Marketing Tips from Fred Wilson, A VC [Circa 2011]

[Previously published at Flux Research circa 2011. It’s a bit over the top but I don’t want to hide who I am in the hopes of someday chatting with Fred Wilson or Brad Feld. That would be doing it wrong!]

Fred Wilson, one of the leading web-related venture capitalists of our time, has just posted a surprising anti-marketing post that’s chock full of marketing tips. The inspiration is, in part, a business plan that included marketing in the budget which “bugged” him and his partners because “it felt wrong.” Yet he then goes on to share numerous marketing tips based on the experiences that have convinced him that marketing is “what you do when your product or service sucks or when you make so much profit on every marginal customer that it would be crazy to not spend a bit of that profit acquiring more of them.”

Apparently it’s kind of like the anti-folk movement out of New York that I encountered back in the day. What was anti-folk? Well, it was a bunch of folk singers from New York as far as I could tell. Now here comes Fred Wilson, marketing king of the anti-marketing movement! Those New Yorkers, always innovating.

And heeeeeeeeere’s Freddie!

“So if you need to acquire customers for free early in a startup, how do you do that?”

“1) Twitter [and Facebook]…You can and should get the word out about your product/service on Twitter and Facebook. You should encourage your friends to post about it, retweet about it, and encourage people to try it out. The digerati hangs out on Twitter and will see the tweets and RTs and many of them will try it out.”

“2) Social hooks – Your product/service must be social. It must encourage your users to invite others to try it out. Hooks into Facebook and Twitter are obvious. Email invites are another obvious feature…Profiles, personalization, etc will allow the users to feel ownership of the product and tell others about it.”

“3) Find an obvious group of like minded people who know each other and launch into that community. If they like it, it will spread throughout that community and eventually beyond.”

“4) Events – Find live events to launch at. SXSW is famous for breakouts…there are many live events that you can attend and galvanize users at. GroupMe did a version of that at the Austin City Limits music festival. I’ve heard of companies breaking out at Burning Man, The Democratic National Convention (Airbnb), and the Sundance Film Festival.”

“5) PR – Do not hire a PR firm to do your free marketing for you. This is a core capability you must own…The best companies know how to become the story and work it…the best PR centric startups have the ‘media DNA’ in the founding team.”

“6) Search…Don’t be a google bitch. But you will notice that many of the top consumer web brands are higly SEO’d. Try searching on a person’s name who is active on Twitter. I bet their Twitter feed will be one of the first five results…SEO is something that takes time to pay dividends. But you should build your product day one to be search friendly and keep at it.”

“7) Developers – I’ve said many times that developers are the new power users. Twitter is the iconic example. By launching with an almost totally open plaform and a dead simple API, Twitter got thousands of developers to build products that had ‘Twitter inside.’ Those developers and their products pulled Twitter into the market.”

Fred doesn’t believe in spending money on marketing. I guess you get interns to do this stuff? Oh, I get it, you call it something else so you don’t have a line item for marketing. I guess you call it, “miscellaneous stuff you do while building a company cause it’s in your DNA.” Somehow I don’t think other investors will appreciate that so you’ll have to come up with another term for all the marketing you do!

By the way, if your business plan does not include marketing, you are either setting yourself up for failure, don’t know what you’re talking about or pitching Fred Wilson. Best of luck!

PS – I really dig Fred Wilson. But he set himself up on this one.

Update: Another VC I respect, Brad Feld, seconds Mr. Wilson’s comments with his own odd take on the subject. However, I’m realizing that they’ve done founders hoping to pitch them a great service by indicating some of the buzz words and phrasing to avoid. It’s also a reminder that you can never convince people that what you’re doing is a good thing unless you present it in terms they find acceptable.

VC’s and incubators: Get set for lots of proposals featuring “baked in DNA” and companies that “spend money on marketing” without having a marketing budget!

Marketers: Learn some new terms for what you do!

Founders: Good luck with these silly headgames! You’re going to need it.

Update 2: Fred Wilson reminds me of why I like him so much with his follow up post to the post referenced above with the acknowledgement that his discussion was basically what I described, that he was focusing on the companies in which they invest and that he was inspired, in part, by his reasonable concern about outsourced marketing and pr for startups.

Plus, he reminds folks to go to the humongous comments thread on the first post which includes a bit from Seth Godin. Fred impresses me cause he responds well to criticism, not caving in, but assessing and moving forward in a productive manner. Definitely a role model for me in that regard!

[Featured image thumbnail on index pages: Facepalm by Brandon Grasley.]