

When I retired to my tent that night, I put my Dad’s .357 Magnum under my pillow.  Even falling asleep in Alaska can be an adventure.

I have come within 10 yards of a bear on more than one booze-fueled occasion.   Sorry mom.

It was a thrill, but when I look back on it, I was fueled by both liquid courage, and the Alaska Mountain Guide posse.  I joined Alaska Mountain Guides as a 26-year-old. These kids were still in college or just out. I was late to that party.  That lifestyle was cut short by vertigo.

At any given moment there was a chance I would get fall-to-the-floor dizzy.  That kind of rules out climbing mountains and being liable for people’s safety while skiing steep faces in Alaska.

I went back to school for biochemical engineering to prove that I was smart.  I didn’t finish and was late again.  The problem was the entrepreneurship classes I took, and physical chemistry class on the horizon.

The idea of teaching entrepreneurship at college is ironic at best.  The program director was a smart man, who I liked, but as far as I could tell, never actually an entrepreneur.  Never-the-less he was a savvy businessman and a good teacher.

One day during class we had a biotechnology entrepreneur give a presentation.  The whole reason (not really, but that’s another post) I had been studying biochemical engineering was because I wanted to become a biotech entrepreneur.

This guy’s track record was amazing.  I think he launched 5 biotechs.  3 were acquired, 1 bust, and 1 he took public.  I might be misremembering, but not by much.

At the end of his presentation, I told him about my plan and asked him the $1 Million question, “What advice do you have for me?”

“My honest advice is…don’t do it.”

What?  Did I just hear that correctly?

He went on to explain that the climate around the Food and Drug Administration approval process was slow, boring, and expensive.  He didn’t see anything changing for the better anytime soon.

Dejected I asked, “What would you do then?”

“Go tech”, he said.

I took his advice.  Not willing to start over in school I decided to focus on the area of business that I could provide the most value in the least amount of time.  Marketing and Sales.

I was 33 when I received that advice.  Late again.

It feels late because I’m surrounded by young folks in San Francisco who are at their first real job.  I have different priorities, so they think (know?) that I’m weird.  I say “no” to the extended Happy Hour that they go to every other night.  I try to keep work and play separate.

The one party I hope I’m not late to, being satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

I’m after what, in the parlance of our time, is called f-you money.  I really am.

How much is f-you money?

I’ll refer you to Felix Dennis, and his poorly titled but amazing and honest book, How to Get Rich.  The table in his book gives you the amount of cash you need to join the “Lesser Rich”, “Comfortable Poor”,  and the “Filthy Rich”.  Which club do you want to be in?

How do you get to f-you money?

I don’t know yet.  I’m guessing it’s by saying no…..a lot.

I managed to say no to a rather attractive co-worker in her mid-twenties.

She had a boyfriend when I asked her out a few months prior.  Now, she was asking me to stick around Happy Hour.  She was in the middle of a rough patch in her relationship.  I had a feeling she was trying to make someone else jealous, so I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I can say no to anything….including a woman as attractive as you.  It wasn’t going to be worth it.

There are some parties I will never be late to.