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The Real Challenges of Startup Marketing

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Startup marketing is challenging. If you’ve come from larger or more established company background as many of you will, you may be used to relatively stable working environments. Startup marketing doesn’t operate in this, comfortable, fixed, luxurious environment. This is not only with respect to burn rates and cash runways, but also in the way you will have to work to develop your understanding of your customer, your available marketing channels and everything in between. The level of unknown and the flux between all these unknowns is huge, sometimes overwhelming. However, by being systematic and having a process in place you can win, and win big.

Status quo? What status quo?

Startups are highly dynamic environments so many aspects of the business are rapidly changeable. Tech startups can now make changes to their product in real time, changing pricing structures manually or programmatically, turn advertising off here, on there and so forth. Never before has the status quo been so non-existent.

Couple all of this combined  with low volumes of customer data and you have a potential cacophony of information from which to make decisions.

Decision making is just your best guess

Low volumes of customer data terrify me. When you have small sample sizes, outliers carry disproportionate amounts of weight. You won’t even know which data points are the outliers yet, exacerbating the problem. Companies have the ability to make terrible decisions based on outliers.

One question that regularly gets raised is: “how do I know when I have enough data to make this decision?”. It’s a tricky one to answer. The statistician in me wants to delay the response until I’ve got a significance level of 95%. However, startups rarely can wait this long.

It is time to get comfortable with the fact that the decision you’re going to make is really just your best guess. There is a subtle nuance between allowing data to guide you (relying on 95%+ significance), and making decisions that can be justified using the data available. The first one is easy. It is achievable by anyone with the required sample size and a deft hand at Excel. The second one less so. Justifying your decision making requires you to ask the right question of your limited data, get a result, perhaps test the significance (although a lot of the time this might freak you out). Accept the potential for it to be wrong. Regardless of outcome, use the result to further inform your inherent knowledge about the question to make a decision one way or another. When you have low data you need to gather all the information about a scenario possible and use your judgement to make a call.

This is a tough gig by the way – as a startup marketer you’re being asked to make decision based off limited data in a highly dynamic environment. Lots of the time you’re going to make a ‘wrong’ decision. Paradoxically this is where the dynamic nature of startups will help you as it will allow you to correct your course and avoid that Titanic sized iceberg before it is too late.

A section about metaphorical escalators (bear with me…)

One mistake I often see is a company resting on its marketing laurels. It’s a moment when the company has typically found a marketing channel that has sufficient scope to grow the business and the CPA is in line with expectations. At this point there is sometimes a process of optimisation of the channel in question, and in other cases the channel is just left to itself. This is bad.

Visualise this scenario by thinking of two escalators side-by-side going at slightly different speeds. You’re on the faster one and your friend is ahead of you on the slower one. You get on the escalator and immediately start making ground on your friend. You represent your marketing efforts and your friend represents a marketing channel (i.e. Facebook ads, Adwords etc). Importantly, both are moving independently of each other.

When you and your friend align next to each other on the escalator you have a channel that is working efficiently. Now, knowing that you’re moving at different speeds you are aware that you need to optimise this channel. You can do this by taking a step backwards every so often to maintain your alignment next to each other. You can keep doing this for a while, and until you reach the end of the escalator otherwise known as your marketing channel efficiency inflection point, that’s a great scalable channel.

Now what happens if you speed up the escalators? When you do this you’re effectively pushing the channel harder, driving more from it at an accelerated rate. All seems good if you can optimise yourself at the same rate (although there will be a point where you can’t and fall over backwards – don’t try this at home). However, the end of the escalator approaches faster, meaning you have less time in this channel until you reach your maximum scale whilst maintaining efficiency.

If you only have one channel, this looks fairly simple. However, in reality you’re going to need to spool up some more escalators in case one escalator breaks down. Bringing more escalators online is akin to performing marketing channel diversification. Similar to financial portfolio diversification this aims to act as a bit of an insurance policy if one channel decides to stop working effectively. Another way of saying this is “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

Framework for escalator maintenance contiguous marketing

The steps below should ensure that your marketing never reaches the end of the escalator, and that if your escalator malfunctions you’ve got some backups in play.

These first two steps, A & B, are crucial to perform before you go to market.

  1. Establish your personas
  2. Find pockets of high audience density

The next 6 steps should cycle, to ensure you’re adding to your list of channels before any stop working.

  1. Channel test – using the rapid-fire technique
  2. Establish a first channel
  3. Begin optimising that channel (to prove it can indeed be optimised)
  4. Channel test – using the rapid-fire technique
  5. Watch out for scalability issues in your first channel
  6. Launch new channel

 

  • Repeat 1-6 (forever, and ever, and ever-ever…)

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About the Author

This article was written by Thomas MacThomas of the Path Forward. The Path Forward was developed by Forward Partners, a VC platform that invests in the best ideas and brilliant people. Forward Partners devised The Path Forward to help their founders validate their ideas, build a product, achieve traction, hire a team and raise follow on funding all in the space of 12 months. The Path Forward is a fantastic startup framework for you to utilise as an early stage founder or operator. The framework clearly defines startup creation as being comprised of three steps. The first step of this framework involves understanding customer’s needs.Tom is Head of Marketing at Forward Partners. He is an award winning growth marketer, having gained experience heading up the marketing function at high growth daily deals site Wowcher, online gaming firm William Hill Online and more recently the mobile app Bizzby. Tom helps our startups with marketing strategy and support, everything from PPC all the way through to TV.

Callum Connects

Mark Winterton, General Manager of InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay

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Mark Winterton has dedicated his life to achieving unparalleled and extraordinary guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

What’s your story?
I’m a seasoned hospitality professional with over twenty years international experience launching luxury brands, repositioning existing brands and driving innovation for some of the world’s most successful hotels.

As General Manager of InterContinental® Singapore Robertson Quay, I’m responsible for the strategic positioning of the property as the next generation of the InterContinental hotel brand and have been spearheading the hotel since its opening in October 2017, with the goal of achieving a unique and unrivalled market positioning as Singapore’s most luxurious residential hotel.

I started my career with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG®) in 1995 and have since been dedicating myself towards achieving perfection. I find immense fulfillment in leading my team towards achieving extraordinary and unparalleled guest experiences.

What excites you most about your industry?
The hospitality industry boasts an extremely dynamic landscape, and we are always seeing new hotels opening alongside the entry of burgeoning brands. This growth has, over time developed positive competition and generated positive driving forces that have elevated the overall standard of the industry in Singapore. The industry has a dynamic landscape. There are many opportunities to bring the right people together and create amazing teams to launch or reposition hotels. The process of creating teams, inspiring individuals and then working together to bring a project to life is where I find the excitement lies.

What’s your connection to Asia?
The lure of Asia has always been very strong for foreign economies and companies, with great accessibility to new opportunities, customers, consumers and clients. My first foray into Asia was back in 2007, when I launched Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Singapore. Following that, I was also based in Bangkok for a couple of years for the rebranding of Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park. Over my years in Asia, I have had the opportunity to truly immerse myself in new cultures, establish new connections with key counterparts and friends; and these have further solidified my interest in and strengthened my connection to Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. Commonly known as the gateway to Asia, we’ve been blessed with a stable government, a sound political economy and a comprehensive infrastructure for reliable business operations. With tremendous efforts put in by the Singapore Tourism Board towards elevating the city as an attractive venue for visitors, the growth of Singapore as a key MICE destination, coupled with a cosmopolitan pool of talent, Singapore remains my favourite city in Asia for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You can never be 100% ready for a new role.” I believe that there will always be room for growth and learning on the job. As long as a person is 80% ready for a new role, the opportunity should be extended. I am a strong believer in the development of people and the grooming of talent, and this piece of advice has allowed me to take more chances on people I’ve worked with and developed over the years.

Who inspires you?
Simon Sinek, a speaker with TED Talk.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I don’t think I can pinpoint just one lesson learnt recently, as learning is an ongoing process. No matter how small a piece of knowledge may seem, it should be valued. Everyday is a journey of learning and development.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all. I don’t believe in regrets and everything that has happened thus far, has had a part to play in who I am and where I stand today.

How do you unwind?
Spending time with friends over relaxed conversations and wine or working my green fingers in my balcony garden.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. It’s one destination where I’ve always returned to, simply because it offers me the same level of comfort and familiarity each time I return. It’s where I can feel most relaxed, yet still be able to enjoy the vibrant dining scene.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Shameless plug for your business:
Officially opened on 12 October 2017, InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay is the first international luxury hotel brand situated at Robertson Quay. Set amidst a dynamic, sophisticated neighbourhood along the Singapore River, known for its dining options and arts houses, the luxury residential-inspired hotel has been carefully curated by world-­class designers, architects and culinary purveyors. Located minutes away from the CBD, the hotel still maintains a stylish but laid back, relaxed feel in the leafy, upscale neighbourhood of Robertson Quay. The hotel offers 225 luxurious studios and suites, including an expansive Penthouse, which has unparalleled views of both the Singapore River and vibrant city via floor-­to-­ceiling windows.

The residential-­inspired property combines elements from Robertson Quay’s industrial and intriguing past with sleek contemporary finishes whilst seamlessly blending into the residential surrounds. Light-­filled room interiors have been designed to magnify the familiar comforts of home where guests may enjoy bespoke amenities such as a specially designed in-­room cocktail kit.

Established as part of a holistic dining and lifestyle destination, the hotel boasts a wide range of restaurant and bar concepts. Flagship restaurant Publico, representing the central core of Italian culture, is a multi-­concept dining destination comprising a variety of Italian experiences under one roof – a neighbourhood deli and bar and a ristorante with adjoining terrazzo by the river. Other highlights throughout the hotel include New York institution Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, and a bar and dining concept from the team behind Izy Sushi. Over 40 other dining options await at the hotel doorstep, in The Quayside precinct.

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markwinterton1/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Joel Tay, CEO of Soft Space

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With a desire to run his own business, Joel Tay wanted to tick two boxes first – trying his hand in the corporate world and knowing the business he wanted to end up in.

What’s your story?
I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Before that, I needed to fulfill two important things. The first thing, having a corporate foundation, and the second, knowing the business that I’m getting into. First of all, after gaining experience with Ernst and Young, I started a school in Jakarta with my mother, who used to be a teacher. Some of my ex-colleagues laughed at me for doing this instead of working towards partnership like everybody else.

While the school was running, I returned to the corporate world because I was given a chance to try out something I’ve always wanted to try, consulting in IT Security, and this time with PwC. In my second return to the business world, I never looked back. I started a mobile device distribution company with friends, and later on diversified into IT Consulting in Mobile Device Management, and subsequently ended up in the payments business.

Today I manage Soft Space – a company thriving in the payments industry with a group of talented colleagues and engineers. The school I mentioned earlier is now in 8 different locations across Jakarta serving more than one thousand students.

What excites you most about your industry?
Payments are evolving so quickly; there’s so much to learn. No one can really say that they know everything there is to know about payments. I have learnt so much going from one country to another learning each time how payments work uniquely in each society.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia is Soft Space’s focus. We strongly believe that markets in Asia will be the primary drivers and innovators in the payments space for years to come.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Bangkok. I have a great business partner there, the banks are innovative, the market is huge and the people are creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My parents reading Matthew 6:33 to me: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This has taught me to prioritise the important things in life, and then everything else will fall into place according to God’s will.

Who inspires you?
My father and my Godfather. Both are men of principles who are very successful in their own trade, loving to their families and God-fearing.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The amount of money technology companies in the US lost in 2017. In Asia, and in particular SEA, investors won’t take two glances at your company if you’re not profitable to begin with.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Learn Mandarin. When I was young, my teacher gave a group of us a choice – attend Mandarin classes or wash school toilets. Every time I hear my colleagues laugh when I try to speak Mandarin, I think of that moment when we walked towards the toilet.

How do you unwind?
I watch movies with my wife. It takes us to another world and back to reality in two hours. No vacation can be so fast and effective.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. Friendly people, great resorts and good restaurants.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. There are many lessons to be learned from the man who had it all, lost it all, and earned it back again.

Shameless plug for your business:
No one can claim to have one solution that fits all in payments. Your needs are always different and unique to the market you’re operating in. I’d like to think that we’ve been around the industry long enough to be able to advise and customise something for you. https://www.softspace.com.my/about-us

How can people connect with you?
I’m always just an email away – [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@crusaderdotcom

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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