How much should a startup spend on marketing? The answer, according to VC Fred Wilson, is zero. The best marketing for a startup when it is just getting off the ground are kick-ass products. Great products market themselves. If you have a line item in your business plan for marketing, you are doing it wrong.
That is not to say that startups don’t need to do any marketing at all. And, let’s be clear, Wilson is taking about consumer Web startups, not enterprise startups or those in other industries. But as he writes in a post today:
Marketing is for companies who have sucky products. If you build something that is amazing (think Flipboard or Instagram or Instapaper) people will adopt it because it is amazing. And you won’t have to do much marketing, at least at the start.
Startups still need to do marketing, they just shouldn’t be spending any money on it until they need to juice adoption. But at the beginning, marketing consists of the founders themselves hustling at live events, on Twitter and Facebook to tell the world about their product. Marketing for a Web startup starts a very personal level. It is the job of the founders to get their product in the hands of potential hardcore users who need the product the most, will fall in love with it, and help spread the word. “Find an obvious group of like minded people who know each other and launch into that community,” Wilson suggests.
What about PR? “Do not hire a PR firm to do your free marketing for you,” he notes. “The best companies know how to become the story and work it,” he adds. So true. Also, being SEO-friendly is fine (lot’s of people find new products from search), but “don’t be a google bitch.”
At some point, after a company finds its natural market, then spending money to enlarge that market or go beyond it makes sense. But in the early days, it’s much smarter to spend money making your product great instead of spending it to convince people that it’s great.
Photo credit: Flickr/Duncan C