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How To Market a Start Up: An Interview With A Geek in Stiletto Heels

by Ritika Puri

Start ups need more than great technology and products — they need strong marketing to gain traction in this hyper competitive environment.

The challenge is that more often than not new ventures are starting at ground zero. They don’t have multi-million dollar advertising budgets, and they definitely don’t have time to mess around.

That’s where Renee Warren and Heather Anne Carson of Onboardly step in.

Renee Warren and Heather Anne of Onboardly

Renee Warren and Heather Anne of Onboardly

“Onboardly works with venture-backed start ups who have a product that their customers love,” Warren said. “Our focus is on PR and Content Marketing to drive customer acquisition and increase visibility. We position start ups as innovative and their key stake-holders as thought-leaders.”

On planning

According to Warren, start ups have to think about marketing from their unique business needs. They can’t simply emulate a big brand campaign or expensive marketing trend — they need precision.

Step one begins with a highly focused plan.

“The most important start up marketing needs are a strategy and execution plan,” Warren said. “Oftentimes, start ups don’t realize how much forethought needs to go into a great marketing plan. They’ll take a blanket approach and just think they can do everything all at once; SEO, PPC, content marketing, PR, social media, print. They should be focusing on a few key areas and doing them really well.”

Grow your marketing team alongside your business, recommends Warren.

“Once the company grows and they have more resources, then it’s appropriate to do more,” she said. “But right out of the gates, it would be a waste.”

But don’t forget that even the best laid plans will run into snags.

“A former client of ours (who has an amazing product I must add), took us on,” Warren said. “We did our job, and we did it well, feeding the top of the funnel with highly qualified users. What we couldn’t understand was why 80% of the people were dropping off 75% of the way to purchase. The funnel was broken! We had to stop everything we were doing right away so that the development team could fix the crucial error.”

On the quality of your product

Even the best marketing can’t save a low quality product, according to Warren. You need to make sure that you’re truly ready to share your business with the world.

“The biggest strategic error we see that causes marketing to fall flat is launching a product that isn’t ready for capacity,” Warren said. “That’s why one question we ask during our vetting process is ‘Do you have a product that your customers love?’ That translates to, is your product working, are people loving it, and can it handle a lot of users?”

Geek in stiletto heels

Renee refers to herself as a “geek in stilettos.”

On marketing a start-up yourself

Cash flow can pose a difficult barrier to entry. Regardless of your financial power, you need to make sure that your marketing strategy is making the most out of what you have.

“Marketing is an important investment, and it can be an expensive one,” Warren said. “If you do need to do it yourself, make sure that you know where to start. Plan wisely and diligently.”

But don’t forget about the trade-offs.

“Keep in mind though that if you’re spending your time doing your own marketing, you won’t be quick,” Warren said. “You, as the founder, should be spending your time on creating an amazing product, and not on marketing.”

On vanity metrics

No matter your strategy, you need to remember that you’re marketing to boost sales.

“Make sure all your marketing is measurable,” Warren said. “Avoid those damn vanity metrics. Fan and follower numbers are pretty to look at, but they mean nothing if you aren’t using those channels properly. Start with the end in mind. What is your goal and purpose with marketing? Then work backwards.”

Onboardly combines content marketing with PR.  A powerful combination.

If you want more from Onboardly, I recommend subscribing to their blog or connecting with Renee or Heather on Twitter.



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Ritika Puri

Ritika Puri is a San Francisco-based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She’s inspired by the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology. By day, she works for a large online media company, and after-hours, she runs her writing consulting business, UserGrasp.


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  1. Eri says:
    January 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Launching a product that is not ready for capacity and launching a product that people love are two different things. U will never know if people love your product unless you launch it first.

    I guess the correct answer is to launch it in a smaller scale, to test it, improve it and than re-launch it again

  2. Name says:
    January 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

    What? A geek in stilettos? Impossible! Geeks are all hideous basement dwellers.

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