Write If You Find Work

Just trying to learn as much as I can about marketing, venture capitalism, start-ups and New York

Start-up Marketing School: Class 1- So you’re planning to be the CMO someday?

Perspectives on marketing in a start-up.  How to plan for the unplanned whether you’re bootstrapping your venture or funded to the hilt.  The format will be a panel and town hall discussion, including the views of three people who’ve taken different paths to the lead marketing role in successful a start-up. So what does it take? How do you prepare yourself to build a marketing machine from the ground up?


 Rich Ullman, Former SVP of Marketing at Ripple6

See full size imageDeena Bahri, VP of Marketing at Birchbox

 Jeff Grill, VP of Marketing at Mimeo

Notes from the discussion:

develop brand- content and cases, story, distribution, customer base

look at analytics- how do you measure?

Deena’s advice-

  • started in offline world
  • focus on brand
  • product being the center
  • what makes product different
  • really know your product, get close with product teams
  • website is very important
  • understanding the customer- really talking with them
  • “voice of the customer”
  • focus on the metrics
  • money, head count -> prove ROI
  • measuring and communicating
  • spread the news

Jeff’s advice-

  • started as a media planner
  • ran focus groups- literally talk to customers
  • “the whole world is being rewritten”
  • you are limited by what you work on
  • he needed to learn direct marketing
  • went back to agency world as true integrative marketing
  • in marketing, “always have a hypothesis about why something will work”
  • mimeo- online version of fedex
  • continuously felt constrained
  • too much of a bystander
  • “i don’t trust a marketer that doesn’t actively market”
  • integrative marketing careers are built, they don’t just happen
  • start-ups don’t understand marketing, keep it simple
  • think again if you can’t measure it
  • marketers are not magicians understand what others are doing, what customers are asking for, what you are trying to do


Discussion- Startups and their small marketing budget


  • money equals more options, can test more freely
  • helps if you want to outsource
  • yet you don’t want to get too far from home base
  • haven’t figured out the product-market fit
  • money allows you to be more creative


  • tremendous amount of accountability with money
  • life span of a CMO is 10 months
  • problem comes when you want to test things that are more expensive
  • have to find a balance between spending money and cheap


Discussion- Is it about money or culture?


  • startups by nature are disruptive, no rules, bring ideas to life, passionate
  • there is risk and appetite involved
  • lack of structure
  • can be hard to let go of pieces of your job as your company grows


  • job gets smaller as company gets larger
  • make it up as you go along


Discussion- How do you deal with being the middle hire? Who’s the first person you hire?


  • hire an analyst, brought outside resources in-house
  • better to keep everything compartmentalized
  • with start-ups, sometimes you need to prove certain channels don’t work
  • its always a work in progress


  • always be prepared to adjust
  • bring in copy design- don’t outsource brand identity
  • want to be hands on in all aspects of company’s marketing
  • place a lot of importance on analytics


  • Outsourced results need to be taken with prejudice


Discussion- what are some free marketing techniques?

  • referrals, really looking at what is important to your customers, video
  • what tools? facebook, twitter, youtube dashboards
  • nothings free-spending time, money, effort
  • create content by listening to customers
  • facebook is an avenue to communicate
  • people will stumble upon online


 Q: what is the relationship between content and marketing at Birchbox?

A: very separate. we have our content, then we have selling to beauty products, and selling to the customer


Q:  How should you do offline marketing for online businesses?

A: combine offline media with direct marketing tactics

online has to back up offline

never underspend in a test

there is a myth that online media is unmeasurable

use different channels but always project the same message

sometimes company is too small to handle all projects


Q: is there tension between brands and subscribers at Birchbox? You want customer opinions but also want to sell product

A: don’t manage any negativity

publish to brands, but not everything to consumers on website and forums

peer reviews and comments can be very powerful


Q: do you want specific customers?

A: you want profitable customers

shoppers and referrals can both be very profitable

someone with money vs.someone who tweets a lot

delivering customers something that they are looking for

analytics has to differentiate between new and existing customers


Q: What tools do you use?

A: Google analytics, queries on the database, mailchimp for email, social media platforms individually

need to stay lean

crosstraining people on platforms

friendbuy- drive referral engine, prompted to share

would rather use fewer tools

be careful with any tool that gives you a monthly invoice


Q: When do you look at metrics? How do you check the progress?

A: organize data around your best customers. Check data three times a day- tap into dashboard

have someone look at win/loss customers

align metrics around your goals

KPIs and planning- don’t overplan, plan for action and then immediately put it to use

start-ups change so frequently- stop planning and start doing

have to be “adaptive and adoptive”

look to others, copy what works, keep your eyes open, keep listening to others and understanding new ideas


Q: Are there helpful tests for good product market fit?

A: designing campaigns, experiments with controls- use same demographics, population

easier to do testing control

hard to test buyer experience

marketing doesn’t own any real estate

have a kitchen table focus group

bring in a customer and watch them

use their UI and get feedback

focus group- qualitative research

listen to the passionate focus group member

listen to the emotions

if you can get a good idea about your customer group, then make a focus group with similar demographics

look for the “power users”

everything is now lean and agile


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