• What Techstars Taught Me About Marketing—27 Alumni Founders Open Up About Marketing Success

Whether you’re running a venture backed tech startup or a dog walking business, marketing is hard and can sink your business if you don’t get it right. While some of the tactics of marketing a dog walking business might vary from a tech startup, many of the strategies are the same. Copy of 2013-05-26_techstars_ID_final_bug with typeset (1) copy

Yesterday, ThriveHive was excited to announce that we will be taking our own business to the next level as part of the Techstars program. In preparation for this opportunity, we reached out to Techstars alumni to inquire about the greatest marketing lessons they learned from the program.

The answers ranged from sassy one liners to paragraphs of advice and emerged as three distinct themes to inspire the new Techstars companies and small businesses everywhere: Focus on Growth, Know Your Customers, and Give First.

Focus on Growth

The success of your business depends on growth of your business and product. Without growth there is no success.

1. Jeremy Merle, Founder and CXO of FanCred – Fastest growing sports social network

“[G]rowth is the only thing that matters. You may have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have a plan for distribution then no one will ever know about it. Make growth a mindset at your company, obsess over your metrics to develop insights, and never stop.”

But growth as a marketing strategy applies to more than just your product. In order to achieve success, businesses need to pay attention to employee growth and expansion as well.

2. Jason Freeman, CEO of Libboo – Helping authors get discovered

Semyon Dukach, the Manager Director of Techstars, “[S]trongly encouraged us to seek out analytical thinkers in this world of data driven digital marketing. His advice proved to be very helpful in advancing the business in revenue and growth once we brought on that team member with strong analytical talent, and it has influenced our thinking ever since.”

Internal company growth is also important to maintaining an efficient business.

3. Mark Lawrence, Co-Founder and CEO of SpotHero – On-demand parking app

“We learned to focus on the areas of the business where we could have the most impact and bring on people who were even more talented than us to manage those other important responsibilities.”

Targeted Marketing

While focusing on growth, targeted marketing will help focus your business marketing efforts.

4. TJ Parker, Co-Founder and CEO of PillPack Full service pharmacy disrupting brick and mortar locations

“The best lesson we learned about marketing during the Techstars program was to clearly choose which customer we were going to focus on. This informed which channels to prioritize, who to hire, and which product features to focus on initially, and ultimately helped us design a product that people love.”

Deciding on how to target marketing efforts is sometimes difficult for new companies.

5. Tim Wolters, Founder and CEO of RoundPegg Company culture engagement platform

“The best marketing advice I received while at Techstars was to be brutal about focusing in on our target market. Don’t try to be all things to all buyers. When we started Techstars we were looking at addressing both the consumer and business side of the market. It probably would’ve killed us to pursue both.”

Targeted marketing helps business owners be efficient with their marketing.

6. Paul Foley, Co-Founder and COO of Augur – API that powers personalization behind web applications

“Focus only on the channels that matter. One or two channels will drive the majority of your traffic.”

There is also an element of risk taking.

7. Steve Baker, CEO of BrandfolderBrand asset management simplified

“During our experience with Techstars we were given a good piece of advice – ‘focus and explode.’ Pick a direction and chase it with reckless abandon, without fear.”

Time is of the Essence

While perfection is ideal, it’s not always possible for businesses. When it comes to getting started, whether it’s with blogging, advertising, or launching a product, time is of the essence.

8. Brett Jurgens, Co-Founder and CEO of Notion – Wireless home monitoring and awareness sensor

“The best marketing advice we got is ‘why wait.’ Start testing with Facebook and AdWords ASAP to help guide what messages and images resonate best. Don’t try and answer every question with your team first, then start marketing. These two platforms are inexpensive and if used well, can be very insightful.”

While timing is important, ultimately you need to make the best decisions for your company.

9. Ben Rubin, Co-Founder and CEO of Change CollectiveMobile lifestyle courses led by world experts

“Best marketing advice: Launch the product now, don’t wait. We ignored them. So I guess that would make it the best marketing advice we didn’t listen to!”

Know Your Customers

Another element of successfully marketing your business is knowing your customers. Understanding who your customers are and the problem you are solving can help you develop the right message to promote your product to your target audience.

10. Alex Devkar, Co-Founder and CEO of ConspireAnalyzes e-mail data to help people make connections

“One of the earliest exercises we do in Techstars is to talk to 50 potential users to understand their pain points and what they care about. The lesson is that we have to really understand our users.”

Knowing your customers is important, but part of marketing is understand who will not be good customers.

11. Lyle Stevens, Co-Founder and CEO of Mavrck – Influencer activation platform

“Define your anti persona before trying to define your ideal customer persona.”

12. Boken Lin, Co-Founder of OnionThe Invention Platform For The Internet of Things

“[B]e helpful to your users and offer something that you yourself would want to use. We applied the same concept to our Kickstarter campaign and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we can be helpful to our customers. So in addition to promoting our product the regular way we spent a lot of times asking our users what kind of projects they are interested in building so that we can offer them specific advice on how to build them quickly and avoiding some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past. I think this advice has worked very well and it has made the marketing efforts very fun process for all of us at Onion as well.”

Knowing your customers enables you to make them happy.

13. Jordan Fliegel, Founder and President of CoachUpAlthlete private coaching company

“[W]hat I came to really realize is that, though our CoachUp parents and CoachUp coaches are crucial to our business, and we care about them both deeply, at the end of the day it’s all about our athletes. Out of this realization came our formalized mission statement ‘to help athletes reach the next level in sports and in life’ — so our athletes are, above all, our primary focus. By making athletes happy, we make parents happy, and that drives more athletes and parents to our service, which makes it an even more desirable and rewarding platform for our coaches — the ecosystem works off of going above and beyond to ‘Coach Up’ athletes through training sessions that help them reach another level.”

And keeping customers happy will help retain them.

14. Rick Chastain, Co-Founder and VP Sales and Marketing of rezoraIntegrated digital marketing platform

“I’d say that at first we learned how to create a product that fit the market. But now, in equal measure, we’ve learned how to gain new customers and keep existing ones happy. Which is most important? Both.”

For some business owners, understanding your users isn’t always easy, especially when you’re excited about your product.

15. Dave Cass, Co-Founder and CEO of UvizePowers meaningful mentor relationships

“Listen 70% of the call.”

Tell a Good Story

Once you know who your customers are, developing the story behind your brand is easy to do. Storytelling helps customers understand your product and relate to your company.

16. Arron Acosta, Co-Founder and CEO of Rise RoboticsDesigns, manufactures and assembles breakthrough components for more efficient mobile products

“The best marketing advice I received from Techstars was to tell a quick, visual story, full of scenes, with an arc. These stories can be told on stage at events, in front of a booth at a tradeshow, or to a targeted journalist with an audience that cares.”

Think about the future, for your customers, your product, and your company.

17. Slava Menn, Co-Founder and CEO of Fortified BicycleCity-proof bike gear

“Imagine the world not as it is now, but as it will be in 20 years. Take this to be the truth and have absolute certainty the world will look as you envision it.  What does your business need to look like to meet that world?”

Focus your message when developing your story.

18. Isaac Saldana, Co-Founder and President of SendGrid Transactional email delivery and management service

“Try to narrow your story to target a small set of people and become the best in the world at it in that market. Once you are the best in the world, expand to other segments.”

The best kind of story is one that stands out.

19. Yifan Zhang, Co-Founder and CEO of PactBehavioral economics to motivate healthy goals

“Pact has always been an unconventional app, and our mentors told us to lean into that difference. The best word of mouth stories come from things that toe the line of controversial without crossing it, and that’s exactly what we did during our Pact launch and with our branding.”

Company authenticity should be embraced—it helps set you apart from the pack.

20. Chris Rickstrew, Co-Founder and CEO of Shareable SocialHelps businesses build their brand through social media

“The best marketing advice that we received was to be different, be yourself, and stand out…who cares what anyone else thinks, be true to yourself and just DO YOU.”

Find the Evangelists

Once you have a story and targeted marketing, it’s easy to find evangelists—customers who love your product and will help spread the word.

21. Nick Yap, Founder and CEO of ROCKIAffordable and user friendly wireless streaming device

“The best marketing is the marketing from your users. Getting your users to be excited about you, your company, your products and tell it on.”

Evangelists are often early adopters of products and technology. They’re the people outside of your family who believe in your product and want you to succeed

22. Ben Apel, Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of FinalCredit card for the 21st century

“The people at the top of our waitlist are there because they’ve shared via social networks and had their friends sign up; they are our biggest advocates.”

Evangelists are a marketer’s dream—word of mouth marketing is one of cheapest ways to grow your business.

23. Dave Bisceglia, Co-Founder and CEO of The Tap LabMobile gaming studio

“The best marketing advice I received during Techstars didn’t come from a mentor… It actually came from one of my fellow founders, Nick Francis, Co-Founder & CEO at HelpScout. Nick always talked about how a delightful customer experience is the best (and most cost-effective) form of marketing—folks will tell their friends, write 5-star reviews, and even become champions for your brand on social media.”

Give First

Some of the best advice is built upon the “Give First” philosophy of Brad Feld, one of the Co-Founders of Techstars.

Connect and give, through deep interactions.

24. Miro Kazakoff, Co-Founder of Testive – Adaptive test prep platform

“Testive’s biggest marketing learning from Techstars was that it’s more important to have deep interactions with your customers – in our case, Mom’s of 15-17 year olds – than broad conversations with everyone.”

Provide Value through Content Marketing

While this notion is present in the value of the Techstars program and mentoring, it’s also relevant marketing advice for small businesses and startups. In marketing your business, it’s important to give before you get. While you can’t grow your business without customers, you can’t get customers until you can prove your worth.

25. Manuel Weiss, Co-Founder and Director of Marketing of CodeshipContinuous delivery platform for web applications

“[Techstars mentor] Karen Rubin recommended defining personas and setting up a content calendar as early as possible. After her advice we started publishing our Testing Tuesday series, a weekly video episode that explained software testing to our readers. We did this for 21 weeks. After those 21 weeks we had a returning, frequent readership of more than 20k unique visitors on our blog, which has been growing organically ever since.”

26. Jakob Garrow, Co-Founder and CEO of Bookity – Group booking software

“The best marketing advice we received through the Techstars program was to be the go-to thought leader in your marketplace. Do this by creating valuable content that engages your audience. For example, we recently launched a Museum Metrics Guide for our audience. Being a thought leader in the space allows you to build your brand’s trust with your network, while staying top-of-mind with potential buyers.”

Embrace Your Network

Making connection and networking is a productive way to build your own business while helping others.

27. Jamie Tremaine, Co-founder and CEO of GestSureGestural, touchless interfaces for surgeons and interventional radiologists

“The best advice was probably the focus on experimenting and learning. Beyond that, the experience of speaking to so many mentors that you get a sense of what they would do in certain situations was incredibly helpful. We also learned to find mutually beneficial marketing channels that would advertise for free, namely corporate partners. [W]e were part of the Microsoft Kinect Accelerator, the first powered-by-Techstars program. Since the program ended, Microsoft has placed ads that include us in the Wall Street Journal, MIT Tech Review, and most significantly in their 2014 Super Bowl ad.”

Whether you’re walking dogs or providing cloud-based solutions to businesses, the marketing advice that these successful Techstars Alumni companies have received are powerful messages to all small business owners.

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